Thursday, 29 April 2021
National Marine Planning Framework: Motion
That Dáil Éireann approves the draft National Marine Planning Framework, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 24th March, 2021.
With the introduction of the national marine planning framework, followed closely by the maritime area planning Bill and the maritime jurisdiction Bill and, in the near future, the expansion of our network of marine protected areas, we will experience a seismic change in how we manage and protect our maritime area. This is an historic development, providing a new way of looking at our relationship with the seas that surround us. As Minister of State with responsibility for planning and local government, I am proud to be leading this programme of modernisation.
Our maritime area is seven times the landmass of Ireland, more than 490,000 sq. km of some of the most productive and diverse resources in the world. When we take our seabed into account, Ireland is one of the largest countries in the EU and our coastline of 7,500 km is longer than that of many our European counterparts.
Ireland’s coast and seas possess environmental and social treasures which include a diverse ecosystem, a range of recreational opportunities such as fishing, sailing and surfing and culturally unique coastal communities and historic sites.The maritime area and coast play a significant part in defining Ireland, attracting tourists from around the world.
Our national maritime area also holds great economic value. In 2019, Ireland’s ocean economy provided employment for more than 34,000 full-time equivalents, a 13% rise on the previous year. It had a turnover of €6.2 billion through activities such as seafood and tourism. Huge economic opportunities in areas such as renewable energy, which is critical to Ireland’s clean, decarbonised future, remain untapped in our waters.
Government recognises how fragile our marine environment is. It is determined to strike the right balance between the three, sometimes competing, pillars of sustainable development, protecting the health of the ocean, enhancing our social engagement with the sea and developing a thriving maritime economy. These pillars can coexist through proper, conscientious long-term planning, working in tandem with a robust, fair and transparent licensing regime.
I am seeking a resolution from this House approving the final text which will allow me to establish the national marine planning framework.
The European Maritime Spatial Planning Directive requires all member states to publish and implement marine spatial plans by the first quarter of 2021. The State’s maritime spatial plan, which we call the national marine planning framework, represents the outcome of a cross-Government approach over the past four years to develop Ireland’s first marine spatial plan.
The national marine planning framework is intended as a marine equivalent to the national planning framework. As such, it provides a long-term spatial planning framework up to 2040, providing a clear decision-making framework for marine regulatory bodies over a long term and structured around the three pillars of sustainable development, the environmental, economic and social pillars.
The national marine planning framework outlines our approach to managing Ireland’s maritime activities to ensure the sustainable use of marine resources up to 2040. This single framework, which brings together all marine-based human activities, presents our vision, objectives and planning policies for each activity. Those activities include: aquaculture; fisheries; offshore renewable energy; ports; harbours and shipping; safety at sea; sport and recreation; tourism; and waste water treatment and disposal, all of which are important and deserving of protection, support and development.
To support this new management approach, the national marine planning framework sets out extensive context information, including more than 70 maps that indicate areas of importance to particular activities.
Planning and licensing of these activities will now occur within a bigger picture that balances the development of these activities with the health of the ocean. The national marine planning framework, NMPF, will be the key decision-making tool for Departments, State agencies, regulatory authorities and policymakers. All planning applications, policies, projects and strategies will now be obliged to meet the objectives of the NMPF.
I mentioned that this framework is part of a series of major reforms in the maritime area. Following recent Government approval of the text, my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, will shortly be publishing the maritime jurisdiction Bill. This Bill will consolidate and update the State’s maritime jurisdiction legislation and describe the State’s territorial seas and its maritime area.
In coming weeks, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and I will bring the maritime area planning Bill to Government for approval to publish. This Bill is a priority identified in the programme for Government and will be a key enabler for our overall decarbonisation programme targets. Broadly, it will introduce a new marine planning system, which seeks to protect the maritime area in the first instance, but also allow for development where robust environmental assessments have taken place. The Bill will establish a new agency, the maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, which will license activities under the strictest of environmental protection conditions and serve as the gatekeeper for full planning permission applications. An Bord Pleanála will consider planning applications for larger infrastructural projects, such as interconnectors and offshore wind farms, and will consider the full suite of environmental impact assessments for each project while being guided by the NMPF. This Bill has undergone pre-legislative scrutiny and is currently being finalised.
