Dáil debates

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)


Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

4:55 pm

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I will pick up where I left off on the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021 before the recess.

It is interest that there can be so much media and public interest in some legislation and tumbleweed around others. I suppose it behoves the Government to make noise about certain Bills and to hope that others will slip under the radar of experts and activists. This is a really important Bill. It aims to consolidate our maritime jurisdiction legislation and provide for updates relating to recent international law developments. The reason I think there should be more interest in this Bill is because it is part of a suite of legislation and frameworks that are looking at our maritime areas. We have a national marine planning framework and are expecting the maritime area planning Bill and yet our marine protected areas have not even been designated. I welcome the Irish Wildlife Trust's initiative of holding town hall meetings around the country on marine protected areas, MPAs.

We cannot discuss maritime legislation and international law without mentioning fishing and our relationship with the EU on it. They have taken over €120 billion worth of fish that we gave the EU up to 2000. Ireland allowed members of the European Union to take this huge amount of fish out of our waters. In my submission to the seafood sector task force earlier this year, I stated that the Government must ensure that our seafood sector receives its fair share of the quotas available to EU member states. It is well beyond time that the wrongs that were done to our fishing industry as we negotiated to join the EU were corrected.

I have consistently reminded the Government that our negotiations on fishing were taken away from us, Denmark and the UK in the first days of the then EEC. This had the impact of directly hampering the west of Ireland's development and led, I believe, to Dublin-focused development within Ireland that has hampered and hindered the development of the entire country since we joined the EU. Any promotion of a fleet tie-up scheme will be a direct recognition that the future of the fishing communities within Ireland is not a priority for the Government and will confirm and show that the Government is intent on the decline and ending of those communities.

I note the contribution of Senator Higgins on this Bill in the Seanad earlier this month. I was also liaising with some NGO representatives who raised concerns about the constitutionality of certain parts of the Bill. There are concerns about the provisions on orders, and the approach to the continental shelf on the basis of designated areas within the discretion of the Government alone.

This Bill will provide for Ireland's maritime zones in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, which was adopted in 1982. This means that UNCLOS predates much EU environmental legislation, as well as significant developments which have taken place since then in international spheres. The Government is deciding to blindly adhere to UNCLOS and not reconciling or resolving some of the maritime jurisdiction issues for various areas, for example, the EU nature directives.

Unfortunately, we do not have a great track record at implementing protections required under both the birds and habitats directives in the territorial sea never mind those in the contiguous zone, in the exclusive economic zone, EEZ, or on the continental shelf. This Bill should at least provide for handling offences under these directives, and potentially as set out in the environmental crime directive.

There are concerns about the UK's exit from the European Atomic Energy Community, Euratom, and the movements of nuclear materials in and out of the UK and concerns on undersea development of radioactive waste facilities. How lines get drawn, what we consider as an installation and the vagueness of the term, "in the vicinity of", are all worrying aspects of the Bill.

There are also significant jurisdictional issues around the Loughs Agency, issues exacerbated by Brexit, as well as concerns around the upholding of our interests in Rockall. The Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021 makes no provision for Rockall despite there still being disputes between Ireland and Scotland around fishing rights in that area. Because Rockall is uninhabitable, it has no entitlement to a continental shelf or exclusive economic zone.

This Bill repeals sections 2(1) and 3(2) of the Continental Shelf Act 1968 and Part 3 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. The outer limits of the exclusive economic zone are defined in the Bill as lying 200 nautical miles from the nearest baseline point. There are 33 sections in the Bill, six parts and two schedules. Schedule 1 sets out the text of Parts II, V and VI of UNCLOS.

In 2014, a single maritime boundary with the UK was agreed but since then there has been strategic use of marine zones around carbon sequestration and submarine cables for energy transmission and, therefore, legislation was required for definitions.

There has been no public consultation around maritime jurisdiction and pre-legislative scrutiny was waived by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. Ireland negotiated the sustainable development goals, one of which is "life below water". Sustainable development goal 14 set out goals for 2020 and 2025, with targets to have certain achievements by 2030. Therefore, there are a number of goals that we signed up to but have already missed.

Recently, I asked the Minister for Defence if a ship, the destroyer USS Paul Ignatius, DDG-117, was in Irish waters on 13 and 14 May 2021. I asked whether the vessel had permission to pass through Irish waters; and if so, the distance it passed off the west coast at the time. The reply to the parliamentary question stated:

With regard to Ireland's EEZ, it is not unusual for naval ships or vessels of other States to carry out training exercises within this area or to passage through this area.

This would normally involve prior notification to Irish Authorities where an exercise was taking place close to our Territorial Waters but this is not a requirement. In the case of the USS Paul Ignatius the US authorities did inform Irish Authorities of their presence in the region in advance and I welcome this engagement by our US colleagues.

The location of the US destroyer was within the Irish EEZ, however the ship did not enter into Irish territorial waters. Other State's naval ships or vessels would be within their rights to carry out a training exercise in our EEZ or to traverse the Irish EEZ. This is not in any way an infringement of our national territory.

