Wednesday, 7 March 2018
Sustainable Seaweed Harvesting: Motion [Private Members]
That Dáil Éireann:notes that:— seaweed, as a natural resource, has been used in Ireland for hundreds of years and is closely linked with Gaeltacht areas, particularly in counties Galway, Mayo and Donegal;recognises:
— seaweed harvesting is a traditional occupation in many coastal areas and is a primary source of income for these communities;
— the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht’s Report of the Committee on Developing the Seaweed Industry in Ireland from May 2015, recommends the adoption of a national strategy to promote the development of the seaweed industry, focusing particularly on the Gaeltacht and the counties of the western seaboard;
— approximately 40,000 tonnes of seaweed is harvested in Ireland each year with over 95 per cent naturally grown;
— the harvesting of seaweed continues to be mainly carried out manually and remains a sustainable use of the natural resource; and
— seaweed is used for predominantly high volume, low-value products such as animal feeds, plant supplements, specialist fertilisers and agricultural products, while approximately one per cent goes into higher value products such as foods, cosmetics and therapies, with that one per cent generating 30 per cent of the industry’s overall value;— the role that traditional harvesting methods have in the protection of this valuable resource;calls on the Government to:
— the current lack of regulation and monitoring in the seaweed sector and the dangers resulting therefrom to the livelihoods of traditional harvesters;
— the threats posed to the sustainability of this natural resource through the lack of regulation;
— the important role of sustainable harvesting in maintaining our ecosystem and in mitigating the effects of climate change;
— the inadequacies of existing foreshore legislation and the need to update the current legislative framework with regard to protecting traditional seaweed harvesting;
— the significant potential economic return for rural, coastal and island communities from sustainable development of the seaweed sector, noting that the sector provides full-time employment to 185 equivalents with some reports suggesting it provides part-time employment to approximately 400 people;
— the potential for sustainable job creation in seaweed harvesting and the impact of this employment for maintaining rural communities;
— that an analysis carried out by National University of Ireland Galway in 2014 estimated the value of the sector to be approximately €18 million per annum, €6 million of which goes on exports; and
— the potential for seaweed, as a highly valuable natural resource ingredient in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and organic food, which currently accounts for one per cent of production but 30 per cent of the industry’s overall value; and— develop and publish a national strategy to promote the development of the seaweed sector in Ireland with particular focus on the following:— the interests of traditional seaweed harvesters and their livelihoods;— suspend the grant of all licences pending the publication of the national strategy;
— the potential for sustainable job creation in the seaweed sector for rural, coastal and island communities and, in particular, to carry out an updated economic analysis of the seaweed sector in Ireland;
— the State’s obligation to regulate this natural resource for the primary benefit of local communities; and
— the State’s climate change commitments;
— move the responsibility for the licensing of seaweed to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as recommended in the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht’s Report of the Committee on Developing the Seaweed Industry in Ireland from May 2015; and
— ensure that any new streamlined regulatory licence regime include:
— prioritisation of traditional harvesters;
— exemptions for traditional harvesters harvesting under a certain amount; and
— the protection of traditional harvesting rights from commercial interests in the future.
It is with pride that I move this motion. It is something on which I made a promise the day I was elected further to representations from many people throughout Ireland but in particular Galway and the western counties. I refer to the protection of seaweed as a natural resource. I will come back to the Minister's amendment, which is short, later in my contribution. This moment must be the most wonderful opportunity to deal with our natural resources, specifically seaweed, and to learn from the debacle that happened regarding our fishing rights and our gas and oil. If we do not learn now in this Dáil with new politics, we will never learn. Even though the Minister has tabled an amendment, I ask the Minister of State to reflect when he hears the debate on this matter because my colleagues and I worked hard on this motion and tabled it in such a way as to include all the Dáil in order that it would have unanimous support across all parties.
The motion first and foremost simply recognises the work that has been done by the traditional harvesters all over the west coast of Ireland to harvest seaweed in a sustainable manner and protect this natural resource for us all. My colleagues and I have looked at all the reports, a selection of which we have here before us. Each and every single report points to the role of traditional harvesters first and to the importance of protecting ár n-acmhainn nádúrtha, our natural resource, for the good of most of the people. Údarás na Gaeltachta, when it was before An Comhchoiste um Chomhshaol, Cultúr agus Gaeltacht, made this very point, that this sector must be developed for the common good and for the maximum number of people. The last report I have looked at is the report of the committee on developing the seaweed industry in Ireland from May 2015. Prior to this we had a report in January 2014 from the joint subcommittee on fisheries. Prior to that we had other reports and going back to 2000 we had a national forum on the seaweed industry. All these reports identified what I have said: first, the role of traditional harvesters and, second, the key issues of the importance of sustainability and the lack of research on the detrimental effects. We know there are detrimental effects, but the extent of those detrimental effects on seaweed of mechanical harvesting and so on is key.
According to the replies to the parliamentary questions tabled by various Deputies, 17 applications are pending before the Department, most from companies looking for licences. In his replies, the Minister of State told us the Government is working on resolving the difficulties, presumably with a view to granting licences. My difficulty with this is that all of the reports to which I have referred, and others besides, have all mentioned the urgent need for a national policy on developing the seaweed sector in a sustainable manner. There is no policy and no plan. It is quite incredible the Government will operate in a vacuum and, when it has sorted out the difficulties of who wants what, it intends to give out harvesting licences to companies.
I have tabled the motion in order to have an open discussion on this matter and I hope we will have general support for its passing. My colleague will go into the detail of the motion, but it calls on the Government not to issue any licences and to put on a hold doing so until we have a plan and policy in place. I am open to any name the Minister of State would like to put on it, but it should be a guiding document as to how we develop a sustainable seaweed sector for the benefit of all, particularly for the counties on the west coast that traditionally, leis na cianta cairbreacha, tá siad ag sábháil na feamainne. We must recognise this and move forward.
The amendment tabled by the Minister of State indicates that the Government is working on looking at the difficulties. The amendment recognises the work of the Minister of State in bringing legal clarity to issues regarding the interface between applications by companies to harvest the seaweed and the right of traditional harvesters. A benign interpretation of this is that it is extremely weak. By my interpretation, it is disingenuous because there is no clarity whatsoever in respect of the companies. The Government learned by accident that traditional harvesters had rights because they have exercised those rights for hundreds of years, because the right was on their folio because it was part of an estate which came from a landlord and which gave rights with regard to seaweed that were ultimately divided up among the tenants. The Government was surprised by this. These licences would have been given out were it not for the fact that traditional harvesters organised and made the Government aware of the position. They stated that they have rights because they have been doing this historically, that they had rights on their folios or that they had gained rights. The Government was then in a quandary as to what to do.
The Minister of State might clarify whether the 17 applications are all from companies. My understanding is that they are but I do not know. We have 17 applicants waiting for licences. The Government's intention is to give out those licences, once it decides who has rights and who does not, without any policy whatsoever being in place. That is frightening.
In addition, the Government amendment refers to significant quantities of high-volume low-value and low-volume high-value products and a figure of 30% is mentioned. I understand that the low-volume high-value product stands at 1%, not 30%. Again, I am quoting from the cross-party reports and I thank the Oireachtas Library and Research Service for its very comprehensive briefing document. We know that the figure is 1%. We know there is huge potential in this industry if it is done properly and sustainably.
Coincidentally, today we have a delegation from Bantry, whom I welcome, and we also have visitors from Connemara who are here for the debate on this matter. The protest that took place earlier was extremely informative. I went to the Central Hotel to listen to what they had to say regarding their concerns about the application being granted. Notwithstanding that there is no legal clarity yet or the fact that we have no policy or plan, the Government issued a ten-year licence for the mechanical harvesting of kelp. The Deputies from the area will go into this in detail. When I read about this and when I read the answers to the parliamentary questions to which I referred earlier, I was horrified that a ten-year licence was granted - in a vacuum - in respect of the mechanical harvesting of kelp, with a self-monitoring regime. It is an extraordinary concept that the company would self-monitor and give the Government a report following a two-week monitoring campaign between March and April, a time picked by the company and not reflective of what is needed in any essential assessment regime. On top of this, the application was published in a very small section of a local newspaper. The fact there was going to be mechanical harvesting was not mentioned and neither was the extent of the areas involved. This is just one example of what happens in a vacuum when an industry - I would prefer to call it the seaweed sector - is developer-led. We have seen the debacle and I have mentioned fishing and oil and gas.
I also want to mention the company operating in the west of Ireland at present. Local harvesters are supplying the company. The background to the company has been outlined in the report and lessons should be learned from it. The company was sold off. It was an Údarás na Gaeltachta company, it was doing very well and it was sold off. The report highlights the serious concerns about the manner in which it was sold off and the absence of an open tender. I am restricted by time and I will not go into detail but I mention it by way of asking at what point will we learn. At what point will we grasp the opportunity that this sector presents? It is an absolutely wonderful opportunity for development and the creation of jobs that would tie in with the Government's policy and with Chapter 4 of A Programme for a Partnership Government, which deals with jobs and rural development. It would also tie in with the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas, CEDRA, which was set up to carry out a consultation progress regarding development in the western region. Why can the Government not grasp this opportunity and go forward in a positive manner so that we can all work together?
As a resource, seaweed has been available to communities living along the coast for many years. It has recently caught the attention of the Government because Údarás na Gaeltachta wanted to sell its seaweed processing plant to a Canadian company. In recent times, there came to be a lot of focus on it when the Canadians were happy to buy the plant provided they could have access to the resource growing along the coast. The resource that had been left to the coastal communities to look after suddenly had a commercial value so it had to be taken from those in order that it might be made available to the Canadians and any company that would have making money at the heart of its interests. They certainly do not have the interests of the local community at heart, except where it can help them to make a profit.
The purpose of this motion is to try to put the local community and harvesters, rather than the operations of private companies, at the heart of the matter. Never did the residents of the western seaboard believe that their harvesting of seaweed would be of interest to multinational companies, leading to a situation whereby they will now be sacrificed in order that the companies can have unfettered access to the resource. Instead of finding a solution that meets the needs of the community which harvests the seaweed as well as the companies that want to benefit from the product they harvest, the Government wants to give the resource in its entirety to the companies. For the past number of years, the issuing of licences to companies has been in limbo because the Government discovered that, according to Land Registry documents relating to their properties, many people living along the western seaboard have the right to harvest seaweed. This makes the transfer of rights to the seaweed companies difficult for the moment.