The Government has set a target of expanding Ireland’s network of marine protected areas, MPAs, to cover 30% of our maritime area by 2030. Having a clean, healthy, diverse and productive marine environment will help protect biodiversity, our well-being and our economy. It will also provide greater resilience against the effects of climate change and support a wide range of sustainable human activities and practices. Ireland’s network of MPAs will be an important tool for ensuring that we continue to have a thriving marine environment, whether in our coastal bays, shallow bays or deeper in the Atlantic. To that end, the report of an independent, Government-appointed expert advisory group on expanding Ireland’s network of marine protected areas was published by my Department in January 2021 and is currently the subject of public consultation. My Department will be developing legislation based on this report and consultation, further contributing to the reform of marine governance.
My Department has ensured that the NMPF has been developed using an ecosystem-based approach. Following introductory material, an overarching "Environmental – Ocean Health" section is the first part of the plan readers get to. This section comprises nine chapters setting out 21 of the NMPF’s 92 policies. The ocean health chapters have been developed to integrate with the contribution of the Government’s work on the marine strategy framework directive, MSFD, seeking to achieve good environmental status, GES, across a range of descriptors supported by targets. The relationship between the MSFD and the ocean health chapters act as descriptors and targets and is made explicit in terms of structure and content.
In relation to standing environmental measures, it is explicitly set out that the NMPF reinforces the need for rigorous environmental assessments. The NMPF also includes policies, supporting information and maps aimed at enhancing consideration of existing marine protected sites – those already designated – as well as articulating the need for decision makers to make efforts to account for ongoing and future designation processes.
The NMPF is the culmination of very extensive public and stakeholder engagement during its development. It is our belief that the plan needed to be strategic as well as instructional and informed by effective public and stakeholder participation. Therefore, a core principle in developing the plan has been to ensure that, as well as the wider public, all relevant stakeholders are consulted and encouraged to contribute. The consultation on the NMPF was the longest running and most extensive of its type.
Dialogue has been, and will continue to be, facilitated in a number of ways. An interdepartmental group was established to aid the development of the plan. This is chaired by my Department and is made up of senior representatives from relevant Departments and Government agencies. Many bilateral meetings were held with the broad public sector bodies where the marine functional responsibilities lie. An advisory group, which I chair, was established in 2018 to guide the development of the NMPF. This group was invaluable in imparting collective knowledge and offering guidance. The group features representatives of the environmental, economic, and social pillars as well as relevant public sector organisations.
The environmental pillar features representatives from bodies such as An Taisce, Coastwatch, Sustainable Water Network, SWAN, and the Irish Environmental Network. The social pillar features representatives such as the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and academia. The economic pillar has representatives from IBEC, the Irish Farmers Association, IFA Aquaculture, various Irish fish producers and the tourism sector. The group has met 11 times and I intend to request members of this group to now guide implementation and monitoring of the NMPF, next steps that members have expressed a keen interest in being involved with.
Following the launch of the NMPF baseline report in 2018, five regional public events were held as part of a statutory public consultation. When we launched the draft NMPF, a further eight events were held throughout the country, seven of them in coastal locations, during 2019 and 2020. Elected representatives from those areas were invited to attend each meeting. When public health restrictions meant we could no longer hold town hall meetings, my Department extended the period of consultation and moved the consultation online, a first for the Civil Service.
In addition to these public events, my Department engaged with, and participated in, more than 150 conferences, seminars and marine stakeholder events during this time, promoting awareness and understanding of both the NMPF and the public’s role in the wider marine planning process. Public participation was an integral element of the NMPF consultation process. My Department strongly believes in the importance of engagement and education about Ireland’s marine resources, the NMPF and the proposed marine planning system. Through Government initiatives such as SeaFest, Ireland’s national marine festival, and other outreach activities, my Department has worked in partnership with other stakeholders, such as the Marine Institute, to promote marine education opportunities and strengthen our maritime identity.