1) The Curragh has existed as an open plain for at least 2,000 years and is probably the oldest and certainly the most extensive tract of semi-natural grassland in the country. The area is one of immense archaeological, cultural, environmental and historical significance and this is reflected in the classification of the Curragh as a Recorded Monument under the National Monuments Act and in its impending designation as a Natural Heritage Area (N.H.A.).
2) The Curragh provides a working environment for three main users, the Defence Forces, the horse-racing and training industry and sheep owners.
3) The Government approved the appointment of the Curragh Task Force on 27 July 1998. Its terms of reference were: to examine the ongoing threat to the integrity of the Curragh Plains which had arisen in recent years as a result of; a marked increase in the level of activities among users; and the level of developments taking place on the periphery of the Curragh. The Task Force was asked to report and make recommendations on the future management and development of the area.
4) The requirement to reconcile the needs of users with the absolute necessity of preserving the unique fabric of the Curragh was identified as the central problem that had to be resolved.
5) The Task Force endorses the Report of the Environmental Policy Board for the Curragh Lands (Appendix B - not available online) as an accurate reflection of the current condition of the Curragh.
6) The Task Force visited the Curragh on two occasions in August 1998 and February 1999 when conditions on the ground differed significantly. Having observed the position at first hand and taking cognisance of the main issues raised in submissions, which were sought from the public, and also taking account of significant recent developments that have occurred in the locality, it was concluded that the Curragh Lands are under very real and sustained threat. The situation is compounded by the lack of acceptance by most users of their responsibility to ensure that their activities do not cause environmental damage. The Task Force is firmly of the view that it is not an option to allow the status quo to continue. Such a policy could only lead to the irrevocable destruction of an unique asset. Immediate action must be initiated as a matter of urgency.
7) As a first step, it is considered that it is essential for an Environmental Policy Statement in respect of the Curragh Lands to be put in place as soon as possible. This should set out broad policy objectives and give details of the strategies to be employed to achieve those objectives. The Statement should be prepared and published as soon as possible; it is not dependent on any of the other recommendations.
8) The Task Force is not convinced that the present vesting arrangements require change. The reasons, which existed for the transfer of the Curragh Lands to the Minister for Defence in the early 1960s, are still relevant today.
9) It is considered that the main users should have a direct input into and share in the management responsibilities of the Curragh. It was decided that a statutory body under the aegis of the Department of Defence would be the most suitable management model to provide for the required level of participation by users. It is considered that this management structure would comprise an Authority and a Director and Staff. It would be advised by a Consultative Advisory Council.
10) The Task Force believes that a strong local management structure must be put in place. This should consist of a Director with full responsibility for day-to-day operations and staff including a multi-skilled Ranger Service. It is considered that such a structure must be put in place regardless of whether the other elements of the recommended management model are established.
11) It is envisaged that the cost of implementing the proposals contained in this Report would amount to about £600,000 in the first full year of operation. If the unique ecology and environment of the Curragh is to be protected and preserved for future generations there will have to be a substantial increase in the level of expenditure on the area regardless of the system of management that is put in place. It is estimated that the Department of Defence will expend about £200,000 on the area in 1999.
12) It is considered that the existing body of legislation is outdated and inadequate. The Curragh of Kildare Acts should be consolidated and the Curragh Bye-Laws updated. While a co-operative approach is desirable in implementing a comprehensive environmental management regime for the Curragh, a range of sanctions and penalties must form part of the new legislation. The recommendations of this Report will be ineffectual unless backed by penalties, which will act as a deterrent against an identified range of activities, which damage the Curragh.
13) The Curragh is one of the most open and accessible areas in the country and the Task Force would not wish to see this level of accessibility diminished. No objection is seen to the use of the Curragh for passive leisure activities such as walking, jogging and picnicking. However, further active sporting/recreation activities, which damage the environment or which restrict use of, or limit public access to, particular areas should not be permitted. Existing such facilities should be reviewed.
14) In order to prevent damage to archaeological sites and to the ecology of the area the public must be made aware of the significance of the Curragh. Appropriate education programmes should accordingly be put in place.
15) It is the view of the Task Force that the greatest single threat to the area is that no action will be taken to rectify the situation. If the unique environment of the Curragh is to be preserved action must be taken as a matter of urgency.
SUMMARY OF KEY RECOMMENDATIONS
1. An Environmental Policy Statement should be prepared and published as soon as possible. The dissemination of such a policy document is not dependent on the implementation of any of the other recommendations of the Task Force. (Chapter Three)
2. Provisions for the protection of the environment should be included in the terms of leases and licences. (Chapter Three and Chapter Five)
3. Detailed archaeological and ecological surveys of the Curragh should be carried out as soon as possible. (Chapter Two)
4. No further permanent encroachments should be permitted on the Curragh. Temporary encroachments should only be considered where it could be clearly demonstrated that they are of environmental benefit to the Curragh lands. (Chapter Two and Chapter Five)
5. The findings of the feasibility study with regard to sewage treatment facilities on the Curragh should be implemented as a matter of urgency. (Chapter Two)
6. Activities of all users should be restricted when the ground conditions on the Curragh are unsuitable due to inclement weather. (Chapter Two)
7. Existing tree plantations should be progressively removed and no new trees planted. (Chapter Two and Chapter Six)
8. No further lands on the Curragh should be leased or licenced to sports clubs. All existing sports facilities should be reviewed and where developments that are inappropriate have taken place, efforts should be made to rectify the situation and to re-integrate the lands in question into the traditional open plain. (Chapter Six)
9. An education programme must be put in place to make the public aware of the significance of the Curragh and why it has to be protected. (Chapter Six)
10. The existing vesting arrangements for the Curragh do not require change. (Chapter Four)
11. The Minister for Defence should establish a statutory Authority to which responsibility will be delegated for the management of the Curragh. (Chapter Four)
12. The Authority should appoint a Director with responsibility for the day-to-day management of the Curragh. The Authority should also appoint such other staff as are considered necessary. (Chapter Four)
13. The Minister for Defence should appoint a Consultative Advisory Council to advise the Authority with regard to management of the Curragh. (Chapter Four)
14. The Authority should be empowered to ensure that all areas of the Curragh, including the Curragh Camp and areas leased to other users, are managed in a manner that is environmentally friendly. (Chapter Five)
15. Clearly defined access routes must be specified in respect of both grass and all-weather gallops on the Curragh. (Chapter Two)
16. It is necessary to restrict the training, including lunging, of horses to areas specifically licenced or leased for that purpose. Trainers who exercise horses in other areas should be banned from using facilities on the Curragh. (Chapter Two)
17. There should be specified limits on the number of horses that may be trained on the Curragh or in any particular part of it. (Chapter Five)
18. The grazing of sheep should be regulated and action taken to prevent territorial grazing, if necessary, by means of extinguishing sheep grazing rights or by permitting transient grazing within the existing overall grazing limit of 6,013 sheep. (Chapter Two and Chapter Five)
19. Sheep grids are necessary on all roads leading from the Curragh. (Chapter Two)
20. The military authorities should lay down clear orders as to which areas may and may not be used for the various training activities. (Chapter Two)
21. Lower speed limits and weight restrictions should be imposed on all roads across the Curragh with the exception of the motorway. (Chapter Two)
22. The level of charges at present being applied in respect of use of the Curragh lands should be reviewed. (Chapter Four)
23. The Government should include the updating of the Curragh of Kildare Acts as a matter of urgency in its legislative programme. (Chapter Five)
24. The Authority should be empowered to make and enforce Bye-Laws. (Chapter Five)
25. The Authority should be empowered to make Compulsory Purchase Orders in respect of the period remaining on leases where this is considered necessary on environmental or other grounds to provide for the better management of the Curragh. (Chapter Five)
CHAPTER ONE - INTRODUCTION
Description of the Curragh
1.1 The Curragh is an open area of semi-natural grassland and heath on a substratum of till and has existed as an uncultivated and unenclosed plain for at least 2,000 years. It is one of Ireland's outstanding and best-known landscapes and is probably the oldest and certainly the most extensive tract of semi-natural grassland in the country. It is an area of both national and international importance and also of immense archaeological, cultural, environmental and historical significance. The Curragh is approximately 1,971 hectares in area (4,870 acres) and extends for some 10km in a North-West/South-East direction and is 5km across at its widest.