Our motion calls for the publication of a national strategy that would look at the potential of the seaweed industry, focusing particularly on the harvesters and the need to benefit local rural communities, suspend the granting of licences pending the publication of the strategy, move the licensing procedure to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and ensure that traditional harvesters are looked after and protected under any new regime. Some people might wonder why the licensing procedure should be moved the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is simply because the Department has responsibility for the marine. It is vital for the future that we have one Department that deals with marine matters. The reality is that we will not have a Department with responsibility solely for the marine on this Government's watch.
To highlight the futility of the current situation, the marine co-ordination group, which has looked after marine matters for the last several years, has nine Departments sitting on it plus the Attorney General. It may as well be the Cabinet. Some people would see this as being a sign of the importance of the resource but in Irish Government circles, it is a way of ensuring that nothing happens because no-one will take ownership and drive the group.
It will also be argued that because of environmental conditions attached to harvesting seaweed, individuals will not be able to apply because the cost is too much for them. As a result, only companies would have the necessary resources to apply for a licence. However, I believe this can be done without imposing a cost on the individual harvester. The State can adopt the same strategy that is being used in the Natura bays, where the State itself carries out the environmental surveys and sets the conservation objectives. The harvester then shows how he or she can apply them. This is an alternative to having the harvester carry out all of the studies. It is also more environmentally sound, because the State, rather than the harvester, takes responsibility for the protection of the environment.
In reality, the natural harvesting of seaweed that is carried out in Ireland is similar to farming and cutting hay. What is the environmental impact of those activities? In fact, traditional harvesters cut the seaweed manually, which is a more sustainable use of the resource than companies' use of mechanical extraction methods.
The Government's response to our motion is interesting. It is trying to paddle both canoes but it can be seen that the Government is coming down on the side of the companies. Should we be surprised, given what Deputy Connolly has outlined concerning our oil, gas and fisheries, that the Government would come down on the side of the companies? The Government recognises the role of both traditional harvesters and companies in the seaweed sector. The Minister of State has said he is working to bring clarity to the issue for companies and for harvesters. This did not arise until the companies wanted to get control of the resource themselves. The Government now intends to make everything all right for them.
Given that the company actually uses a system of harvesting that has a greater impact on the growing of seaweed, one wonders what this is really about. Is it about protecting a resource for the future or making a resource available for private companies to use as they like? Is it enough for local communities to work for the company at its whim, harvesting their resource, or should the company have to build a relationship with the community in order for it to make its resource available to that company?
That might seem a subtle difference but I believe it is very important because it comes down to where ownership of the resource lies and who has to be negotiated with in order to use it. The State has a duty to manage the resource on behalf of the people and that includes the people who harvest it. Multinational companies have the right to negotiate for the use of the resource, respecting the rights of the community and the State. If multinationals make an agreeable deal, so be it, but the power stays with us. That is vitally important and must be reflected at all stages.
The use of seaweed is vitally important for rural communities. It is interesting to note that the traditional use of seaweed has a low-value return, with the resource being used for low-value products such as animal feeds and fertiliser. The highest-value products, representing 30% of the value, come from just 1% of the resource. This is a very interesting figure, and shows there is huge potential for growth in this sector. This growth should benefit the local harvesters as much as multinational corporations. Local harvesters working with seaweed processors, large or small, can benefit local communities. This would ensure that this industry can benefit all our communities rather than just multinational corporations.
Interestingly, this never featured on the radar of officialdom in Ireland and local communities were allowed to work away until someone else saw the value of seaweed. Now, rather than ensure that the value is realised for the communities the harvesters live in, there is an attempt to realise that value for multinational corporations. It is clear that rural Ireland and our coastal communities will be left as they are until the products that they use can be shown to have a value to multinationals. Perhaps that is the lesson that we in rural communities will have to learn. We must make sure that our resources are protected now, before the Government realises they have a value and moves to make them available to multinational corporations throughout the country. Those corporations will access the value and we will not benefit at all.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“notes that:— seaweed, as a natural resource, has been used in Ireland for hundreds of years and is closely linked with all counties along the western seaboard and particularly in Gaeltacht areas;
— the main type of seaweed harvested along the western seaboard is Ascophyllum nodosum;
— seaweed harvesting is a traditional occupation in many coastal areas and is one of a number of income sources for communities;
— the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht’s Report on Developing the Seaweed Industry in Ireland from May 2015, recommends the adoption of a national strategy to promote the development of the seaweed industry, focusing particularly on the Gaeltacht and the counties of the western seaboard;
— approximately 40,000 tonnes of seaweed is harvested in Ireland each year, with over 95 per cent naturally grown;
— the harvesting of seaweed continues to be mainly carried out manually and remains a sustainable use of the natural resource; and
— seaweed is used for predominantly high-volume, low-value products such as animal feeds, plant supplements, specialist fertilisers and agricultural products, but significant quantities are also used in the production of higher value products such as animal probiotics, high-value fertilisers, cosmetics and therapies, which increasingly contribute positively to the industry’s overall value;
— the role that all harvesters of seaweed, either as a traditional harvester or a company, have in the protection of this valuable resource through the use of sustainable harvesting techniques;
— the work of the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Damien English TD, in bringing legal clarity to issues regarding the interface between applications by companies to harvest seaweed and the rights of traditional harvesters;
— the important role of sustainable harvesting in maintaining ecosystems in bays and coastal marine locations;
— the ongoing work to advance the Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill to reform and update the existing foreshore legislation;
— the significant potential economic return for rural, coastal and island communities from sustainable development of the seaweed sector which can be achieved through the application of research and development, especially in the emerging bio-stimulant industry;
— the application of production processes which enable the retention of the nutrients of seaweed and allow their application into various high-value products;
— the potential for sustainable and high-value job creation in all aspects of the seaweed industry including research and development, production and sales and marketing across global markets and the impact of this employment for maintaining and stimulating the economy of coastal rural communities;
— that an analysis carried out by National University of Ireland Galway in 2014 estimated that, at that time, the value of the sector to be approximately €18 million per annum, €6 million of which goes on exports; and
— the potential for seaweed, as a highly valuable natural resource ingredient in biostimulant, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and organic food; and
reaffirms that the Government will:
— through the Marine Co-ordination Group, continue to advance and promote the sustainable development of the seaweed sector in Ireland;
— continue the ongoing work to advance the Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill to modernise the existing foreshore legislation; and
— finalise, as quickly as possible, its work to bring legal clarity to issues regarding the interface between applications for the harvesting of wild seaweed by companies and the rights of traditional harvesters and, in the interim, such applications will remain on hold.”
I thank Deputies Connolly and Pringle for bringing this Private Members' motion before the House today. While it is a motion that I cannot fully support, I think it is an opportune time to have a debate on this issue and I very much welcome this opportunity to listen to Members' views on this subject. In particular, I am anxious to hear the Deputies' concerns regarding issues around traditional seaweed harvesting, the importance of which is one of the central messages in the motion we will debate today. Both the Deputies' motion and the Government's amendment recognise the importance of the traditional harvesters and their rights.
At the outset of this debate, I wish to reiterate, as I have on a number of occasions in this Chamber, my concern regarding issues relating to traditional seaweed harvesters. It was for this specific reason that my Department placed on hold the applications we have received from various companies seeking to harvest seaweed, until my Department has an opportunity to thoroughly research and clarify all of the legal issues involved. Indeed, the 2015 report by the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht highlights clarity around this issue as key to enhancing the potential of the sector. Again, we recognise that report and want to develop a business case for the sector. We totally and utterly agree with that.
It is important to note the Government has set out its policy by which Ireland's marine potential can be realised in our integrated marine plan, Harnessing our Ocean Wealth, HOOW. The plan has three high-level goals of equal importance, namely, a thriving maritime economy, healthy ecosystems and engagement with the sea. Within this plan there are eight enablers to support the goals, covering such areas as governance, "clean - green - marine" and research, knowledge technology and innovation. Within the eight enabler areas are 39 further issues for action.
In the area of seaweed, it is important that I clearly set out my responsibilities as a Minister of State. Under the Foreshore Act 1933, I have responsibility for regulating activities and development within the foreshore area. The foreshore area stretches from the high-water mark out to a distance of 12 nautical miles. That is a total area of approximately 39,000 sq. km. This area is considered State property under the State Property Acts. The Foreshore Act controls development within this area, and the Government is approached by individuals, companies and organisations pursuant to this legislation seeking consent for developments such as marinas, slipways, coastal protection measures and port development. Consent is also sought for activities including one-day events such as horse racing, sand or gravel removal and the harvesting of seaweed.
I do not have responsibility for the regulation or development of any industry that utilises the foreshore space, although I can insert specific clauses in foreshore leases. It should also be noted that contrary to some who argue otherwise, I do not have the means under the legislation to sell any area of the foreshore or to sell seaweed rights. I must be very clear on that. A comparison with fisheries or gas has been made. However, I have no rights or responsibilities as Minister of State to sell seaweed rights.
Consent to applications under the Foreshore Act is given by way of a lease to confer exclusive use, generally for long-term semi-permanent or permanent development, or a licence for non-exclusive use. The latter generally consists of shorter-term, non-permanent activities such as one-day events, telecommunications cables or seaweed harvesting. During the period of the lease, the area remains the property of the State, with the lessee paying rent to the State.
The role of my Department in respect of the harvesting of wild seaweed is to regulate the activity in accordance with the Foreshore Act. In carrying out this task, there is a need to ensure that the resource is suitably managed, with the twin aims of protecting the marine environment and allowing for a sustainable level of harvesting. The word "sustainable" is key for all of us here. That is what the Deputies are about and what the Government is concerned with. That is why there is a lot of common ground in our motions and amendments. While it is not directly relevant to the issues of traditional seaweed harvesters, I am aware that a delegation from west Cork is making its views known today outside the House. I understand that some of them are also in the Visitors Gallery. My officials have met the group. I was not able to attend on the date of that meeting, but I look forward to meeting members of that group in due course.
It is disappointing that an "Eco Eye" programme took a very one-sided view of the issue of the licence in Bantry Bay, which was granted by the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley, in 2011. Accordingly, I welcome the recent ruling by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland on the complaint it received regarding this programme. The ruling acknowledged "that the programme did not include a range of perspective on the topic sufficient to meet the requirements of fairness, objectivity and impartiality, in a context where it was evident that there were other views, including the views of the complainant."
While I appreciate that this group and many others have a number of concerns regarding the licence, it is disappointing that the programme did not mention the baseline study and monitoring programme that were specifically included by my Department in the terms of the licence to underpin the sustainability of the resource.
