Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 19 October 2021
Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021: Committee Stage
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and his officials to the meeting. We have discussed the Bill previously in committee and we are aware of its complexity. It is substantial legislation, urgently required as we streamline the development process for our huge maritime area to replace the outdated Foreshore Act 1930. The Bill will provide for planning and development but also the protection of our fragile marine environment. It will also allow us to maintain public and community consultation and engagement as we enter a chapter of energy production in Ireland where there will be substantial offshore renewable energy development.
The Minister of State might wish to say a few words on the Bill before we commence.
I echo the Cathaoirleach’s comments. This is very significant legislation. I am grateful for the work of the Department and our officials in regard to how they have progressed it. It has been fully underwritten by public consultation throughout the island of Ireland, with many stakeholder groups and meetings through the national marine planning framework, NMPF, our overarching document for the management of our maritime area. I am grateful also to all the communities that have engaged in the consultation process. Through the NMPF, I had the great privilege of chairing the advisory group in which many stakeholders were involved and had their say. This is pivotal legislation we are putting through the Oireachtas. It is a very exciting space and it is a privilege to work with officials in the Department leading this key policy item for the Government and the Thirty-third Dáil.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 16, line 1, after “(6)” to insert “and (7)”.
I might make a couple of general comments while speaking to these amendments. Given that so many amendments have been tabled, this will be the only time I will make general comments and I will thereafter stick to the specificity of the amendments as we go through them. To expedite matters, I will speak to amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, as they are all, ultimately, related.
As we saw when we dealt with the general scheme in pre-legislative scrutiny, all members want this legislation to pass. There is a universal acceptance that we absolutely need a good-quality, robust planning regime for the marine, alongside an appropriate agency with effective enforcement, not just because we urgently have to meet our 2030 renewable energy targets but also because it is the right thing to do. Like the Minister of State, I acknowledge the very significant volume of work the officials have had to deal with, not just in regard to the Bill but over recent years. They have been exceptionally helpful with members whenever we have asked for additional information, briefings and so on.
The challenge for us as a committee is that while a member can absolutely support the intention of a Bill, he or she will still want to play a role in scrutinising it thoroughly to ensure that when we get to the other side, the Bill and the mechanisms it will put in place will do exactly what we all want it to do, namely, to allow for good decisions about maritime use.
A member will also want the Bill to allow for a good planning regime, particularly for offshore wind, but one that protects and secures our marine environment and biodiversity. Those are quite challenging things. I was saying to the Chair at the start that one of the challenges for us is that this is incredibly complex. It is certainly the most complex legislation I have encountered in my five years here. We are trying to put in place almost four strands of a system - licensing, consents, the agency itself and enforcement - all of which must operate in a complex and comprehensive EU and domestic legislative framework as well as a cumbersome and complex planning framework. I probably am saying all of that by way of a caveat so that if some of the amendments, as I go through them, are less coherent than I would like them to be it is merely because this is genuinely taxing, certainly for those of us on this side of the Chamber.
I still have the two concerns I have had from the start. Many of the amendments I have tabled seek to give the Minister of State the opportunity to put on the record of the committee his responses to those concerns. Depending on those responses, I may well withdraw my amendments if the answers are satisfactory. There are some areas - these will be small in number - where the Bill could be improved. Obviously, I hope that the Minister of State will take on board the spirit, if not the letter, of the amendments and come back. All of my amendments are tabled - other colleagues' amendments would be the same - on the basis of trying to strengthen the legislation.
To reassure the Minister of State, we had a lengthy discussion earlier today on working to progress this legislation as quickly as possible while giving it the maximum amount of time. The Minister of State will note the committee will be forthcoming in giving time to get through the Bill quickly but without scrimping on the necessary scrutiny.
On these first three amendments, like a lot of planning legislation, there are many areas where the outworkings of the legislation will depend on commencements and commencement dates. In many areas, there is a lack of clarity on what the Government's intention is with respect to commencements. Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related. Amendment No. 3 speaks to the same issue, which is around the commencements of the maritime spatial plans set out in Part 2, Chapter 2, and when they will be commenced. Obviously, they are crucial to many other aspects of the consents, the licensing and, ultimately, planning decisions. There is also the issue of the marine planning framework review. Given that some people still have some concerns about the content of that, it would make sense that we have clarity not only about commencements with respect to the maritime spatial plans, but also the interaction of the review with this section and related sections of the Bill.
There is a related issue around the role of the Oireachtas in all of this. I refer to the question of whether the Oireachtas simply gets a copy of something or has a formal role in amending or approving it. Therefore, there is a role for greater provision, as in amendment No. 3, for opportunities for the Oireachtas to debate fully those related matters.
Likewise, I will do my best to make sure things move quickly while seeking to do our job well and give the Bill the scrutiny it needs.
By way of brief opening comment before I get into the amendments, this is a very important Bill. It is long overdue. It is needed. I have concerns about the protection of our fragile marine environment and whether this Bill will be sufficient in that regard. I have concerns that, as with all development and planning processes, our approach to date in this country has been too developer-led, especially in terms of the marine environment, and that this Bill does not go sufficiently far to ensure it is not developer-led. There was good correspondence from the Coastal Concern Alliance today which made the point that the best international practice is for countries to screen areas, pick sites for wind energy development and tender for those sites to be used, and that we have taken the opposite approach where it has been developer-led and developers have picked sites. I would strongly share the alliance's concerns on this.
I am very concerned as well that we do not have the marine protected areas planned and mapped out. We are meant to have 30% of our areas protected by 2030 and to date only 2% of them are. It would be useful to hear from the Minister of State, in particular, on all of our amendments, exactly what will happen in terms of marine protected areas, what progress has been made and when we will get those designations in place because that relates to many of the concerns I have about the Bill and the processes.
In relation to amendments Nos. 1 and 2, I refer specifically to the maritime spatial plans and when Part 2, Chapter 2 will come into operation. My amendments seek to ensure it will come into operation on the enactment of the Bill. The maritime spatial plans, the considerations which inform them, the requirements for them in relation to the review of the NMPF and the public participation requirements, and how they are approved by the Oireachtas, all are important. Given that the NMPF will be an input into the decision-making process in respect of a range of matters under the Bill, it is important that it is urgently reviewed and that the overall architecture and requirements of the marine spatial plans for our marine environment are addressed. It is critically important that these actions will not be delayed through these provisions not being commenced.
Amendment No. 3 seeks to ensure the review of the current NMPF is done under section 17(2) before it is used to inform a range of matters, such as the designated maritime area plans, DMAPs, the maritime area consents, MACs, and the decisions under the planning Act.
I apologise because I will be stepping out for a few minutes to move a Bill in the Dáil. I will be back straight after.
I thank Deputy Cian O'Callaghan. I do not see any others indicating. For the information of the Minister of State, at the committee this morning, we discussed the opportunity for the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, or maybe you, to come in and discuss the progress on marine protected areas. Hopefully, we will be able to do that directly after this Bill and that will inform the committee of the progress that has been made. I believe good progress is being made there. I invite the Minister of State to respond.
I thank all the Deputies for their comments. I concur that this is an important Bill and I look forward to working with everyone. On points where we think we can make progress and find common ground, as a Government we will commit to do that. I note in the amendments some important matters have been raised with Deputies and we will work to resolve them in partnership to ensure we get the best legislation scrutinised in this committee.
Amendment No. 2 proposes to commence Part 2, Chapter 2, relating to the provisions for the NMPF, on enactment. Amendment No. 1 is a proposed technical amendment to enable amendment No. 2. Section 1(5) provides for commencing various elements of the Bill by order. This flexibility is necessary to ensure the necessary resources and structures are in place to operate the new provisions. I will be opposing this amendment.
Amendment No. 3 proposes to prevent the commencement of Part 2, Chapters 3 and 6, Part 4 and Part 8 pending a subsection (1) review of the NMPF, under section 17(2) and a subsequent statement to the Oireachtas and a debate in both Houses. The Oireachtas cannot make commencement conditional on external events and factors. I will be opposing amendment No. 3.
I am not surprised on that one, but that is okay. Could the Minister of State at least reassure the committee what the intentions are in terms of the commencement timeline of those relevant sections of the relevant Part? While I understand the Minister of State saying he wants that necessary flexibility, if the committee was reassured of early commencement of those relevant sections, that might go some way to addressing our concern.
It is always the prerogative of the Government, in terms of the stated balance, to make policy and the Oireachtas to hold it to account.
I am not proposing to rebalance that but I assure the Deputy that the Bill is being treated with the utmost urgency from the Department of the Taoiseach down. That is why it has progressed so quickly. It got the necessary resources. There is no intention to sit on parts of this and not commence them. We will absolutely give resources to working through its commencement in a logical way.
Could I press the Minister of State for a little more detail? Given the heavy workload of officials and related legislation, does he expect substantial commencement within six months of the passing of the Bill or a year? What is the hope in that regard?
I do not want to give exact timeframes but the overall and overarching urgency is to get this commenced as quickly as possibly. That is the prerogative of the Government and its duty is to do that. It is the job of the Oireachtas to hold the Government to account if it fails in doing that in any aspect. I assure the committee there will be no delay with this legislation. It is getting the utmost urgency from the Government and that will continue to be the case.
I have a final question on amendment No. 3. Will the Minister of State give us some indicative timeline of the review of the marine planning framework and how he and his officials expect that review to interact with some of the new innovations that will come into force as a result of the enactment of this Bill?
Section 17 is clear in stating it will be not later than six years. The hope is to do it earlier. We will take into account innovations in the area, which is a fast-moving space. There is much happening, as other members alluded to in speaking to the complexity of the Bill. I hope it will happen earlier than the specified timeframe.
We have three more hours today so I hope the Chairman can indulge me. Six years is a long time and one of the big issues with the marine planning framework arises because we did not have either the designation or even notional designations of the marine protected areas, MPAs. When that legislation comes through there will be a beginning of the process of designation of the MPAs. A commitment was previously given that before we even have the formal review of the marine planning framework, the outworking of the MPA designations could be kind of reverse-engineered into the framework. Will the Minister of State give us a reassurance we will not have to wait either three, four, five or six years? The marine planning framework was described as a living document and it will constantly evolve to take into account developments such as designation or even some of the interim protection measures that this committee recommended in the pre-legislative scrutiny report.