1.2 The main landscape qualities of the Curragh derive from its geological origins. The very flat, though gently rolling topography of the Curragh has been formed on rocks of the Carboniferous Limestone series and the variable covering of boulder clay, sand and gravel that overlies them. The Curragh though not entirely composed of sand and gravel, contains outwash and esker sands and gravels in places more than 60 metres thick. The soil of the Curragh is relatively shallow and fragile and once degraded or broken-up cannot be easily restored. Integrity of the soil is crucial to the survival of the grassland and the ecological uniqueness of the area. The lands themselves have been mainly uncultivated since prehistoric times leading to the present uniqueness of the soil types and topology.
1.3 Beneath the Curragh lies the Curragh or mid-Kildare Aquifer, which is one of the most extensive of its kind in the country. The aquifer holds vast quantities of water and extends beyond the Curragh to Suncroft, Kildare, Newbridge and the Hill of Allen. Water from the aquifer is crystal clear and rich in calcium and supplies the needs of the Curragh Camp, the National Stud and the Japanese Gardens. In addition, water flows naturally from the aquifer to a series of landsprings including the internationally important Pollardstown Fen, which lies just north of the Curragh and is the largest spring-fed fen in Western Europe.
1.4 The Curragh Plains have been declared a Recorded Monument under the National Monuments Act, 1994. The fact that the lands in their entirety have been so designated underlines their importance. A vast number of archaeological features, many not visible to the casual eye, are located on the Curragh. Many of these features suggest that the area was the focus of much community and ritual activity from an early age. The majority of burial sites are of the early Iron Age with many other features showing a continuity of use through the early Christian era to medieval times.
1.5 In addition to its impending designation as a Natural Heritage Area (N.H.A.) it is also envisaged that the Curragh may, at some stage in the future, be classified as a Special Area of Conservation (S.A.C.) under the European Habitats Directive. Such classifications will impose a legal obligation on the State as the owner of the land to maintain the existing natural qualities of the Curragh.
1.6 The Task Force noted that it is the policy of Kildare County Council, as expressed in the County Development Plan, to consider the making of a Special Amenity Area Order in respect of the Curragh and its environs. This would have a positive effect in that it would impose a stricter planning regime reflecting the importance of the visual environment of the area.
1.7 The Curragh Plains provide a working environment for three main users all of whom have had a long association with the area and each has contributed significantly to the development of the character of the Curragh. Details of the main users are as follows:
The 1868 Curragh of Kildare Act granted the military authorities exclusive use of the Curragh Camp and this was confirmed by the 1961 Curragh of Kildare Act. The Camp is the National Training Centre for the Defence Forces and covers an area of some 312 hectares (771 acres) known as Brown Lands. In addition, a number of military rifle ranges, many of which were developed in the last century, are located on a further 330 hectares (815 acres), which are designated as Blue Lands. The Defence Forces also retain exercise rights over the remainder of the Curragh lands (known as Green Lands) and utilise them for various training purposes.
(b) Racehorse Industry
The Curragh is recognised as a major training area for the racehorse industry and the Turf Club hold a 150-year lease on 330 hectares (816 acres) of Green Lands, which were enclosed at the Curragh Racecourse following the 1961 Act. The right to use this area for horseracing and training was recognised under the 1868 Curragh of Kildare Act. In addition, they utilise a number of grass and all-weather gallops which are situated at various locations throughout the Curragh. The Curragh Racecourse is internationally renowned and many major races are held there each year including all of the Irish Classics.
(c) Sheep Grazing
The grazing of the Curragh by sheep is essential to the maintenance of the ecology of the area. The 1870 Curragh of Kildare Act awarded the right to graze sheep on the Curragh on the basis of common of pasture, in respect of lands adjacent to the Curragh. Sheep grazing rights are not transferable apart from the occupation of the lands in respect of which they were awarded. There are currently 6,013 rights, which are owned by approximately 150 landowners and utilised by about 30 flock owners. These rights may be exercised over all lands other than those occupied by the military at the Curragh Camp (The Brown Lands) and the area enclosed at the Racecourse. These rights are exercised free of charge.
1.8 Over the past number of years there has been a marked intensification in the level of activities among users and also in the level of developments taking place on the periphery of the Curragh. This has resulted in much greater use being made of the Curragh and has led to increased pressure on the fabric of the land. The existing management structure, which was set up following the enactment of the 1961 Act, has proved inadequate for the task of protecting and preserving the integrity of the area. In that regard the failure to update legislation and to provide sufficient resources have been key elements in the deterioration of the situation.
Background to the Task Force
1.9 In August 1997, recognising the need for action to be taken in response to the ongoing threats being posed to the area, the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces jointly established a Board to examine the situation and to make recommendations for the development and implementation of an environmental policy for the Curragh Lands.
1.10 The Board concluded that the Curragh was under sustained and increasing pressure from an environmental point of view. Abuse of the environment was taking place by the three main users and the public in general, all of whom appeared to be largely unaware of, or unconcerned with, the damage being caused. Legislation, management structure and resourcing were seen as being inadequate to deal with the situation. The Board recommended the adoption by the Minister for Defence of an environmental policy together with a management strategy to support that policy. It was proposed that a Manager be appointed and provided with adequate staff and financial resources. Appropriate legislative change and the initiation of an education programme for users of the Curragh were also recommended. In addition, it proposed that immediate action be taken to halt the ongoing environmental damage and to deal with the environmental management problems of the Curragh.
Establishment of the Task Force
1.11 On 27 July 1998, the Government approved the appointment of an Inter-Departmental Task Force on the future Management and Development of the Curragh of Kildare. In addition to the ongoing pressure on the environment of the Curragh, the establishment of the Task Force was sought in the context of the declaration of the Curragh as a Recorded Monument under the National Monuments Act, 1994; its impending designation as a Natural Heritage Area (N.H.A.); and the establishment by the Defence Forces of a National Training Centre at the Curragh Camp.
1.12 The then Quartermaster General of the Defence Forces, Major General P. F. Nowlan was appointed Chairman of the Task Force. In addition to officials of the Department of Defence and of the Defence Forces, representatives of the following Departments/State Agencies were appointed to the Task Force:
Department of Agriculture and Food;
Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands;
Department of the Environment and Local Government;
Department of Finance;
Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform;
Kildare County Council; and
Midlands East Regional Tourism Authority.
1.13 The Task Force was assigned the following Terms of Reference:
(a) to make recommendations as to the most appropriate Department or State Agency to have overall responsibility for the Curragh having regard to its significant archaeological, cultural, environmental and historical importance;
(b) to examine and report on the existing situation with regard to the use and management of the Curragh;
(c) to make recommendations on the future control, management and staffing structure which requires to be put in place to ensure the effective operation and preservation of the area into the next millennium;
(d) to examine and report on existing legislation governing the use of the area and to make recommendations with regard to future legislative requirements;
(e) to consider and report on the possibility of the region being developed as a leisure and amenity area with greater public access;
(f) to seek submissions from all interested parties, both statutory and non-statutory, including the relevant Local Authority, Kildare County Council; and
(g) to examine and report on the existing prison facility with a view to its expansion to meet accommodation demands.
Modus Operandi of the Task Force
1.14 The Task Force conducted an initial visit to the Curragh in August 1998. A further inspection was carried out in February 1999 when it was considered that the prevailing conditions would differ significantly. The Task Force examined the Report of the Environmental Policy Board for the Curragh Lands and endorsed it as an accurate reflection of the current condition of the Curragh. That report is set out in its entirety in Appendix B (not available online).