I recognise the area in question. There is a licence grant for some 750 ha out of 20,000 ha and we are trying to manage it sustainably. It is a kind of monitoring test case but we are doing this as best as we possibly can, in a very careful way and with an extremely positive eye to sustainability of the seaweed sector. That is not recognised in the motion. All I am asking in the Government amendment is for Deputies to understand that I have to balance all the various rights, whereas the motion is too focused on one way.
Seaweed represents a valuable natural resource that, if sustainably harvested, can maintain and stimulate further economic development in coastal rural areas, as we all recognise. While this has always been the historical position of seaweed in Ireland, in order to contribute positively to economic growth we have moved from a position of using seaweed mainly for food, as fertilizer and as an animal foodstuff to a position where we have enhanced applications and uses for seaweed. Seaweed is now the raw material in cutting edge biopharma products such as animal probiotics and anti-coagulants in blood products. There are Irish companies using seaweed or seaweed-derived products in biopharma and other areas such as body care, cosmetic products and artisan foods. It is a lot more than the 1% that was mentioned here today and it has massive potential.
To maximise the economic potential of this valuable resource, these are the sectors that we must look to support. If we wish to encourage further high value growth and to provide more jobs at all levels, including high quality jobs at both graduate and PhD level in the areas of research and development, technology and advanced production process and sales and marketing, then investment is needed. Companies based in Ireland such as Oilean Glas Teoranta, Bioatlantis, and Brandon Bioscience have made significant investments in these areas and are already producing high value products that compete in global markets. As recently as last week, I met people who are now in high-end, quality jobs in the research sector. They are from local communities in Galway and Mayo and they are involved in this sector, rightly so. It is more of that we want to see.
I confirm that my Department is currently in receipt of 17 applications for licences under the Foreshore Act to harvest wild seaweed, 13 of which are from the companies that wish to harvest and process seaweed. The applicants produce products that range from artisan food products to animal health products to high grade fertiliser. While assessing these applications, we discovered that certain rights to harvest seaweed exist in coastal communities, particularly along the western seaboard, in the same geographical area the companies had applied for. To learn more about the extent and nature of existing rights to harvest seaweed, my Department engaged with the Property Registration Authority of Ireland, PRAI, to determine the number of appurtenant rights specified in Land Registry folios. On foot of this request, the PRAI provided my Department with aggregate data detailing the extent of the rights in seven of the western seaboard counties: Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo and Donegal. The data showed there were approximately 6,500 rights relating to seaweed spread across those seven counties. However, while there is not a definitive number of those engaged in traditional harvesting of seaweed, the estimates are that somewhere between 250 and 400 of these rights are currently being exercised.
My Department has also undertaken work to establish the implications of the interaction between these existing seaweed harvesting rights and the applications for licences by companies, and my officials have met with the Attorney General's office on a number of occasions in the past couple of years to examine these issues. Once this work is complete, it is my aim to bring clarity to the regulatory regime applying to wild seaweed harvesting, seeking to balance the existing rights of traditional harvesters and commercial potential, while also ensuring sustainability of the resource and compliance with the State's obligations under domestic and EU environmental law. I want to be clear that this is to get the balance right and to recognise the importance of the traditional harvester. No decisions have been made and all applications are on hold until we complete the work on this. I am very happy to work with any Deputy and to discuss this further away from the Chamber, and I will be meeting with different groups in the weeks ahead. There is an open invitation because we in the Department want to get this right, and I can give that guarantee.
The Government cannot support a motion that looks to focus on the issue of seaweed or the development of the seaweed industry while only concentrating on a single viewpoint - that of the traditional seaweed harvester. Any regulatory regime must take into account the interests of a multiplicity of stakeholders, which is what we are trying to do. The Private Members' motion from Deputies Connolly and Pringle does not reflect the symbiotic relationship between traditional harvesters and companies. Quite simply, in my view and that of the Department, both entities need each other, as Deputy Pringle himself agreed to some extent. One supplies the other and helps pay the bills as well.
The main source of raw material for companies comes from the seaweed harvested by traditional harvesters while the main income derived by traditional harvesters from selling seaweed comes from companies. They are linked together and it is a question of how we bring that relationship forward and develop it so everyone gains but, more importantly, so the communities gain and so we can create jobs in this area and develop the sector in the many towns and villages the Deputies represent.
It is in this context of listening to all views that I have agreed to meet with the different stakeholders to hear their viewpoints. I recently met with a processor of seaweed and had hoped at this point to have met with Coiste Cearta Cladaí Chonamara, a group of traditional harvesters from the Gaeltacht area in Connemara, and the Ascophyllum nodosum processors group, which represents a number of the larger producers. Given the recent weather conditions, however, we did not get a chance to meet, but we certainly will do that, as well as meeting the group from Bantry Bay. We want to get everyone's views in order to find a balance.
It is also our view that the need to prevent the over-exploitation of this valuable resource while also providing for an environment that will support the growth of valuable jobs in local areas is the principle that must underpin the regulation of wild seaweed harvesting. All leases and licences granted by my Department under the Foreshore Act include clauses specific to sustainability of the resource, environmental protection and compliance appropriate to the activity and the area in which it is granted.
I believe the amendment I am proposing on behalf of the Government today will allow for the interests of all stakeholders to be taken into account. It acknowledges the importance of wild seaweed harvesting in rural communities, particularly along the western seaboard. It recognises seaweed harvesting as one of the sources of income for some families in rural communities, while it also recognises that in order to continue to grow the seaweed industry in Ireland, we must look to the production of high value products that will provide graduate and PhD level opportunities in these communities. It focuses not only on traditional harvesters but also on those companies that have the ability to turn a naturally occurring marine resource into cutting edge products which can be supplied to global markets. Again, this can be done by working together. The Government amendment also highlights the fact that all harvesters of seaweed, whether a traditional harvester or a company, equally share the responsibility for ensuring the sustainability of this valuable natural resource. It notes and reaffirms the ongoing work of my Department to progress the Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill, which will bring much-needed reform to the regulation of all development and activity regulated under the Foreshore Act 1933.
I want to take this opportunity to once again assure everyone that no decisions have yet been reached on the commercial seaweed harvesting applications which have been received by my Department. These 17 applications are essentially on hold while my officials continue to work on this complex legal issue. Again, I am happy to engage with Deputies and Senators in the Houses around this process in the weeks ahead, if they so want. I reaffirm my commitment and that of the Government to the work necessary to bring clarity to the regulatory regime in regard to wild seaweed harvesting, and while this work is now in its final stages, I hope to be in a position to make an announcement in the next two months.
While I cannot support all aspects of the motion from Deputies Connolly and Pringle, I am very conscious of the traditional role played by seaweed harvesters up and down the west coast of Ireland over many generations. I am very aware, as is my Department, of the economic value and the positive economic contribution which their efforts have made to their communities and their families. I respect the heritage of seaweed harvesting and the way in which the harvesters have protected and safeguarded the resource through sustainable harvesting practises. I am deeply conscious of all of these aspects and the integral part that seaweed harvesting has played in people's lives along the western seaboard. As I outlined earlier, I look forward to hearing about these issues at first hand when I meet with representatives of traditional harvesters in the weeks ahead, before any decisions are made.
Beidh mise ag tógáil deich nóiméad agus beidh idir mo chomhghleacaithe ag tógáil cúig nóiméad. Molaim an rún atá curtha síos. Tá díomá orm nach bhfuil an Rialtas ag glacadh leis. Bhí cruinniú thar a bheith tairbheach bliain ó shin idir oifigigh na Roinne agus toscaireacht ó Oileán Árainn ar a pléadh go mion an cheist seo. Taispeánadh ag an leibhéal sin sa Roinn an-tuiscint ar na dúshláin atá romhainn. Tá mórbhotún amháin sa mhéid atá ráite ag an Aire Stáit. Deireann sé nach féidir le ceachtar den dá thaobh déanamh gan an taobh eile. Ní dóigh liom go nglacfadh éinne atá ag baint feamainne ar an talamh leis sin. Cinnte dearfach ní féidir le lucht bainte feamainne maireachtáil gan an tionscal próiseála. Níl aon amhras faoi sin. Is é seo ceann de na tionscail atá fós fágtha. Baineann beagnach 99% de bhainteoirí feamainne leis an áit a bhfuil siad ag baint. Is é an t-imní ata ar phobal na háite ná, dá dtabharfaí mórcheadúnais mar atá iarrtha ag cuid de na comhlachtaí, gurb ionann é sé sin go praiticiúil ó lá go lá le húinéireacht ar an bhfeamainn a thabhairt dóibh agus go bhfeadfadh na comhlachtaí daoine a thabhairt isteach nach raibh aon taithí ná eolas acu ar bhaint feamainne lena dhéanamh, dá n-oibreoidís níos saoire, agus go bhféadfaí an pobal aitiúil a ghearradh amach as an saothar fíor-thábhachtach seo.
Chomh maith leis sin tá imní orthu - imní a bhfuil bunús leis - gurb éard a tharlódh ná gur price takers, mar a deirtear i mBéarla, a bheadh i lucht bainte na feamainne agus nach mbeadh an deis acu ata ann i láthair na huaire, is é sin, an tairge atá acu a chur ar an margadh oscailte. Dá mbeadh an ceadúnas tugtha amach, chaithidís é a dhíol leis an té a raibh an ceadúnas acu. Mar sin, tá míthuiscint mhór ar an Aire Stáit má cheapann sé nach féidir leis na comhlachtaí móra déanamh gan bainteoirí áitiúla. Tá an chontúirt sin ann agus tá sé sin go mór i n-intinn an phobail. Mar sin, beidh Fianna Fáil ag tacú leis an rún seo tráthnóna agus nuair a bheidh an vótáil ar bun beimid ag cur in éadan dhearcadh an Rialtais agus beimid ag seasamh leis an bpobal traidisiúnta.
É sin ráite, ní hin le rá nach dtuigimid go bhfuil fíor-thábhacht go deo go mbeidh tionscal láidir feamainne ann agus ní hamháin sin ach gur tionscal scaipthe a bheidh ann. Tuigimid go bhfuil sé tábhachtach nach mbeidh an tionscal uilig i lámha chúpla comhlacht mór ach go mbeidh sé scaipthe ar go leor comhlachtaí le go mbeidh iomaíocht ann don tairge. Creidim gur cheart plécháipéis a fhoilsiú seachas moltaí a fhoilsiú agus a rá gurb in é agus gurb é seo an rud a bhfuil muid chun a dhéanamh. Ba cheart go bhfoilseofar plécháipéis chun go mbeidh deis ag na páirtithe leasmhara éagsúla a dtuairimí a chur in iúl. Caithfidh sé a bheith mar sprioc againn i gcónaí an cosmhuintir agus an bunphobal a chosaint sa ghnó seo. Tá go leor acu seo lonnaithe sa Ghaeltacht. Is tionscal fíorláidir Gaeltachta é seo.