I hope that the Minister is open to amendments, especially given that he did not allow for pre-legislative scrutiny. We have one of the largest sea-to-land ratios of any of the EU member states, at almost seven times our land mass. This is significant legislation, as part of a significant move around maritime planning and development and we need to be thinking strategically about this.

Why spend so much time talking about climate action and climate change while leaving our maritime jurisdiction as an afterthought? We need to examine the Bill closely.

5:05 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this Bill. I always complain that we do not have enough time, but I certainly have enough time now. I will discuss the Bill itself before turning to my serious concerns about it and the manner in which the trinity of it, the framework and the forthcoming planning Bill are being handled.

I thank the Library and Research Service. I also thank the Minister's office for its briefing, which was helpful.

The Bill's purpose is to update the State's maritime jurisdiction law to reflect developments in international law and practice as well as relevant developments in Irish law. This is important. Along with updating the law to reflect those national and international changes, the Bill will consolidate in a stand-alone enactment the State's maritime jurisdiction law for the first time. This is significant, positive and good. Legislation in many other areas should also be consolidated.

The background to the Bill is important. I will speak about the legal background before discussing our climate change obligations and our dumping at sea. The Maritime Jurisdiction Act 1959 sets out the definitions of various territorial limits and boundaries, including for sea fisheries. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, was adopted in 1982. I do not quite understand something in that regard, although I understand that the convention defines the agreed parameters of near and far shore limits and the means for changes to territorial limits to be evidenced and agreed among nations. This Bill sets out to provide the primary legislation in recognition of that international treaty. My colleague mentioned this matter and I will revert to it. The convention was adopted in 1982, we deposited the relevant document on 21 June 1996 and the convention entered into force on 21 July 1996, yet here we are in the 21st century, having declared a climate emergency and a biodiversity emergency, and we are using language from 1982. The word "exploitation" is repeated throughout UNCLOS and the Bill. I am concerned about this. I do not know why the word is included or why it took so long in the first place to introduce primary legislation relating to UNCLOS, but now that we are introducing such legislation with no explanation for the delay, we are using language that is outdated and out of keeping with our climate change obligations.

Since 1982, a number of amendments regarding the State's maritime jurisdiction have been made. The first amendments were to the Continental Shelf Act 1968, which was the first Act to define Ireland's maritime territorial limits. We are now informed that those limits are outdated but, interestingly, the language is not. The Bill will repeal and replace sections 2 and 3 of that Act. It will also amend Part 3 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, which contains definitions of fishery limits and maritime and territorial zones and limits, because it is outdated.

The Bill, which was initiated in May, is described as a technical Bill. That is an interesting use of language, given the considerable implications that the Bill has for climate change, the sustainable use of our seas and making reality of the language we are using. We can never go back to pre-Covid times. We must have a fundamental transformation of society. However, what should be a wonderful opportunity to make use of that language in the relevant provisions of the Bill and to recognise what our oceans are and what we should use them for sustainably is missing.

The Bill has 33 sections across six Parts and two Schedules. Importantly, it provides for definitions of the State's internal waters and territorial seas and provides a means of establishing boundaries and zones in the territorial seas in accordance with UNCLOS. The Bill includes terms that some of us are now more familiar with than we would like to be - "baseline", "contiguous zones", "exclusive economic zones" and "the outer limits". Specifically, Part 2 contains definitions and provides for prosecution of offences on foreign as well as Irish ships. I will not go through the rest of the Bill because it was set out repeatedly by the Minister of State in what was a good opening statement on a practical level.

I wish to return to the definition of the Bill as a technical Bill. The Library and Research Service's Bill digest tells us that the definitions in the Bill have significance for natural resources. When we were growing up, we were told in school that Ireland had no natural resources. That was our background. The digest also tells us that the Bill has significance for marine development, potential energy, including geothermal, the submarine storage of natural gas, carbon sequestration, fishery limits and submarine cables. I imagine that this is not an exclusive list. What the digest tells us is the only reference that I can see that gives us an inkling of what this Bill, the framework and the future planning Bill will cover.

We are now putting the UNCLOS into law, but I have serious concerns in this regard. When I read section 14 of the Bill, I thought that the term "exploitation ... of the natural resources" was inappropriate. It was pointed out to me by someone who works hard in my office that the Bill is replete with the word "exploitation". The reference to "the protection and preservation of the marine environment" comes way down the list and is not repeated in the manner that "exploitation" is.

As my colleague, Deputy Pringle, stated, there was no pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill. It is the second time that we want to support the Government and participate in positive legislation but are not being given that option. It is essential that there be pre-legislative scrutiny. Post Covid, post Brexit and post our declarations of a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis, we have to begin doing things differently. The first step is proper scrutiny by a committee of the implications of this "technical" Bill, which is far from technical. If we are to learn anything, it is that we must change how we are doing things. We should start with that transformation.

I do not like the word "demonised", but we have been accused repeatedly of being negative and trying to paralyse development. The Taoiseach said that. None of us wants to paralyse development. Rather, we want sustainable development so that we will get out of the climate crisis.

