Taoiseach caught on the hop by new toad study
THEY promised change in government and they've delivered -- instead of counting frogs like the Green Party, Fine Gael is counting toads.
In his first month in the Department of the Environment, new minister Phil Hogan has picked up where John Gormley left off, with a study of the natterjack toad population of Ireland getting the green light.
This is despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, and both their parties ridiculing the Greens for commissioning a study of the frog population in December 2009.
The new study, and the one on the frogs, had to be carried out under EU directives.
At the time, Mr Kenny asked Brian Cowen in the Dail if Mr Gormley was "hopping mad" as news of the €70,000 contract was made public at a time of economic crisis.
"Are we to see the spectre of the minister, Deputy Gormley, in his sandals tramping through the wetlands of the midlands counting frogs at dawn or dusk?" he asked.
But the Irish Independent has learned the Department of Environment last week signed a contract with a Cork-based consultancy firm for a two-year study of the natterjack population.
Neither the department nor the company, Sweeney Consultancy from Mallow, would release the value of the contract, which could run into tens of thousands of euro.
Pascal Sweeney, who runs the consultancy company, which specialises in aquatic ecology, said the study would run for two years, starting next month.
"It's a case of looking at the breeding success," Mr Sweeney said. "The main period of study will be from April to June."
A team of three will check the spawning patterns of the toad, and will monitor the number of new toads being born.
The natterjack is native to Ireland and there are breeding sites on the Dingle Peninsula in Kerry and also in Wexford. There are also natterjacks in the UK and it is a protected species under EU wildlife directives. The contract award notice from the Department of the Environment says studies of the species have to be carried out regularly.
Mr Gormley's frog counting, and a similar project counting long-eared bats which mostly roost in old churches, were also carried out because of EU directives.
Previous studies have shown the natterjack to have a bad conservation status, with the number of toads dropping.
Although the scheme went to tender in early February, when the last Government was in power, the fact that the contract was awarded under Fine Gael will leave the new coalition red-faced.