In his statement the Minister of State has made a fundamental error. He said the companies need the harvesters and the harvesters need the companies. There is no question in my mind that the harvester needs somebody to process the seaweed as there is not a huge market for unprocessed seaweed other than putting it on land. The reality is that if we hand over large-scale licences to the companies, they could decide to import labour or mechanically harvest with the permission of the Department. They could displace the traditional harvesters. That fear is real and substantial and we have seen it happen in so many industries. A company has sought a very large licence and if some company got it, it would have exclusive rights to that type of seaweed. I accept it would be species-specific but it would be an exclusive right in particular areas. The person harvesting for that company would become a price taker and could not put the product on the open market.
We need a diverse industry with many processors so the harvester would be the licenceholder and there would be a choice of company to sell to. The licenceholders would therefore be able to negotiate their own price and the process would be market-led. Could the Minister of State imagine the outrage in County Meath if we returned to the days of farmers in the county being licenceholders of the land belonging to the factories, with them being tied to sell to one factory? Perhaps we are returning to them. If the Minister of State facilitated that, there would be an uprising. The Minister is State is talking about possibly going the same route and he has not eliminated that.
The Minister of State seems to be innocent about what is a concern of the people on the ground. Therefore we will support the motion as put forward and I am very disappointed that the Government cannot accept it. If it had done so, it would have been a token that it wants to retain the status quoof the small operator doing the harvesting and owning it de facto, thus being able to put it on the market and negotiate a price. We need more and different processing of a much higher value, with competition in the market for the basic product. As I said, the Government should publish a discussion document on the way forward, highlighting ownership matters and traditional harvesting rights, and there is a difference in that. In many cases, there are different types of rights on these folios although we cannot get into those today. I accept that all the seaweed, in law, belongs to the State but people have been harvesting the same areas for generations. Now there is a possibility they will be put out of those traditional rights, so the matter is quite complex.
We rapidly need resources put into this. We need a totally new licensing regime and this should be more akin to aquaculture. The 1933 law had seaweed in it as an incidental consequence; the real purpose of the law came about because people were removing sand on the foreshore and the State needed to control it because damage was being done. Therefore, we need a modern 21st-century law to deal with this matter. Before we get there we must examine every angle. I hope that in ten and 20 years' time, when we come back to this, we will still find the people predominating in this industry are the local harvesters rather than multinationals that bring in outside labour. I hope a diffused idea of ownership and access to resources will predominate rather than mega-control from mega-companies. That is the way forward.
People have seen so many other elements on the coast taken away, including rights, so is this another one that will slip from their grasp? Will the Minister of State say "No" and indicate that we will protect the right of the small harvester to continue in this business? It is a fundamental question to answer. The Government should put out a discussion paper and ask all the different interests to make a submission. We should keep one thing in mind; this is a very important resource for coastal communities and they certainly do not want to lose their effective grip on the harvesting being done by local people who maintain a living standard in areas without a huge amount of natural resources.
I take the opportunity to welcome the people from Cork South-West and the Bantry Bay area, who are in the Gallery. Cuirim fáilte romhaibh go léir. They made the long journey from west Cork this morning.
As my colleague, Deputy Ó Cuív has stated, Fianna Fáil supports this motion. I thank Deputies Connolly and Pringle for bringing it forward. There is no doubt that seaweed harvesting has massive potential for coastal areas like my own in west Cork. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht advocated this in its report of May 2015, although I would identify a number of caveats in this regard. Seaweed aquaculture is an emerging industry to a large extent and in that regard, safeguarding actions need to be put in place in the interests of existing traditional practices and the environment. The management of seaweed harvesting is key to ensuring this industry is allowed to prosper. There are many issues pertaining to regulation that lead to a serious lack of consistency in the issuing of licences.
I propose to focus on an ongoing matter relating to west Cork. I know I am biased, but I firmly believe that I represent the most beautiful constituency in this country. Within that beautiful constituency is the beautiful Bantry Bay. My concern relates to the ten-year licence granted to a company for the mechanical harvesting of 1,860 acres of native kelp in Bantry Bay. It is proposed that this area will be divided into five zones, four of which will be harvested. Essentially, the fifth zone will serve as a safety net for the company in the event that one of the other zones becomes inaccessible for reasons such as adverse weather. Since last May, I have attended numerous public meetings organised by concerned stakeholders and I am in constant contact with a group, Bantry Bay - Protect Our Native Kelp Forest. I have submitted parliamentary questions on this issue but received no satisfactory response. The reply to one of those questions indicated that the of the licence would be mitigated by the fact that one of the allocated zones is a stand-by zone, thus reducing the overall area for harvest. In other words, because only four of the five zones are to be harvested, suddenly everything is going to be okay. The reply also states that the licence is subject to strict monitoring but that this monitoring commences after the first three years of harvesting. Retrospective monitoring is inappropriate and irresponsible.
I have put questions to the Minister of State, Deputy English, on the floor of this House about the granting of this licence. Prior to his appointment, I corresponded on the matter with the then Minister, Deputy Coveney, but he was not willing to meet me. In any event, the Minister of State advised me that the licensee was required to submit a detailed monitoring plan to his Department for approval. Under a Fine Gael Minister, this plan was approved on 30 November last and thus the licensee is free to commence harvesting under the terms of the licence finalised in 2014. On hearing this, I called on the Minister of State to suspend the licence until such time as he has considered the opinions of the people of Bantry Bay. I am disappointed that he is not willing to order an environmental impact assessment, which would conclusively set out the impact of this licence and show the local community that he is conscious of its concerns. In effect, this licence was granted without consultation or debate and without any requirement on the licensee to appear before local stakeholders to explain the situation. The planning advertisement in the newspaper was barely visible. Most importantly, this licence was granted in the absence of an environmental impact assessment.
There is no prospect of meaningful employment in the area because the company involved is not local. Small-scale local seaweed farmers are experiencing difficulties securing licences. If this mechanical harvesting is allowed to proceed, it will have a detrimental affect on local jobs, on fishing and on tourism. The committee recommends that a separate licence category for mechanical harvesting could be introduced if it is felt that this could benefit growth. It also states that local authorities are best placed to weigh up whether licences should be granted. Surely these recommendations should be put in place first to ensure the enforcement of regulations. It appears to me that what is playing out in Bantry is akin to putting the cart before the horse. The people of Bantry believe they are being treated like guinea pigs.
This matter is being dealt with by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government but I believe it should come under the remit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. However, that is an argument for another day. I call on the Minister of State to suspend this licence until such time as an environmental impact assessment has been carried out.
I thank Deputies Connolly and Pringle for the opportunity to discuss this matter. I agree with Deputies Ó Cuív and Murphy O'Mahony regarding the beauty of all of the constituencies on the western seaboard. If beauty equalled licensing and resources for those constituencies, we probably would not have to have this debate. Sadly, however, it does not.
When I think about how we dealt with hydrocarbon legislation decades ago, it appears to me that we have learned nothing. I respect the Minister of State's comment to the effect that no decisions have yet been made in respect of the 17 licences concerned but I wonder if, to use his words, we are going through this complex legal process with the company in mind or with the communities in mind. In the context of Project Ireland 2040, and all that it is alleged it will do for rural Ireland and the coastal communities that have been substantially wiped out over the years with the demise of the salmon industry, in the first instance, and the many other industries to which Deputy Ó Cuív alluded, there is an opportunity here for an industry which essentially dates back to the 1930s and 1940s but which is re-emerging in that 30% of the value of the harvesting comes from only 1% of the activity in terms of the production of cosmetics, high-value products, organic foods, therapies and so on. The very core of the Minister's deliberations must be around supporting rural communities and giving the benefit to Irish people in Cork, Sligo, the Gaeltacht, Donegal, Clare and all of the other counties on the western seaboard. This ought to be the priority. The company concerned, Acadian, is very good at what is does and good luck to it. Like Deputy Ó Cuív, I would prefer to have 50 Acadians operating on the western seaboard and supporting local communities and rejuvenating the fishing villages which, in the 1970s, were so vibrant but which are now sparsely populated with a few leisure craft. This is such an opportunity. I hope the Minister of State will take on board Deputy Ó Cuív 's advice to establish a public consultation phase with terms of reference that prioritise how best we can support every coastal community from Malin Head to Bantry and anywhere else where these opportunities are afforded. We should not be focused on what is the most modern, the biggest or the best at converting tradition into bottom line. Rather, we should focus on prioritising the value of community over cost and bottom lines.
In Sligo, the Walton family, who are among the pioneers in this area in Ireland, produces the high-value VOYA therapy products, which I am told are used in the top spas and hotels and on the best cruise ships around the world. These therapies are made from seaweed derived from the western seaboard of Ireland. That is just one shining example of what can be achieved. Surely we can replicate this in rebuilding and supporting the coastal communities that have been neglected by so many Governments over the past 40 years. Nothing would make me happier than to be able to give the Minister of State the credit for turning this ship around. As matters stand, I fear we are headed towards making the same mistakes made when we were legislating for hydrocarbons in the 1970s.
I commend Deputies Connolly and Pringle on bringing forward this very timely motion, which Sinn Féin will be supporting. We have been aware for some time that this issue was boiling under the surface. What happened with Údarás na Gaeltachta and the sale of Arramara Teoranta gave rise to many questions. A lot of red flags were raised in respect of the sale of this company, which was dealing with this issue, to a multinational corporation. Leaving aside the shadow that hung over the manner in which that sale took place and what went on regarding people who previously worked for the company ending up working for the new company, Arramara Teoranta could have developed this industry to the benefit of the nation and people living in coastal communities.