1.15 It was agreed that submissions from interested parties, including Kildare County Council and members of the general public would be sought as a matter of urgency. In late September 1998 advertisements were accordingly placed in both National Newspapers (Irish Independent, Irish Times and The Examiner) and the local County Kildare based press (Leinster Leader, Kildare Nationalist and Kildare Times). As a result a total of twenty-eight submissions were received. Details of the groups and individuals who made submissions are set out in Appendix C (not available online). Subsequently all those who made submissions were invited to make oral presentations to the Task Force in order to elaborate on their submissions. Oral hearings were held at the Curragh in the Standhouse Hotel on 8 and 9 February 1999. Twenty-four of the groups involved made oral presentations. Members of the Task Force availed of the opportunity to discuss the submissions with the groups involved.
1.16 It was considered by the Task Force that one of the main problems that required resolution was to reconcile the needs of the users with the absolute necessity of preserving the unique fabric of the Curragh. To facilitate this process it was decided to prepare the broad outlines of an Environmental Policy Statement, which would set out the parameters within which all users of the Curragh would be required to operate. It was further considered that the development of a management strategy and structure would be the next priority. In that regard it was generally felt that the adoption of such policies would be key elements in ensuring the preservation of the Curragh.
1.17 With regard to legislation the Task Force examined the existing position and drew up an outline of proposed legislative requirements, which is considered necessary to update penalties and to prohibit certain activities and to provide for the Curragh to be used in a more environmentally friendly manner.
1.18 At a meeting on 11 November, 1998 the Task Force agreed that the question of the expansion of the existing prison facility in the Curragh Camp, which is operated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, was primarily a matter for that Department and the Department of Defence. The representative of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform subsequently withdrew from the Task Force, as that Department had no further interest in the proceedings. The matter is addressed in Paragraph 2.16 of this report.
CHAPTER 2 - CURRENT ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITION
Examination of Threats
2.1 The Curragh lands are subject to ongoing deterioration. The Report of the Environmental Policy Board illustrates the surface and visual degradation of the lands. It also sets out the proposition that this damage will most likely be exacerbated by increased demands by the major users and the intensified recreational use by the residents in the fast developing urban centres on its periphery.
2.2 Part 3 of the Report of the Environmental Policy Board describes in detail the activities of the three main users on the Curragh - the Defence Forces, Horse Trainers and Sheep Owners. It also provides details with regard to recreational users, the main ones of which include, Golf, Pitch and Putt and Football Clubs. Details are also provided of significant unauthorised uses including dumping, scrambling and trespass by travellers and other campers. The Task Force considers it unnecessary to repeat the details in this report.
2.3 Current management systems have evolved without the development of the necessary depth of focus on environmental care.
2.4 Users themselves may not be aware of the fragile nature of the Curragh and that their activities might be having a negative effect on the environment.
2.5 In particular, the Task Force is concerned by the immediate threats posed by a number of activities, which could be easily curtailed and hopefully eliminated by users exercising greater degrees of care. The Task Force would draw attention to recent damage caused by, inter alia:
- galloping and lunging of horses outside of designated areas;
- the practice of herding sheep into specific areas rather than allowing them to roam freely;
- winter feeding of sheep;
- surface disturbance by two and four wheeled vehicles traversing the lands;
- illegal dumping of topsoil, household waste and litter;
- damage caused by intrusions on archaeological sites;
- tree-planting and fencing.
Recent Significant Developments
2.6 Resulting from the Government decision to implement the recommendations of the Efficiency Audit Group Review of the Defence Forces, the latter are at present undergoing a major programme of reorganisation involving considerable investment in infrastructure and equipment. As part of that programme, the Curragh Camp will become the principal training and logistics centre for the Defence Forces. A major programme of refurbishment is already underway at the Camp. These developments may in the future lead to some increased use of exercise rights on the Curragh by the Defence Forces, for training purposes. As indicated in the Report of the Environmental Policy Board military training does have an impact on the environment of the Curragh. In order to minimise this impact the Task Force supports the recommendations in Paragraph 62, that the military authorities lay down clear orders as to which areas may and may not be used for the various training activities and set up an educational programme for all ranks.
2.7 The Turf Club have, under licence from the Department of Defence, developed grass and all-weather gallops outside of the enclosed area at the Racecourse to facilitate the training of horses. Of particular concern to the Task Force is the construction of all-weather gallops. These gallops were introduced to replace ploughed gallops and are in some ways an improvement but still have the potential to cause long-term and irreparable damage. This results from the fact that the gallops are dug out to such a depth that it impacts on the sub-surface soil structure. The gallops have a hard-core base with a compacted covering of woodchip to a depth of 225 mm to 300 mm. This material is alien to the Curragh and may have a very negative impact where it comes in contact with the sward. In addition, the lack of clearly defined access routes to the gallops has resulted in the areas immediately adjacent to them being subject to damage.
2.8 There is evidence of selective territorial grazing and as a result over-grazing of particular areas of the Curragh by sheep. This is directly linked to the annual trading of grazing rights, which has resulted in the concentration of large numbers of sheep in specific areas due to the unauthorised herding practice of restricting each flock to a particular area. It is considered that this type of selective grazing has led to an increase in the practice of bringing winter fodder onto the Curragh.
2.9 The introduction of winter fodder has the potential to introduce alien grass types, which might in the longer term, compete with and replace grasses and other flora native to the Curragh. In addition, the use of feeding troughs has resulted in concentration of sheep in small areas resulting in trampling of the sward and enrichment of the areas due to the volume of dung.
2.10 Existing sewage treatment facilities and septic tanks on the Curragh pose a threat to the Curragh Aquifer. Two sewage treatment plants are located on the Curragh in the Brownstown area. One of the plants is operated by the Department of Defence and services the needs of the Camp. The other plant is operated by Kildare County Council and provides facilities for local communities in the environs of the Curragh. Both plants are outdated and provide only for basic treatment of effluent. Any developments, which place additional pressures on these utilities such as an increase in the effluent arising from an expansion of the Camp or of local communities, would significantly increase the threat to the Aquifer. The Task Force notes that the Department of Defence and Kildare County Council are jointly funding a feasibility study to examine the problem of the treatment and disposal of sewage.
2.11 The expansion of towns and villages close to the Curragh has now reached the stage where residential and commercial developments are being built in areas immediately adjacent to the Curragh. Such developments have impacted negatively on the Curragh and have the potential to lead to further pressure on the environment of the area with increased demands for leisure facilities and rights of access, and degradation of the visual amenity.
2.12 There has been a substantial increase in the volume and nature of traffic on the roadways in the area of the Curragh. Of particular concern is the number of heavy vehicles, which are using roads, which were not designed to carry heavy loads, and are too narrow to safely accommodate such vehicles. The threat this poses to sheep, horses and walkers is significant. It is also considered that increasing traffic levels will impact adversely on the level of air and noise pollution in the area. The possibility of installing sheep grids and introducing lower speed limits and weight restrictions on all roads leading to and crossing the Curragh, with the exception of the motorway, should be addressed.
2.13 The Curragh Racecourse was fenced-off following the introduction of the 1961 Curragh of Kildare Act. In more recent times the development of the motorway has required the erection of additional fencing which has further adversely affected the visual environment and violates the character of the Curragh as an open unenclosed plain.
2.14 The Task Force notes that the construction of the Kildare Bypass will have an environmental impact on the Curragh and may have a significant impact on the Curragh Aquifer. This issue is still under consideration in another forum.