I must be technically accurate. What is in the legislation is a maximum of six years. I do not want to be accused of giving an inaccurate response. Additionally, I am saying it is the intention of the Government is to have it done earlier than that timeframe. It is as much as I can say at the moment. Notwithstanding the comments from the Minister of State, Deputy Malcolm Noonan, in the Dáil relating to his work on MPAs, consultation is ongoing and may even be completed at this stage. He expects to have legislation next year in that regard. The process is progressing and the Minister of State will give an update to the committee on that in due course.
We welcome that. Having spoken to many people about this, it is my understanding there is a firm commitment across parties and the Government to progress all necessary aspects of this Bill, including the agencies that must be set up.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 16, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following: “(7) (a) Chapter 2 of Part 2 shall come into operation on enactment.(b) Chapter 3 and chapter 6 of Part 2, Part 4 and Part 8 shall not be commenced until after the review of the NMPF under section 17(2) has at least been completed, and in the event the Minister decides to commence any of these specified elements of the bill before the NMPF has been amended or replaced he or she shall—(i) make a statement to both Houses of the Oireachtas setting out the implications and mitigation proposed in respect of the effect of the commencement of those provisions, and
(ii) facilitate a debate in both Houses of the Oireachtas on the matter.".
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 16, to delete line 12.
Amendment No. 4 and the grouping amendments are technical amendments required to remove outdated references to the Continental Shelf Act 1968 and Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 and replace with appropriate references to the "Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2021" and sections thereof. Colleagues will note the recent passing of the Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2021, which at the time of drafting of the published copy of this Bill was still itself a Bill.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 17, lines 9 and 10, to delete "the permission (including any alteration thereto) required under the Act of 2000" and substitute the following: "any permission (including any alteration thereto), within the meaning of section 2 of the Act of 2000, required under that Act".
This amendment and the other amendments in this group are technical amendments to more precisely align the Bill's text with the Planning and Development Act 2000.
It makes the references to section 2 clearer with respect to the Planning and Development Act 2000. Amendment No. 11 would delete "or works" and substitute ", works or development". These are all pretty straightforward technical amendments.
The amendments will be on the record so I will be just repeating them. Amendment No. 12 states, "In page 18, line 28, to delete "or works" and substitute ", works or development". Amendment No. 209 states, "In page 117, line 18, after "Act" to insert "or Part VIII of the Act of 2000".
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 17, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following: " "ecosystems based approach" shall be construed in accordance with the term as used in both the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive;".
This amendment proposes the insertion of a definition in the relevant section of "ecosystems-based approach". It seems odd there is no definition of an "ecosystems-based approach" in the legislation but perhaps it is elsewhere in existing legislation.
I am happy to be corrected if that is the case. Given that this is such a fundamental principle of the twin concerns of ensuring we have an adequate supply of renewable offshore energy and, at the same time, we fully respect marine biodiversity, counteract some of the loss of that diversity and continue to protect what is there, particularly in the context of the forthcoming marine protected areas, it seems sensible to include this definition. The definition I am proposing is in accordance with the marine strategy framework directive and the marine spatial planning directive, which are the two overarching EU legal frameworks within which all of this legislation and its subsequent workings have to comply.
Amendment No. 9 proposes to construe "ecosystems-based approach" in accordance with two different directives: the marine strategy framework directive, MSFD, and the marine spatial planning directive, MSPD. The MSFD is not correctly referenced in this amendment. Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishes a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy. This is the marine strategy framework directive. The term referred to in the amendment is not directly defined in either directive. Instead, it is stated as a principle. Construing a term in accordance with two different directives is not appropriate due to the risk of the use in different contexts and the potential for divergence and inconsistency, which would create potential practical issues as attendant legal risks. As the legislation gives effect to the MSPD, it is appropriate to construe the term in accordance with that instrument and this is achieved in the Bill through section 13(2). No amendment to section 13(2) has been proposed. Therefore, if approved, this amendment would introduce inconsistency and conflict between section 2 and section 13 of the Bill. For that reason, I oppose this amendment.
This is one of the many occasions when the Minister of State’s superior background knowledge is going to be of great assistance to him. Will the definition of "ecosystems-based approach" in section 13(2) apply to all uses of an ecosystems-based approach or just those relevant to that section? I am more than happy to withdraw my amendment if the Minister of State is saying that section 13(2) provides a sufficient definition for all other aspects of the Bill. If it does, I am happy to proceed on that basis. If it does not, I am still happy to withdraw my amendment but I ask the Minister of State to take another look at this issue to ensure there is a consistent definition of "ecosystems-based approach" that applies at all appropriate points.
It is referred to in the National Marine Policy Framework, NMPF. We are saying that links it back into this Bill. I believe that is correct. All marine spatial plans are governed by the ecosystem-----
----- but do we have, either somewhere else in this Bill or elsewhere in legislation, a legal definition of what that is? Is it merely the case that in the NMPF, there is a general definition in the context of the framework? Would that mean this does not have the same legal force as a legal definition for the purposes of the Bill?
On the basis of the potential inconsistency between the two directives, as highlighted by the Minister of State, I am quite happy to withdraw this amendment. I ask the officials to look again at the issue of the definition and its legal standing. The only reason I might pursue this matter is that for a very long time, as I understand it, when we were talking about environmental protection inside or outside the marine area, we tended to list individual geographical locations, species or whatever. The great value of putting an ecosystems-based approach at the heart of everything we are doing is that it is a systems-based approach. Everything and how it interrelates with everything else becomes fundamental. It seems to me that because this is planning legislation, things may get challenged legally at some point in the future. Let us hope not. Let us hope that the legislation is robust and that decisions are made in accordance with the best interests of all affected parties. The greater the legal clarity on some of these issues, the better. I would appreciate if the officials could undertake to look at this and to advise the Minister of State whether something is required on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 17, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following: “ “excluded consultation periods” means that the following days are not included in the counting of any public consultation provided for under this Act or required by any action or decision taken under this Act where they fall within the public consultation period proposed:(a) public holidays or bank holidays in the State;
(b) the period between the 24 December in any year and the 2 January the following year inclusive;
(c) the first two weeks of August;
(d) such other additional dates which the Minister may prescribe in a public participation statement or in regulations made under this Act;”.
This pretty self-explanatory amendment seeks to create legal clarity by providing that when there is a public consultation period for planning purposes or other purposes, certain days under law are clearly excluded. It lists various days such as public holidays, the period between 24 December and 2 January, the first two weeks in August and any other period that the Minister may prescribe. Consultation periods can be tricky, particularly with more complex types of consents or grants of planning permission under the framework created by this legislation. People are going to need the maximum period of time. This is, therefore, a very reasonable amendment. If there is a better way to draft it, I will be more than happy to withdraw it. The Minister of State might want to go away and come back with a better wording on Report Stage. He can see the intention of the amendment.
I do not know how many times we have dealt with developers or consultations that happened at times when few people were likely to be aware that these consultations were happening. Such times can be very convenient for those who would rather that the public did not have a full view of things that may significantly impact on them and their environment. To exclude holiday periods, Christmas periods, bank holidays and so on, as this amendment proposes, is essentially a means of ensuring things do not pass by the public which could significantly impact upon them. It gives people an opportunity to be involved in public participation and the sustainable planning and development of their local areas. This is a very reasonable proposal.
I would like to mention an idea that occurred to me when I was reading through the amendments. I have not tabled an amendment on this point, but I certainly will on Report Stage. When we are doing public consultations, as well as having to put things in a national newspaper or on a website, there should be radio advertisements from the Department or the Government on such matters. We regularly hear such material being broadcast to the public in respect of something of significance, including things to do with public health and some social welfare matters. In the case of this legislation, a review of the NMPF or a marine spatial plan should be advertised, just as we regularly hear other matters being advertised. Many people do not buy The Irish Timesor the Irish Independentthese days. Much of the time people are completely unaware of these notices. There should be radio advertisements. Maybe we should consider social media as well, although I am slightly reluctant to encourage more use of social media, to be honest. Radio advertisements can be quite effective. I think we should include provisions to make this happen when important public consultations are taking place.
I thank the Deputies. Amendment No. 10 proposes to exclude certain days from public consultation periods to ensure that such consultations are not inappropriately truncated. I accept the spirit of this amendment and thank the Deputies for its proposal. This amendment is not necessary for Part 2, which involves marine spatial planning, because the regulations made under sections 18(4) and 23(4) of the Bill will set out appropriate time periods for public consultation and will exclude certain times from the consultation period. If it is agreeable to the committee, I will instruct my officials to engage with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to prepare the necessary text and appropriate locations within the Bill as a supplementary amendment.
I will oppose the amendment as proposed. Perhaps the Deputies would consider withdrawing the amendment to allow for further consideration. Our main objective, as I hope I am demonstrating, is that the public will be involved in every step of this process. We have demonstrated that through the national marine planning framework, whereby there were regional advertisements for the various roadshows it embarked on throughout its four year genesis until it was approved by the Oireachtas.
While I cannot speak for the other signatories, I will be more than happy to withdraw the amendment on that basis. I ask only that in advance of the formal tabling of any potential Government amendments on Report Stage, the officials might engage with the signatories of this amendment in order that we will have sight of it beforehand and be able to decide whether we need to table Report Stage amendments.
That is something we can take a look at. When the NMPF, in its genesis, travelled throughout the country with various roadshows, it had such advertisements. Nevertheless, we can take a look at the matter as we engage with other Deputies on the redrafting of this amendment.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 19, to delete lines 12 and 13 and substitute the following: “ “nearshore area”, in relation to a CPA, shall be construed in accordance with section 5;”.
This grouping will provide for revised arrangements to resolve certain practical difficulties with the operation of the text as initiated following further review by my officials and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. The revised provisions propose default boundaries of the nearshore areas of neighbouring coastal planning authorities, CPAs, subject to subsequent designation by order to account for local circumstances and geography.
Amendment No. 13 will simplify the definition of “nearshore area” in section 2. Amendment No. 20 proposes that the boundaries of the nearshore areas will, by default, be equidistant between two neighbouring coastal planning authorities. Amendments Nos. 21, 23, 24, 26, 27 and 29 are minor technical amendments to account procedurally for the variation from the default.
Amendment No. 28 will increase the timeframe for response from a coastal planning authority relating to a proposed designation. This formal consultation period will only be initiated following detailed technical engagement with the authority concerned. Finally, amendment No. 22 proposes procedural changes to the nearshore designation.
