Statement from Minister for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD, on illegal fires in Wicklow Mountains National Park
Date Released: Thursday, March 31, 2022
- Minister Noonan visited the site of an illegal 300-hectare fire in Wicklow Mountains National Park
- He announced increased patrols and aerial surveillance in National Parks and Reserves to support early detection and deterrence
- Illegal upland burning devastates vulnerable wildlife and habitats during the breeding season
- It also impacts on local people’s health and wellbeing, private property, tourism, emergency services, the defence forces and the public purse
“Today I visited Wicklow Mountains National Park, where well over 300 hectares of natural habitat have been damaged and destroyed over the past few days through illegal upland fires. The same scenes have played out in other locations across the country during the latest Met Eireann Orange High Fire Risk alert. These scenes are by no means unfamiliar. We see them every year, including in the State’s most valuable natural assets – our National Parks and Nature Reserves – which provide such enormous benefit to nature, society and the economy. We all remember the devastation that was caused by the vast illegal fire in Killarney National Park last April.
“Let’s be clear: these fires do not occur naturally. They’re set deliberately, with no concern for the wide-ranging impacts on local people’s health and wellbeing, private property, tourism, emergency services, the defence forces and indeed the public purse. That’s without mentioning the priceless wildlife and habitats that are brutally scorched and the consequent impact of soil mobilisation and siltation on streams, rivers and lakes.
“I’m mindful that the risk of man-made fire is now a permanent feature of our year. As night follows day, at the first extended period of dry weather, these fires are set. They are all illegal after the 1st of March and invariably they get - or are allowed to get - out of control. The people who set them, and I believe they are known in their communities, are a scourge on society and their activities cost all of us. This mentality must change.
“While these crimes are challenging to prevent due to the scale of property involved, the sporadic occurrences of the fires and types of ignition mechanism frequently deployed, people considering breaking the law in this way should be aware that aerial surveillance operations using drones and helicopters have been increased to support early detection and deterrence. As well as this, the National Parks and Wildlife Service maintains increased on-the-ground patrols at all National Parks and Reserves at times of high fire risk. I have increased NPWS’s staffing resource considerably since taking office and growing the organisation further is a key priority for me.
“In my contributions in the Dail on the Commission on the Future of the Defence Forces, I have outlined my views for personnel and equipment to be made available for use by the State in these instances, as is the case in other jurisdictions. Additionally, I will soon be progressing a review of the Wildlife Act, as provided for in the Programme for Government. This will be a vital opportunity to re-examine our legislation around wildlife protection and make it fit for the future.
“I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to the staff of NPWS, who bravely and tirelessly face these challenges every year. I’d also like to thank the other organisations that my Department works in close liaison with - the Fire Services, Coillte, and the Gardaí, who lead on any criminal investigations, and also to the Department of Agriculture, with whom my Department engages on a range of matters related to illegal agricultural fires, including the pursuit of cross compliance, where relevant. I’d also like to pay tribute to Local Authorities, who convene Inter-Agency Gorse Fire Groups that explore issues surrounding such fires with a number of agencies represented, including the Gardai.
“It’s clear that we need to strengthen our approach to this all-too-frequent danger. Along with my colleagues Minister Darragh O’Brien and Minister Peter Burke, I will be engaging with the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConalogue TD, and the Minister for the Environment, Eamon Ryan TD, to progress a coordinated response as a matter of urgency.”