Let us consider what people have said, for example, Sir David Attenborough, who recently told the G7 leaders that the world was within ten years of reaching dangerous tipping points. He stated:

We are now on the verge of passing tipping points, boundaries that once passed will unleash irreversible and self-amplifying change. Then all the innovation wealth and political will in the world will not be enough to save our civilisations.

He also stated that our natural world would change from being "our greatest ally to our biggest foe" and accelerate global warming. The G7, not known for its radicalism, stated: "the unprecedented and interdependent crises of climate change and biodiversity loss pose an existential threat to people, prosperity, security and [the planet]". This was not the radical left talking about the planet, but the G7. These countries said that 2021 could be a turning point. I would like to tell young people in our country that 2021 and 2022 will be a turning point in the way we do business. I turn to this legislation, which is described as a technical Bill, and I look for transformation, a change in spirit and a change in leadership that views our oceans and seas as belonging not just to Ireland, but to all of the world, given that we are all interconnected, and determines whether we use sustainable words about how we need to bring life back to our oceans and seas, but I see none of that. There is no commitment to the UN's 17 sustainable development goals, No. 14 of which commits to life below water. These goals were passed in 2015 and we are supposed to have fulfilled our obligations under them, including banning poverty, by 2030.

We are eternally grateful to the non-governmental organisations, NGOs, on the ground for filling in the gaps in our knowledge, which should have been filled by the briefing document. It was not a bad briefing document but it was not comprehensive or complete. We find out from the NGOs that we do not have any marine protected areas. Will we address that at some stage in the future?

We see the plastic. I will quote the foreword to a document from a non-governmental organisation, the Minderoo Foundation, which was written by a former American Vice President, Al Gore. We like to praise some American Presidents, do we not? The current US President is our friend and I presume the Government thinks Al Gore was our friend. What does he say in his introduction to this document? He states:

The trajectories of the climate crisis and the plastic waste crisis are strikingly similar – and increasingly intertwined. For generations, we’ve treated our atmosphere like an open sewer, constantly pumping massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the air each day. Similarly, we are treating the ocean like a liquid landfill [we are talking about the ocean and seas here] left to accumulate at least eight million metric tons of plastic waste each year.

Where is the plastic coming from? Twenty companies produce 55% of the once-off plastic and 100 companies produce more than 90% of the plastic. There is no mention of anything such as that. To go local, let us look at wind farms. I am fully in favour of recyclable goods. I am on record as saying we need to take drastic action on climate change. However, we are putting up wind farms on land and in sea without any consultation with communities and without a return for or ownership by communities in order that profits would go back to them. Instead, once again, as the Tánaiste put it, the economy will take off like a rocket, which tells me we have learned absolutely nothing. This Bill, described as a technical Bill, is anything but and it should be a golden opportunity to bring the transformative action we need.

5:15 pm

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The difficulty with this Bill is that it is being rushed through, as was the national marine planning framework. The case of the national marine planning framework was extraordinary because many years of work went into its preparation, yet Government members of the Oireachtas committee voted to push it through without further scrutiny. Environmental NGOs and inshore fishermen wanted to have their say on the final plan being submitted to Europe, which was an entirely reasonable position, but the framework was just pushed through. We were told it was urgent but it was several weeks before it was voted through the Dáil. There was plenty of time for further scrutiny but the Government decided to rush it through.

Similarly, there is a sense that this legislation is being pushed through without proper scrutiny. I have spoken to interests in the fishing community and environmental NGOs, which are seriously concerned this legislation will come through, I assume by next week, without their having had their say before a committee to which they can make structured submissions. Sinn Féin will submit a range of amendments based on our consultation with those different interests. In the area of environmental concerns, we will introduce a range of amendments seeking clarification on the parameters and powers of the State, but also seeking to make the State accountable.

I will focus on a couple of areas in particular and talk about Rockall. In 2013-14, the Government of the day signed an agreement that was not debated in the Houses of the Oireachtas. The agreement copper-fastened this State's acceptance of British control of the Rockall area. We protest that an uninhabited island cannot have a 12-mile limit put around it. However, fishermen from Donegal are being physically prevented from fishing in the 12-mile limit around Rockall. Marine Scotland and the British navy has intervened and prevented them from fishing within that area. The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA, has checked with these fishermen to make sure they are not fishing within that 12-mile limit.

The Government states that, having made this agreement in 2013-14, it does not accept the 12-mile claim, yet here we are, after Brexit, dealing with just that issue. Every time I submit a parliamentary question to the Minister, he tells me talks are ongoing. It has been almost six months since Brexit and still our fishermen cannot fish within the 12-mile limit. Remember, we have a historical claim going back hundreds of years. Our connection with that territory goes back to Gaelic civilisation. We had not claimed it and that was a mistake. Our failure to challenge the British claim and instead to adhere to it in 1989 and 2013-14 was a huge mistake.