When we saw that being taken away, red flags were raised. In truth what we are talking about here is the conflict that exists in many places throughout the world between big business and ordinary people trying to survive. That is what this is about; it is down to the basic ideological belief that bigger is best. That is the problem we have with the direction in which this Government is going. In its amendment to the motion, the Government is saying that we need both. However, I fear that the "both" of which the Government speaks is the seaweed on one hand and the companies on the other and the people who are going to get squeezed in the middle are the ordinary citizens who live in our coastal communities. The coastal communities, particularly along the west coast, are in decline and are being ravaged by depopulation. There are huge problems in those communities, not least the lack of income generating possibilities. Seaweed harvesting has the potential to turn those communities around. As others have noted, modern scientific research has shown that there is a great deal of potential in seaweed harvesting along the western seaboard. We need to nourish and develop that potential for the benefit of the people who live in the area, not for multinational corporations. That is the nub of the matter. There is a lot of talk about fair trade in the context of tea, coffee and other products from Third World countries but we need an element of fair trade here in Ireland too and in other developed countries. We need to recognise that we also suffer from the very same problems as Third World countries, with multinational corporations taking advantage where they can, with the complicity of governments that are prepared to work hand in glove with them. We need to ensure that does not happen in this particular situation.
I was also at the protest outside Leinster House earlier today organised by people from Bantry and elsewhere. Some of them are in the Gallery now and they are very welcome. What they were saying was that the people need to be listened to. The Minister of State has said that he is going to speak with them but they have been seeking a meeting with him for quite some time-----
Hopefully that meeting will happen and the discussion will be meaningful. I hope the people will be listened to and that their demands will be respected. Ultimately, these people elect us to this Parliament and they are the ones who need to be acknowledged and recognised. At the end of the day, whatever these companies may do and whatever promises they may make in terms of job or wealth creation, they are not the ones that are important in this. The people who are important here are those who in live in our coastal communities.
The main concern, apart from the corporate element, is with the way in which mechanical harvesting of seaweed happens. It is very much like inviting the super trawlers to come in and destroy our fishing industry by sucking up everything. The mechanical harvesting companies do the very same thing - they chop the seaweed at the root and take everything off the seabed. If we grant licences to these companies and allow them to do that, we are not only destroying the seaweed but we are also damaging the potential of our fishing industry because these are the beds in which many fish species spawn. We must recognise that we cannot simply allow big companies to come in with industrial machinery, extract the seaweed and then shout about the great wealth they have created. That wealth is there for the ordinary people and ultimately, those people need to be listened to. They are calling for a national strategy to promote the development of the seaweed sector but we also need a national strategy to promote the development of the people who live in our coastal communities. That is paramount. We cannot allow the seaweed sector to be another indicator of the neglect of rural Ireland and of those who live in coastal communities. I appeal to the Minister of State to recognise that the motion has been tabled because of pressure exerted by the people affected. They need to be listened to and the Government needs to step up to the mark. The Minister of State must sit down with these people and deliver for them. The Government must deliver for the communities, not for the companies.
Táimid ag tacú go hiomlán leis an rún Comhaltaí Príobháideacha seo. Táimid buíoch as na hiarrachtaí atá déanta ag na Teachtaí Connolly agus Pringle. Tá muintir na Gaeltachta ag baint feamainne de réir traidisiún agus cearta teaghlaigh leis na blianta. Is acmhainn luachmhar í an fheamainn. Tá an-chuid féidearthachtaí ann le cur leis an tionscal bainte feamainne. Is gá go mbeadh leas agus forbairt an phobail mar chuid lárnach den tionscal seo. Ba cheart dúinn cearta na bailitheoirí traidisiúnta cladaigh a chaomhnú. Gan na bailitheoirí, ní bheadh tionscal fadtéarmach ann.
Tá géarghá ann an timpeallacht sa tír seo a chosaint. Ba cheart go mbainfí feamainn ar chaoi inbhuanaithe, mar atá déanta ar ár gcóstaí ar feadh na gcéadta bliain. Faraoir, cuireadh imní ar phobail cois cósta agus ar bhailitheoirí feamainne in 2014 nuair a dhíol Údarás na Gaeltachta an comhlacht próiseála feamainne, Annamara Teoranta, go comhlacht mór ó Cheanada. Déanadh an margadh seo gan mórán oscailteacht. Níl a fhios ag éinne cé mhéad airgead a fuair an t-údarás ón socrú sin. N'fheadar an mbeadh an margadh sin tar éis dul ar aghaidh ar chor ar bith dá mbeadh toghcháin dhaonlathacha fós ag feidhmiú in Údarás na Gaeltachta.
An bhliain seo caite, mhol tuarascáil ón gComhchoiste Oireachtais um Thalmhaíocht, Bia agus Muir gur féidir le tionscail na feamainne - acmhainn neamhfhorbartha, dar leis an gcoiste - cabhrú leis an ngeilleagar i gcás na Breatimeachta crua. Dá mbeadh muintir na Gaeltachta in ann tairbhe a bhaint as na hacmhainní seo, chabhródh sé go mór le poist a chruthú. Ós rud é go bhfuil comhlacht ollmhór eachtrannach i gceannas ar raon mór den chósta anois, tá baol ann nach mbeidh na deiseanna céanna ag na tionscail phobail comhoibríoch ar leas na ndaoine a bhunú.
Sa bhliain 2015, sheol an Chomhchoiste Oireachtais um Chultúr, Oidhreacht agus Gaeltacht tuarascáil a mhol gur cheart córas ceadúnais a bhunú do bhailitheoirí traidisiúnta cladaigh, ach níl mórán dul chun cinn déanta ag an Rialtas ó shin i leith lena leithéid de chóras a bhunú. Is gá don Rialtas fís cheart a léiriú a thabharfaidh deis dúinn an cósta a bhainistiú i gceart, cearta na n-oibrithe a chosaint agus an timpeallacht a chosaint freisin.
Like other Deputies, I had the honour of talking to many of the campaigners who were at the gates of Leinster House today. I had a good conversation with members of the Bantry Bay kelp forest group. They are incensed by the decision to approve a licence authorising the largest mechanical extraction of kelp ever undertaken in Ireland and Britain. They are furious that this has been done with no public consultation, no environmental impact assessment and despite the fact that Bantry Bay, which is an absolutely gorgeous bay, has special areas of conservation, SAC, status. They informed me that the entire decision making process so far has happened without the Minister of State meeting them. Instinctually, before making a decision of such importance, most elected representatives would consult the people affected but that has not been done, which is a major problem. I also met members of Coiste Cearta Cladaigh in Conamara who are massively concerned about what might happen if licences are given out without environmental impact assessments being carried out. There has been a huge disconnect here with regard to the traditions and needs of local communities, the enterprise ecosystems of those communities and the needs of individuals to earn a living.
One of the major difficulties is the fact that this debate has not really focused enough on the environmental concerns. This matter is being discussed as if an old local community on the coast of Ireland is fighting against modern, new technology but in truth we cannot have any development if we do not have a sustainable ecosystem and we cannot have a sustainable ecosystem in this type of marine environment with such an invasive type of harvesting. It is not just that we are destroying the environment now and robbing this generation; when we trash the environment in such a fashion, we are also robbing the generations to come.
I thank Deputies Pringle and Connolly for tabling this motion. I also commend the groups from Bantry, Conamara and elsewhere who have been campaigning for some considerable time on this issue.
Their efforts have helped bring this debate into the Dáil and forced the entire political system to take the matter seriously and to address their concerns.
The motion put forward by Deputies Pringle and Connolly is very reasonable. I do not see why the Government feels the need to put forward an amendment and it should reconsider that seriously. The motion seeks to protect the traditional seaweed harvesters, communities and industries in these areas. It seeks to protect the biodiversity of the marine environment to ensure that other traditional and local industries are not undermined or damaged. It is not saying that it does not recognise the value of this natural resource or the potential to develop it in a way that can be beneficial economically, socially and on all sorts of levels. However, it provides that any development of the resource must take place on a sustainable basis that will not negatively impact on traditional seaweed harvesters or damage the environment, local communities and existing industries. That is a very reasonable request. Why is the Government putting forward an amendment to the motion?
The motion indicates that there are deep concerns about the licensing approach to date, particularly arising from the licence that was issued in Bantry, County Cork - west Cork, I should say. There are concerns about the manner in which that licence was granted, without proper environmental impact assessment. In my opinion, it is in breach of the Aarhus Convention. A development of this scale is in breach of that convention if there is not a proper environmental impact assessment or the proper consultation. There was no advertisement in a national newspaper. There was a miserable little advertisement in a local newspaper. That is in breach of the law. We successfully forced Providence Resources to withdraw its foreshore licence for putting an oil rig in the bay off Dún Laoghaire precisely on the basis that it had carried out a Mickey Mouse, not-serious consultation and knew it would lose a case under the Aarhus Convention. The Government and the Minister of State's Department should suspend that licence immediately because, in any reasonable person's opinion, it is in breach of the requirements of the Aarhus Convention.
It is disappointing and very surprising that the former Minister, John Gormley, was the one who issued this licence. That is not an excuse for the Government not to suspend the licence now. It should also refuse to issue any further licences for harvesting of this nature until we are certain doing so will not have adverse impacts on the groups, the marine environment and even on the climate.
An analogy has already been drawn between this matter and the bad experience we have had of fishing, whereby big multinational interests have come in and just sweep up the fish with all the damage to local fishing industries. I will provide another analogy, which arises out of the name of the Bantry group. What is seaweed? It is the forests of the sea. The Minister of State should think about the significance of that on all sorts of levels. We made a bags of forestry in this country. The approach was to cut it down for short-term profit regardless of the long-term consequences for the environment, traditional industries, small producers and so on.
Small and traditional producers almost instinctively understand about sustainable management and development when it comes to these things. Their livelihoods are tied up with the sustainable development and management of the resources, whereas big corporate interests that come in just think about how they can make some money out of it. They do not feel the impacts on the community, the local environment, the local marine environment, biodiversity, or any of the other potential inadvertent consequences. They do not care about them and do not feel them. They just make money out of it. We should not be giving licences to these people until all potential negative impacts have been fully assessed and we are absolutely certain the development of this resource will ensure the protection of traditional interests, local communities and, critically, the environment.
What potential impact could the mechanical harvesting of the sea's forests have on climate change? Has that been assessed? To my mind, the value of having properly managed seaweed forest resources in terms of carbon capture and so on is vital. That does not mean we cannot harvest it, just as we can harvest trees. We have to do so sustainably, not through clearfell, gutting forests and landscapes and creating dead zones. We do not grow the proper species or harvest the trees in a sustainable manner and this does immense damage to the environment, local economies, biodiversity and so on. We have created enough dead zones through the mismanagement of forests and fishing. Let us not do the same to another natural resource by licensing it off to multinational or corporate interests that just see it as an opportunity for profit.
I commend Deputies Connolly and Pringle and the communities that are fighting on this. The Government should withdraw its amendment. There is nothing objectionable in the motion for those who are interested in the sustainable development and management of our seaweed resources and the protection of the communities, traditional harvesters and other industries that could be impacted.