I thank Deputy McAuliffe for his proposal in amendment No. 22, which would have improved the legal text as initiated. It has, however, been superseded by the revisions required for default boundaries between CPAs and, unfortunately, cannot be accepted. He might consider withdrawing the amendment based on my comments.
To be clear, will the Minister of State explain in plain English what is meant by a default boundary? I think I understood it from the technical definition he gave. Is it intended to ensure consistency of the boundary from one county to another?
The Minister of State might let me test his geology and marine biology knowledge now. Ordinarily, how is the foreshore defined? I had presumed it was a physical thing with some presence. How will a default boundary respect the natural, geographical boundaries of the foreshore? Are they contiguous all the way?
A default boundary does not respect the natural boundaries and that is why we are going to review the idea. Obviously, land is interchangeable around the coasts. The intention is initially to get a consistent line and then we will review it once the Bill is enacted.
Will that create a potential unintended consequence such that in order for the line to be continuous where it crosses from one county to another and the natural geography is not continuous, there could be a reduction or extension of the foreshore beyond where it is naturally is? Does that make sense?
That is fine. If, after a proper survey has been carried out, a reason is identified for it not to be continuous and the foreshore extends a little into another county, will that be taken adequately into account?
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 19, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following: “ “prescribed bodies” as referred to in this Act for the purposes of consultation, shall
include at least the following:
(a) Fáilte Ireland;
(b) the Marine Institute;
(c) the Environmental Protection Agency;
(d) the National Parks and Wildlife Service;
(e) the Heritage Council;
(f) An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland;
(g) Inland Fisheries; and
(h) such other bodies concerned with environmental protection as the Minister
considers should be included”.
The amendment seeks to provide clarity and some flexibility in respect of the prescribed bodies for the purposes of consultation on marine policy and decision-making. It is important that bodies with environmental expertise be consulted, including the relevant NGOs that promote environmental protection.
I acknowledge that the Minister of State's officials will say including a list of prescribed bodies in the definitions could be described as an innovation, to be generous about it, but there is genuine concern among the public regarding the environmental and biodiversity implications of everything that will happen in our marine in the coming decades. I suspect the Minister of State will break the bad news to us shortly that he will not accept the amendment. Nevertheless, it would be good if, elsewhere in the legislation, the Government made clear that in all aspects of the work of the various bodies and processes outlined in the Bill, whether regarding licensing, consent, planning or policy, the organisations listed in the amendment will, along with others, be central to everything that happens. This could be stated in the regulations that will come at a later stage after the Bill has been enacted or elsewhere within the Bill.
We reflected quite a bit in pre-legislative scrutiny on the challenges, again to be generous about it, with strategic housing developments, for example, and the fear many organisations had that they were not being adequately involved in the process. That led to greater disagreements regarding proposals, judicial reviews and so on, and we want to avoid all that. If the Government were to give a clear statement of intent that these, along with others, are precisely the kinds of organisations it would like to have a central role at all the appropriate points, that would go some way to reassuring us on it.
I presume there will be a later stage where regulations will prescribe the specific organisations. I am just making my proposals. I presume there will be a point post the passing of the legislation where, by way of regulations, the Minister of State will list the prescribed organisations specific to the marine area. Could he tell us if we will be surprised to see any of these organisations not on that list, if he has had discussions on that, or how would it ordinarily transpire?
I missed the first few minutes because I was in the Dáil. My concern, and that of a lot of people, is that we are pushing through legislation which is about facilitating development rather than starting with the proper mapping out of what should and should not happen, where it should happen and when it should happen in the marine environment, and having proper consultation around all of that. In our opinion, consultation has not happened to the degree that it should. We want to see this Bill remedy that as much as possible and ensure that all of those who have an interest in protecting our heritage, marine environment, fisheries, tourism and the general environment are properly consulted as a matter of course on those issues, as well as NGOs and stakeholders who have a real stake in decisions that might be made that impact on the maritime area. It is reasonable that it should be set out who they are and the minimum requirements to consult with them.
It is not clear to me who exactly the Minister has to consult with in terms of the granting of MACs, which is what they are called now. I will understand more as we go through the Bill, but as far as I understand it, the suggestion is that a MAC does not attract environmental and public participation obligations. I do not accept that for a moment. It does and should. The problem we have is that developers have essentially selected their own sites, grabbed them and it becomes a fait accompli . Somewhere further along the line we apparently rubber-stamp them, having vetted them, but it is all too late in reality. We want to see all of those gaps plugged to guarantee that we do planning in a proper, sustainable manner in line with EU directives on spatial marine planning and get things in the right order. This is part of that campaign.
Amendment No. 14 proposes to specify a number of bodies as prescribed for the purpose of the entire Act. While acknowledging the positive intentions of this proposal, it cannot be accepted. Bodies may be prescribed under this Act for different purposes and not all of the listed bodies may need to be consulted for every single purpose. For example, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Heritage Council are unlikely to be consulted regarding a development proposal 100 km offshore. In addition, specifying bodies in primary legislation creates practical difficulties, as further primary legislation would be required to amend where titles or functions of bodies change over time. As is normal practice, the prescription of bodies will be done through secondary legislation. I can assure the Deputies of that.
In response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, the advisory group I have chaired represents the entire maritime community. Unfortunately, through Covid, we did not physically get to meet, but in the online meetings it was incredible to see the number of individuals and bodies present and taking an interest in the process. One point we have learned in recent years as legislators is that the wider the consultation, involving more communities and interest groups, the better the legislation we will get. I am certain that we are doing that in the current process.
I am not surprised by the Minister of State's response. I mean that respectfully. Part of the purpose of tabling the amendments is to give us the opportunity to raise issues. Where appropriate, it is important to see the organisations that are listed here in the regulations. It may be the view of the Minister or his officials that an organisation may not want to be consulted on a particular aspect of the outworking of this legislation, but if it is not listed as a prescribed organisation in the necessary statutory instrument, it will not get the opportunity. I ask the Minister of State to be as generous as possible to ensure as many organisations as possible are listed because, in particular in the early stages, the greater the level of participation, the better everyone will be. We will pay close attention to the statutory instruments when they come out, but it would be very positive, and it would signal the Government's intent to ensure those organisations that are statutorily tasked with the variety of functions that are listed here will be given a central role as prescribed bodies to the maximum extent possible. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Regarding the point that it may not be relevant to certain bodies, as the Minister of State is aware, usually the way it works with prescribed bodies is that they are given the opportunity to formally input. They often decide an issue is not relevant to them and they skip over it, or sometimes they decide that it is relevant. It is a very safe system in that sense, in that none of the prescribed bodies that may have a view misses out on the opportunity to give it. Prescribed bodies are given lots of opportunities, but they only have so many resources and they must prioritise when something arises. I would caution against assuming that a body should have no role or say. It works better if the organisations make the decision in terms of their own priorities and resources as to whether they have an interest or not. I accept that the further out we go, the less relevant it will be to some of the bodies whose main interests are closer to shore, but I would be cautious about taking too fixed a position.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 20, line 7, after “record” to insert the following:
“, but a record shall not be confused with information held, particularly for the purposes of Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information and repealing Council Directive 90/313/EEC or the Freedom of Information Act 2014”.
We all have lots of experience of the trials and travails of freedom of information, FOI, requests. As people know, FOI requests relate to documents, whereas access to information on the environment, AIE, requests have a wider application, not just to documents but also to information. It is a much more robust mechanism for trying to access information and bring it into the public domain. It could be due to a misreading of the section, but my concern with the text that I am seeking to amend is that because it talks about records, it could be interpreted at a later stage to be an attempt to restrict access to information requests on the environment to records and not the wider category of information. That is the reason I have tabled the amendment outlined.
The definition of "record" in the Bill relates exclusively to the form and format of the record – physical and digital. Amendment No. 15 relates to the potential content of such records and is inappropriate to include in this definition. The legal effect and efficacy of "...shall not be confused with information held..." is also far from clear. Sections 100 and 123 provide extensively for the management of records for MACs and licences, respectively. I will be opposing this amendment.
I am not convinced that the Minister of State is clear about the point I am trying to make. Perhaps that is because I did not make it clearly enough. A record is a physical document, so when I put in an FOI request, I ask for a copy of a letter sent from politician X to Minister Y. Information is a much wider category, in the sense that it does not have to be in a formal record or document, it can be spread among a variety of different sources. Very often, those of us who started putting in FOI requests at an early stage were looking for information, not records, but because of the way in which we framed those requests we were denied access to the information.
I urge the Minister to reconsider because my worry is that by not broadening the text of this section of the Bill to include that wider category of information, it could have the unintended consequence of restricting access to information that should otherwise be accessible under an access to information on the environment, AIE, request that would not, for example, be accessible under a freedom of information request because it would be restricted to records rather than the wider category of information.
Have these parts of the Bill been looked at in terms of compliance with access to environmental information? Why is what we are suggesting not considered appropriate? I do not understand that and perhaps the Minister of State would elaborate.
This is covered under AIE and the FOI Act. Information must have a source. It must be created and have some source associated with it. To put into a Bill the wording that has been cited makes it legally difficult to adjudicate and point in the direction of something that exists. Information must be tied directly to a source. As I outlined, the Bill is covered by the AIE regulations and the FOI Act. That is most appropriate.
I wish to seek clarification on a technical matter. This section relates to the application of the legislation. Were there any discussions in the Department or are there any concerns about how this will impact or apply in areas where there are disputed territorial waters? Rockall is the one that has been in the news most, but I would like to know whether it also has any implications for Lough Foyle, for example.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 22, lines 14 and 15, to delete all words from and including “Subsection” in line 14 down to and including line 15 and substitute the following:“Subject to subsection(2), where a part of the maritime area (which part is in this Act referred to as the “nearshore area”) meets all of the following requirements, that part shall, for the purposes of this Act, in so far as this Act relates to nearshore areas and CPAs, be the nearshore area of the CPA referred to in paragraph (a)(i) as if the boundaries between the nearshore area of that CPA and the adjoining nearshore area of another CPA were equidistant between the two of them as taken from the high water mark:”.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 22, lines 35 and 36, to delete “a designation under subsection (2) shall specify the boundaries of the nearshore area” and substitute “an order under subsection (2) shall specify the boundaries of the varied nearshore area”.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 23, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following: “(c) the representations of fishing representative bodies and coastal community groups given to the Minister pursuant to subsection (5)(b);”.