In the amendments I will submit, I will clearly state that the 2013-14 agreement made between the British and Irish Governments is null and void because of Brexit. Brexit changed everything. The defence at that time was the were managed European waters that fell under the Common Fisheries Policy. People asked what the issue was. However, they are now UK territorial waters and the UK authorities are claiming a 12-mile limit of exclusive rights around the rock of Rockall. This cannot stand. What does the Government do? It brings in legislation to copper-fasten that agreement. It is remarkable. It is copper-fastening the agreement, rather than making the case for why we should be standing up to an extremely arrogant claim.

When I am on the subject of arrogance, a few short years ago, the British Secretary of State, in response to a parliamentary question, stated the UK claimed the entirety of Lough Foyle. That is an extraordinary statement. Normally, under international law, when a body of water borders two states, a line equidistant from either side is drawn down the middle. That is international practice but it has not happened in the case of Lough Foyle. One suspects the reason is that the shipping channel would then be on the Inishowen side of the lough and there would be an issue for British security interests. That, I suspect, is why we have not sorted out this issue. It is why we have thousands of unregulated oyster trestles on Lough Foyle. People have a right to make a living from aquaculture and there is a place for that on Lough Foyle but it should be done in a managed, regulated way. However, that is left unresolved due to this failure.

My difficulty with this legislation is that while the idea of pulling together various pieces of legislation and putting them under one roof makes sense, many unresolved and live issues remain. Sinn Féin has great difficulty with this legislation. We will submit substantial numbers of amendments when it comes before the Dáil on Committee Stage. We will argue for those amendments and we hope the Minister will listen to us. We hope he will be ambitious for Ireland and the State. We hope he will listen to the concerns of environmental groups and our fishing communities and take the opportunity to rectify the errors.

I ask the Minister and the Government to give the following some thought. The Government argues that the 2013-14 agreement merely regularises the previous 1988 agreement and what preceded it, and agrees the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone of both states.

The problem is that it was done in the context of the Common Fisheries Policy, and Brexit rules that agreement null and void. It is an act of bad faith which changes the context of the entire agreement and we have every right to withdraw from it. The Government should take the chance our amendments present and consider making a claim for Rockall. We should challenge the British claim to it and defend the interests of our fishing communities. God knows we have not taken enough opportunities to do that.

5:25 pm

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I will use my time to discuss the scope of this Bill and its potential limitations with respect to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. As was previously highlighted in the Seanad, there is some concern about Schedule 1 of the Bill, which interprets our role in governing our seas in a very restrictive manner. Regarding the sovereign rights of Ireland's maritime jurisdiction, there are a number of criteria to which the State must have regard under this legislation. The inclusion of exploitation and conservation of natural resources in this Bill, but not the restoration of our maritime natural resources, is an oversight that could have serious consequences for the future of our marine ecosystems. So much of our marine environment and biodiversity is already damaged, if not destroyed, and including restoration in the Bill would go some way towards acknowledging the work we still need to do. While conservation is necessary it will not go far enough in protecting our waters. Including restoration would also be appropriate given our obligations under EU environmental law pertaining to marine habitats, species and ecosystems, as well as other international conventions to which Ireland is a party and in which it has been involved since UNCLOS.

Most people think of the atmosphere as being at the front line of climate change when, really, it is our marine waters that are at the coalface when it comes to our warming planet. The capacity of our waters and the marine life within them to absorb carbon dioxide is dwindling as a consequence of our damaging activities, and so are our chances of recovering our most vast and important lifeline. The oceans are our life support machine. They uphold life on this planet and provide 50% of the oxygen we breathe, most of which comes from phytoplankton. However, phytoplankton populations have dropped by 40% since the 1950s so we are already on a path towards maritime destruction, which will have tremendous consequences for us. Our seas and oceans are under huge pressure from the combined impact of climate change, acidification, shipping, economic exploitation, fossil fuel exploration, sonar activity and seismic surveys. Since Ireland was declared a dolphin sanctuary in 1991, cetacean strandings - that is, strandings of whales and dolphins - have increased by 350%. Increasingly, the effects of offshore oil and gas exploration practices are being linked to these events and to marine biodiversity continuing to experience serious pressure.

At present, only 2.4% of Irish waters are designated as marine protected areas, which is the second lowest level in the EU. That is despite Ireland agreeing to designate 10% as protected areas by 2020 and 30% by 2030 under the EU biodiversity strategy. The Government must raise the level of ambition and immediately ratchet up the designation process. That must be accompanied by better marine regulation, including around seismic activity, which can disrupt sonar or migration patterns. We also need strong interim measures on a precautionary basis, pending the delivery of a fully defined and properly specified marine park network. It is simply not good enough to say that we will get there by 2030. Our high water-to-land ratio also presents us with a golden opportunity to showcase how we should manage and protect our marine waters and biodiversity. Why not meet that sense of urgency and take this challenge on board to demonstrate to Europe the importance of our waters, key species such as cetaceans and habitats such as seagrass in pursuit of climate action?