I acknowledge the Independents4Change grouping for bringing this motion forward. I also commend the good people of Bantry Bay who are in the Gallery. They travelled up today and had a peaceful demonstration outside the Dáil to show the Government just how opposed they are to the mechanical harvesting of kelp in their local, beautiful bay.
This is certainly not the first time, and may be the tenth time, that I have raised this issue in the Dáil with the Minister of State over the past six months. I have been totally opposed to this from the very beginning. The ten-year kelp harvesting licence was issued by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to BioAtlantis in Tralee to harvest mechanically 753 ha, or 1,860 acres, of native kelp forest in Bantry Bay in west Cork. The licence that allows BioAtlantis to harvest mechanically vast amounts of kelp in Bantry Bay is experimental and the effects could cause huge damage to west Cork. This is the first licence in Ireland or Great Britain to allow the mechanical harvesting of seaweed and the effects could be detrimental to wildlife, tourism and employment in Bantry.
The mechanical harvesting of kelp will affect birds, fish, flora and invertebrates in the area, as well as the local inshore fishermen whose living depends on the bay and its resources. There is much anger and unrest in west Cork as a result of this licence being issued and there is huge concern for the local ecology and economy. Bantry Bay is a crucial resource in terms of the environment, tourism and local jobs. This licence, which has been granted without essential input from key stakeholders, is seen as a serious imposition on the people of Bantry. They feel that the granting of the licence was grossly unfair and see no benefit accruing to the Bantry area. Instead, there is significant fear of the negative implications it will have.
The communication or lack thereof between the Minister of State’s Department and the people of the Bantry area on this issue has been totally disrespectful to the Bantry inshore fishermen. I ask the Minister of State whether there have been communications between the different Ministers and Departments that have an interest in marine and planning issues. The Department has an obligation to support Cork County Council and provide information on proposed developments in the locality in order for the council to be able to disperse this information to the public and allow the public to have an input.
The council was not consulted about the granting of this licence, which will have an enormous impact on the people of Bantry and the wider community. The harvesting of kelp will also have a detrimental effect on inshore fishermen. For the past ten years, fishermen have tried to conserve the lobster stock by returning all female lobsters to the sea while working with BIM and funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The five sites mapped in Bantry are the main lobster grounds of the bay and the nursery area for all other fish, including shrimp, crab and pollock. This licence will destroy the habitat for the fish and endanger the livelihoods of the local fishermen. The Department has completely ignored the Bantry Bay coastal zone charter, which stakeholders in our community worked hard to develop. I ask the Minister of State to revoke the licence issued to BioAtlantis Tralee without delay on the basis that the Department did not advertise it with sufficient detail, did not engage in consultation with the local stakeholders and failed to respect the charter. In 2010, the local community, regulatory bodies and other agencies with an interest in Bantry Bay developed the charter to safeguard our bay.
I shared time with another Member yesterday and I should get additional time today.
The project was initiated by the county council to address the challenge of successful coastal zone management around the bay. The stakeholders' charter is based on the understanding that the regulatory agencies need to work in partnership with the local community in the successful management and development of the area. It explores the use of consensus, whereby all stakeholders work together to develop a single agreed approach to its development. In addition, mechanical harvesting will have a serious effect. I ask the Minister of State to revoke the licence under Article 12.2. He can do so without any cost to the State. I have asked the Minister of State to do this countless times but he is not listening. He said earlier that he is willing to meet the people of Bantry. We have been asking him for six months to meet them.
How do you make halves of nothing?
I welcome Mr. Pat Connolly and his concerned friends and neighbours to the Visitors Gallery for this important debate. They came all the way from Bantry. The motion suggests the prioritisation of traditional harvesters, exemptions for traditional harvesters harvesting under a certain amount and the protection of traditional harvesting rights from commercial interests in the future. The Minister of State said he wants the big harvesters as well as the traditional harvesters. He cannot have both because he is trying to carry two sides of the road but anyone whoever tried to do that finished up in the middle of nowhere. He will fall between two stools. There is only one way here and that is to protect the traditional small farmers who are also small fishermen. The Minister of State knows what this will do. Granting a licence to rip the guts out of Bantry Bay will cause coastal erosion, and it will cause trouble for tourism and fishing, and for small farmers and small fishermen. I ask him to revoke the licence and not to carry on with this lunacy. I also ask Fianna Fáil, which is supporting and propping up the Government parties, to put it up to them to change this racket that they are at and to revoke the licence because this is a serious matter. We need fair trade, we need fair play and I ask the Government to revoke the licence and not to do anything like this in the future. Bantry harbour is only 20 miles from Kilgarvan.
I am here to support our good neighbours from Bantry harbour - traditional people who have carried out great work over the years and whose livelihoods are now being endangered. Many of them make a part-time income and more of them are trying to make the most that they can out of the work that they are carrying on. The Minister of State has the power to revoke the licence that has been granted and we are asking him to do that on behalf of these people because when a traditional right is attacked, it is like attacking the right of people to cut turf.
It is bad manners for the Minister of State to talk to somebody else when he is dealing with an important matter in the House. If he does not have time to listen to us in the Dáil, how can the people who travelled up here today expect fair play when he is talking to the man alongside him while we are contributing to the debate? It is the height of bad manners. There will be time to talk later, but when the Minister of State is in the Chamber, he should pay these people the courtesy of listening to us contributing on their behalf. He did the same thing when Deputies Michael Collins and Danny Healy-Rae were talking. He did not hear one word that was said from this side because he was engaged in a deep conversation, which is the height of bad manners. I would never accuse anybody of having bad manners but I accuse the Minister of State of it now. It is very disrespectful to people who have travelled up here today to see him muttering under his breath to somebody else. It is bad manners and I would expect more of him.
On a point of order, that cannot be left unanswered. The reason I am talking to my colleague is that I am not allowed to reply at the end of the debate. I am asking the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, to give my answer at the end. I am not allowed to do that. Those are the rules and, therefore, to make sure that the questions raised by the Deputies are answered, I am briefing the Minister of State.
On behalf of the Green Party, I very much support and commend Deputies Connolly and Pringle on using their time for this important debate and for seeking a united voice in the Chamber in respect of how we manage our marine environment and, in particular, seaweed on our coastal shores. This is a hugely important and useful allocation of time for this critical debate. It is correct that the debate to date has concentrated on two areas - Bantry Bay where a licence has issued and between counties Clare and Mayo for which 17 licences are in process. They have been stalled by the Minister to consider what is the best development approach.
I refer to the development in Bantry first. As Deputy Boyd Barrett said, the process started under my former party colleague, Mr. John Gormley, when he signed an initial consent to licensing. It was done at a time there was no objection or concern. A local company was looking for further development and, on the basis of the scientific advice at the time and with no objection from the local community, it was put forward. I accept and agree that there should have been better consultation. An EIS should have been stitched in at the start of the process and that leads me to agree with those who are calling on the Government to hold off on the Bantry Bay licence and ascertain whether that is the right approach.
My party colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, has expertise and interest in the protection of the habitats on our shoreline and she has raised concerns. When kelp is cut at the lowest point it is attached to the sea bed, it might not regenerate. The monitoring approach agreed in 2016 provided for a baseline study and further studies to be carried out after three and five years. There is a concern that may be too late and the damage will be done. It is a precious environment not just because of the importance of kelp, but also of the other fauna, which impact on the life of the bay. The experience in Bantry should then inform what happens in Connemara, Clare and Donegal. The issue of licensing and how we arrange our foreshore is not only about seaweed. We have a massive problem with awarding foreshore licences for oysters and aquaculture developments. A swathe of large developments have been signed off in recent years in Donegal without an EIS. The management of foreshore licensing has to change.
Unfortunately, I had to attend a meeting of the Committee on Procedure which meant I was late for the debate but I have read the Minister of State's contribution with interest. Our use of seaweed will be developed in a sustainable way. As Deputy Ó Cuív asked, where is the balance between the interests of the processing companies and those working for them at local level? That is one of the key issues we need to get right. The Minister of State said there are 6,500 ownership rights in existence. That is probably a figure that is difficult to nail down. Ownership rights go back to our folklore tradition and to the heart of coastal communities
The Minister of State, Deputy English, states there are only 400 licences that may be actively managed. Any management of the seaweed systems must, in the first instance, be done in a way we are absolutely certain does not affect the long-term viability, sustainability or restoration of the most diverse bio-ecology in the sea area. The second requirement in order of prioritisation is that any management or processing of seaweeds should be done in a way that benefits the local community most and first. If that even runs foul of certain economic considerations - I am sure it would be much easier to put in a big machine and harvest it all in one go - we should side with protecting or encouraging local community involvement. In that process, perhaps we should be specific and forensic in terms of how seaweed is harvested and used because in those 500 or so species of seaweed on our shores, and in the evolution that is taking place in the scientific world that is showing a range of new applications of natural material in biomimicry or other mechanisms to provide medical, pharmaceutical or biomedical products, or, indeed, foodstuffs, we have a hugely valuable resource. It is about how we manage that forensically, treating this as something special rather than something that provides a quick-buck return where one gets in and gets out and harvests as much as one can in as cheap a way as possible. The latter is not the direction in which we should go.
This is a valuable debate, as I said, and Deputies Pringle and Connolly have done us much service. It is a pity that we cannot get agreement here. It seems, from what I have listened to, we will not get agreement across the House but that the motion will get the support of the majority in this House, and that is welcome. We have seen this on a number of occasions where we put Opposition motions that get the support of a majority in the House. What does that mean? Fianna Fáil may have an interest in that because it has a certain influence over the Government in its confidence and supply agreement. What does it mean when that party supports a motion in opposition which compels the Government to take certain actions?
This is an area where, more than anything else, it is possible for the Government to act. It is not without difficulty, particularly in Bantry, but what I have heard, from the Fianna Fáil Deputies here and from everyone else, is the clear intention and desire of this House to take the management of the seaweed resource in a different direction and to in some way start again and say that we need to manage this from an environmental perspective above anything else. Whatever the Government's position as expressed in the Minister of State's speech, we must seriously consider, if this motion is approved, what does it mean for the Government and what it then has to do.
I give my full support to this important motion, which addresses a specific situation that has being unfolding, in particular, in the west of Ireland, for many years.
