Ban on importation of non-native honeybees needed, Seanad told – The Irish Times

Ireland needs to ban the importation of non-native honeybees in order to save the Irish black honeybee, the Seanad has heard.

The Irish honeybee, which has specifically adapted to the colder Irish weather and plays a vital role in pollination and food production, is in danger of extinction due to the importation of non-native species, the House heard. When they mate with non-native bees it results in hybrid offspring.

Green Party Senator Vincent P Martin said imported bees may also bring in pathogens and pests, which can affect the native bees and increase the need for chemical treatments. He said the Irish honeybee is more frugal with its honey stores, less aggressive, less likely to swarm and has adapted to Ireland’s climate. Mr Martin said this bee is a type of dark European honeybee and Ireland is “the last stronghold” on the continent for these.

There is, however, some concern that a ban on non-native species may contravene EU law in relation to freedom of movement, as bees are considered livestock. Mr Martin said it is possible to introduce the ban, as the Protection of the Native Irish Honey Bee Bill 2021 was developed by scientists, beekeepers and barristers from the Climate Bar Association. He said the ban would be proportionate as it aims to save an endangered species.

Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan said Irish authorities should work to look after our native crops and animals. “We want the Department of Agriculture to be bold and brave… we have to protect our native biodiversity.”

She said her local area of Cooley, Co Louth is one of the few places in the world that produces bell honey, which comes from bees who gather nectar from the bell heather. She said this could be lost if progressive and positive action is not taken.

Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard called for North-South co-operation to ensure the legislation is enforceable.

Green Party Senator Pippa Hackett, Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, said it was clear there was support across the Oireachtas and all parties. She said officials from the Department of Agriculture met the Native Irish Honey Bee Society last Friday as they protested outside Leinster House and that they will meet again formally in the coming weeks.

“The Government has some concerns that a statutory ban on bee imports into Ireland would constitute a restriction of trade on EU regulations,” she said, adding that the Government would seek legal advice on the matter.

However, Mr Martin said he did not believe a “trade war” would break out as a result of the proposed ban.

“Are they going to ban our butter? Really now, it’s not going to happen. There are exceptions [to free trade] laid down, we cannot afford to be conservative… it is crucial to preserve a piece of Europe’s biological treasury,” he said, adding that commercial importers of non-native bees should be supported to transition to native species.

The Bill will now move forward to be debated at committee stage.

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