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Birdwatch Ireland responds to Cllr.’s “Open Season on Hen Harrier” remarks

Female Hen Harrier
A female hen harrier — one of Ireland’s most threatened birds of prey. (Photo by Shay Connolly via Birdwatch Ireland).

Ireland’s largest conservation charity, Birdwatch Ireland, has responded strongly to recent comments by Limerick Co. Councillor John Sheahan calling for an “Open Season” on the protected hen harrier — one of most threatened birds.

“Cllr. Sheahan’s ill-informed and short-sighted statement shows how far we have to travel as a state in prioritising our natural heritage over the self-interest of individuals,” said Alan Lauder, Chief Executive of Birdwatch Ireland.

“Such statements can have far-reaching consequences. The Hen Harrier is protected under both Irish and European Union law, and Cllr. Sheahan’s statement could be viewed as an incitement to break these laws.  For any decision-maker to hold such views in the 21st Century is alarming.  When that individual actually sits on the Advisory Committee of the Environmental Protection Agency and also represents Ireland on an EU committee that helps form policy on the environment, natural resources and biodiversity, as Cllr. Sheahan does, then it becomes pitiful, and even dangerous.”

The NGO condemned Cllr. Sheahan’s views as “nonesense”.

“Cllr. Sheahan appears to have bought into the fallacy that nature is the enemy of progress, and that environmental laws stand in the way of profits,” said Niall Hatch, BirdWatch Ireland’s Development Officer.  “Judging by his misunderstanding of the theories proposed by Charles Darwin and the processes by which evolution works, he also seems to hold the patently untrue belief that our flora and fauna bounce back, regardless of what we do to them.  The extinction of thousands of species around the world, including many here in Ireland, as a direct result of human activities sadly reveals his views to be nonsense.”

While Birdwatch Ireland acknowledges that the Irish Government needs to do more to help farmers and land owners who “do the right thing” for wildlife and the environment, in light of his irresponsible content the organisation is calling on Cllr. Sheahan to “consider his position” as chair of Limerick County Council, advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency and a representative on Ireland’s delegation to the EU Committee of the Regions.

View the full response here on the Birdwatch Ireland website.

Photo credit: Shay Connolly via Birdwatch Ireland.

1 comment

  • Les Reed

    I got the following reply form Minister Deenihan today following a letter of complaint to him about Sheehan calling on the Minister to withdraw as a delegate to the Council of the Regions. But as you can see there is no suggestion in it that John Sheahan will suffer as a result of his “Open season” call and refusal to apologise or withdraw it:

    Dear Mr Reed

    Thank you for your recent email. I very much share your concern with regard to the protection of the Hen Harrier.

    As you may know, the Hen Harrier is protected by law and is one of Ireland and Europe’s rarest birds of prey. It is listed on Annex I of the Birds Directive, which provides the legislative framework for assessing and ensuring its conservation.

    Ireland has identified a number of sites as being particularly important for the conservation of the Hen Harrier, and six sites across the country are designated as Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

    The Hen Harrier remains a species of high conservation concern and has undergone significant declines in parts of its breeding range in Ireland, including within the SPA network. The decline has been attributed to a number of causes. Unfortunately, the bird has also suffered persecution by humans.

    This persecution is unacceptable. Hen Harriers are afforded protection under national and European legislation. Anyone who harms these birds or deliberately destroys their breeding or nesting habitats will be liable to prosecution and will be pursued. Officials of my Department cooperate with An Garda Siochána in the investigation of any incidences of harm, and also work with members of the public and with NGOs in the protection of these magnificent birds of prey.

    I am, of course, also well aware of the issues affecting landowners in the SPAs and my officials also work closely with agriculture and forestry officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in an effort to address these concerns.

    My officials have commenced drawing up a Hen Harrier Threat Response Plan. This plan will be subject to full public consultation in due course, and – along with the next Rural Development Plan – will be key in ensuring that land-owners and farmers are given the supports they need to manage their holdings in a way that secures their livelihoods in keeping with our obligations under European law.

    Recent comments in the media were worrying as they could have been construed as an incitement for people to break the law and harm these rare birds. This is, regrettably, a very real problem that we face. However, the Hen Harrier is afforded protection under Irish and European law, and any people found to cause harm to these birds of prey or to their breeding or nesting habitats will be liable to prosecution under this legislation. This is something that I and my officials take very seriously.

    Thank you for taking the time to contact me on this important issue.

    Yours sincerely

    Jimmy Deenihan TD
    Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

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