The objective of this designation is the protection of ecosystems and landscapes of special importance and to provide for public use and appreciation.
The I.U.C.N (The World Conservation Union) 1969 General Assembly recommended specific criteria for the definition of National Parks, which was formally adopted in 1972. Under these criteria, a National Park is a relatively large area:
- Where one or several ecosystems are not materially altered by human exploitation and occupation, where plant or animal species, geomorphological sites and habitats are of special scientific, educational and recreational interest or which contains a natural landscape of great beauty.
- Where the highest competent authority of the country has taken steps to prevent or eliminate as soon as possible exploitation or occupation in the whole area and to enforce effectively the respect of ecological, geomorpological or aesthetic features which have led to its establishment.
- Where visitors are allowed to enter, under special conditions, for inspirational, educational, cultural and recreational purposes.
Currently Ireland has six Category II National Parks which are:
- Killarney National Park (established in 1932 covering 10,289 ha)
- Glenvaeagh National Park (managed under the State Property Act 1954, covering 16,548ha)
- Connemara (Managed under the State Property Act 1954,covering 2,957 ha)
- Wicklow Mountains (Managed under the State Property Act 1954, covering 15,917 ha)
- The Burren (Managed under the State Property Act 1954, covering 1,673 ha)
- Ballycroy National Park (Managed under the State Property Act 1954, covering 11,837 ha)
Category II parks are further defined by the I.U.C.N as being natural areas of land and / or sea designated to:
- Protect the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems for present and future generations.
- Exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to the purposes of designation of the area.
- Provide a foundation for spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities, all of which must be environmentally and culturally compatible.
- All Category II National Parks are on state acquired land either purchased directly from landowners or inherited by the state from well-established estates. Habitat management is required in Category II National Parks, grazing arrangements which help to manage habitats have been established with cattle and sheep farmers for grazing access to some areas of the six National Parks.
The I.U.C.N Guidance for selection includes:
- The area should contain a representative sample of major natural regions, features or scenery, where plant and animal species, habitats and geomorpological sites are of special spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and tourist significance.
- The area should be large enough to contain one or more entire ecosystems not materially altered by current human occupation or exploitation.
The Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and the National Parks and Wildlife Service Division are the responsible authorities in Ireland who must prevent any damaging land uses by virtue of ownership.