The Minister of State may be unable to accept this amendment for technical reasons but it is tabled for the purposes of raising the matter and making the case to have the maximum level of involvement of coastal communities and fishing representatives.
I have a broader set of questions on this section. While there is some provision for public consultation, it is not clear from the provisions of this section what the length of time, depth or scale of that consultation will be. I have had concerns in this area about the absence of consultation with prescribed bodies.
I am not looking for the Minister of State to support this amendment, because I know that will not be the advice from his officials, but I am asking what reassurance he can give us, both in terms of the intention of the Government but also the subsequent regulations, to ensure we can have the most appropriate period of time for public consultation in respect of this as well as the direct involvement of key stakeholders. This amendment refers to "fishing representative bodies and coastal community groups". My earlier amendment on prescribed bodies and environmental NGOs is equally appropriate here.
I support the amendment. I am repeating to a degree something I alluded to earlier. I was talking to fishermen in Dún Laoghaire yesterday. The perception is, to use the colloquial language of the fishermen, that "this Bill is going to screw us". That is essentially what they perceive. The Minister of State may say that is not the case but that is what they believe. They believe the selection by developers of sites such as the Kish Bank and the Codling Bank, which are their fishing grounds and are spawning grounds for fish, makes the development of large-scale wind infrastructure on a very sensitive site a fait accompli.
The perception is that the Government wants to find the legislative means to facilitate that, rather than take on board their concerns. Their concerns about how planned developments on the Kish Bank will take place have not been taken on board. Similar views are held by groups like Save our Seafront and the Coastal Concern Alliance. There is a group in Waterford that has similar concerns about the impact of development that close to shore and on particular sites. There has not been a consideration of all the potential impacts on everything from heritage to fishing to the tourism amenity to the biosphere in Dublin Bay. We could go through a list of things that are potentially impacted by something of that close proximity.
I would be interested to hear the Minister of State respond to those concerns. The groups have a definite view. I largely share their view. They feel they have been excluded and that all of this has essentially been rammed in over their heads. They feel that they will have little say and will be on the back foot, which they believe they already are. I would be interested to hear the Minister of State respond to those concerns.
Amendment No. 25 proposes to specify specific categories of the public, whose public consultation representation shall be taken into account when determining the boundaries of a coastal planning authority, CPA, nearshore area. While noting the positive intention of the proposal, it is not necessary to itemise any particular category of the public, as well as all captured the broad term “members of the public” in subsection 4(b). While fishing representative bodies and coastal community groups are commonly understood terms, neither is defined for the purposes of this Bill. Throughout the four-year consultation period on the National Marine Planning Framework, we were always mindful of respecting equally all members of the maritime community. That is right and proper. We must be careful in this legislation not to state that one category of the public is more important than another. This would only lead to exclusion. In public consultations such as this, the procedure must be neutral. There must be equality of opportunity for all to contribute and to be heard.
Amendment No. 39 proposes additional considerations in the development of the statement that appeared to fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of the statement as a high-level expression of Government policy. This amendment requires a level of detailed consideration more appropriate to a marine spatial plan itself or, indeed, project-level assessment. It also suffers from the same imbalance as present in earlier proposed amendments.
The statement will, in line with existing obligations and practices, have regard to the regulatory framework, including the birds and habitats directive, which to note, are two separate instruments and not a single directive, as referenced.
Amendment No. 44 proposes to extend the appropriate assessment requirements of section 31 to this statement. The public consultation procedure set out in proposed amendments Nos. 31, 36, 37 and 46 will ensure that any submissions from any interested parties or groups will be considered. As before, the amendment proposed here places certain groups, which have not yet been defined, above all others in terms of submissions or observations. This is highly inequitable. I will not be supporting this amendment.
I thank the Minister of State. I accept the premise of his critique of the amendment. In response, while he is right as a general rule, in many aspects of planning and, indeed, in some aspects of licensing, prescribed organisations are given the preferential treatment of being statutorily included in the process whereby they are notified of the opportunity to engage in a way that a general member of the public would be. Is it the Minister of State’s intention, for example, on the passing of this Bill, to have any list of prescribed organisations for this section, by way of statutory instrument, for example? Is that one way of dealing with the concerns?
Can the Minister of State give us some indication, because again I am not clear from this section, of the length of time of the public consultation period? I ask because I am more than happy to withdraw this list of amendments, subject to the Minister of State’s responses.
I want to make one point. I live in a coastal community. I accept the Minister of State’s logic in saying that every member of the public has to have access to public consultation and that nobody should be disadvantaged in that regard. However, we should be clear that people engage in fishing and their representatives have played, and will need to play, an important role in their custodianship and guardianship of our marine biodiversity and marine environments. They are not just another group of people. These people have spent their lives on the seas, risking their lives. Some of them have lost their lives. They have a special knowledge and relationship. It would be entirely appropriate for them to be involved in public consultation in particular way and given particular status to recognise their involvement, livelihood and connection. Often, this connection goes back generations. It is in the families and in their DNA. We should be cognisant of that when discussing the fishing community, the important role it plays and the role it needs to play in protecting our marine environment.
Again, I do not see where "four weeks" is written in this section. Will that be introduced by way of statutory instrument, or am I missing that it in the section? Could the Minister of State please let me know where it is? I would then like to follow up with a second comment.
Yes, it is states, "inviting members of the public [...] not later than four weeks.” Here is the difficulty. Four weeks is a short period of time. We are not dealing with a standard planning application. We are dealing with things that can often be complex, both from a technical and scientific point of view. Many of us would have met with, for example, the National Inshore Fishermen's Association. The Minister of State is right that it was contacted and invited to a number of the consultations and participated in them. Its members told us, and I am sure they have conveyed the same to the Minister of State and his officials, they feel that their capacity is small, because it is a small organisation comprising fishermen. Their capacity to engage is more diminished than larger corporate organisations or various other bodies. Four weeks is therefore a short period of time for those organisations. They themselves have told us that they do not have the capacity or the technical expertise needed.
One could argue that they are members of larger organisations that represent wider sections of the fishing industry. While that is true, the Minister of State knows as well as I do that there are disagreements, tensions, and divergences of interests. Again, the National Inshore Fishermen's Association has stressed to us that it needs to be given the maximum opportunity to engage in this process.
I would ask the Minister of State to actively consider, between now and Report Stage, whether the length of time that has been provided for in section 5(5)(b)(iii) is sufficient. In addition, how does one ensure that those smaller organisations or communities are not just given a notional right to participate, but that their participation is genuine and meaningful, given their own self-declared limited technical and scientific resources?
I will add to the points that have already been made. My big concern is that the marine environment is an enormous area that some people stand to potentially make a lot of money out of. Let us call a spade a spade. There were some disastrous mistakes made on land with planning and development, where money had a disproportionate, sometimes corrupt, influence on planning and development on land.
There were many dire consequences of that. It contributed to arguably the greatest economic crash the country has ever seen, as well as the disastrous austerity that followed and the housing crisis we face today. We could go through the disastrous consequences of letting money dictate what went on, in planning and development terms, in respect of land. The potential for that to be replicated at sea is significant. The vested interests are lining up and are so far ahead of the public in their working to further their interests in order to make money from the marine environment. As a result, we have to tip the scales greatly in favour of the general public and stakeholders that do not have the resources large corporations and big industry have to pursue their own commercial interests.
When we talk about coastal development, the people who have a guardianship role are, self-evidently, the coastal communities that immediately adjoin the area in question. I do not suggest that other people who do not immediately adjoin a particular development do not have a right - they absolutely do - but the coastal communities have a special guardianship role and that is important. It is not just that they have the right to do it; in fact, I want them to do it because I do not trust what certain interests, left to their own devices, might do without the oversight of communities that are directly affected, understand what a coastal zone and so on are and can spot what others who might not live nearby would not see. They have an especially important role in that regard. Similarly, the fishers have been there for a long time and know the marine environment. They know which marine species are operating there and the geography of the area. Moreover, they make their livelihoods from it and should have the right to continue to do so and not be impacted by other people who just want to make money from the marine environment.
It is entirely justified, therefore, to guarantee that certain people who clearly have a stake and a role in ensuring the proper and sustainable planning and development of the marine environment will have that role, notwithstanding the need to give everybody the right to have input into decisions about the marine environment.
I note the comments of all the Deputies. I have the utmost regard for our fishing families and communities. As was stated, many of them have existed for several generations and many have paid the ultimate price in the course of their work. In the context of anything I say that may be technical as I respond to each of the points, I underline that I appreciate the great work they do and the price some pay. We want to support them in any way we can.
I think there may have been a misunderstanding. We are talking about nearshore designates, that is, local authority designates. We are not talking about planning permission or consent. Whether with An Bord Pleanála, if it requires an environmental impact assessment or with the local authority, planning permission or consent requires a consultation of either five or eight weeks. As I said, the consultation will take four weeks in respect of the nearshore designate. This is not about zoning; it is about which local authority has jurisdiction for a particular area and the consultation regarding the termination of that.
This is another opportunity for the Minister of State to clarify matters. I think he is saying that because this is just a technical drawing of boundaries to determine which local authority is responsible for each area, there will be a shorter consultation period. Has there been discussion or consideration of whether there could end up being disputes, not necessarily between local authorities but between third parties, as to where that boundary would be drawn or is the working assumption that this will be simple and straightforward?
That is something that will arise through our surveys, and we will have to work with local authorities on it. As I stated in the context of the previous amendment, work will have to be done to ensure there is consistency in the approach taken though the Bill in regard to the original jurisdiction. We will engage with the local authorities subsequent to that through our surveys.
I will be happy to withdraw the amendment. I ask, however, that the Minister of State discuss with his officials whether there would be a benefit to tabling Government amendments at a later Stage to give the Minister the power to introduce, by way of regulation, appropriate prescribed bodies. It might be a positive that would assist the process.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 23, to delete lines 15 to 17 and substitute the following: “(f) the practicability of the CPA effectively performing its functions under this Act in respect of the nearshore area as proposed to be varied.”.
To reiterate the point I made about radio, there is a specific reference to newspapers in section 5(b). Will the Minister of State seriously consider including a reference to radio in the legislation? Displaying advertisements in the newspaper only is just not good enough these days.