As the Minister of State knows, I recently introduced my first Bill to the House by means of which I am seeking protection of basking sharks under the Wildlife Act. They are endangered and at very high risk of extinction in the wild and should be afforded the same protections we afford whales and dolphins under the Wildlife Act. They have been a protected species in UK waters since 1998 but, despite their endangered status, they are still not a protected species under our own national marine conservation legislation. Apart from seeking support from the Government to progress my basking shark Bill, we have an opportunity in the Bill before us to address the restoration of that species and others by identifying living species as something against which offences may be committed and to which appropriate legal protection can be given, making it an offence for a person in an exclusive economic zone to economically exploit or explore the non-living natural resources of that zone. In the Seanad, the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, indicated that he would consider some of these matters when the Bill moved to the Dáil, including the ease with which offences can be addressed where breaches of nature laws are involved. I would like him to clarify his comments on nature reserves under the Wildlife Act, particularly as there was some confusion about what was being proposed. I ask that the Minister of State engage with the Parliamentary Counsel to see if protections for marine biodiversity can be included in this Bill and to ensure that it is future-proofed to incorporate future conventions relating to marine conservation coming down the line. I hope to bring forward amendments to that effect.

When I began my career, which was a long time ago now, it was after I had grown up in a marine household. My neighbours worked for the Marine Institute and would often bring me samples to look at under the microscope in my bedroom. The marine area has been an important part of my life growing up, as well as that of my family and community. We have a very long history and culture in connection with the marine, but we have never actually protected to the full extent necessary. We now have an opportunity - and I do see the biodiversity and climate crisis as an opportunity - to rethink our engagement with our environment, the marine and our terrestrial areas, and to re-envisage how we are going to live and what our connections to nature will be. We have lost our cultural and natural connections with much of our environment and that is a large part of the problem. We should use the next number of years to reassert those connections, demonstrate their importance to our communities and listen to what our communities want to happen. We must work to make Ireland a much better place that is more respectful of the natural sphere in which we live because we have not been respectful of it so far. We have only seen it as something to make use of from an economic perspective. We need to be ambitious in this regard because we are not just talking about our relationship with the marine and our environment but about future generations' relationships with them as well.

I ask that the Minister of State take these suggestions and comments on board, as well as those of my colleagues. There was a great deal of discussion on the issues that have been raised in the Seanad. I ask him to look at how we can strengthen this Bill and make sure we do as much as we possibly can to protect future generations.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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This Bill was published on 4 May last. I take this opportunity to raise the general issues that fishermen are experiencing. It is important that those issues are highlighted. I do not know what is wrong with the Government. It is so blasé and careless that it has not had any public consultation on this Bill whatsoever, no pre-legislative scrutiny and no regulatory impact analysis. Is this government by diktat? Have the Government's emergency powers gone to its head or is it just sheer laziness? Is it a matter of disrespect for the House or are there just not enough officials in the Department?

This is mad stuff, and either the Minister of State or the Minister, who I acknowledge is in negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, at present, needs to explain it. This is no way to treat the House. I heard Deputy Connolly speaking earlier about this Bill earlier and her understanding of it is far greater than mine. This is no way to treat the Oireachtas, the House and the people who elected us. We might as well close this House and let the NGOs and some other people run the show altogether, because that is what seems to be happening anyway. I cannot believe there has been no pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill and no public consultation. The public does not matter. More importantly, no regulatory impact analysis accompanies this Bill.

This Bill was initiated in May 2021 and its purpose is to revise and consolidate relevant maritime jurisdiction laws to provide for the State's maritime zones in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was adopted in 1982. The Bill provides for the repeal of sections of legislation dealing with the definitions of maritime territories, particularly sections 2 and 3. Articles of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea from Parts II, V and VI are reproduced in Schedule 1 to the Bill.

Regarding the policy background and the legislative context, the Maritime Jurisdiction Act 1959 set out definitions of the various territorial limits and boundaries, including for sea fisheries. Several amendments regarding the State's maritime jurisdiction have been made since then in the Continental Shelf Act 1968 and the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. As they preceded my time as a Deputy, I do not know if there was pre-legislative scrutiny or impact analysis. I cannot comment on that. However, I can comment and must take responsibility for my role in this Oireachtas and the legislation that we pass now and I am simply appalled.

As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is aware, I am on the Business Committee and we get requests nearly every week to waive pre-legislative scrutiny for one Bill or another. That is a dangerous pattern, because it means there will be no role for a committee to examine a Bill in detail, undertake proper research, understand the legislation, ask questions and make amendments. The purpose of the Bill is to update and set out in one stand-alone enacting law regarding the State's maritime jurisdiction, including by giving further effect to relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and repealing sections 2 and 3 of the Continental Shelf Act 1968 and Part 3 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. The Bill contains 33 sections across six parts, so it is obviously hefty and extensive legislation. It covers a vast area and we must have some scrutiny and understanding of its potential impact on people.

Turning to the topic of Rockall, we have never really claimed it. While we have given some reasons for not doing so, I believe it is important that we should claim it. Rockall is a small, uninhabitable granite rock which is located approximately 160 nautical miles west of the Scottish islands of St. Kilda and 230 nautical miles to the north-west of Donegal. It measures just 30 m wide and is only 21 m above the sea. This Bill has no direct implications regarding Ireland's claim to Rockall, but it is discussed. Given there has been no engagement on this issue in recent years, we certainly must exert our rights as a small sovereign nation and embrace this matter. We have not really claimed sovereignty over Rockall but this position is in accordance with the UNCLOS. As an uninhabitable rock, Rockall has no significance in establishing claims to either the continental shelf or exclusive economic zones.

