Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
67. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if the steering group tasked with recommending ways to improve fish passage at Parteen and Ardnacrusha on the River Shannon, which was announced by the Minister of State at his Department and the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, is accepting submissions from the public; if so, the way in which and the location to which submissions should be sent; the timeframe for the group to report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46899/18]
My question is around an issue of concern whereby salmon stocks are under threat right the way up the Shannon basin. A steering group was recently announced and the Minister of State, Deputy English, was one of the two Ministers of State who announced it. I am looking for more information because this is an issue I have been raising in other areas, particularly with the other Department involved. I am trying to get practical information on how to contribute to the work of the steering group.
The establishment of the steering group in regard to the fish passage at Parteen is a key measure of the Government’s river basin management plan for Ireland 2018-2021. The Parteen area of the Shannon is designated as a heavily modified water body under the water framework directive and it is incumbent on us to apply enhancement measures, where practicable, to improve the ecological status and potential of the river.
My Department is undertaking a national analysis of barriers to fish movement through Inland Fisheries Ireland and I intend that this will form the basis of a future prioritised restoration programme. When the steering group makes recommendations regarding a fish passage improvement project for the Shannon, it will serve as an ideal pilot to advance this future restoration programme and the project will have important economic co-benefits for communities along the Shannon.
The steering group brings together all parties with a statutory remit in the area, as well as the Shannon Fishery Partnership, and it will issue its recommendations not later than April 2020. At its inaugural meeting a fortnight ago, the group identified outreach as a key issue and, recognising the importance of securing external inputs into its deliberations, has undertaken to put in place an appropriate mechanism in this regard as one of its first actions. I expect further information on this matter will be made available by the steering group shortly.
As I said, I attended the launch of the steering group, which is made up of a core group and a consultation group. The core group comprises the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, ESB, Inland Fisheries Ireland and Irish Water, and the consultative group around that includes the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Office of Public Works, the Shannon Fisheries Partnership and Waterways Ireland. Everyone around that table is very interested in ensuring we get a solution. They will be very happy to engage at the appropriate time with the public and certainly with the Deputy. I will send all the information I have to her and will put her in touch with the relevant people. We want to bring forward new solutions based on some new technologies that are out there.
I thank the Minister of State for the response. He said various statutory stakeholders would be involved but the people I really want involved are the people involved in fishing. I have seen a proposal from the Kingfisher Angling club in Castleconnell, County Limerick. It was once renowned as an area for fishing but the stocks have reduced significantly, as they have in other parts, all the way up the Shannon. I grew up beside the headrace and I know the structure of Ardnacrusha and the fact the salmon have a problem getting up by the headrace. However, a man called Paddy Guerin has developed a simple plan to divert the salmon away from Ardnacrusha up the old river basin, that is, up the river instead of up the tailrace and the headrace, which are part of the Ardnacrusha structure. I want to make sure the people presenting this plan, which is based on experience and which is supported by the Federation of Irish Salmon and Sea Trout Anglers, can get a proper hearing. They feel the so-called experts are sometimes listened to more than the people who actually experience the river. I want to get information that this plan can be presented and will be taken seriously.
I thank Deputy O'Sullivan. We had a similar conversation at the meeting at Ardnacrusha with a view to making sure we look at any and all solutions, both the ones brought forward by engineers from all over the world and the local suggestions. The steering group has 18 months of work ahead of it to look at all the different ideas and different solutions, but also to try to take advantage of any technical, scientific and engineering solutions that might have been brought forward over the years, as well as to engage with the experts. We have also tried to bring an independent voice to this by bringing in experts from abroad to work with us. The group will be led by our Department. We are cognisant of the importance of public engagement as part of this deliberative process. There will be a mechanism to engage with the public and to look at local suggestions.
To be clear, it is not one suggestion that is being looked at. It is a group to look at suggestions and to bring forward a proposal at the end of the process. Naturally, it has to be based on evidence and on something that can work, not just a gut feeling. However, if there is a possibility of doing something, we will do it. When the group brings forward solutions to the Department, we will certainly be in a position to fund that and to give it the backing that is required. At that stage, it will also need to go through a proper planning process. I will give the Deputy the details of the local consultation process, which is very important. We all want to achieve the result, which is increased salmon stocks.
I would like clarity on whether the other Department is the lead Department and to what extent the Minister of State, Deputy English's Department has direct involvement. I want to reiterate that, from the statistics I have been given, €1 billion of income and 12,000 jobs come directly from angling. I want to stress again that this is vital for anglers, both those in Ireland and those who come to Ireland through the tourism industry. We need to get this right. There are simple solutions that I have been presented with and that make sense to me. I ask that they are taken seriously.
To be clear, our Department will be chairing and leading this. It is a commitment the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, gave when he launched the river basin plan in April of this year because it is an important area of work, for all the reasons the Deputy has outlined. I again commend all the stakeholders for coming together around the table. It is very clear to me there is a good working relationship. ESB is a key player on this and has been very proactive in regard to the conservation of fish species over the years and has tried many different mitigation measures. It is certainly interested in and committed to bringing forward new solutions. Everyone around that table is committed. I believe the group covers all the stakeholders who should be there but if we find any are missing, we will take the chance to engage them. This is a proactive committee and stakeholder group that is trying to find a solution. It is not to block out anybody or to turn up our noses at any suggestion. It is to help solve the problem, which is what we are committed to doing.