Amendments Nos. 30 to 38, inclusive, 42, 43 and 45 are related and will be discussed together. Amendment No. 31 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 30, while amendments Nos. 34 to 36, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 33.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 23, to delete lines 35 to 39 and substitute the following: “(6) Subject to subsection (2), the Minister shall from time to time prepare for approval by the Oireachtas, and publication, and in accordance with this section and section 31—(a) a statement (in this Act referred to as the “marine planning policy statement”) containing information setting out the principles and priorities of the Government in relation to maritime planning by the State in the maritime area for the period to which the statement relates, or
(b) a proposed amendment or revocation of a previous marine planning policy statement.”.
With this amendment, I am seeking to provide clarity on how marine planning policy statements are amended or revoked. Amendment No. 32 will provide for those statements to require approval by the Oireachtas. Marine planning policy statements are a significant part of the overall architecture. I am concerned about the role of the Oireachtas in that, as the Bill stands, the statements will simply be required to be laid before the Oireachtas.
So apart from being laid before it, the Oireachtas will not have a role in this. It is effectively for the Minister to do. I have a lot of concerns about that in terms of the democratic process given that these are significant and have an impact on the architecture of the legislation, how this process works and how the marine policy is set down. I am also concerned about how that could lead to judicial action relating to the Bill and the role of the Oireachtas, particularly in respect of Article 15(2) of the Constitution and other case law around that. I would be interested in hearing the Minister of State's view on that.
I have concerns about the level of ministerial discretion on marine planning policy statements and the lack of Oireachtas oversight. I have concerns about the lack of public participation in terms of the Minister's actions. I also have concerns about when the policy statements come into effect and about significant deficits in terms of environmental assessment requirements on the marine planning policy statements. Could the Minister of State elaborate on the process for environmental assessment when drawing up these statements?
Before I deal with the amendments, I think it would be really useful if before the Minister of State responds to our questions about the amendments, he gives the committee a plain English explanation of what the marine planning policy statement is, its function and role. I am particularly interested because we have a national marine planning framework and will have marine protected areas, designations and a variety of other plans. Where does the policy statement fit into that overarching legal and policy architecture. What is it going to do, what is its added value and, crucially, how does it relate to all of those?
As will become clear as we go through later Stages of the Bill, there is real concern, and I echo Deputy Cian O'Callaghan's remarks. I presume this is a statement of some significance, particularly given the length of time it is due to run for. I would not in any way question the Minister's intentions but giving the Minister the power to introduce such a significant statement without adequate public consultation and access to strategic environmental assessments or appropriate assessments, particularly in the absence of an adequate designation of Natura 2000 sites, has implications for any real functional role for the Oireachtas. There was very extensive consultation when the national planning framework - the terrestrial planning framework - was being done in the previous Oireachtas and Department officials worked very hard. However, there was no formal role outside of briefings and informal engagements on and off the record. There was no formal role. In fact, there was some controversy at the end because despite the fact that the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, who introduced the legislation, said that it was always his intention for there to be a vote of the Oireachtas, the subsequent Government and Minister interpreted the legislation differently and said there would be no vote. That became a large bone of contention.
Could the Minister of State outline his general thoughts on those? My arguments regarding the amendments are similar to those of Deputy Cian O'Callaghan. Something of this significance should get Oireachtas approval. If the Minister of the day is satisfied that he or she has done his or her work properly, he or she should be able to easily get it through an Oireachtas vote. I also think there should be a mechanism for Oireachtas amendments - I took the same position with the terrestrial planning framework - but also for the revocation of any such policy statement, particularly in the context of a change of Government.
Amendment No. 32 speaks to the issue of a timeframe. In so many other areas of legislation, particularly in planning, the production of policy statements or guidelines can take far longer than they could or should. I do not want to mention the war of the rural planning guidelines, which were much delayed both before the Minister of State was in office and are still delayed, but that is just one example of how very complex issues can end up taking far longer than they need to. This creates planning uncertainty, which is not good for anyone.
I will fall over backwards if the Minister of State considers accepting Amendment No. 33 because it completely rewrites this section of the Bill. What I and others are trying to do with this amendment is set out a more comprehensive primary legislative basis for what that policy statement should be but also respecting the primacy of a number of key EU directives also highlighting what happens if at a later stage, there is a conflict between, for example, the revised marine planning framework and the marine spatial planning directive. Where does that conflict play itself out? By putting down these baskets of obligations in my amendment involving section 3(a), (b) and (c), I am trying to give clarity to that and detail who should be consulted in all of those.
Likewise, amendment No. 34 is a small amendment but it strengthens the need for compliance with the relevant sections rather than "have regard to". We all know the difficulties involved in the difference between "comply with" and "have regard to" when it comes to An Bord Pleanála regarding SDZs, something we are trying to remove from terrestrial planning legislation. It would be good not to have that same weakness in this Bill. This group of amendments goes up to amendment No. 38 and also includes amendments Nos. 42, 43 and 45.
Amendments Nos. 42, 43 and 45 are really about significantly strengthening the role of the Oireachtas through the committee structure, not just this committee but other relevant committees that may have input into what is ultimately a cross-departmental and cross-Oireachtas committee set of issues, to give them adequate involvement in shaping this policy statement, and likewise the ability to introduce amendments.
Amendment No. 45 concerns the relationship between the maritime planning policy statement and other public bodies. It is really to ensure that these public bodies comply with it only to the extent that it is relevant to their functions and not beyond that.
We all have the same amendments that all try to achieve the same end. I was commenting to one of the officials, who I think agreed with me, that this is complicated. It is a huge Bill that is extremely complicated. We are referring to multiple pieces of legislation and there are almost more acronyms than there are letters in the alphabet. We have MACs, DMAPs, the NMPF, multiple directives and MARA and now we have these policy statements. What is the acronym for them? It is MPPS. As a Deputy, I find this difficult. If I was a member of the public, I would be baffled as to how this process will operate. It would be very useful if a idiot's guide with a visual map of how these different elements interact could be produced. In this case, we have a new acronym, which is the MPPS, which is the Minister making statements of principles. How exactly do they relate to all the other different moving parts in this? How do they relate to the national marine planning framework, which will be reviewed from time to time? How will the national marine planning framework or the reviewed version of that framework be informed? What will it be informed by?
To what extent will the statements of objectives and policies that the Minister might make be required to be compliant with the various directives? How do they relate to the frameworks and reviews? We need to understand all of this architecture and it needs to be set out in the clearest possible terms. A visual representation of these parts would be useful for us because we will be at this for weeks. I know one cannot be produced overnight, but it would be helpful.
Ministers cannot make any old statement that throws everything in a particular direction just because that is what they like doing, or can they? Who might be influencing a Minister when he or she is coming out with particular statements in respect of policies and objectives? One of the amendments deals with the representations the Minister may receive. We need to know about those if statements are being made. Critically, we need to know that the governing framework for policy statements dictating how planning and development are done and what type of planning and development is done in our marine environment is informed, constrained and regulated by all of the various directives in terms of marine spatial planning, protection of biodiversity and habitats, and so on. We need to know that the tail is not wagging the dog in how we undertake marine planning and development.
That is a brief summary of the logic behind this series of amendments. I would like to hear the Minister of State's response. I hope to hear a positive signal from him and his officials about them putting together the kind of map I mentioned to show how these various elements relate to one another, given that it is not entirely clear. Things are floating around, to use a marine metaphor.
I meant to say at the start that a good explanatory note is attached to the Bill and was presented to the committee. The Library and Research Service has also put together a substantial document that highlights many of the issues that the Deputy raised. It provides a glossary of terms, a breakdown of the committee's pre-legislative scrutiny session, our 26 recommendations from that and where they have been incorporated into the Bill. The departmental officials also provided briefings. I believe a briefing was organised for everyone yesterday as well. I have all of these documents and can pass them on to the Deputy if he requires, but I agree that it is a complicated area.
I thank the Chairman for that information. I thank the officials for yesterday's briefing, which I found helpful. I also found Deputy Boyd Barrett's questions at that briefing helpful.
I wish to address amendment No. 33. It is a very good amendment. I am biased, of course, as I submitted it and a number of others, but it would create a considerable amount of structure around marine planning policy statements. If this amendment was inserted into the Bill now or, if the Minister of State is minded to improve the section and give more structure to it, on Report Stage, I would have much more confidence in this section. Reading the current section, it does not give much information about marine planning policy statements. It states that they will be there and they shall have regard to a few matters, but it does not provide a proper structure. We do not know from the Bill when marine planning policy statements will be revoked and how they can be amended. That is not clear. If a new Minister makes a new statement, will that mean that the previous statements are then out of date? If a Minister does something through a marine policy planning statement that is contrary to the majority wishes of the Oireachtas, will the Oireachtas have any ability to amend or revoke it or make an input into it? What is the process in that regard? As legislators, we must think about these questions in light of who the Minister might be. The current Minister is one who has a keen interest in marine biodiversity, but what happens if there is a Minister who has no interest in the marine environment whatsoever and starts inserting all sorts of stuff into marine policy statements? Could a Minister, through marine policy statements, create a large amount of damage to the marine environment by opening up avenues for mining activity or sand and gravel extraction, which have major implications for climate change?
I would welcome it if the Minister of State explained exactly where marine planning policy statements fit in with the rest of the Bill's architecture. Where in the Bill is clarity provided in this regard? What is the hierarchy? Why not accept our amendment to ensure that the Minister must act explicitly in accordance with the objectives of the birds directive and Article 2 of the habitats directive? Why not write that into the Bill in terms of marine planning policy statements just to make those aspects stronger and clearer? Hearing the Minister of State's response would be useful.
I appreciate that this is a complex matter. We can break it down further with a mapping process, although that would not take away from the significant complexity of what we are trying to do.
I will address the technical aspects first and then make a few comments. The marine planning policy framework is a high-level expression of Government policy prepared by the Minister and agreed across the Government by the Cabinet. This is a ministerial function.