However, in replies to parliamentary questions on 25 June 2019 and 26 November 2020 on the progress made in having the international community, including the European Union and the United Nations, recognise Ireland's sovereignty over Rockall, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, replied:

The UK claimed sovereignty over Rockall in 1955 and purported to annex it under its 1972 Island of Rockall Act.

While Ireland has never recognised British sovereignty [nor should we] over Rockall, neither have we ever sought to claim sovereignty ourselves.

There is a dichotomy there and a lacuna. Why have we not done that? I believe we must claim sovereignty. The Minister continued his reply by stating "The consistent position of successive Irish Governments has been that Rockall and similar rocks and skerries should have no significance for establishing legal claims to continental shelf or an exclusive economic zone." I do not know why we do not make a claim. I cannot understand it. If we own Rockall and if it is ours, then we should be claiming sovereignty over it. We should be resisting other nations trying to claim sovereignty because, goodness knows, they have enough already, and we had enough of a job for hundreds of years getting them out of this country.

Turning to the sea, the development of wave energy, the use of the sea and the role it plays in climate change, Members will be debating the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 tomorrow evening. It has been rushed. I do not know why we have not had proper public consultation regarding that Bill, proper time to debate it and proper engagement with the communities concerned, including our offshore communities. I recently listened to contributions in this regard from Deputies Connolly and Boyd Barrett concerning some developers now moving to embrace opportunities at sea. Those developers have scant regard for the sea, its amenities, fish stocks or any other life in the sea. Instead, they are just bulldozing ahead as if they can do whatever they like out there, because it is not accessible for people to see what is going on. That is not the way to develop our energy sources and sustainable solutions.

Moving to the subject of plastics, I refer to the amount of that material in the sea and which is washed up after every tide. I salute the volunteers on many strands and beaches who do great work in recovering waste material and in trying to save the bird and fish life from being choked with these plastics. Masks are now a major issue as well because they are being dumped on the streets and they all end up in the rivers and then in the sea. There must be protection in this regard. On the matter of not protecting our valuable sea resources, we listen to the United Nations and I heard Deputy Connolly quoting the former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore, and others, in her contribution earlier. We must, therefore, take heed and look after what is in the sea.

Turning to fishermen and the incident in Cork raised by Deputy Michael Collins concerning an Irish boat being interfered with by a foreign trawler in our waters and the lack of response from the navy for several hours, that occurred because the navy has been run down to nothing. I am not blaming the naval personnel. I do not know the circumstances but to take that many hours to respond to that kind of a serious incident is quite shocking. The fishermen must have some belief and safety in knowing that when they are out there at sea doing their legal day's work, and a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, which they are not getting any more, they will be protected and know that the navy can be called upon. My goodness, if one of those fishermen misbehaved-----

5:35 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I am sorry to interrupt, but is the Deputy sharing time? Is it with Deputy Michael Collins, whom I see is here?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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No, I am sharing time with Deputy Michael Healy-Rae. Deputy Collins has already spoken on this Bill. Is Deputy Michael Healy-Rae here?

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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No, he is not. The Deputy can continue.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for that information. I was just getting into top gear with the navy. I do not know the name of the ship, but we have very few of them now and the navy also has fewer personnel. I have no direct experience in this area, but I have learned a great deal from the experience of my colleague, Deputy Michael Collins. He is one of the hardest working Deputies to ever come out of Cork South-West. I refer to what he has done for the fishing sector. I remember the day of the protests in Cork, when he left here to go down to those protests and then came back up here to resume his duties and to speak on behalf of those fishermen. There was an attempt by the Taoiseach to belittle Deputy Michael Collins.

He has not corrected the record of this House. We have written to the Ceann Comhairle on the matter and are waiting for the Taoiseach to correct the record. He suggested that Deputy Michael Collins was seeking personal favours from him but Deputy Collins never asked for such or looked for such and the Taoiseach needs to withdraw that suggestion. Whether it was made in the heat of battle or in the crossfire, he should not be saying things that are totally without foundation. He was being totally disingenuous towards a hard-working Deputy but the people of Cork South-West have recognised his hard work and put him back here.

The navy has been and is often quick to impound or board our own vessels in Ireland. If there is any sign of a misdemeanour, the navy will board a vessel, impound it and bring it back to port and the skippers of same will face consequences. We have a ridiculous legislative situation in the fishing industry that does not apply anywhere else. If I get penalty points on my driver licence - and I got two once - after a certain amount of time, thank God, they diminish. Fishers can be proved innocent in court but the penalty points will remain on their record. This is a bizarre situation. Since 1973 and our accession to the EU, we have lost out. The fishers of Ireland have been sold out and let down. In the most recent talks, we have been completely abandoned. We have information to the effect that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue - I have nothing personal against him - did not even open his mouth at some of the meetings. Was there some sort of side deal done whereby we would give them all the fish they wanted, they could take our waters and plunder them, if we got something else? If so, the something else was very little. We are getting less than €1 billion out of the recovery fund and sadly, half of that has been ring-fenced by the Government for green initiatives. I have nothing at all against green initiatives. I am very much in favour of them but we must have balance here. I support An Taisce and the work it does in schools, with Tidy Towns committees and so on. I support the work it does in the educational area in particular, with the green schools initiative but we must be proportionate in our dealings with the rest of the economy. We cannot just go off on this fanciful journey of introducing green legislation with no impact analysis.