There is not a tradition of harvesting seaweed off the coast of my area in south Wexford but, as I swim on Bannow Island on a regular basis and have to wade through 40 m or 50 m of seaweed before I get to clear water, I wonder is there potential there as well that has not been realised. I am aware that my father, when he was a young fellow, used to collect seaweed for fertiliser before he went to work in the morning.
A number of intersecting concerns are at play here. There is the sale of the main player in the industry, Arramara, which was a predominantly State-owned entity, to a Canadian multinational corporation, Acadian Seaplants, the circumstances of which lack transparency. There is also the issue of new methods of seaweed harvesting; and, most importantly, the traditional rights of the local harvesters that are coming into conflict with other harvesting licences being granted by the Government.
The motion before us is extremely urgent for a host of reasons. The traditional harvesters have mainly been operating under seaweed rights that go back for generations. In many cases, they have been going back to the same areas to harvest for over 60 years, which is a testament to the fact that their methods are sustainable. That they have been doing this for so long - many of them as a primary source of income, using traditional methods that protect their resource - should go some way to protect their rights to harvest. The Government states it is interested in promoting the development of the seaweed industry but this does not have to come at the cost of locals who are involved in the best practices in the area. In a recent reply from the Minister of State, Deputy English, to a written parliamentary question from Deputy Connolly, he stated that there were 117 applications to harvest seaweed that have yet to be determined by the Department, that certain rights to harvest seaweed already exist where these licences seek to harvest and that these applications by companies are effectively on hold until the Department can ascertain, with the assistance of the Attorney General, the legal interface and relationship between these traditional harvesting rights and the current applications.
Seaweed harvesting can be a lucrative business and when managed carefully and sustainably, has great benefits for the environment and local communities. If we were wise, we would have kept this industry in-house and developed it ourselves, but instead we sold out the principal player to a foreign investor for no good reason, and now we are on the verge of selling out the locals, who once sold primarily to Arramara, in favour of the multinational. It does not have to be this way. There is room for both the traditional licences of the local harvesters to be respected and the work of the bigger player to carry on profitably.
At present, Acadian Seaplants harvests offshore in boats and onshore. The locals operate almost exclusively onshore when the tide is out but there is already a situation where there is competition for the resource onshore because of the lack of clarity in the regulatory licensing regime. This is not an argument against progress, or some parish pump concern. This is an argument against the eternally repeated neoliberal practice of putting the interests of big business before the livelihoods of people in local communities and the environment.
There is a good argument for expansion in this area. In the field of biomass cultivation, seaweed is quite incredible. It utilises dissolved carbon dioxide and acts as a carbon sink. It also uses nutrients, such as dissolved inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus, that are running off agricultural lands in the form of pollution at an alarming rate. It does not need feed or fertiliser. It can be cultivated in very large areas with almost zero demand on fresh water resource - unlike much farming - and it grows faster than most other plants. It has a very long list of applications, many of which are connected to health benefits.
How this expansion proceeds must be monitored and assessed extremely carefully. Harvesting techniques must be ironclad in terms of sustainability, and any expansion of the cultivation of seaweeds should only be carried out in line with international best practice. All these concerns align in the recognition of the rights of traditional harvesters to continue what they have been doing sustainably and profitably for generations and after that, our primary concern should be to have the highest level of regulations and monitoring for those companies that will be leading the way in the expansion of the industry because it is these actors that will be obliged to prove that they can do their work in such a manner that is in keeping with principles of environmental stewardship. The traditional harvesters have already proved that this is how they operate and accordingly, should be given as much support as possible.
This is a significant and incredibly timely motion. I compliment Deputies Connolly and Pringle on giving up the time to have us discuss it.
It is a critical moment for seaweed as a resource, with regard to its development as a potentially sustainable, ecologically sound and environmentally friendly industry. If we get it right, there will be considerable benefits. If we get it wrong, there will be ecological problems and problems for the local communities.
Our record is not really that great. When it comes to hiving off our natural resources - from land to fishery rights to oil and gas - the tradition has been privatise them, open them up to multinationals, flog them off, enrich the middle man and allow the local people to lose out. Against this backdrop and against the backdrop of the proposal in the works for the harvesting licence for 20% of the seaweed from Ballyvaughan to Belmullet to a Canadian company, the concerns are not exaggerated. These are well-founded concerns. It is clear from the evidence elsewhere, in particular in Canada and Norway, that large-scale mechanical harvesting of the kind towards which the Government is leaning is not a sustainable way to go.
We have to start by recognising the very real threat to the livelihoods of traditional harvesters from Bantry Bay and elsewhere, some of whom were in attendance in the Gallery. They have posed legitimate questions for the Government to answer on the lack of regulation and transparency and on the way in which licences have been granted.
The Bantry Bay example is, sadly, a good one in the sense that it is so bad. BioAtlantis was given the right to harvest a 1,860 acre area over a ten-year period in the absence of any consultation with the local community. That licence includes a clause which allows the company to self-assess the environmental impact. You could not make it up. The assessment does not even kick in until three years have passed and, at that point, the company has the right to self-assess the impact. That is completely ridiculous given the importance of seaweed to our ecosystem and the number of species reliant on it for food. I question the manner in which the Government has gone about this because, as with the offshore exploration licence it handed out last year, long-term licences that tie us into commitments we may regret are, frankly, irresponsible. Nevertheless, the Government is doing it again. In effect, we are giving a private enterprise the right to plunder natural resources at a profit, which is far too risky for the Irish people.
There is a difference between harvesting and extraction. In many ways, the seaweed industry exemplifies that difference. Extraction involves the removal of raw materials from the planet and is, in many cases, a dirty and damaging process which must be managed closely. On the other hand, traditional seaweed harvesting in Ireland takes place after the tide has receded. The crop is yielded manually and the harvesters make sure to leave a good proportion of the plant behind undamaged so that it can regrow. It is a win-win. The mechanical process, however, is not only potentially damaging to seaweed, it depletes the stock, affects the life-cycle of some types of seaweed and, therefore, other sea life. It is illustrative that Marine Scotland had the good sense to conduct an environmental impact assessment which clearly found that artisanal manual harvesting is far less damaging. While there is always a small risk in any approach, it is clear to Marine Scotland that the mechanised harvesting of kelp has significant adverse effects. Given that seaweed and sea grasses play a huge role in marine and coastal ecosystems and that some species actually modify their environment to support high levels of marine and coastal diversity, they are described as "ecosystem engineers". That is what they are. As such, we need to monitor them careful and that is particularly so for kelp.
Seaweed products are becoming more popular, with some being promoted for their health and other properties. There is a rising demand for these products, which is very good in many ways. However, we have to balance the demand for seaweed with how we harvest and use it. This is not just about healthy food. If we increase seaweed removal from our coast to use it to produce supplements which aid intensive pig farming, which in and of itself has adverse environmental costs, we must conclude that it is not worth it. We must look at this holistically and monitor it carefully. We must protect the traditional methods and this vitally important resource in a transparent manner for the benefit of the Irish people, not foreign multinationals.
With the agreement of the House, I will allow the Labour Party one minute before we go to the Minister of State. Is that agreed? Agreed. The party missed its slot, but we will provide it with a minute. Deputy Sherlock will get a new alarm clock.
I thank the Acting Chairman. I am very grateful to the House for the one minute and a little bit of latitude. I rise simply to support the motion, recognising the fact that this is very much a traditional occupation and a primary source of income for harvesters. I simply wish it to be a matter of record that we support the motion before the House.
It might be opportune for the Business Committee to consider changing the rules for Private Members' debates so that Ministers who provide an opening statement and stay to listen can answer personally the questions put to them. I will endeavour to answer as many of the questions that have been raised as I can. I thank the Deputies who contributed, particularly Deputies Connolly and Pringle in whose names the motion was submitted. The Minister of State, Deputy English, is acutely aware of the questions that have been raised. I was taken aback by the contribution of Deputy Michael Healy-Rae who has been absent from the Chamber for virtually the entire debate. He criticised the Minister of State who was attempting to refer me to some of the questions raised by the Deputy and others in order to inform my response to the House.
As Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy English, is responsible under the Foreshore Act for seaweed licensing. A seaweed licence is a temporary arrangement and at all times the ownership of both the right and the foreshore vests in the State. The Minister of State does not have the statutory power to sell either the foreshore or seaweed rights. As he stated, seaweed is a valuable natural resource used in a wide range of products. As such, we need to look at the range of high-value, high-technology products in which seaweed can be used. The motion tabled by Deputies Connolly and Pringle calls for growth within the seaweed industry. As the Minister of State pointed out, there has been significant investment in recent years by high-tech companies utilising new processing methods to produce high-value products and compete in global markets. An approach which includes not only traditional harvesters but also these companies is necessary to achieve the growth referred to. A number of speakers have said the Minister of State should revoke the licence. They will all be acutely aware of the fact that any revocation would open the taxpayer to a liability which no Minister could impose lightly if, as I suspect, at all. The rules relating to licensing, which have been referred to by various speakers, have changed since the then Minister, Mr. John Gormley, made his decision in 2011. It is interesting to hear him and members of the parties involved in the original granting of the licence sing what appears to be a completely different tune from the decisions made seven and four years ago, respectively.
Sustainability was discussed at length by Deputy Boyd Barrett. Sustainability is at the heart of the seaweed licence process and the conditions which underpin it. It is included in the terms of the licence. Certainly, the Minister of State has the power to revoke a licence if those conditions are broken. Deputy Boyd Barrett spoke also of the requirement to carry out an environmental impact assessment and referred to the Aarhus Convention. The licence originally granted in respect of Bantry Bay is not in breach of that convention as it did not apply in Ireland until after the date on which the former Minister, Mr. Gormley, issued the licence. Deputy Connolly said the Department had stumbled on the rights issue by accident, but it was in fact in the normal course of examining the applications that officials noted the issue and took the logical step of engaging in further consideration. The particular issue in the Galway cases did not arise in respect of the Bantry Bay application, which was processed a number of years earlier.
I note to Deputy Murphy O'Mahony that we are not aware of any licence refusal in the Bantry Bay area. However, it may be a matter for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine who regulates seaweed aquaculture. BioAtlantis is an indigenous Irish company, albeit based in Tralee not Bantry. It is important to remember that the licence was approved in principle by the then Minister, Mr. John Gormley, in 2011 and that the Minister of State, Deputy English, simply approved the monetary conditions required after consultation with the Department and relevant State agencies.
I note Deputy Ó Cuív's suggestion regarding a discussion document, but the Minister of State has indicated that he will meet all sides involved. Despite what Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said, there is an open door to a meeting with representatives of the Bantry Bay group. The Minister of State is not prepared to meet everyone in Bantry on the same night but, as is reasonable, he is prepared to meet the group and it should be prepared to send some of its people to meet him, whether in Bantry, Meath or Dublin.