The statement is intended to do the following: describe the existing components of Ireland's marine planning system; outline a vision for the future development of our marine planning system; set out the overarching policies and principles that the Government expects marine planning bodies and other public bodies that engage with the marine planning system to observe, for example, public engagement, transparency, governance, environmental assessment, climate action, and social and economic benefit; and set out high-level priorities for the enhancement of the marine planning system in Ireland. This grouping of amendments proposes instead to establish a mechanism going far beyond oversight and democratic approval, effectively resulting in an Oireachtas marine planning policy statement, MPPS. The Oireachtas would be acting, in part, as a quasi-marine planning body. With all due respect to the various competencies and experience of my Oireachtas colleagues, that is not an appropriate role for a national legislature.
The amendments proposed appear to confuse the marine policy statement with a maritime spatial plan through the inclusion of considerations and matters that can only be properly expressed in a detailed plan. They are not appropriate for a high-level statement. Further to this, the amendments proposed contain technical deficiencies that would create inherent impracticalities, legal issues and severe limitations. The net effect would be to establish procedures that were simply inoperable.
Amendment No. 30 proposes to include an Oireachtas approval of the MPPS. This is a Cabinet function. Amendment No. 32 repeats the Oireachtas approval requirement in respect of the first MPPS. Again, this is a Cabinet function. Amendment No. 33 revises the considerations for the development of the MPPS. The proposed subsection (3)(a) would require the Minister to "act consistently with" a number of matters. "Have regard to" is the standard phrasing used and is well understood by the public, practitioners and the courts. Such a novel departure would inevitably require interpretation and clarification by the courts, perhaps over multiple cases and years. We cannot introduce such a risk.
Marine spatial planning is based upon balancing the three pillars of sustainable development: environmental, economic and social. The proposed subsection (3)(a), while expansive on a single pillar of marine spatial planning, is silent on the other two. This creates an imbalance and severely limits the scope of the statement to the point of inoperability.
The proposed subsection (3)(b)(ii) is technically deficient. The use of the word "it" is ambiguous and may be construed as a statement or that this provision is cumulative with the proposed subsection (3)(b)(i), which refers to the NMPF.
The proposed section 3(b)(iii) appears to require the Minister to have regard to future maritime spatial plans not yet developed. Section 3(b)(iv) and (v) would require a level of detail appropriate to a detailed maritime spatial plan, not a policy statement. The proposed section 3(c) explicitly limits consultation to two Ministers and Ministers of State, in stark contrast to the ministerial consultation on the first MPPS that engaged all Ministers, particularly those with maritime functions. I see no justification for such a limit and am surprised because it goes against the ethos of all our consultation to date.
Amendment No. 34 proposes to replace "have regard to" with "must comply with" for ministerial considerations in section 6(3). This phrasing stands in contrast to the Deputies' use of "have regard to" in amendment No. 33. It is important we remain consistent with the terms we use around planning. As previously mentioned, the term "have regard to" is used throughout planning and it works.
Amendment No. 38 requires the Minister to have regard to interim measures to protect areas of marine environment as agreed by the Government. I acknowledge the positive intentions of the amendment but it is not currently functional. "Interim measures" has no legal meaning. However, as detailed by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, in the Second Stage debate, we have undertaken to examine the possibility of using designated maritime area plans provisions of this Bill as an interim measure in advance of the MPA legislation. Should this prove to be operable, there will be no need to refer to them as they are already fall under the definition of the national marine planning framework in section 2.
Amendment No. 42 proposes to establish Oireachtas engagement and public consultation procedures. The Oireachtas procedure is unprecedented in scope and places something akin to a planning function on the Oireachtas. I have proposed consultation procedures under amendments Nos. 31, 36, 37 and 46. The public and Oireachtas Members and committees will be able to provide input into the development of the MPPS through this procedure.
Amendment No. 43 sets out further detail in relation to Oireachtas engagement procedure and relies upon section 6(3). As detailed above, it is legally inoperable and contains multiple deficiencies. Amendment No. 45 is a technical amendment relating to Oireachtas approval. I oppose these amendments.
I support amendments No. 31, 36 and 37. Ministerial amendment No. 31 is a technical amendment, necessary to facilitate additional provisions of amendment No. 46. Ministerial amendment No. 36 is a technical amendment necessary to facilitate amendment No. 37. Ministerial amendment No. 37 requires the Minister to have regard to representations made in public consultation.
In relation to the high level policy statement, I draw members' attention to page 27 of the Bill, where they will see detailed the requirements and those the planning policy statement has to have regard to. It is also in terms of consultation, as I referenced in the amendments from No. 46. Like our current planning policy, this is a high level expression statement at the top overarching our policy and it requires approval by the Cabinet.
I appreciate how complex this is. It is the same for me as I try to grapple with all these terms and engagements. I acknowledge the good faith being displayed by members in putting forward their amendments and I am willing to work with them on as many as I can. I hope I demonstrated this from the start of the proceedings this afternoon.
The way I have broken it down for myself is that what we are doing involves three pillars. There is forward planning, including the policy statement sitting on top, the national marine planning framework underneath it and the guidelines and directions that follow suit from that, as well as DMAPS, akin to local area plans in the current 31 local authority structure. That will give a reflection of what it is like inland or an alternative snapshot. The second pillar is development management, which is concerned with consents, giving licence to development and deciding whether it goes through An Bord Pleanála or the local authority, depending on where it is located or what environmental assessment is needed. Enforcement is the last pillar and MARA will take a lead role in that. Those are three pillars into which we have tried to break it down but I acknowledge it is a sizable and technical Bill.
The policy statement comes at the top and that is the Government deciding what it wants to do. Below that comes the marine planning framework. Is that not what the Minister of State suggested? I will consider what he said but my worries start there. There are certain things that have to constrain our political whims concerning what might happen in the marine environment, namely, the need to meet certain obligations relating to biodiversity and environmental protection directives we are subject to and so on. They are there to protect the public's right to participate in sustainable planning and development and to protect our environment, habitats, livelihoods and so on. I am worried about that relationship. The Minister of State said the Oireachtas cannot become a planning authority but the Minister will become a planning authority. The Minister of State might like to come back on that point. He might have concerns about the Oireachtas being a planning authority; I have significant concerns about a Minister being a planning authority.
Our development plans for local authority areas are far from perfect but they allow for fairly intensive public engagement and a democratic process for the designation of particular areas for particular activities. That is done in an open, transparent and democratic way where elected representatives say houses can be build in such a place but not in another place because it is a protected environment, that a certain amount of land must be allocated for educational facilities, sport and so on, and certain things cannot be done in certain places. Where are the guarantees that we will have a similarly democratic and transparent regime when it comes to the designation of different parts of the marine environment for different types of activities? The public deserves an answer to that. The fears are that we will not and Ministers will be able to dictate, possibly under the influence of lobbyists, that the marine area regulatory authority when established will not be fully transparent and that the issuing of licences, consents and so on will not involve a transparent, open process. I would like to hear the Minister of State respond to all that.
I thank the Minister. I accept the spirit in which he is conducting the debate and I want to do likewise. I am still not clear on the relationship between the policy statement, the marine planning framework and the marine spatial plans. I am more confused now than when I first read the legislation. When the Minister of State comes to respond, I am really interested to know the following.
If the planning framework is the overarching planning framework for the marine, it has or should have a variety of spatial and temporal detail through its maps and so forth. I am trying to work out what the policy statement is and how it interacts with that. Is one guiding the other or is it a summary of the other? It would be very helpful if the Minister of State could give greater clarity on that.
The second issue is a question I asked in the first round. Will the drafting and approval by the Minister and the Cabinet of the policy statement require SEAs or AAs? That is very important. I am also unclear about what the full level of consultation is. The Minister of State said he has outlined some of that in his amendments, but perhaps he can talk through that again in plain English. What opportunities would the public have?
With respect to the role of the Oireachtas, I appreciate the Minister of State's view. These might not be the exact words he used - I am paraphrasing and I apologise if I have got it wrong - but there was a suggestion that this might be too technical and too high level for the collective genius of the Members of the Upper and Lower Houses. If that is the case, putting it as the responsibility solely of a Minister, albeit with Cabinet approval, creates even bigger problems. The Minister of State is right that the extent of Oireachtas involvement is unprecedented. We did that to make a point. However, the point, which is a very legitimate one, is that the Minister of State has gone too far in the other direction. There is an appropriate role to be given to the Houses of the Oireachtas and appropriate committees. The Minister of State should consider that there were real benefits in the engagements on the national planning framework which was processed through the previous Dáil, notwithstanding the fact that there were no votes, which was one of its weaknesses. There was a level of engagement with that. I know that is more akin to the marine planning framework, but I still believe there is some value in that.
I have a few more responses to the Minister of State's criticisms of our amendments, some of them justifiable. Of course, there will always be technical deficiencies in Opposition amendments. We would be delighted if the Minister of State would second some of his hard-working and expert staff to us at the time for drafting amendments. It would enormously improve the quality of the amendments. However, technical deficiencies can always be dealt with and cleaned up. What is important is the intention of the amendments. I do not accept the Minister of State's contention that "shall have regard to" is the standard in planning legislation. In fact, local authorities must comply with the county development plans. There is a clear difference between the onerous obligation placed on a planning authority with respect to a planning decision based on a county development plan and when a similar decision is appealed to the board and the board has to "have regard to". They are fundamentally different propositions. If "have regard to" is the Government's preference, that is its preference, but the reason we are suggesting having a hierarchy of "comply with" and "have regard to", particularly in the longer amendment which is better worded, is to cater for what happens if there is a conflict between, for example, the appropriate directive and the marine planning framework. If there happens to be a conflict, which gets precedence? The Minister is going to have to make a call as to which he or she must comply with as opposed to have regard to.
There is a genuine concern and we see it with the substitute consent debate. I do not wish to conflate the two, but where there are conflicts between domestic legislation and EU legislation, particularly on issues of environmental protection, inadequately addressing how to process those through the system at the legislative stage can lead to all sorts of difficulties, including the very substantial fines that this Government is paying and the previous Government had to pay in respect of substitute consent related matters.
I forgot to raise something on the interim measures in the first round. First, what the Minister of State said sounds very positive. This amendment is deficiently drafted but the reason it is there is that, as the Minister of State knows, the third recommendation of the committee's pre-legislative scrutiny report was that: "The Government implement interim measures to protect areas of the marine environment given the disparity between the introduction of the proposed legislation and the absence of legislation regulating maritime protected areas". I am more than happy to withdraw that amendment, but perhaps the Minister of State could give us a little more information, if he has it, on the discussions about those interim measures. The committee was strongly of the view that such interim measures would be very important.