Main issues raised in Submissions
2.15 As stated previously, the Task Force sought submissions from interested parties at an early date and a total of 28 submissions were received. The Task Force noted the level of response, in particular from groups and individuals who had no obvious economic interest in the Curragh. The Task Force also noted with interest the number of points that were common to many submissions. The main points raised in the written submissions and in the oral presentations include the following:
(a) There was a general perception that extensive damage is being caused by horses, which are being galloped in areas other than those licensed to the Turf Club for that purpose. It was also indicated that some of the horses involved were not actually racehorses but rather were kept for leisure activities. The point was made that the 330 hectares (816 acres) enclosed at the racecourse appeared to be underutilised. It was further stated that training establishments adjoining the Curragh were also being underused to the detriment of the Curragh.
(b) Present management systems were criticised for failing to take action to control abusers of the environment of the Curragh. It was suggested that some form of authority needed to be put in place.
(c) The Curragh should be vested in the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and managed by that Department, possibly as a National Park.
(d) Some type of forum needs to be put in place to afford interested parties an opportunity to express their views and have an input into the management of the area.
(e) The existing Bye-Laws should be enforced.
(f) No new encroachments onto the Curragh should be permitted.
(g) No further land should be leased or licensed to sports clubs.
(h) The Civil Prison in the Curragh Camp, which is operated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, should not be expanded but rather dispensed with as soon as possible.
(i) The grazing of sheep needs to be better controlled and the herding of sheep onto particular areas should be prohibited.
(j) Consideration should be given to the extinguishment of sheep right claims where the agreement of the claim owners is forthcoming.
(k) Sheep should be removed from the Curragh for at least one month during the winter.
(l) Foddering of sheep on the Curragh should be stopped.
(m) Sheep grids should be installed on all roads leading from the Curragh.
(n) Detailed Archaeological and Ecological surveys of the area should be carried out as soon as possible.
(o) Concerns were expressed regarding the threat to the Curragh Aquifer and also with regard to the existing sewage treatment facilities.
(p) It was stated that tree planting was alien to the nature of the Curragh and needed to be addressed.
(q) The terms of leases and licences need to contain provisions for the protection of the environment.
(r) Criticism was made of the impact on the environment of military training in the Sunnyhill area.
(s) The Military Cemetery should be restored and maintained.
(t) Where possible damage to the Curragh should be repaired.
(u) The existing landfill site at Hare Park was a source of potential pollution.
(v) An education programme needs to be put in place to make the public aware of what the Curragh is and why it has to be protected. Notices regarding restrictions should be circulated widely.
(w) The question of the provision of public utilities such as car-parks, toilets, litter bins and notices regarding restrictions on activities needs to be addressed.
(x) Lower speed limits need to be imposed on all roads across the Curragh with the exception of the motorway.
Other issues of concern
2.16 With regard to the existing prison facility in the Curragh Camp which is operated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the position is that the Task Force was advised by that Department that there are no specific plans at present to expand the facility. It was accordingly not considered necessary to report on, or make any recommendation with regard to, the question of the expansion of that unit. However, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has advised that the general Curragh area may be a suitable prison location on the basis of a new facility being built on a "green field" site. The Task Force would recommend against any such development. While recognising that the construction of any new prison facility on Brown Lands would be primarily a matter for the Ministers for Defence and for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the Task Force would oppose any development that would lead to an increase in the demand on already over-burdened services such as water and sewage.
2.17 The Task Force notes that an earthen embankment is in the process of construction at Number 4 Range in an effort to control the noise pollution, which emanates from the area when the range is in use.
2.18 It is noted that sentries are posted on the Hollow Road to warn civilians with regard to the danger of using the road when the ranges are in use. As some civilians do not stop the question of traffic control may need to be re-examined.
2.19 The Task Force notes that it is not proposed to expand the Ammunition Depot onto Green Lands but rather to upgrade facilities within the existing perimeter.
2.20 The south side of the Curragh Camp, including the married quarters at Orchard Park, has a negative impact on the visual environment and steps should be taken to rectify the situation.
2.21 It is recommended that the practice of allowing roads to be built across Curragh Lands to provide access to private property should be discontinued. Further permanent encroachments should not be permitted and temporary encroachments should only be considered where it can be clearly demonstrated that they are of benefit to the Curragh lands.
2.22 It is noted that marker stones and bollards have been placed along the sides of some licenced encroachment routes across Curragh Lands. It is recommended that this practice be prohibited - the stones and bollards in question are on Curragh Lands, not private property, and should be removed.
2.23 Furze bushes grow freely on the Curragh and can constitute a fire hazard. Steps should be taken to control, manage and prevent their further proliferation on the Curragh.
2.24 The Task Force notes that the Department of Defence, for reasons of safety and to enhance the visual environment, proposes to fill-in and landscape a number of disused gravel pits at Donnellys Hollow, Knocknagarm and Blackrath and also the former landfill site at the Curragh Camp.
2.25 From its examination of the position the Task Force is satisfied that the main threats to the Curragh arise from the following activities:-
(a) Galloping of horses outside of licenced training areas. The training of horses must be restricted to the areas licensed/leased to the Turf Club for that purpose and should be conducted in a manner, which has least impact on the environment. Access to gallops should only be through scheduled or designated routes. Trainers who exercise horses in areas not designated for that purpose should be banned from using facilities on the Curragh.
(b) Territorial grazing of sheep. The current practices exercised by flock owners whereby sheep are grazed only in particular areas have resulted in large numbers of sheep being congregated in specific areas thereby causing overgrazing. All areas of the Curragh need to be adequately grazed by sheep to ensure that the ecology of the area is not altered.
(c) Degradation or physical disturbance of the soil. The soil at the Curragh is relatively shallow and if broken up cannot be easily restored. Surface disturbance may not be serious in the short-term but sub-surface disturbance is much more damaging, especially when there is inclement weather. This is particularly evident in the development of all-weather gallops. Activities of users should be restricted when ground conditions are unsuitable due to inclement weather. It should also be noted that uneven surfaces caused by physical disturbance of the soil can impose restrictions on other uses, which are less damaging, such as walking and running. In addition, the introduction of soil, chemicals and other non-indigenous materials has the potential to alter the natural ecology of the area.
(d) Damage to Archaeological sites caused by a lack of awareness or appreciation of the archaeological significance of these sites and the Curragh generally or because of indifference to the consequences of activities. It is recommended that a detailed archaeological survey of the Curragh should be carried out as soon as possible.
(e) Drainage Works. Works, which result in changes to the existing natural drainage system, could disturb the ecological balance and habitat diversity. It is recommended that a detailed ecological survey of the Curragh should also be carried out as soon as possible.
(f) Development of active recreation. Fixed facilities for organised sporting activities impose restrictions, which limit use of a specific area to a particular group. They invariably lead to enclosure, landscaping and the erection of structures, which require utilities and services. All such developments are damaging to the environment and are incompatible with the traditional character of the Curragh. Furthermore it is considered that activities should be restricted when ground conditions are unsuitable for the playing of games.
(g) The environmental risk associated with the existing sewage treatment facilities, which because of their nature, age and serviceability pose a serious threat. The Task Force recommends that the findings of the feasibility study with regard to sewage treatment facilities on the Curragh be implemented as a matter of urgency.
(h) Tree-planting has had a negative impact on the visual environment and may also affect the ecology of the area due to the types of trees that have been planted. Trees are alien to the open character of the Curragh.
(i) Physical sub-division of the Curragh by roads, railways and fencing is not in keeping with the character of the area and is a threat to the integrity of the open plain.
(j) The visual aspects of the Curragh are seriously degraded by alterations to the open nature of the Curragh such as roads, trees, bridges and fly-overs across the motorway, fencing and pylons and their wire-scape. In addition, buildings in the Camp and elsewhere on the Curragh and also on the periphery of the area have had an adverse effect on the visual environment. Insofar as is possible, a policy should be put in place to remove such buildings from Curragh Lands when they are no longer required for the purpose for which they were constructed.
2.26 The Task Force is of the view that the Curragh Lands are under very real and sustained threat which if allowed to go unchecked will lead to the irrevocable destruction of an unique asset. The level of damage being caused to the Curragh is clearly depicted in the Photographic Index (Annex B) of the Report of the Environmental Policy Board. It must be clearly understood that it is simply not an option to allow the status quo to continue. It is the considered view of the Task Force that action to counter the threats being posed to the Curragh must be initiated as a matter of priority.
