Thursday, 29 April 2021
National Marine Planning Framework: Motion
I support comments from previous Deputies regarding the amount of time for this debate and the lack of scrutiny in committee being completely unacceptable. The Government has had great co-operation from Opposition parties during the last year concerning restricted timings. When, across the board, we have raised concerns about this aspect, the Government was not willing to listen and engage.
The lack of scrutiny in committee is particularly disappointing. Regarding the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, when officials from the Department appeared before it, they did not flag with the committee that it potentially had a role in respect of scrutinising this plan and in drawing up a report, as per section 73(2) of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018. That subsection makes it very clear that an Oireachtas committee can, by way of a report, address any concerns it might have concerning these marine spatial plans and that the Minister is required by law to give regard to any findings arrived at by the committee. In that sense, this is highly regrettable.
I believe this is an erosion of the democratic process and of our role as an Oireachtas in this process. The lessons from the Derrybrien wind farm case clearly have not been learned by the Government. The State in that instance has been paying out about €15 million in fines for rushing through planning legislation in the past and having made mistakes from doing so. As was said, not trying to rectify these mistakes through scrutiny leads to delays, objections, judicial reviews and additional costs. The objective we all share in respect of wanting to support and facilitate renewable energy, and wind energy especially, gets delayed through not doing this properly. Scrutiny of the plan could have been done over the Easter recess, as I and other Deputies requested, but the Government voted us down.
The European Union's maritime spatial planning directive is clear that we must have an ecosystems-based sustainable approach in respect of our marine planning framework.
In that regard, it is very important that account is taken of areas that need restoration and conservation. Article 8.1 of the directive requires the framework to identify spatial and temporal distribution of activities and uses in the marine area. There is no discretion in this regard. These are flaws which I and my party wished to scrutinise and highlight and I have to ask why the Government would not allow time for that to be done. Why is it trying to avoid that scrutiny?
This issue has significant implications for the marine environment, protecting sensitive marine ecosystems and ensuring that livelihoods from sustainable fishing can continue uninterrupted. I have met people working in the fishing industry and those whose families have been working in fishing for generations. The disruption already being caused to their livelihoods and the fact that they have to hire lawyers and take legal action just to try to protect their livelihoods are completely unacceptable. We should be able to facilitate renewable energy and protect the marine environment and sustainable fishing.
Significant concerns have been expressed by the environmental sector and NGOs on this issue, particularly with regard to the incredibly slow progress by the Government in the context of marine protected areas. It has been delayed for years. We have not seen any action in terms of robust interim measures on marine protected areas as recommended by the Oireachtas housing committee. We need the Government to step up with regard to marine protected areas and put resources into protecting areas that need it. The Irish Wildlife Trust stated:
The Oireachtas must be allowed to fully debate and scrutinise the Marine Planning Framework in a democratic manner. Decisions made on foot of this plan will have far reaching implications for our seas and, as it stands, threatens to seriously exacerbate our biodiversity crisis. We simply can’t afford to further imperil threatened marine life in the rush to develop the marine environment.
It seems the Government is not willing to listen to those voices and concerns or to engage, find solutions and make sure the national marine planning framework can be as good as it ought to be as it and needs to be to comply with our European Union objectives.
In conclusion, there is no reason we cannot facilitate renewable energy, protect the marine environment and protect livelihoods in fishing. We have enough marine space to do all of those things, but we need to do them properly.