There is considerable concern and growing frustration among thousands of licensed deer hunters and deer management groups due to a delay in the issuing of permits by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Wildlife Licensing Unit. Approximately 5,500 permits are issued annually by NPWS to allow for the management of deer during the open deer season which runs from September 1st to February 28th.
In the absence of a natural predator it falls on man to maintain deer numbers at sustainable levels and to reduce any negative effect they may have on farming, forestry, and the wider ecosystem. While unverified, data released by NPWS show that 41,148 deer were culled by 5,515 licensed deer hunters in the 12-month period up to February 28th, 2019, highlighting the important role carried out by licensed deer hunters.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Irish Deer Commission said “while we sympathise with the challenges caused by Covid-19 for NPWS in the issuing of permits, we have engaged with NPWS in good faith since June while representing our members regarding the potential permit issues caused by Covid-19, however we have been left frustrated and dismayed by NPWS inability to engage and adapt.”
The spokesperson also said “frustration among deer hunters has been compounded as applicants adhered to a post Covid-19 deadline of June 30th set by NPWS for the submission of permit renewal applications and a commitment that permits would be received in advance of the open season on September 1st however it now appears some applicants who met the NPWS deadline will not receive their permit for several months, or not at all, this is completely unacceptable in our view and a new approach to the delay is required urgently.”
“The permit delays along with a worldwide crash in the demand for venison due to Covid-19, will mean far less deer will be culled resulting in increased damage for foresty, farming and the wider ecosystem.”
In recent days TD’s David Stanton and Jennifer Murnane O’Connor put a series of parliamentary questions (details below) to Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD on behalf of the Irish Deer Commission regarding the ongoing delays in the issuing of permits under section 29 of the Wildlife Acts, Open Seasons Order for Deer 2020/21 which begun on September 1st.
Minister O’Brien confirmed the delays were due to Covid-19 and “technical challenges” that arose from staff working from home. The Irish Deer Commission had called for the introduction of an online application process as is used in most other government departments which would greatly speed up the issuing of permits, Minister O’Brien confirmed that some “early work” had taken place on such a development. It was also confirmed over two thousand permits had been issued to date, from an estimated 5,500 applications. Minister O’Brien stopped short of confirming when the backlog would be cleared, what additional resources would be made available and when an online application process would be in place.
Farming organisations and other stakeholder groups have also expressed concern over the delays.
Questions on behalf of the Irish Deer Commission:
To ask the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there is considerable concern among Ireland’s 5,500 licensed deer hunters and expert groups such as the Irish Deer Commission over the delay in issuing permits by her Department under Section 29 of the Wildlife Acts for the 2020/21 open season for deer and the consequences this has for the management of wild deer to maintain their numbers at sustainable levels and reduce any negative effect they may have on the wider ecosystem, farming and forestry. Furthermore can the Minister confirm how many applications have been processed to date, how many are outstanding, what is the expected timeline to process these applications and what plans has her Department put in place to address the delays caused by Covid-19; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
For WRITTEN answer.
To ask the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, if his attention has been drawn to the fact that expert groups such as the Irish Deer Commission have made recommendations to address the current back log under Section 29 of the Wildlife Acts for the 2020/21 open season for deer in line with other government departments such as the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport extension of NCT certificates and driving licences. Furthermore is the Minister aware a detailed recommendation was made in December 2015 regarding the implementation of an online licensing system for her Department by the Irish Deer Management Forum to streamline and bring Ireland into line with other countries regarding the issuing of wildlife licensing permits; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
For WRITTEN answer
Responses by Minister O’Brien:
“I am aware of some delays in my Department this year in processing deer hunting licence applications and I am aware that many deer hunters have not received their licenses yet this year. The delays arise because of the ongoing Covid-19 public health emergency and the effects this has had on travel and working arrangements. While staff in the unit that deals with the issuing of licenses continued to attend the office during the crisis, given restrictions, the numbers of such staff attending was, of course, restricted.
The database system used for managing deer licensing is not currently a web based one and some technical challenges arose in facilitating the processing of such licenses for staff working remotely with laptops. Several thousand licenses applications have been received to date and over two thousand have been issued thus far. Staff are working flat out to eliminate the backlog as quickly as possible.
I am aware that it has been suggested by individuals, hunting and farming bodies that I would extend licenses for the previous deer hunting season to allow hunters with such a license to hunt after 1 September with their previous licenses. However, the provisions in the Wildlife Acts do not
allow for the extension of deer hunting licences and licences for last season automatically expired under the law on 31 July this year. The priority of staff now is to have licenses issued as quickly as possible.
It is my Department’s intention to review the legislative and administrative arrangements in relation to deer licensing with a view to securing improvements for customers and I will welcome the views of stakeholders in this regard. The main priority for now is to deal with the backlog on hand. In addition, it is the intention to work towards the introduction of an on-line application system and some early work in this regard has taken place and I will work to see that this happens as quickly as possible”.