CHAPTER THREE - ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY
Proposals for an Environmental Policy Statement
3.1 The Task Force recommends that an Environmental Policy Statement be prepared and published as a matter of priority in order to provide for the better management and preservation of the Curragh. The Task Force considers that the uniqueness of the Curragh warrants a specific Environmental Policy Statement, which should endeavour to balance the needs of users with the over-riding requirement to preserve the fabric of the lands and provide for the property to be used in an environmentally friendly manner.
3.2 It is appreciated that the Curragh is a working environment for three main users; the Defence Forces, horse trainers and sheep owners, and this fact must be taken into account. It is accordingly envisaged that the Environmental Policy Statement should lay down the parameters within which activities on the Curragh would be permitted. The statement should set out broad policy objectives and give a clear indication of the strategies, which should be used to achieve those objectives.
3.3 The Task Force believes that such a statement is necessary for the guidance of both management and users, and also for the information of the public at large. It is also considered that an Environmental Policy Statement would have a major impact on all future developments on the Curragh and would significantly influence the work practices to be adopted by any new management structure that may be established. Failure to have in place a clear statement of objectives and strategies for their implementation with regard to the Curragh was a key element in the development of many of the environmentally unfriendly practices that currently pertain.
3.4 The statement should also emphasise the fact that the management of the environment of the Curragh imposes an overall duty of care on each user in order to ensure the long-term survival of our heritage for the enjoyment of our own and future generations. The Task Force also notes that it is now standard practice in the countries of both Western Europe and North America for Environmental Policy Statements to be put in place to provide for the management and operation of State-owned lands.
3.5 The adoption of an Environmental Policy Statement would confirm the Governments commitment to the protection and enhancement of the archaeological, cultural, ecological and historical environment of the Curragh. It would also provide for activities to be regulated and conducted in accordance with the Government's overall environmental policy as currently set out in the document Sustainable Development: A Strategy for Ireland published in April, 1997.
3.6 The main policy objectives of the Environmental Policy Statement should include provision for the following:
(a) compliance with all relevant National and EU legislation and with international conventions to which Ireland is a signatory;
(b) the protection and enhancement of the environment of the Curragh in line with the principles of stewardship and the Government's sustainable development strategy;
(c) the respecting of operational and training requirements of the Defence Forces essential to national security;
(d) the fostering of good neighbourly conduct between all users of the Curragh and with the adjoining communities.
3.7 The Environmental Policy Statement should also set out the strategies that will be employed in order to achieve the main policy objectives. It is considered that these strategies should include:
(a) implementation and operation of management systems to ensure compliance with legislation and demonstrate further improvement in environmental performance;
(b) preparation and dissemination following consultation, of an Environmental Management Plan for the Curragh, which would set out the policies on environmental issues and balance the activities of the users of the Curragh with these environmental policies so that these activities would not exceed the carrying capacity of the Curragh's environment;
(c) promotion of environmental awareness and performance among users through effective education and training;
(d) the provision of access to expertise to manage and implement environmental protection and enhancement measures and to provide for regular monitoring;
(e) ensure that environmental considerations are integrated into the activities of all users of the Curragh;
(f) the raising of awareness of users to their responsibilities and accountability;
(g) the fostering of the positive involvement of users;
(h) ensure to the greatest extent possible that any further development or intensification of activity causes no or minimum environmental damage and is in accordance with the principles of sustainable development.
3.8 It is recommended that arrangements for the preparation and publication of an Environmental Policy Statement should be put in place without further delay. This work need not await the implementation of any of the other recommendations of the Task Force.
CHAPTER FOUR - OPTIONS FOR IMPROVED MANAGEMENT AND ADMINISTRATION
Existing Management and Legislation
4.1 The management of the Curragh has been legislated for in the Curragh of Kildare Acts, 1868, 1870, 1961 and 1969. In 1964 the Minister made Bye-Laws for the Curragh in accordance with the provisions of Section 16 of the 1961 Act.
4.2 Property Management Branch of the Department of Defence is responsible for the formulation of policy and management of all lands vested in the Minister for Defence including the Curragh. The Department employs four staff on the Curragh Plains to carry out certain functions, which relate mainly to the management of sheep and also other duties as assigned by the Department of Defence. These staff report to the Department's Property Management Branch.
4.3 The major administrative and financial functions in relation to the management of the Curragh, which are carried out by Property Management Branch are: -
(a) examination of requests for new activities and preparation and amendment of leases and licences in line with the advice of the Chief State Solicitor and the Valuation Office;
(b) collection of rents and licence fees;
(c) monitoring of planning applications to Kildare County Council;
(d) dealing with applications from individuals, clubs, groups and other organisations wishing to utilise the Curragh;
(e) arranging for contracts to be placed for necessary works;
(f) liaising with the major users of the Curragh; and
(g) liaising with other Departments and State Agencies in relation to the management of the Curragh.
Vesting of the Curragh Lands
4.4 Prior to the 1961 Act the Curragh was vested in the Minister for Finance and managed by the Office of Public Works on behalf of the State in common with similarly held property. To reflect the importance of the lands for military training and the presence of the Curragh Camp, the Curragh was vested in the Minister for Defence by the 1961 Act.
4.5 The Task Force examined the proposition that the lands might be vested in a Minister other than the Minister for Defence and some submissions received expressed a strong preference for day-to-day management to be passed to another Department. In particular transfer of responsibility for management of the Curragh to Dúchas - The Heritage Service of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands was mentioned as an option. However, the Task Force considered that the Curragh was significantly different from all other areas managed by that Department because of the extensive and diverse nature of users and also in view of the prominent position of the Defence Forces. The continued vesting of the Curragh in the Minister for Defence does not prevent its designation as a Natural Heritage Area. In fact there are about 1,500 such areas and only a small fraction are managed by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. The Task Force was further advised that it would not be appropriate to designate the Curragh as a National Park or a National Historical Park, having regard to the range and intensity of uses to which it was subject. The difficulties with present management of the Curragh are primarily related to the lack of acceptance by users of their responsibility to ensure that their activities do not cause environmental damage. This is exacerbated by the lack of knowledge of the wider national importance of these lands.
4.6 The arguments for transferring the lands to other Ministers have been considered in detail. However, the Task Force is not convinced that the present vesting arrangements need to be changed. The reasons, which existed for the transfer of these lands to the Minister for Defence in the early 1960s, are still relevant today. As previously stated the Curragh Camp is being developed as the National Training Centre for the Defence Forces and also as the main logistics base. It therefore is a significant asset in national security considerations.
4.7 The Task Force recognises the importance of the Curragh to each of the major users. However, the Task Force is convinced that the only way these interests can be balanced with the environmental well being of the Curragh is to provide a mechanism whereby any new management arrangements are underpinned by:-
(a) recognition of the environmental, historical, cultural and archaeological importance of the Curragh;
(b) user acceptance of responsibility for the long-term well being of the Curragh;
(c) a commitment by all users and interested parties to a process of co-operation;
(d) appreciation of the damage the various activities can cause;
(e) acceptance that change is required to better manage the Curragh; and
(f) designing activity patterns to foster the welfare of the Curragh.
4.8 The Task Force believes that the main users should have a direct input to and share in the management responsibilities of the Curragh. In an attempt to balance this requirement with the need for better management and an input of environmental expertise at the highest level, the Task Force considered a number of possible management models. Underpinning their consideration was a desire to bring each main user into the management structure and allow other less frequent users an opportunity to have an input in the formulation of management policies. To this end, having regard to the position as set out in paragraphs 4.5 and 4.6, the Task Force concluded that the effective choice to be made was between two models:
(a) the Department of Defence with an enhanced management structure at local level;
(b) a statutory body under the aegis of the Department of Defence constituted from the main users and advised by a widely based body representing the local community and interested parties.