To return to the issue of fishing and this legislation, I have made my point about pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation was also required. An earlier contributor mentioned town hall meetings, which could not be held. A lot of things have slipped through without any proper consultation. We need to ensure that our waters are protected. We have a serious issue with drugs being imported by sea and there is no proper protection in place in that regard.

Mar focal scor, on the issue of plastics, we have a number of operators in Ireland who collect farm plastics. They are doing their best to keep the environment safe. We do not want any plastic ending up in the sea. However, we do not need a cabal to take over the collection of plastic, as it has, because it will diminish and destroy the single operators who did great work. They were pioneers. I know of one operator in my own area and one in Deputy Michael Collin's town of Bandon who pioneered the collection of plastic. The gentleman I know is a comhairleoir i gContae Phort Láirge, Councillor Declan Doocey. He is a hard-working family businessman who now has huge stocks of plastic on his land and is being prosecuted for that. He could not export the plastic but when he got a market for it, the cabal to which I referred, the Irish Farm Film Producers Group, IFFPG, decided to undermine him, go cheaper and close his contracts. This is not good enough. Why can we not support ordinary people in this country doing ordinary things? Why does greed always have to come into it? Some former members of a national farming organisation saw an opportunity and set up this group. They have been complaining for all of their lives about the cartels in the beef industry and now there is a cartel in the plastic recycling industry and the likes of Declan Doocey and others, one-man operators employing a couple of people and giving a very valuable service to the farmers of south Tipperary, north Tipperary, west Waterford, south Kilkenny and east Cork are being forced out of business and cast aside. They are being diminished and it is not good enough. The IFFPG people appeared before the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and were questioned by Deputy Michael Collins and others but they were not truthful and did not give us the full story. They got out through the gap, laughing. There are people out there who are willing, ready and able to collect the plastic for recycling in order that it does not end up in the sea but this cabal-type outfit got together and has sucked them up. Big is not always wonderful or powerful. The small operations, the one-man operators, whether they are showbands, agricultural contractors or lorry drivers, are all fighting for support following Covid. They are doing a great job. The Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, will understand the issue of farm plastics because he is involved in agriculture himself. What the former members of a farmers' organisation that have set up this group are doing to the smaller collectors is not good enough. Above all we do not want the plastic in our ditches, dykes, drains, rivers or our seas.

I will not say much more on this Bill except that I am extremely disappointed with it. Given the Minister of State's interest in many issues, he cannot be happy with this Bill either or with the lack of public consultation, pre-legislative scrutiny and above all, impact analysis. All legislation requires that. We debated a Bill some months ago which renewed criminal legislation. A full 18 or 20 years had passed before there was any impact analysis done on that legislation. Every Bill should contain a date, after a suitable bedding-in period, for an impact analysis to determine whether it is fulfilling the functions it was set out to fulfil, whether it is fit for purpose and above all, whether there are any glaring anomalies or holes in it that could leave it open to legal challenge. Such analysis should also determine whether it sits well with the public and serves the public we are elected to represent in this House. That is very important. The fishermen of Ireland are not being served well by public representatives in this House, with a couple of notable exceptions. The Taoiseach name-dropped a few Deputies on the Order of Business. Let other Deputies do their own work but the Taoiseach should not try to take from the work of Deputy Michael Collins, who is an outstanding representative of the fishermen. I understand that the fishermen are coming to protest here next Wednesday and I look forward to meeting them.

5:45 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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As there are no other contributors to the debate, I now invite the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Heydon, to respond.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond on this important Bill. I thank Deputies for their consideration of the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill and for their contributions to this Second Stage debate. As the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, indicated in his opening statement, this Bill will update and clarify the law relating to the maritime jurisdiction of the State in a single, accessible, stand-alone enactment. It describes the different maritime zones and the national jurisdiction recognised by international law. It sets out the State's sovereign and jurisdictional rights in each of those zones and confers powers on the Government to delineate the zones in domestic law. As Deputy Brophy pointed out, how the State then decides to exercise those jurisdictional rights is left to separate legislation and is beyond the scope of this Bill.

I wish to address a number of the points made by Deputies during the debate. Today a number of Deputies, including Deputies Connolly, Mattie McGrath and Mac Lochlainn raised concerns about the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill. I am informed that pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill was waived by the relevant Oireachtas committee, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. That was a decision of the committee, which is its right. Oireachtas committees are entitled to make such decisions but the Government did not ask for scrutiny to be waived. It was not a request of the Government but a decision of an Oireachtas committee. Members of the committee can answer as to why they felt it was opportune to do so but-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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On a point of clarification, I am a member of the Business Committee and I must interrupt the Minister of State. We get waiver requests all of the time from Departments. If the Government did not request it, how did the committee grant it? That needs to be clarified.

