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11 Dec 2003 : Column 575Wcontinued
Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many (a) part-time and (b) full-time fire officers were serving in the Northern Ireland Fire Brigade in each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement on Fire Service recruitment in Northern Ireland. 
The Northern Ireland Fire Brigade has just completed one of the most extensive retained recruitment campaigns in the UK fire service, having recruited 126 retained fire-fighters over 41 stations in recent months. A further retained recruitment campaign will be launched in January 2004.
Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many attacks on firefighters there have been in each Fire Authority district in Northern Ireland in each of the past five years; what steps he is taking to reduce such attacks; and if he will make a statement. 
The reported increase in 2002 is partly the result of improved recording procedures. Although the reduction this year is welcome, attacks on firefightersand other staff in the emergency servicesare criminal offences and utterly unacceptable. I have taken every opportunity to condemn them, and continue to do so in the strongest possible terms.
This year I have made available to the fire and ambulance services special additional funding, totalling £400,000, to help them to raise public awareness that such attacks endanger not only their crews but also those members of the public they are trying to help.
|District||2001||2002||2003(to 5 December)|
|South and East Belfast||38||126||82|
|North and West Belfast||59||142||122|
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Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will meet (a) the Game Conservancy Trust and (b) Professor Montgomery of the School of Biology at Queen's University, Belfast, to discuss management of the hare population in Northern Ireland. 
Angela Smith: As Minister with responsibility for environmental matters, including issues relating to management of the Irish hare population, I would be prepared to consider any request for a meeting on the issue.
Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the effect of (a) legal coursing on the recovery of the hare population and (b) appropriate land management by coursing clubs and responsible hunting groups on hare conservation; and if he will make a statement. 
The Species Action Plan (SAP) for the Irish Hare, published by the Environment and Heritage Service of the Department of the Environment in October 2000, contains a number of steps to encourage all relevant landowners to adopt hare and habitat management practices that will contribute to the SAP objective to double the population of Irish Hares, over as wide an area as possible, by 2010.
Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the reliability of evidence for the decline in the Irish hare; what assessment he has made of the effect of (a) setting up a monitoring system and (b) developing current hunting, shooting and coursing practices to ensure they cannot have an unsustainable impact on hare numbers; and if he will make a statement. 
Angela Smith: The Irish Hare Species Action Plan, published by the Department of the Environment in 2000, identified the need for regular surveys of the Irish hare population, building on the baseline population for the species established by research commissioned by the Department from Queen's University of Belfast (QUB) in 1997. This was followed by The Northern Ireland Irish Hare Survey 2002, also carried out on the Department's behalf by QUB. Both reports confirmed that Irish hare numbers are low. I am satisfied that this research provides as accurate a population estimate as can be made for such an elusive and uncommon animal.
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No assessment has been made of the effect on hare numbers of developing current hunting, shooting and coursing practices to ensure they cannot have an unsustainable impact on hare numbers. These practices are subject to the provisions of the Game Preservation Act (Northern Ireland) 1928, as amended. I recently published notice under the Act, of a proposal to introduce a temporary ban on the killing or taking, or the sale or purchase of Irish hares. This is intended to allow time to consider, within a current review of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, whether there is a need to strengthen the statutory protection afforded to the Irish hare.
Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what scientific evidence he has assessed that supports the case for banning hare hunting and coursing in Northern Ireland; for what reason such evidence was not circulated in detail to concerned parties; and if he will make a statement. 
This assessment was followed up by a research study, "The Northern Ireland Irish Hare 'Lepus timidus hibernicus' Survey 2002", commissioned by the Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) of the Department of the Environment and also carried out by QUB. It reported that Irish Hares were widespread but occurred at a low density of about one hare per kilometre square. The report of this study included the recommendation that the Department should consider removal of the Irish Hare from the quarry list and giving protection under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985. This recommendation is among the issues being considered in a current review of the Wildlife Order.
I considered the research and survey report in the context of the Irish Hare Species Action Plan published by EHS in 2000, which has among its objectives a target to double the Irish Hare population, over as wide an area as possible, by 2010. The inconsistency between this policy objective and the continuing practice of hunting and coursing Irish Hares led to the proposal for a temporary ban on the killing or taking, or the sale or purchase, of Irish Hares, pending the outcome of the Wildlife Order review.
A seminar delivering the results of the 2002 Survey was held in January 2003 at Queen's University Belfast. Interested parties were invited to attend. Following this seminar the full text of the report was made available on the EHS website, (http://www.ehsni.gov.uk/ pubs/publications/Irish HareSurvey2002.pdf) where it remains available, together with the Irish Hare Species Action Plan. Copies of both documents have also been placed in the Library.
Kate Hoey: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will place in the Library a copy of all the evidence and advice given to him by his Department on the issue of the ban on hare-hunting. 
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The Northern Ireland Irish Hare "Lepus timidus hibernicus" Survey 2002 by Dr. Jane Preston, Dr. Paulo Prodohl, Dr. Alex Portig and Professor Ian Montgomery of the Queen's University of Belfast; commissioned by the Environment and Heritage Service.
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