Direct management by the Department of Defence
4.9 The advantages of such a structure are:
- the ease with which it could be implemented; and
- the level of additional resources required.
The main disadvantages are that:
- it does not easily provide an opportunity for involvement of users and other interests in the management of the Curragh - users could be accommodated in an advisory arrangement but it might not be possible to fully include them in the management structure; and
- it may receive poor public support and fail to get the necessary co-operation - the Task Force noted the strong concerns expressed by some parties that past management of the Curragh by the Department of Defence was deficient in many respects.
Body under the aegis of the Department of Defence
4.10 Another option examined by the Task Force centred around the creation of a statutory body under the aegis of the Department of Defence which would be structured in such a manner that the widest possible involvement of all interested parties could be accommodated. In order to allow for this, the Task Force considered a three part structure consisting of the Minister for Defence in whom the lands would continue to be vested, a statutory body consisting of a board drawn from each of the major interest groups and representatives of the Department of Defence, Dúchas, and Kildare County Council; the third segment would be a consultative council representative of all those using the Curragh and those with a local and community interest.
4.11 The advantages of this model are that:
- it presents an opportunity for interested parties to be involved in the management of the Curragh
- it provides a mechanism for interaction between users to enable the interests of the various users to be balanced with the need to safeguard the Curragh;
- it underpins the view that a solution to present difficulties would most effectively be secured with the co-operation of all players;
- it has the benefit of providing for the environmental and heritage values of the Curragh to be taken into account at the highest level in the care and management of the Curragh;
- the range of membership proposed for this body reflects both the national and local importance of these lands whilst respecting its strategic importance from a national security perspective;
- this model removes the day to day management of the Curragh from the centralised structure of the Department of Defence while at the same time continuing to accommodate the requirements of the Defence Forces;
- it takes account of the peculiar nature of the Curragh as a working environment and gives users a significant role in the management of the area; and
- it provides a forum for community and interest groups to have an input in the management process.
4.12 For the reasons outlined above this is the option recommended by the Task Force.
4.13 The Task Force accordingly recommends that the Minister for Defence establish under statute an Authority, which will be responsible for the management of the Curragh. It is recommended that membership of the authority be comprised as follows:
(a) a Chairperson appointed by the Minister for Defence who should be independent of all of the main users;
(b) two nominees of the Minister for Defence, one of whom is an official of the Department and one an officer of the Permanent Defence Force;
(c) a nominee of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands;
(d) a nominee of Kildare County Council;
(e) a representative of an organisation recognised by the Minister as being representative of sheep grazing rights owners and sheepowners. In the absence of such an organisation the Minister will appoint an individual nominated by the IFA; and
(f) a representative of the Irish Horseracing Authority (IHA).
4.14 The Authority should be appointed for a three-year term of office. Nominating organisations at 4.13 (e) and 4.13 (f) should be required to furnish a list containing the names of three individuals, which is in accord with Government guidelines on gender balance, from which the Minister will make the necessary appointments.
4.15 (a) The Authority will be responsible for the appointment of a Director to whom they will delegate full responsibility for the day to day management of the Curragh.
(b) It will be a matter for the Authority to determine the numbers of other staff that are required and to decide the basis of employment, i.e. permanent, part-time, contract, etc. subject to the relevant conditions. The Director will be empowered to employ such other categories of staff as are required and to employ such contractors and professional services as are deemed necessary subject to standard tendering procedures as laid down for the Public Service.
4.16 The Authority will be required to furnish the Minister for Defence with an Annual Report, which will be published. The Authority will also be required to submit multi-annual work programmes and work plans.
4.17 The Authority will be allocated an annual budget to cover all costs associated with its activities. It will be required to furnish the Department with a detailed annual estimate.
4.18 The Minister will delegate to the Authority responsibility for the approval of all licences, leases and lettings with the exception of those listed in Appendix D (not available online). The Minister will consult with the Authority in relation to any proposals to amend any of the listed agreements.
4.19 The Authority will be responsible for the collection of all income from encroachments, leases and licences in respect of all agreements.
4.20 The Task Force is strongly of the view that the Director and Staff employed by the Authority must be accommodated in an easily accessible premises located on or in the environs of the Curragh but not in a location specifically associated with any of the main users. In the latter regard it is considered that were the premises to be based in such a location it would be perceived by some that the Authority was not independent but was merely an adjunct of the particular user.
The Consultative Advisory Council
4.21 The Task Force recommends that the Minister for Defence should establish a Consultative Advisory Council (CAC), which may advise the Authority with regard to the management of the Curragh. It is proposed that nominations for membership of the Council should be sought from among the following: -
(a) Sheepowners/Sheep Grazing Rights Owners;
(b) Horse Trainers;
(c) Defence Forces, Curragh Camp;
(d) Local Community Associations;
(e) Environmental Groups;
(f) Local Historical/Archaeological Groups;
(g) Recreational Users; and
(h) Chairman of Kildare County Council or his/her nominee.
4.22 No more than three representatives may be appointed from each of the groups listed from (a) to (g) in Paragraph 4.21. Each of the nominating organisations listed at (a), (b), (d), (e), (f) and (g) in that paragraph will be required to furnish a list containing the names from which the Minister will make the necessary appointments which will be for a three year period.
4.23 The Authority will be required to ensure that the views of the Consultative Advisory Council are sought on a regular basis and in particular in all cases where a change of policy is proposed.
4.24 The Authority will be required to formally meet with the Consultative Advisory Council at least twice every year.
4.25 The Consultative Advisory Council will be required to elect a Chairperson on an annual basis and to meet at least once every quarter.
4.26 It is intended that this body would be widely representative of both the users of the Curragh and also, and more importantly, of the local community and local interest groups. It would afford such bodies a say in the management of the Curragh. It is envisaged that the CAC would be free to conduct its affairs in the manner that it sees fit subject of course to the statutory requirement to meet on a minimum number of occasions. The Task Force considers that the meetings of the CAC should be open to the public and that some form of general meeting should be held on an annual basis.
4.27 The Task Force would consider that the more groups that are represented on the CAC the more beneficial this would be in terms of the smooth management of the Curragh. The list of bodies eligible for membership is by no means definitive and in that regard it is considered that the Minister may in the future add to the number of groups that may be represented.
4.28 While the role of the CAC is advisory, adequate provision must be made for its voice to be heard and it should be clearly understood that it would be totally counterproductive were it to become or be viewed as little more than a talking shop. It is hoped that the provisions allowing the CAC to meet regularly with the Authority will overcome this problem and that the CAC will be seen as a positive force in the management of the Curragh.
Local Management Structure
4.29 Regardless of what vesting arrangements are accepted by the Government the Task Force recommends the urgent development of a strong, visible, locally based structure to implement the Environmental Policy Statement and other systems considered necessary. The Task Force envisages a structure consisting of a Director and staff, assisted by a multi-skilled Ranger Service.
4.30 It is envisaged that the Director will exercise all of the day-to-day management functions on the Curragh. It is desirable that following appointment he/she will reside in the local area. While it is intended that the Director will not be connected with any of the main users, he/she would be required to have a clear understanding of the problems that have arisen on the Curragh. The Director would also need a high level of expertise and experience in land management and environmental matters, as well as inter-personal management skills and the ability to identify problems and put forward solutions. It is envisaged that the Director would be the interface between the Authority and the main users and all other groups and organisations. It is intended that the Director would be accessible to all such bodies and that he/she would maintain a highly visible presence on the Curragh. It is considered that the salary of the Director would reflect the responsibility of the position and be subject to negotiation.
4.31 The Director will in essence be the final arbiter in all disputes involving the use of Curragh Lands. While the Authority may hear appeals against the decisions of the Director it is not envisaged that decisions will be overturned except in cases where the Director has clearly exceeded his/her authority or acted in contravention of the relevant legislation.