I want to ensure, Chairman, that I do not miss any of the points. The Minister of State is consulting his officials. His job is more difficult than ours. We just have to ask the questions while he has to know what the answers are.
With regard to the more limited list of Ministers, it was not my intention to exclude any of the Minister of State's colleagues. I would be happy to amend that on Report Stage and include the entire Cabinet in it, but the Minister of State can see the point we are trying to make. How do we involve the Oireachtas, the Oireachtas committees and all the relevant Ministers? Notwithstanding the technical deficiencies and accidental exclusions of the Minister of State's colleagues, I still believe there is merit in the Minister of State rethinking the role that he is not giving to the Oireachtas. Perhaps some compromise might be forthcoming from the Government between now and Report Stage.
I am sure I have forgotten something but I will come back to it.
On the point about the hierarchy in terms of acting consistently with or having regard to, it is worth noting that there is a good precedent from the Government on doing that in legislation. For example, the new section 3(3) of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill does it. I commend the Government for doing that in that Bill and recommend that it follows that good practice in this Bill. It has set a good precedent. It is very important, for the reasons that Deputy Ó Broin outlined. There can be conflicts, so setting out clearly which come first and a hierarchy for them absolutely makes sense. That would be a big improvement in the Bill. Amendments Nos. 33 and 43 are key amendments. There is no issue if they have to be cleaned up to make them technically more compliant. Bear in mind that we had quite short notice of the deadline for submitting amendments, so I would be happy to work with the Minister of State if they have to be updated or cleaned up. It is the principle of the amendments that we are trying to get across. I believe they would strengthen the Bill considerably, so I ask for that to be considered.
The Minister of State spoke about the marine planning policy statement feeding into the national marine planning framework and the marine spatial plan. Where does the Bill refer to how that feeds in or how they connect or what the relationship is? Is that explicitly set out in the Bill and where is it? If so, does that need strengthening? Perhaps, Chairman, the Minister of State will answer that question and I will then continue. What he says will relate to the rest of my questions.
-----because we are very willing to work with everyone.
With regard to the MPPS, as I said in response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, page 27 of the legislation sets out the various different priorities and areas that the MPPS must have regard to, such as the various directives, all the obligations on it, the NMPF and the planning framework. It is all set out there. It is not something made like in the wild west on the back of an envelope. It must comply with all those aspects.
Second, as regards its role, I would use the words "a shared vision", in terms of breathing life into the national marine planning framework, and to have a new plan-led system as opposed to it being developer-led. That is what we have with the national planning framework. There is the overarching, high-level statement and a shared vision from the national planning framework right down to the local area plans, the county development plans and the regional plans, with the spatial plans above that.
It is a shared vision and that is what a Cabinet should and would be trying to establish when it is doing its high-level statement, namely, having regard to all that other stuff. Section 6(1) sets out how the Government interacts with it through this Bill, so again, it is a high-level statement. It is up to the Government to set out a high-level statement and then it is up to the Houses of the Oireachtas to hold it to account for that statement and other legislation it enacts.
Deputy Boyd Barrett was talking about DMAPS, jurisdiction and that aspect. That is another section. In two days, we will be going on to the DMAPS and local area plan aspects, as well as who has jurisdiction over it. Whether or not it is in the local authority functional area it is about it being fully compliant with public participation at every single corner of it. That is most important, just as terrestrial planning laws when a county development plan is being done and put forward in terms of zoning, and various different local area plans attached to it.
In relation to a question, I think from Deputy Ó Broin, they are indeed subject to SEA and appropriative assessment. That is definite. There is no issue regarding that. I think the minimum is 30 days.
Yes, absolutely. That is the point I am trying to make. In a way we are getting overly concerned with the statements. I want to give members absolute assurance on that.
I think Deputy Ó Broin referenced the MPPS in terms of this. I am happy to commit to put a resolution to both Houses for its approval. We are happy to do that.
I am sorry. It is the high-level Government statement. We have already done the national marine planning framework. We are happy to put a resolution to both Houses on the high-level Government statement.
On that point, the Minister of State can take from the discussion there is not disagreement on the substance of where we all want to go. In order to have the maximum level of public confidence a public debate on the floor of the Houses, much as it might be painful for the officials to have to listen to six, nine or 12 hours of us droning on again, followed by a formal vote, is a helpful thing. It may be that people agree or disagree but it gives is a legitimacy a Cabinet decision - no disrespect to any Cabinet or Government - does not necessarily have, so that would be a very positive development if the Minister of State was committing to that today.
On where the marine planning policy statements interact with the other parts of Bill and the other frameworks like the marine planning framework and so forth, the Minister of State is saying it is in section 6(1).
It just does not tell me much about how they interact. That should be much clearer and the Government could do something on that on Report Stage to give a bit of clarity. The Minister of State has articulated a good bit of that here. It would be better if it were in black and white in the Bill so there is absolute clarity on that. That then gives an idea of where that can begin and finish with the policy statements. I still have the concern I articulated earlier that the Minister could go in all sorts of directions with those policy statements. It is helpful that it would then be subject to a vote in the Houses because that gives a level of scrutiny. However, I have the concern a particular Minister, perhaps lobbied in a particular area where there are particular interests, could be going down routes that are very bad for the marine environment. Much of the substance of our amendments Nos. 33 and 43 would really give a framework the policy statements would have to comply with, which would be really beneficial.
Before we move to vote, and we can do this after the decision on this, I asked the Minister of State to give us more information, if possible, on the discussion on the interim measures. This speaks to amendment No. 38.
I apologise. That was the question I omitted. We are looking at doing it through the DMAPS maps process to predesignate areas in advance of the legislation coming through from the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. As I have said before, he is going to give an update here on that as well.
I have one more question on amendment No. 33. Our amendment makes reference to the need for the policy statement to be consistent with the marine spatial planning directive. I apologise. I see now the Government has that.
I have no issue in having a look at that aspect as well, in terms of what Deputy Cian O'Callaghan raised and what I have articulated here about what Deputy Boyd Barrett has in the amendment. We can take a look at that.
Will the Minister of State outline in a little more detail his proposed public consultation with respect to his amendments to this section? Did I misunderstand him earlier when he said he had amendments to this section outlining some public participation consultation?
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 24, to delete lines 1 to 4 and substitute the following: “(2)The Minister shall ensure that the first marine planning policy statement is prepared not later than six months after the coming into operation of this section for approval by the Oireachtas, and relates to a period of not less than three years commencing on the date of the first publication of that statement.”.
Apologies, I think I asked this in the first round of questions but we have hit the Minister of State with so many questions I appreciate it might have slipped. I know I cannot hold him to a timeframe but what would the hope or expectation be, in terms of the passing of this Bill, for when that first statement would be produced?
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 24, to delete lines 5 to 14 and substitute the following: “(3) The Minister shall, in preparing a marine policy statement, or an amendment of revocation of a marine policy statement—(a) act consistently with—(i) Article 1 of the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive establishing marine spatial planning to promote within the State, the sustainable growth of maritime economies, the sustainable development of marine areas and sustainable use of marine resources, whilst achieving good environmental status, as set out in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive;(b) have regard to—
(ii) the objective and requirements of Article 1 of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, recognising that maritime spatial planning is to be delivered whilst achieving Good Environmental Status of marine waters, as specified in recital 2 to the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive;
(iii) the objectives of the Birds Directive;
(iv) the objectives of Article 2 of the Habitats Directive;
(v) the methodologies and requirements of the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive;
(vi) the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and any programme of measures for the State specified thereunder;(i) the National Marine Planning Framework;(c) consult with:
(ii) the extent to which it has been developed consistently with the requirements of the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive and any gaps and issues arising consequently;
(iii) subsequent Maritime Spatial Plans;
(iv) the current and future pressures associated with fishing and aquaculture in the marine environment;
(v) the national assessment reports prepared for the State pursuant to:(I) Articles 16 and 17 of the Habitats Directive,
(II) Article 8 and 17 of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and
(III) Article 12 of the Birds Directive,(d) take account and give due consideration to the input from the consultations with the public and bodies consulted on the marine planning policy statement or on any proposed revocation or amendments proposed to a marine policy statement, and(I) the Minister with any delegated responsibility for natural heritage
(II) the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, if this is not the Minister;
(III) the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications,
(e) set out in writing how the matters, consultations and considerations in paragraphs (a) to (d) have informed and been addressed in relation to the marine planning policy statement being proposed, amended or revoked.”.
I wish to press this amendment, particularly on the back of Deputy Cian O'Callaghan's point about the similarity between how this deals with issue of the hierarchy in the climate Bill.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 24, line 5, to delete “have regard to” and substitute “must comply with”.
Before I withdraw the amendment, I ask the Minister of State to consider, with his officials, the point I made about terrestrial planning legislation where two different formulas are used in certain circumstances. As my colleagues and I will probably table this amendment again on Report Stage, I do not want to waste people's time by having the same conversation. I would appreciate if the Minister of State could explain the rationale for this formulation, as opposed to the other formulations, being used in this instance. I ask him to undertake to consider the matter, at least. I will withdraw the amendment but it may be resubmitted.
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 24, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following: “(g) any interim measures to protect areas of the marine environment as agreed by Government.”.
I withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 39:
In page 24, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following: “(g) the EU Birds and Habitats Directive, the OSPAR Convention and the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red Lists.
(h) the policy submissions from fishing representative groups relating to maritime planning and existing fishing grounds.”.
I withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 40:
In page 24, between lines 14 and 15, to insert the following: “(3) The Minister shall publish as part of the public consultation on a proposed marine policy statement, details of any representations made to the Minister or his Department in respect of such a policy, including representations made in the 3 years leading up to the enactment.”.
Amendment No. 40 requires that the Minister will publish as part of any public consultation the details of any representations that have been made to him or her in respect of such a policy, including representations made in the three years leading up to the enactment of the policy. It is self-evident that the amendment seeks to address concerns about lobbying. We know that lobbyists operate for certain corporate and commercial interests operating or seeking to operate in the maritime area. We want full transparency and visibility for lobbying that takes place around policy matters pertaining to the planning and development of the maritime area. It is reasonable to make such a request so we know who seeks to influence policy decisions made by the Government.