Photo of Martin HeydonMartin Heydon (Kildare South, Fine Gael)
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Committees have the right to waive pre-legislative scrutiny because they will be doing it. It is in a committee's gift to do so. When I was on committees, members would decide whether pre-legislative scrutiny was warranted. That is the role of Oireachtas committees and they have the right to make that decision. I would also like to put it on the record that officials from the Department made themselves available to Deputies and were happy to provide detailed briefings to the Opposition Members who requested same.

A lot of the points made during the debate relate to issues that are beyond the scope of this Bill. A lot of the issues related to this Bill will be dealt with under different legislation. Most of the points raised in the debate are not specific to this Bill and are outside its scope. That said, those elements that do come within the scope of the Bill can be the subject of amendments on Committee Stage. Consideration will be given to this debate and the points raised here will be borne in mind as part of that process.

I would also like to address the issue of the exclusion of Irish fishing vessels from the 12-mile zone around Rockall, which has been raised by numerous Deputies. I assure Deputies that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is working closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs on this issue. As Deputies will be aware, the Government's long-standing position has been that remote rocks in the middle of the ocean that cannot support human habitation should not be subject to claims of sovereignty by any state. It is for that reason that no Irish Government has ever made such a claim, nor has it recognised the UK's 1955 claim to Rockall. Traditionally, we have treated the waters around Rockall as part of the UK's exclusive economic zone and, therefore, while the UK was a member of the EU, part of the EU's waters opened to the vessels of all member states. We did not recognise a 12-mile territorial sea around it.

The Government has been in contact with the relevant Scottish and UK authorities about Rockall in recent years and intensively so since the beginning of this year but clearly the issue has become more complex since Brexit. The Minister for Foreign Affairs discussed the matter directly with his then Scottish counterpart, former Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell, before the recent Scottish election. Contacts have resumed since the election and we continue to engage with the Scottish side. We are committed to addressing the issues involved, reflecting the long-standing fisheries tradition in the area.

I would also like to take this opportunity to address a related issue raised during the debate, namely, the 2013 agreement between Ireland and the UK establishing boundaries between the exclusive economic zones of the two countries. That 2013 agreement builds on the 1988 agreement, which established continental shelf boundaries between Ireland and the UK. It provides that the continental shelf boundaries should also serve as the boundaries between the exclusive economic zones. As the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, has explained, the exclusive economic zone is the water column that sits above the continental shelf out to a maximum distance of 200 nautical miles from the coast. By using the 1988 boundaries with the 2013 agreement, a single maritime boundary was established between 12 and 200 miles, both in the water and on the seabed beneath.

I should add that Rockall should not be confused with the extensive Hatton-Rockall continental shelf area, which extends westward beyond the Rockall trough and into the north-east Atlantic to a distance of more than 500 nautical miles from Ireland and Britain. The rock of Rockall is the only part of the Hatton-Rockall continental shelf that protrudes above the water. The 1988 agreement divided the Hatton-Rockall area between Ireland and the UK, although that agreement is not accepted by Iceland or Denmark, which make competing claims to the area but not to the rock. Rockall was irrelevant to determining the 1988 boundaries. Nothing in either the 1988 agreement or the 2013 agreement altered Ireland's long-standing position on Rockall, nor does either agreement have any implications for the present difficulties between Ireland and Scotland over fishing within 12 miles of Rockall.

Offshore available energy was also referred to during the debate. The question of where offshore wind farms would be located, including matters relating to minimum distances from shore, will be addressed within the framework of the forthcoming maritime planning and development management Bill. Questions relating to the planning permission for wind farms are beyond the scope of the maritime jurisdiction Bill. What I can say at this stage is that there is no provision in Irish law for licensing a wind farm outside the 12-mile limit of the territorial sea. The Bill sets out clearly that the State has jurisdiction to license such developments in the 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The maritime planning and development management Bill, in turn, will make detailed provision for how this is to be carried out, including in planning permissions. The programme for Government contains a commitment to developing a long-term plan for the production of at least 30 GW of offshore floating wind power in our deeper waters in the Atlantic.

A number of Deputies raised issues relating to fisheries in general. While I understand the concerns that have led to Deputies raising these issues here, I am afraid that they lie beyond the scope of this Bill. However, the Government is well aware of these matters. I assure Deputies that they are receiving attention within the relevant frameworks.

It is important to recognise that we cannot provide in our domestic law for rights or jurisdiction that exceed what is permitted by international law. As I have explained, for each maritime zone international law establishes a suite of rights and obligations for the coastal state, which balances another suite of rights and obligations for all other states whose vessels and citizens may share that ocean space. The development of maritime zones in international law has been an essential element in reducing both conflicts at sea and conflicts between states caused by competing claims to uses of the sea.

I wish to thank Deputies for their careful consideration of the Bill this afternoon and during the previous debate. It is my pleasure to commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.