4.32 The Authority must be empowered and given the necessary funding to employ staff in such grades and numbers, as it considers necessary to provide for the adequate management of the Curragh. All staff would be under the control and direction of the Director. In particular it is intended that the Authority would establish a Ranger Service who would be highly mobile and distinctly dressed, with a highly visible presence on the Curragh. It is considered that such a service will have a vital role to play as the eyes and ears of the Director and the Authority especially in the early days of the operation of the new management arrangements. It is envisaged that the Ranger Service would be multi-skilled and multi-tasked. The duties of the service would include environmental protection and enhancement and educational roles and would extend far beyond a patrolling and monitoring function. It is considered that sufficient staff should be employed to ensure that the Director can, during daylight hours, deploy at least two Rangers all year round. In addition the Director would have the flexibility to deploy such staff during night hours if and when required.
4.33 The Task Force views the Ranger Service as a vital component in the management of the Curragh and has accordingly drawn up a suggested list of duties for the service, which is set out in Appendix E (not available online). The diverse duties proposed for the Service require that the staff receive proper training and it is essential that sufficient resources be made available for that purpose.
4.34 The Authority shall employ sufficient staff to ensure an appropriate level of service.
4.35 It is considered that the base of the Director and staff would be manned and open to the public for as long as is practical each day. In that regard it is considered important that the staff be seen and accepted as part of the Curragh and its environs.
4.36 It is estimated that the Department of Defence will expend approximately £200,000 on the Curragh in 1999. The Task Force recognises that the resourcing requirements for its proposals will be significant, especially in the initial stages. However, if the unique ecology and environment of the Curragh is to be protected and preserved for future generations there will have to be a substantial increase in the level of expenditure on the area regardless of the system of management that is put in place. It is considered that the cost of fully implementing the Task Force's recommendations would amount to approximately £600,000 in the first full year of operation. At least half of that amount would be required to cover pay and associated costs. It is anticipated however, that the costs of managing the Curragh would reduce in time as attitudes to the area and compliance with the Environmental Policy Statement improve.
4.37 It should also be noted that the Curragh does generate an income and in 1999 it is estimated that this will amount to about £35,000. This arises generally from rents for licences and leases. The Task Force considers that there is scope to increase the level of income and recommends that the proposed Authority should review the range of charges currently being applied. However, this should not be allowed to create any pressure to make the area self-financing.
CHAPTER 5 - LEGISLATION
5.1 Legislation governing the management of the Curragh is contained in the Curragh of Kildare Acts, 1870, 1961 and 1969. In addition, to these Acts, the Minister for Defence has the power to make bye-laws as he sees fit in relation to the Curragh and the use and management thereof. The current bye-laws were made in 1964.
(a) The 1868 Act
The 1868 Act, repealed by the 1961 Act, was enacted to make improved provision for the management and use of the Curragh. In addition to provisions to ascertain entitlement to certain rights, the Act set out to recognise the use of the Curragh for military purposes and to preserve the Curragh for the racing and training of racehorses. This Act divided the Curragh into three nominal parts, which it referred to as the Brown, Blue and Green Lands (following the colours used on the maps delineating the areas). Care, management and preservation of the Curragh was vested in a Ranger appointed by the Lord Lieutenant. This Act established a Commission to define entitlements to right of common of pasture, rights of way, or other rights; to what persons and the respective terms, or interests, the rights belonged; the lands in respect of which the rights were exercisable and the compensation that should be given to a party whose rights might have been injured by the passing of the Act.
(b) The 1870 Act
The Commissioners reported in June 1869 and the Curragh of Kildare Act 1870 was enacted to give effect to their findings. Essentially, this Act listed the names of all those making claims for rights, set out the townlands where they were situated and the details of their claims. This Act specified that only sheep should be allowed to depasture the Curragh, that each animal should be distinctly marked and authorised the appointment of personnel to assist the Ranger in his management duties. The Act also allowed the Ranger to take legal proceedings in the event of trespass.
(c) The 1961 Act
The 1961 Act provided for a number of changes in the management of the Curragh and repealed the 1868 Act and parts of the 1870 Act. The lands were vested in the Minister for Defence. The Minister was empowered to regulate and manage the lands. The Act provided for the enclosure of any area of the Curragh. This addressed difficulties raised by the Turf Club in relation to excessive grazing of the racecourse area and the hazards this posed to the horseracing industry. The Act also authorised the Minister to make bye-laws in relation to the management of the Curragh and clarified his powers in relation to a number of activities.
(d) The 1964 Bye-Laws
Under the 1961 Act, the Minister for Defence made bye-laws in 1964, which dealt mainly with the management of sheep and depasturing of the Curragh and prohibited a range of activities, the removal of material, and the erection of structures unless prior authorisation was received from the Minister.
(e) The 1969 Act
The 1969 Act dealt mainly with the management and control of sheep grazing on the Curragh and strengthened the provisions made in the 1964 Bye-Laws.
5.2 The Task Force has concluded that the present legislative base is in need of updating and strengthening. In particular, new legislative provisions are required to: -
- deal with deficiencies in the existing body of legislation;
- give effect to the recommendations of this Task Force and reflect the changed nature of uses to which the Curragh is put; and
- set out a modern range of penalties, which will act as a deterrent.
Deficiencies with existing body of legislation
5.3 The existing legislation on which the Department of Defence relies to manage the Curragh is a mixture of Victorian and piecemeal modern legislation which does not comprehensively address, and cannot be made to address, the modern day requirements of the Curragh. Although the Minister for Defence has the power to make bye-laws in relation to the better management of the Curragh, the making of new bye-laws should only be considered when the range of penalties available are updated. Much of the older legislation is no longer relevant given developments in public service management and the need to put in place new arrangements, which will serve into the next century. Neither is there adequate provision for the implementation of a comprehensive environmental approach to managing the Curragh. The existing range of penalties are in need of updating and many licences/leases need to be reviewed to provide for protection of the environment.
Recommendations of the Task Force
5.4 Many of the recommendations of this Task Force will need to be underpinned by comprehensive legislation. The Task Force believes that the Government should include the updating of the Curragh of Kildare Acts in its legislative programme as a matter of urgency. New legislation should give effect to the following:
(a) the consolidation of existing legislation contained in the Curragh of Kildare Acts;
(b) the establishment under statute of an Authority to manage the Curragh. The Authority to be constituted along the lines set out in Chapter 4 of this report and subject to the conditions contained therein;
(c) the devolvement to the Authority of specific Ministerial functions in relation to the management of the Curragh, including those set out in the Curragh of Kildare Acts, whilst reserving to the Minister the stated power set out below:
i. Responsibility for the long-term leases set out in Appendix D (not available online). In that regard the Minister should consult with the Authority before extending or otherwise amending any of the leases in question;
ii. Responsibility for the Curragh Camp and for developments on designated Blue Lands which are deemed necessary for National Security and Defence as set out in existing legislation; and
(d) the establishment of a Consultative Advisory Council which may advise the Authority with regard to the management of the Curragh. The Council to be constituted along the lines set out in Chapter 4 of this report and subject to the conditions contained therein.
5.5 In addition, it is proposed that legislation will be provided to give the Authority specific power to: -
(a) make and enforce Bye-Laws which will improve the environment of the Curragh by prohibiting encroachments, trespass, unauthorised use of Curragh Lands and interference with the legitimate activities of authorised users; Bye-Laws could include items such as, fencing, casual trading, dumping, unauthorised driving of a vehicle on the Curragh and scrambling;
(b) regulate the grazing of sheep and prevent selective grazing, if necessary, by means of extinguishing sheep grazing rights or by permitting transient grazing within the existing overall grazing limit of 6,013 sheep;
(c) make Compulsory Purchase Orders in respect of the period remaining on leases where this is considered necessary on environmental or other grounds to provide for the better management of the Curragh;
(d) ensure that all areas of the Curragh, including the Curragh Camp and areas leased to other users, are managed in a manner that is environmentally friendly;
(e) employ staff as required;
(f) protect sites and areas of archaeological, ecological, historical and geomorphologic interest;
(g) control the number of horses that may be trained on the Curragh or in any particular part of it;
(h) ensure that all animals entitled to be brought onto the Curragh carry the appropriate form of identification as laid down by the Authority;
(i) regulate the planting of trees and remove existing trees; and
(j) initiate action under legislation such as the National Monuments Act, the Planning Acts and the Litter Acts.