The adoption of amendment No. 40 would make everybody's life in the Department much easier. There is nothing wrong with lobbying, which is carried out by lots of different organisations, commercial organisations, NGOs, Deputies and Cabinet colleagues, etc. I will show why amendment No. 40 would make everybody's life easier. As the Minister of State will remember, we had discussions on the floor of the Oireachtas with respect to the recent amendments to Part V and he rightly pointed out that all of the public consultation submissions to the Government's new housing plan were received after the decision to take out Part V. Now, to the great discomfort of the poor old folks in the freedom of information, FOI, section on housing, we are trying to find out who lobbied in the period between November-December 2020 and June 2021, when the decision was made. Some of the information is in the lobbying register but not all of it. It would be much easier if that information was volunteered and made public. Such a move would make things fully transparent and say who was talked to. There is no reason not to put that information in the public domain. The measure would mean that we would not have to waste our time lodging FOI requests, the FOI unit in the Department would no longer receive pestering calls from Deputies Boyd Barrett, Cian O'Callaghan and I on a regular basis, and it would improve transparency. Therefore, in the interests of transparency, I recommend amendment No. 40 as it stands or some revision of same.
Let me appeal to the better nature of the Minister of State. Obviously. there are very large commercial interests in the sphere of offshore wind and we are going to need an awful lot of investment to provide the volume of wind that is required. People will be concerned that some of that investment may not be in the public interest. I presume, given the position adopted by the Minister of State, that he believes it is in the public interest, with which I have no quarrel at this point. Therefore, assuaging public concern by publishing the information would be a valuable statement of intent.
On amendment No. 41, I welcome the fact that it has been said that the policy statement will be subjected to strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment. I always want to mention appropriate assessment, particularly in the absence of an adequate designation of Natura 2000 sites. My one concern is that I have not seen anywhere where that is compelled. The Minister of State may be promoted and elevated to a senior Ministry in another Department and somebody else may be in his position. Can I hold that person to the same commitment that he has given to this committee? There could also be a different government, different party, etc. Would it not be better to make that very explicit in the legislation?
Yes. Let us all make sure that we hear each other properly. When I raised in a previous discussion whether the policy statement would be subject to strategic environmental assessment and appropriate assessment, the Minister of State said "Yes". Then I asked him where was it specified in the legislation.
Let me pause because that amendment may make a portion of my amendment redundant. I am absolutely of the view, whether it is in my amendment or amendment No. 118, that there should be a statutory obligation to do that. I am still not clear what the plan for public consultation will be, particularly in the context of a negative screening determination, if such a thing arises.
Amendment No. 44 relates to public consultation. If the Minister of State's response to the previous amendment is satisfactory, I am happy to withdraw the amendment. The last amendments in this group are amendments Nos. 46 and 47. I accidentally spoke on them when discussing a previous group of amendments so there is no need for me to repeat myself.
I appreciate what the Minister of State has said, but it would be good to see the amendment. Amendment No. 40 is very practical. It would give the public a lot of confidence in this process. Administratively, as Deputy Ó Broin said, it would make life much easier. A large amount of this information is available through the lobbying register and by means of freedom of information requests, but much more comes from processes for all involved. Providing clarity in a very accessible format as to what representations were made, and having this available in respect of this policy, would be very useful.
On amendment No. 41, which would amend section 31, I will wait to see what the actual number is.
I will get that number in a briefing note and come back on it. The proposal in amendments Nos. 40 and 41 is to make provision for public consultation on the statement. This matter was raised by Deputies on Second Stage. I have tabled amendments Nos. 31, 36, 37 and 46 to set out public consultation procedures. The proposed provisions in amendments Nos. 40 and 41 are, therefore, unnecessary.
Amendment No. 41 contains a proposal regarding a requirement for strategic environment assessments, SEAs, and appropriate assessments, AAs, of the statement, including screenings. Again, as a result of the Second Stage debate, I have extended the provisions of section 31 to provide for such matters to include the statement in the amendment, the number of which I will confirm in a moment.
Amendment No. 44 repeats the requirement for public consultation and is redundant. The proposed subsection (7) allows for a statement to be amended or revoked.
The intention behind amendment No. 47 is that public bodies shall have regard to the marine planning policy statement. This has been provided for in amendment No. 46. I will therefore be opposing amendment No. 47. I will instead be moving the Government amendment No. 46 that sets out the public consultation procedures in respect of a proposed marine planning policy statement in a new subsection (8). The proposed subsection (6) also requires public bodies to have regard to the statement in the performance of its functions.
With regard to amendment No. 41, which amends section 31, I can now clarify that it should read "to include the Statement in Amendment 117", rather than amendment No. 118.
That is the whole point. That is what we are looking for. Amendment No. 117 relates to section 31 under which, if I read it correctly, an SEA will be required for any of the things that are set out in amendment No. 117.
I will just check that. For the sake of clarity, and because after two hours and 44 minutes my eyes are quite twisted, is the Minister of State saying that the import of amendment No. 117 to section 31 is, that, under all circumstances, an SEA and an AA will be required for the initial policy statement?
I have one final question on amendment No. 41 and our request that public consultation on the policy statement would be for a period no less than 42 days. Has the Minister of State commented on that?
I read a response, but it may not have referred to lobbying. On lobbying, I refer the Deputy to the Regulation of Lobbying Act. That is the aim and the area to change to reflect this Bill. If people are not happy with how the Regulation of Lobbying Act is performing or doing its duties then we would need to change the Regulation of Lobbying Act. The legislation we are discussing today is subject to freedom of information also. It is subject to both of those safety catches.
While people can of course go chasing stuff through the lobbying register, freedom of information requests and all sorts of avenues, the ask here is that details relating to all of those who make representations in respect of a particular policy or policy statement would be made fully visible as a matter of course in order that the public can see what sort of lobbying and representation has taken place. Deputy Ó Broin already made the point. This is to save the suspicion that there are untoward things happening and to have information such as that relating to the people who have lobbied, who met with who, what representations were made available up front, and that we list those out as a matter of course in the context of policies or policy statements.
Strictly speaking, the Minister of State's response is correct in that if we really want to make these changes, there is other legislation in which we should make them. In addition, there is a review of the freedom of information legislation and changes are being made to the Regulation of Lobbying Act.
I am aware that the Minister of State will not support this amendment. I would make an appeal to the him, however. I really want to emphasise what it is we are trying to achieve and for the Minister of State to think about it and chat to his officials about it. When this Bill is passed and we start going through the consents, the licensing and the planning applications, particularly for large offshore wind projects, none of us want this to happen in the context of any public perception that decisions are being made behind closed doors and outside of the formal public consultations. It would be really helpful for those who want to see the maximum volume of foreshore wind energy to meet a renewable energy targets in an environmentally sustainable way. I am not at all suggesting that the Minister of State, his officials or any of the planning authorities would do that. This is about going that extra mile to demonstrate absolute transparency. Sure, the Minister of State can say that this is really a matter for the Regulation of Lobbying Act but, notwithstanding that, I believe this is an opportunity for him to find a way to ensure that when these policy statements are being developed, we are going to let the public know about anybody who engages with us.
That means anybody, by the way. It could be me, it could be Deputy Cian O'Callaghan or it could be the Chairman. Given the volumes of public and private money that are eventually going to flow through the system, the maximum transparency possible would be very welcome. On that basis, I would be keen to press this amendment.
As I said, the appropriate measure in which to do this is the Regulation of Lobbying Act or through the reform of the Freedom of Information Act. The Deputies are talking about agri people who use our maritime area, fishermen, tourists and sportspeople. If people really want to do that, it has to be specified in the reform of the Regulation of Lobbying Act or the Freedom of Information Act. That is the appropriate mechanism to do this, not a single piece of primary legislation in the maritime area. That is my response.
I hear exactly what the Deputies are saying. This gets to the crux of how we are going to reach our climate targets because, to do that, we need to work with industry, yet we know that when we work with industry, there are occasions when the public interest needs to be asserted over the interests of industry. My only fear with doing it in this ad hocway is that, should there be further changes to the Regulation of Lobbying Act, this would sit as an outlier to that. I am persuaded by the comments of the Minister of State that, if we believe in greater transparency and believe there needs to be a review, the place to do that is in the legislation which deals with how Ministers are lobbied, rather than inserting ad hocamendments to different legislation. For example, this committee recently dealt with the Land Development Agency Bill and I know we will deal with other Bills. It is my view that the committee would be better seeking to have amendments to the lobbying legislation rather than to do it in an ad hocway in this Bill.
I do not accept the Minister of State's answer because there is a difference between two things. One is that the information is available if people go looking for it. They can go looking on the lobbying register, which most people probably do not know how to do, or they can go looking via freedom of information, which is hassle for people. They can find it and it is possible, but it is hassle. However, if we make a decision on this critical issue of the development of our marine environment in terms of policy, policy statements, guidelines, consents and anything to do with that, it will be a matter of course that attached to those things will be a detailing of all representations that were made. It is just there for people. They do not have to go searching for it and they do not have to wait for some Government Department to come back to them or possibly strike out bits. It is just there. There is a difference. I do not accept the Minister of State's response. While I accept people can do what he says they can do, this is doing something different. This is just making it readily and easily available, transparent and visible.
I do not see that it is a very difficult thing to do and, in fact, it is quite an easy thing to do. As Deputy Ó Broin said, we will all be lobbying on various aspects of these things, so the Deputies who lobbied, the NGOs who lobbied and the corporate or commercial interests that lobbied are there for everybody to see. That is very reasonable and I do not think it is a major hassle to agree that.
I can see the logic to what the Minister of State and Deputy McAuliffe said. The issue I have with that is that it could be several years until the lobbying legislation is updated. This is live now in terms of what is going to happen in this area and, if we did make this change to this legislation, it would be very much in the public interest. It then means that when the lobbying legislation is being updated and reviewed, people could look at what we have done in this Bill and it could help to move it in the right direction. Public confidence in what happens is very important, especially because, until now, the process around what happens has been developer-led. I appreciate this is an attempt to put a framework on it so that it is plan-led. However, putting in these sorts of measures would be a good start in terms of building public confidence and, in an administrative sense, as was said, would reduce the burden.
As we are just four minutes from the end of the meeting, if we were to ring the bells, we would not complete the vote within the three hours. I propose that we adjourn the meeting until 1.30 p.m. on Thursday, 21 October 2021, when the first item will be a vote on amendment No. 40. Is that agreed? Agreed.