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'Incredibly difficult' to prosecute people for starting illegal fires, Heritage Minister says

Malcolm Noonan yesterday condemned an illegal 300-hectare fire in Wicklow Mountains National Park.

The site of a 300ha illegal fire in Wicklow Mountains National Park recently.
The site of a 300ha illegal fire in Wicklow Mountains National Park recently.
Image: Department of Heritage via Twitter

IT IS “INCREDIBLY difficult” but “critically important” to prosecute people who start wildfires illegally, the Minister of State for Heritage has said.

Malcolm Noonan yesterday condemned a recent illegal 300-hectare fire in Wicklow, calling those who start fires “a scourge on our society”. 

The minister visited the site of the fire in Wicklow Mountains National Park yesterday to announce increased patrols and aerial surveillance using drones in national parks and reserves.

He said the damage was “quite devastating” and that it’s “incredibly difficult” to prosecute people responsible for starting fires. 

“Even getting cases to successful prosecution is really challenging, but we are having some success in that regard,” Noonan told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland

“We’ve seen, particularly over the last two years with an increased focus within NPWS [National Parks and Wildlife Service] on wildlife crime, we’re getting a lot more successful prosecutions to court.

The judges are starting to take it seriously, thankfully, and we’re seeing that reflected in fines and impacts on single farm payments.

Many wildfires are caused by humans, both intentionally and unintentionally. Climate change is driving an increase in the weather conditions that can stoke these fires.

“These fires cause huge devastation to wildlife and to habitats, particularly during the breeding season but they’re also really impacting on peoples’ health with the smoke and on private property, on tourism, emergency services,” the minister said.

“There’s a whole range of knock-on effects from these fires. They’re illegal and they’re indiscriminate.”

Controlled fires are allowed to be set on farmland and eligible forestry land to clear shrubbery up until the end of February. But from 1 March until 31 August, it is illegal to set fires on these lands, and doing so risks prosecution.

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“Well over 300 hectares of natural habitat have been damaged and destroyed over the past few days through illegal upland fires,” Noonan said yesterday. “The same scenes have played out in other locations across the country during the latest Met Éireann Orange High Fire Risk alert.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has asked people in the countryside to be vigilant, to report any suspicious activity to gardaí and to report any uncontrolled or unattended fires immediately to the Fire and Emergency Services via 112/999 service.

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