5.6 The Task Force is strongly of the view that a co-operative approach is desirable in implementing a comprehensive environmental management regime for the Curragh. However, a range of sanctions and penalties must form part of the new legislation required to underpin the implementation of its proposals. The recommendation in relation to enforcing more environmentally friendly activities will be ineffectual unless backed by penalties, which are fair but, at the same time, act as successful deterrents to activities, which damage the Curragh. The existing penalties of £20 on summary conviction and £20 per day for continued offence subject to a maximum of £100 are not an effective deterrent.
5.7 It is recommended that a range of penalties be introduced to replace the existing penalties. This new range of penalties should reflect the particular categories of user involved on the Curragh. They should relate to the type of damage that can be caused by particular activities. The penalties should, for example, range from a minimum of £50, where a person litters, to £50,000, where unauthorised development is carried out affecting an archaeological site. Consideration should also be given to introducing a range of penalties suitable for the control of recreational users and traffic. In particular, the power to fine, immobilise by clamping, remove and impound vehicles should be available. The imposition of on-the-spot penalties for minor offences should be considered as an essential tool in implementing a comprehensive environmental management plan where so many people are using the Curragh. New legislation should impose a series of offences and matching penalties to include:
(a) on the spot fines for minor offences;
(b) impounding of vehicles, equipment or animals deemed to be using Curragh Lands contrary to legislation;
(c) clamping of vehicles parked illegally on the Curragh;
(d) recovery of costs in respect of repair/renovation works required to restore damage caused by abusers;
(e) institution of injunction proceedings to prevent unapproved works and uses, persistent abuse or trespass;
(f) operation of a scale of fines directly linked to the level of abuse being caused; and
(g) revoking of licence or lease where this is considered necessary on environmental or other grounds to provide for the better management of the Curragh.
5.8 Legislation should be enacted to prevent further permanent encroachments on the Curragh. In that regard it should be noted that licenced encroachments are eating away at the Curragh. They often facilitate the development of land adjoining the Curragh by permitting the construction of access roads to such sites. It is the view of the Task Force that what remains of the Curragh must be preserved and protected. The granting of further permanent encroachments is clearly not compatible with that objective and should not be countenanced in the future. Temporary encroachments should only be considered where it can be clearly demonstrated that they are of environmental benefit to the Curragh lands.
5.9 It is recognised that all of the legislation required to give effect to the recommendations contained in this report may take some time to be enacted. If this proves to be the case, it is recommended that the following interim arrangements be put in place quickly, pending full implementation of the recommendations:
(a) the existing Curragh Bye-Laws should be updated to incorporate the relevant recommendations of the Task Force;
(b) Section 16 (3) of the 1961 Curragh of Kildare Act should be amended as a matter of urgency in order to provide for a more realistic level of fines for individuals convicted of contravening the Bye-Laws;
(c) an ad hoc body constituted along the same lines as the proposed Curragh Authority should be established to oversee the management of the Curragh;
(d) a strong local management structure should be put in place and in that regard the body recommended at (c) above should employ a Director and Staff, especially a Ranger Service, to manage the Curragh.
CHAPTER 6 - RECREATIONAL/LEISURE ACTIVITIES AND PUBLIC AWARENESS AND EDUCATION
6.1 As already stated, the Curragh is one of the most open and accessible areas in the country. Apart from the Curragh Camp and when rifle firing is taking place portions of the Blue Lands, the enclosed area at the racecourse and the lands leased or licenced to recreational users, all other parts of the Curragh are freely accessible to the public. The Task Force would not wish to see this level of accessibility diminished. It is considered that the heightening of public awareness, particularly in the locality, with regard to the unique environment of the Curragh can only result in a greater appreciation of the area and this in turn should lead to the better protection of the Curragh.
6.2 At present there are a number of Golf, Football and Pitch and Putt Clubs, which have facilities on the Curragh on land held under lease or licence from the Minister. Many of the clubs were given permission to construct permanent structures and have also, in some cases without authorisation, undertaken landscaping and tree-planting and erected fencing. A licence has also been granted to a model-flying club to use land on the Little Curragh. Other clubs are granted use of various parts of the Curragh on a temporary basis for particular events such as orienteering competitions. Permission is required for such events to avoid undue interference with the activities of other users. Various groups, organisations and individuals also regularly use the Curragh on a casual basis for training and practice and specific permission for such activities is not always sought.
6.3 Recreational activities, which are totally unacceptable on the Curragh, include the following: -
- driving of 4x4 vehicles;
- riding of sports horses;
- golfing outside of designated areas;
- hunting and shooting.
6.4 The expansion of the towns of Naas, Newbridge, Kildare, Rathangan and Kilcullen and the increases in population in communities on the periphery of the Curragh - Athgarvan, Ballysax, Brownstown, Maddenstown - have already increased use of the Curragh Lands as a leisure and amenity area. However, it must be understood that it may be necessary to restrict certain activities in order to protect archaeological sites and to prevent irrevocable change and damage to the lands and ecology of the Curragh.
Development as a leisure and amenity area with greater public access
6.5 The Task Force sees no objection to the use of the Curragh for passive leisure activities. Walkers, joggers, picnickers and family groups do not pose a serious threat to the environment, provided they remove their litter. They are unlikely to cause any significant damage to the fabric of the land. As previously stated the Curragh is considered to be one of the most accessible areas in the country and it is accordingly not considered necessary to provide for greater public access.
6.6 The Task Force recommends that no further lands be leased or licenced or otherwise set aside for sporting/recreational activities. It is considered that all such developments are damaging to the Curragh environment in that they inevitably lead to landscaping, fencing and the construction of club houses all of which are inappropriate. They also limit public use and access to the areas in question and as such are totally inconsistent with the traditional character of the Curragh as an open plain.
6.7 The Task Force recommends that all existing facilities should be reviewed. Where inappropriate developments, including tree planting, have taken place efforts should be made to rectify the situation and to re-integrate the lands in question into the traditional open plain. It is recommended that existing tree plantations should be progressively removed and no new trees planted.
6.8 It is not considered that it would be appropriate at this time to provide car-parking facilities, toilets, litterbins, picnic areas or other public facilities on Curragh lands. Alternative possibilities such as locating utilities on land adjoining the Curragh could be explored should the need arise in the future.
6.9 The question of Interpretative and Visitor Centres and Museums was raised with the Task Force. Such facilities, which would be open to the public, would not be appropriate to the Curragh. It would be far more suitable for such buildings, if considered necessary, to be located in one of the local towns, such as Newbridge or Kildare, where tourist infrastructure is already in place or being developed.
Public awareness, education and information
6.10 It became very obvious to the members of the Task Force that the public at large and indeed some of the users of the Curragh were totally unaware of what the Curragh is and the reasons for its significance. Ignorance of the archaeological value of the area is demonstrated by the damage inflicted on such sites.
6.11 Damage to archaeological sites and to the ecology of the area can only be prevented in future if people are made fully aware of the unique value of the Curragh of Kildare and of the consequences of their failure to preserve and protect it.
6.12 A programme should be put in place to educate both users and the local community about the national and international significance of the area. These programmes should address the archaeological, cultural, ecological and environmental perspective of the Curragh. It is hoped that all users and local communities would recognise their responsibilities by participating in and promoting these programmes. It is recommended that the public be made aware of Bye-Laws relating to the Curragh through the local media and the use of sign-posting on all access roads.