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Rehabbed badger by Ruari O Leochain

Ireland: Badgers, wildlife crime, and a dangerous legal precedent

(This post has been written in collaboration with Ruairí Ó Leocháin of ‘Stand with Badgers’. Please note Ruari’s ask at the bottom of the page.)

Speaking on wildlife crime in the Irish Examiner last December, veteran environmentalist and Green Party Minister of State for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan said “We are seeing judges taking [wildlife crime] very seriously and we are seeing very significant fines and impacts on payments and other measures being administered in the courts…and this is increasing the awareness around wildlife crime.”

Just three months later, on 7 March, Judge Jonathon Dunphy quashed a conviction on appeal made by Con McCarthy, a Co Dublin developer who had been building warehouse units and had ‘entombed’ a family of badgers and cubs in their sett ”with many, many tonnes of clay”. The badgers had most likely died underground of suffocation.

This was a deliberate act. McCarthy had been told about an active sett by ecologist Brian Keeley, who had conducted a badger survey at the site in February 2022. According to the Irish political magazine ‘Village’, Mr Keeley found two adult badgers bringing bedding into a sett and presumed that they were breeding. He made McCarthy aware of the badger sett and was asked to step down from working on the project.

When he later returned to check the site, he found that the sett had been destroyed, and a large mound of clay piled on top of it.

Dangerous precedent

Badgers and their setts are protected in Ireland under the provisions of the Wildlife Act, 1976, and the Wildlife Amendment Act, 2000. It is a criminal offence to intentionally kill or injure them or to wilfully interfere with or destroy their breeding site or resting place (the sett).

McCarthy was originally convicted in Dublin District Court of offences under the Wildlife Acts and fined €5,000.

Overturning the conviction, Judge Dunphy decided to apply the Probation Act instead. The 1907 Act ‘‘lets the courts give offenders a type of official warning without imposing a sentence’ – in other words, Judge Dunphy’s decision removed McCarthy’s criminal record for killing a protected species and placed him on probation.

He also ordered Mr McCarthy to ‘make a donation of €15,000’, which should be split amongst three wildlife charities.

Kieran Buckley of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), a highly experienced investigator and ranger, said that the burying of the sett “was the most wilful, cruel act that I’ve ever witnessed in 20 years.” In the view of the NPWS, a conviction would “send out a message” on wildlife crime whereas the application of the Probation Act sets a dangerous precedent – an offender could simply “buy their way out of a conviction” and a criminal record.

 

Won’t accept the ‘donation’

The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT), one of the three charities named by Judge Donphy, has held a board meeting to discuss the issue and has decided not to accept any court-mandated donation from McCarthy,

In a press release on the IWT’s website, general manager Kieran Flood says:

“At a time when nature is under huge pressure from significant habitat loss and damage we need our courts to be tough on wildlife crime and send a signal to would-be perpetrators that if found guilty they will face a full conviction for their crimes including a criminal record. The Irish Wildlife Trust would like to see the full weight of the law being used by courts in wildlife crime cases in order to send a clear message that the Irish court system values nature and is willing to play their part in stopping rampant wildlife crime and environmental destruction in Ireland.

IWT reserves the right to refuse donations and in this case we are choosing not to accept this donation.”

IWT’s principled decision has been commended by the Stand with Badgers (SWB) group. Ruairí Ó Leocháin of SWB said that the quashing of this conviction has gone against Minister Noonan’s assertion that “judges are taking wildlife crime very seriously” in Ireland.

He went on to say that:

“There is integrity in the Trust’s decision, integrity and respect for wildlife. The same cannot be said for the Irish Judiciary in relation to wildlife crime in Ireland. Those with deep pockets can seemingly ignore both Irish and European Wildlife Legislation, from here on in. As things stand, costs cannot even be recouped from the developer but will be paid by the taxpayer.

This is a shameful ruling and should immediately be appealed by Malcolm Noonan and the NPWS at the High Court.”

 

What can we do?

The Stand with Badgers group is asking badger supporters in both the UK and Ireland to please contact Minister Noonan, with a view to immediately appealing this ruling to the High Court before this dangerous precedent is set in stone. Time is of the essence.

Email:

malcolm.noonan@oireachtas.ie

mos@housing.gov.ie

Phone:

Ask for a representative of Minister Noonan at Leinster House (if calling from outside Ireland the code is 00 353 – eg 00 353 1 6183000)

(01) 6183000

(01) 6183066

(01) 6183166

Mr Noonan’s constituency office – (087) 365 6253

 

  • Header image of rehabbed badger by Ruairí Ó Leocháin. For more information about the Irish badger protection group Stand With Badgers please see their Facebook page.