Thursday, 29 April 2021
National Marine Planning Framework: Motion
It is deeply regrettable that this item of business is getting off to such a poor start. The requests at the Business Committee last week, in the Dáil yesterday and again today, and in the contribution of Deputy Ó Broin and subsequent contributions to follow, including mine, were and are perfectly reasonable. The Minister of State stated that this has been the longest consultation in the history of the State. What would another week have cost in that context?
We have committees that are dying to do proper work and to scrutinise legislation. This proposed plan deserves a great deal of scrutiny because it is a huge piece of work. Our sea area is seven times the size of our land mass and we are developing a spatial strategy for that entire area. It has never been done like this before. It is vitally important. Last week, this week and next week we will be discussing the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021. To achieve our climate action goals, we will have to lean heavily on renewable energy, and offshore wind energy is going to play a big part in that overall context. We have some offshore energy now, but comparing that to what we need means that a great deal more is yet to come. That is going to have a big impact on communities.
We must have strong and robust spatial planning legislation for offshore projects in place before such proposals come before us. We are deeply concerned that we do not have that in place. Nothing which has been discussed in the last week has allayed those concerns among the Opposition. We cannot go through this process and come out with several marine Bills that are strong and robust if the elements on which those Bills must impact, especially in respect of offshore energy, have already been delivered. I refer to such aspects as the laying of cables having already been delivered. The horse should not have bolted from this stable, but our worry is that it already has.
These are all things that must happen and which we must support. We need offshore energy and energy security, but we must also protect the delicate ecology of our seas. In the draft consultation document, several appendices are dedicated just to the spawning and nursery grounds of our fish. There is so much to this area. We must also deal with coastal erosion effectively. It is literally eating away at communities and washing homes into the sea. There is a piecemeal approach to this aspect, which means that some local authorities are able to stop coastal erosion, and stop it effectively, while other local authorities are powerless because of special area of conservation, SAC, designations or National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, rules and regulations.
That must stop and these regulations should do that. They need to do that, but we must have confidence that they have been scrutinised effectively by Oireachtas committees. We do not have that now. A debate of 55 minutes, as this is today, with five minutes for each group, is absolutely shameful considering the amount of ground this plan covers and the impact it is going to have, not just for one generation, but for generations to come. It is totally unsuitable in respect of what we are discussing today.
Turning to a broader point, we have been operating for months on a reduced schedule. We have had reduced time in the Dáil, in committees and in the Seanad due to the Covid-19 crisis. That is now having an impact on how we are able to scrutinise important legislation. We are at a crucial point as parliamentarians regarding how we organise our business and how we scrutinise what needs to come through the Oireachtas. This Bill is one of those moments which has highlighted how restricted, I do not want to say poor, our Parliament is in its operations now. We must redouble our efforts to ensure we have enough time to debate something as serious as this issue. We could have an hour each on this topic and still not have covered a fraction of the impacts of this Bill. Therefore, 55 minutes for this debate is derisory and deeply regrettable.