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The Great Balbriggan Seagull Massacre

The thing about house martins and swallows that you don’t realise, until you own your own house, is that they have very unfortunate – though from their point of view sensible – toilet habits.

At first, when one builds a little nest above your front door, you think it’s cute. Then you realise that the chicks and the parents, when they feel the need, will stick their little bottoms out of the nest, and let rip, so to speak.

Thus, it came to be that before my parents and my in-laws arrived on their annual state visits to us this summer and it came time for the annual panicked cleaning of everything that might be subject to parental inspection, yours truly had a thoroughly miserable time. Our house has been bedecked this year by not one, but six nests of house martins. Three of which had two broods, including the pair above the front door.

The reward for this misery, though, is that as autumn draws in and the house martins prepare to leave us for warmer climes, the sight of them is spectacular. Where twenty or so birds arrived in the skies this spring, there are now sixty or more swooping around through the air in the evenings, chirping merrily to each other. It’s good for the soul. The thought of deliberately harming one of them, or interfering with their nests, is abhorrent to me – as it should be, I think, to any decent person. If you want to live with nature, you have to accept that there are upsides as well as downsides. And when you live in the countryside, you make your peace with that.

Would that we could say the same for seagulls, and the people of Balbriggan:

Darragh O’Brien has given permission for a new gull cull to tackle the “threat to public health and safety” the birds are causing in his own constituency.

Locals have complained that the seagulls, are attacking people for food in Balbriggan in north Dublin, as well as keeping them awake at night with their harsh wailing and squawking calls.

It is illegal to intentionally kill gulls or destroy their nests because they are a protected species under the EU’s wildbirds directive.

However, O’Brien, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, has signed an order that will allow officials “to take the nests or to take the eggs” belonging to three of the most common breeds of Irish gulls – the herring gull, the greater black-backed gull and the lesser black-backed gull. It states that this move is justified because of the “threat to public health and safety.”

The threat to public health and safety”. Sorry for the language now, but my ass is there a threat to public health and safety from a seagull. Scour the records of this country, or almost any other, and the number of deaths you will find accounted for by a person being pecked to death by a gull or a flock of gulls, or infected with a deadly disease as a result of gulls, is a very round number that is the lesser of one.

No, this war on Seagulls has nothing to do with health and safety. Those are simply words we use to make ourselves feel better about conducting the inhumane slaughter of a creature we feel to be a nuisance. While, at the same time, it should be noted, we rightly condemn those farmers in places like Kerry who put out poisoned bait for Buzzards and Eagles in order to protect their sheep. Say what you will about those troglodytes, but at least they have some meaningful economic interest to protect. The middle-class bird haters in Balbriggan, by contrast, just don’t like that the gulls are noisy and hungry.

It should be noted here, by the way, that the explosion in the urban gull population is largely the fault of humans. Though it may seem like the population of herring gulls is exploding in urban, coastal areas, the truth is that their population has been in decline globally for a number of years, and they are listed, by the international union for the conservation of nature, as “threatened” – meaning that they are likely to become an endangered species on their current trajectory. If more of them are coming inland, and finding food in bins, that’s in part because there is less food in our seas, courtesy of all those Spanish and French Supertrawlers whose presence we are obliged by EU law to welcome to our waters. If they’re stealing your battered fish, well, it might be worth just a moment’s reflection on where that fish came from, and who really stole it from whom.

That is why they are a protected species under EU law, and why the Minister must give his permission to destroy their nests. That he has given it is just another little shame to add to his tenure.

There is irony, of course, in the fact that the Green Party does so well in elections in places like Balbriggan. There are lots of us, it seems, who very much like the idea of nature, but loathe the reality of living alongside it. And besides, nobody with an ounce of respect for nature who has ever watched a seagull, or understood that they are amongst the most intelligent creatures, beside humans, to live on these islands, could genuinely wish to harm one.

The Sunday Business Post informs us that this campaign to destroy their nests:

has been led by a group of retired civil servants living in the town.

That sounds about right, to me. A bunch of retired busybodies with nothing better to do, and their energies now devoted to the mindless destruction of the nature they are privileged to live with. Vote Green – and a good many of them probably do – get this.

If this piece sounds a little bitter, then that’s because it’s how I’m feeling – this is rotten, and barbaric. And says little good about humanity as a species, or for Ireland as a “green” place. And these are the same people, of course, who claim that Dairy Farmers are the enemy of all that is good and natural.

It’d make you sick.

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