The Committee held its fifth Open Forum in Wexford on 28 February 1999 with approximately 20 observers in attendance. The choice of location was prompted by the desire to encourage observers from the south of the country to attend. In the event, some did but the overall turnout was disappointing. The Committee is grateful to those who went to the trouble of attending or who relayed views to members of the Committee in advance of the forum.
The following were the salient points arising from the discussions:
- The system of appointing members to the Committee was raised. While the IRBC had introduced an election process for one previous appointment, observer participation in this exercise was considered to have been unacceptably low (Irish Birds 5: 352). The Committee had therefore reverted to the practice of selecting members itself. This topic had also been the subject of particular representations in advance of the forum. The advantages and disadvantages of both methods were debated after which the consensus was quite clearly in favour of retaining the present system.
- In response to questions regarding the IRBC's policy on Yellow-legged (Herring) Gull Larus (argentatus) michahellis, the Committee outlined some aspects of the current international debate on taxonomy, and that of large gulls in particular. Although there had been many exciting developments in recent years, the IRBC was awaiting a clear international consensus in favour of a new arrangement, before adopting changes. The Committee will continue to monitor developments and, in the meantime, continue to assess and publish all records of identifiable rare forms in the Irish Bird Report.
- The Committee explained that research into the origins of the Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis recorded in Wexford in 1997-1998 and the Bufflehead Bucephala albeola recorded in Cork in 1998 was ongoing. It was proving particularly difficult to get concrete information on the pattern of occurrences of the former species in western Europe in winter. This was considered critical given that the wintering geese in Ireland had a western or northern origin rather than an eastern one and are therefore much less likely to act as "carrier species" to vagrants that would originate from the east.
- The Committee's stance on the matter of observer access to IRBC assessment files was discussed. The files, including the Committee members' assessments, had been accessible to the observers concerned for a period but there were unforeseen complications with this arrangement. This, coupled with legal advice, had led the Committee to reverse its earlier decision. In its place however, the Committee has introduced a new system whereby any observer who wishes to discuss the Committee's assessment of a record of theirs will be put in touch with a member of the IRBC. So far, this arrangement appears to have worked very well.
- The publication of records of Irish rarities in the annual BBRC Report in British Birds had been the subject of considerable debate and correspondence. It was clear that most observers in the Republic of Ireland favour the use of the Irish Bird Report as the prime location for publishing Irish bird records. We understand the term "prime" to have two meanings here:
- The first place where such records should be published.
- The main or definitive location for the publication of such records.