The officials in the Department had a number of discussions with the Attorney General's office on the complex legal issues involved in foreshore licensing.
In response to Deputy Pringle, the Minister of State, Deputy English, is not aware of any agreement in regard to the sale of Arramara Teoranta that guarantees ongoing access to this valuable natural resource. There is certainly no intention of sacrificing the traditional harvester to the interests of companies. As the Minister of State, Deputy English, noted earlier, he does not have the power to sell the harvesting rights under the Foreshore Act and neither is he going to grant licences at will to companies. He reiterated that the work is ongoing on this complex issue and the need to develop the seaweed sector while protecting the sea environment.
The activity to which Deputy Murphy O’Mahony referred is not of a class that requires an environmental impact assessment. This was confirmed by the European Commission through its own parliamentary questions system. The harvest system is a rotational one whereby one fifth of the licence area can be harvested in any one year. Kelp grows in deeper water that is not possible to reach by boat. The species covered by this license should not be confused with the Ascophyllum harvested by traditional harvesters. It in no way impinges on the rights of traditional harvesters who may be harvesting Ascophyllum in the Bantry Bay area.
Deputy Tóibín made reference to an NUIG report that estimates that up to 70,000 tonnes of Ascophyllum in Irish waters may be harvested every year sustainably. Approximately 40,000 tonnes are harvested at present. Therefore, while there is room for growth, it has to be managed correctly. Contrary to several assumptions made here today, there is no intention on the part of the Government, the Minister of State or his officials to give carte blancheto companies to harvest at will around the country. The harvest in the Bantry Bay area is not in a special area of conservation, as Deputy Tóibín mentioned, and nor is it in a special protection area. In fact, the company originally applied for a licence to harvest in Kenmare Bay but was advised that, to harvest kelp, it would need to apply in respect of an area that did not fall under either of those categories.
I must confess this is a subject that is new to me in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. In one sense, there is an argument to be made that it is not the most suitable Department for discussing this matter. What is proposed and what the Minister of State has done by way of changing the rules regarding the granting of licences and ensuring a system can be put in place whereby licences may be revoked if their conditions are broken is correct.
In this Chamber, however, we have far too many debates in which people grandstand. I am not accusing those who proposed the motion of doing so. They are present and did not do any grandstanding. There was a lot of grandstanding from Members opposite who are now gone and who were not here for most of the debate. They knowingly proposed in this Chamber the revocation of a licence in a manner that could expose the taxpayer to a potentially massive liability. That is grossly negligent politics. It is also deeply misleading to suggest to the people from Bantry who are here tonight that this can be done at the drop of a hat. If any of the Deputies in question were in government, they would note it could not be done. What they are doing is the cheapest form of politics. That is not to say their concerns are not valid and that we should not have a proper debate such as this on this issue. It is not to say that the Minister of State's invitation to meet some of the people from Bantry does not still stand, the objective being to ensure that the conditions of the licence granted by former Minister John Gormley seven years ago will be enforced if and when the harvesting in Bantry Bay takes place.
I am sharing my time with Deputies Connolly and Pringle. I am delighted to be able to speak briefly on this motion on the preservation of seaweed harvesting rights, brought forward in the name of my Independents 4 Change colleagues Deputies Pringle and Connolly. I congratulate them on this very timely and important motion. My colleagues are calling for a national strategy at last for the promotion of the sustainable development of our seaweed sector, ensuring that traditional seaweed harvesters are protected. They want to stimulate job creation among rural, coastal and island communities and have the Government undertake an economic analysis of the sector. Above all, they want the sector to be regulated in a fair and sustainable way. The national strategy should also include the potential climate change benefits associated with the growth and promotion of this sector. The motion rightly calls for the suspension of the granting of licences until such a strategy is published and, most important, for responsibility for the sector to be solely under the aegis of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, where it clearly should be.
I have learned that approximately 40,000 tonnes of seaweed is harvested in Ireland annually, with around 185 full-time equivalent workers, or 400 part-time workers, and that the sector is valued at approximately €18 million per year, some €6 million of which is attributable to exports. The current uses of this wonderful natural resource include food, cosmetics, thalassotherapy, spa treatments, biomedicines and biotechnology.
One of our seaweed-processing factories, Arramara Teoranta, had been in existence since 1947 but was bought by Acadian Seaplants in 2014. The company is currently processing between 25,000 and 30,000 tonnes of seaweed annually. It does not have its own harvesting licence but it has applied for a licence to allow it to harvest up to 40,000 tonnes per year. There are fears that this company wants to use mechanical harvesting. Sustainability of seaweed harvesting and traditional methods, which Deputies Pringle and Connolly have brought to our attention, are the key concerns in this debate.
There are currently 23 applications for seaweed cultivation sites and already six aquaculture grow-out sites with licences, those being at Bantry Bay, Roaringwater Bay, Ventry in Kerry, and Clew Bay in Mayo. I have got to know Bantry Bay, in particular, very well over the years. I believe the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has already reviewed the independent aquaculture licensing review group’s report. The Minister of State referred to it earlier. When will the report be brought before the Dáil, and when will action be taken on it?
BioAtlantis got approval for mechanical harvesting in a huge area, comprising 1,860 acres, in Bantry over a trial period of ten years. There has been grave concern in the Beara Peninsula and surrounding countryside. People have submitted a petition to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. There is a call for a pause on the permit until there is proper consultation.
We have been talking a lot about the Foreshore Act 1933. The Minister of State has already replied but I wonder why we are still using such ancient legislation. I remember asking the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, umpteen times about aspects of the Act in regard to wind turbines. It is incredible that we are still talking about that.
The Joint Sub-Committee on Fisheries' Report on Promoting Sustainable Rural, Coastal and Island Communities, published in January 2014, found that in the short to medium term, the two industries that these rural communities are likely to continue to have the most reliance on are inshore fishing and aquaculture. We are still awaiting action on some of the recommendations in this report. The Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht published "Report of the Committee on Developing the Seaweed Industry in Ireland" in May 2015 and put forward eight recommendations, many of which echo the calls by my colleagues in the motion. Most important is the first recommendation, which calls for the adoption of a national strategy to promote the development of the seaweed industry, focusing in particular on the Gaeltacht and counties of the western seaboard. The other recommendations would also be very valuable to the sector.
I strongly support the terms of my colleagues' motion. There are useful exemplar regulations in areas such as the Canadian provinces. In British Colombia, for example, there are strict conditions concerning harvesting, and the indigenous First Nations are required to be consulted. In Nova Scotia, there are similar provisions. In Scotland, there is the "Seaweed Cultivation Policy Statement". The Minister has some work to do in this regard. As matters stand, I welcome warmly the confirmation that licence applications will remain on hold until there is full legal clarity for traditional harvesters, who really need to be protected, and concrete moves by the Government to develop a national sustainable seaweed harvesting strategy.
Let me deal with Bantry. We ratified the Aarhus Convention in June 2012.
We are not quite sure when the licence relating to Bantry was granted. The Minister of State might confirm that. According to the reply to a Parliamentary Question put down by Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony on 16 May, the licence commenced on 21 March 2014. It was given in principle in 2009 or 2011 and was finally given in 2014. We had signed and ratified the Aarhus convention. I am not sure if the Minister of State understands the Aarhus convention.
I did not see any humour in it. What I did see was a commitment to meaningful consultation with communities at every level of the decision making process. In the case of Bantry, the tiniest of ads went into one newspaper, it did not mention the area involved and it did not mention that there would be mechanical harvesting. The public was absolutely unaware of that.
We had not ratified the Aarhus convention when the ad went up, but we knew we would ratify it which we did in 2012. And the Government sees nothing wrong with that. Do the Ministers of State think that people lost a days work to come up here today just to be cranky or to object? Can the Ministers of State accept their bona fidesthat they believe there is something radically wrong with this process, that they are seriously worried and want the Government to engage with them? Rather than talking about liability, the Government might look at the terms of the licence given to see if it can be revoked and under what provisions this might happen, for instance. Maybe the Government could begin a meaningful discussion on that in relation to their concerns.
I very much welcome what seems to be the unanimous support for the motion on this side of the House. I very much welcome that Sinn Féin has been here today and spoke on this and also Fianna Fáil and the Rural Alliance.
I will return to the Minister of State's amendment now. In it he reaffirms three things. One is of particular concern to me, where he reaffirms that through the marine co-ordination group, it will continue to advance and promote the sustainability of the seaweed sector in Ireland. As my colleague pointed out, I believe that nine Departments sit on that. In theory it meets every six weeks and seaweed has arisen once. Is the Minister of State seriously standing before us and telling us that co-ordinating group is going to promote a sustainable policy in relation to the seaweed sector? That is an insult. I respect Deputy English and I like him on a personal basis, but to give an answer like that to us today is an insult. There is an onus on him, as there is on me, to read all the reports and see the recommendations. He says that we focused in on one view, but we actually focused on the recommendations of the committee in May 2015. The first of eight recommendations was that we have a national strategy. I do not particularly like the word strategy, but I accepted the word from the committee. I would prefer a comprehensive sustainable plan in relation to the seaweed sector, but the committee talks about a national strategy so we accepted that terminology. We are asking the Government before it grants any licences to comply with that recommendation which came from that report on developing the seaweed sector in Ireland. When the Minister of State and his colleague stand up and tell us various things, and the 40,000 tonnes harvested annually, we know these facts because all this work has been done in the various reports and in the briefing document by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, which is excellent and which everyone should read. They tell us the value of the seaweed industry, what traditional harvesters have done and more importantly they tell us the potential for job creation and the importance of a sustainable industry for maintaining a balanced ecosystem and climate change. What else do we need to say in the context of this new politics for the Government to listen to us?
We are not shouting or putting out policies that are far out. We are quoting Government policy down over the years and asking the Government why nothing has been done between May 2015 and now and why are we looking at a co-ordination group that makes no sense in relation to sustainable development. Can we not listen to the concerns of the people who are here, read the documents and see that this makes sense? Let us have a seaweed sector that is sustainable and that maximises the value of this natural material which we have. Let us look at it and see how many jobs we can create. The figure given by either Bord Iascaigh Mhara or Úadarás na Gaeltachta in 2015 was 1,000 jobs. They looked at Japan and then Ireland and concluded that we could create 1,000 jobs. This is entirely in keeping with the Government's documents. Let us give meaning to language.