Wednesday, 15 September 2021
Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021: Second Stage
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will indulge me for 20 seconds, I have been made aware of comments made during today's Order of Business, and I would like to clarify that the remarks I made about the first home shared equity scheme relate to an aspect of the scheme that was informed by engagement with the Central Bank of Ireland. The scheme is being designed as an equity product rather than being a debt on the purchaser, which is important. I have consistently made that point in response to Opposition claims that the shared equity scheme is debt-based; it is not. It is an equity scheme. Through parliamentary questions and speeches on the affordable housing scheme, as recently as June, I have repeatedly stated that the operational details of the first home shared equity scheme are currently being finalised. I stated, "Work on the detailed design of the proposed scheme is ongoing and at an advanced stage", as recently as June in a response to a parliamentary question. I wanted to clarify that and thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for her indulgence.
Today I present the Maritime Area Planning Bill to Dáil, which was initiated in August of this year. The Bill is the most significant legislative reform of maritime governance since the foundation of the State. It seeks to establish a coherent and comprehensive marine planning system to manage development and other activities in Ireland's seas, which are one of the largest maritime areas in the EU and seven times larger than our land mass. It covers an area of almost 500,000 sq. km.
This is once-in-a-generation legislation. It is a cross-government initiative, led by my Department, and is another key commitment in our programme for Government. In preparing this ambitious Bill, we have listened to all stakeholders and balanced their needs in a fair and equitable manner that has the citizen at the heart of the process. It has been said that we have not inherited the Earth from our parents but rather we have borrowed it from our children and, as such, the Bill is the key legal enabler for long-term protection and sustainable development of the maritime area for the next generation, including the envisaged expansion of the offshore renewable energy sector, which is required to meet Ireland's 2030 climate goals in an integrated and sustainable manner.
The original Foreshore Act was designed to manage a gentle pace and intensity of marine use. It will be replaced by a marine planning system for the 21st century, designed to work for all types of development from the smallest boathouse to the largest offshore renewable energy project in a way that protects our oceans through rigorous environmental assessment.
The new system is based around four key pillars. One is inclusive forward planning through the National Marine Planning Framework, NMPF, with comprehensive sub-national planning. Another is the establishment of a game-changing new entity, the maritime area regulatory authority, which will be known as MARA. It will be based in Wexford. Another pillar is development management through a structured sequential consenting system. The final pillar is robust provisions for investigation, enforcement action and penalties.
The Bill provides the necessary legislative toolset for participatory forward planning, well-regulated development, streamlined consenting and comprehensive environmental assessment of proposals.
The Bill is part of a wider package of ongoing marine reform including: the State's first marine spatial plan, the national marine planning framework, NMPF, which I established in June of this year and is the existing plan in our plan-led approach; the Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2021 that confirms the extent of our maritime area; and separate legislation for marine protected areas for which public consultation on the first stage of this work has just concluded.
On forward planning, Parts I and 2 of the Bill restate and augment the marine forward planning provisions of thePlanning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018. A high-level marine planning policy statement will guide all marine policies. Designated maritime area plans will provide for comprehensive sub-national planning. Prepared by a designated competent authority, underpinned by a mandatory publicparticipation statement and subject to my oversight and Oireachtas approval, specific designated maritime area plans may include allowed or restricted usages, spatial designations, if any, and mitigating or beneficial measures.
Part 3 of the Bill establishes a new agency called the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority. MARA will administer and enforce marine property consent and licences and ensure compliance with offshore development consents. The establishment of MARA is the physical embodiment of this Government's maritime ambitions and will be transformational in Ireland's marine governance, creating a centre of excellence, independent decision-making and proactive enforcement. MARA will be one of the fulcrums of inter-agency collaboration needed to properly harness and protect our ocean wealth.
A new property consenting regime is established by Part 4 of this Bill. Maritime area consent, MAC, in essence considers the person applying and financial terms of occupation. Granted maritime area consents will govern the relationship between the State and the holder, place necessary obligations on the holder and ensure appropriate returns to the State.Maritime area consent holders will have no right to occupy or develop until the public have had their say and the project detail is fully assessed and planning permission granted.
The consenting for development and other activities in the maritime area is dealt with in two ways. First, the terrestrial planning permission regime, augmented by marine-specific considerations, will be extended to the whole maritime area. This is done in Part 8 of the Bill. An Bord Pleanåla and local authorities will carry out the required planning and environmental assessments of projects in a manner familiar to the public, with all of the associated opportunities for submissions and observations and with the national marine planning framework at the top of the decision-making hierarchy. The granting of a MAC is conditional on receiving planning permission. In short, no one can occupy the maritime space until the project has been fully assessed and the public have had their say, both at plan making and project stages.
Part 5 introduces a new centralised licensing regime, operated by MARA. This regime will ensure proportional, time-bound and joined-up consideration of activities ranging from the harvesting of seaweed to pre-development survey works without clogging up the already pressurised planning permission system.
On enforcement, the seas are a precious resource and we will ensure they are adequately protected from those who would do them harm. Part 6 of this Bill provides MARA with strong powers of investigation, enforcement, prosecution and collaboration with other State bodies that manage our seas and will be a real force for the State into the future.
This Bill ensures that the MARA and local authorities have teeth when it comes to enforcement in the maritime area. The enforcement provisions set out in this Bill are our first line of defence in that regard. There is a lot to this legislation. Much of it is new and we have not shied away from developing fresh concepts as well as including ways of doing things that have worked well on land. We have informed ourselves of things that work successfully in other jurisdictions and we have been guided by input from across Government. On that note, I particularly want to thank the joint Oireachtas committee, chaired by Deputy Steven Matthews, and all its members, for the pre-legislative scrutiny report it produced. I am pleased to report that the majority of the recommendations put forward by the committee have been reflected in this text.
I thank in particular our officials who have worked extremely hard and diligently, not just over the past 12 months but for a number of years, on this very important legislation. The Government and I are determined that we strike the right balance between the three, sometimes competing, pillars of sustainable development: protecting the health of our ocean, which is crucially important; enhancing our social engagement with the sea; and developing a thriving maritime economy. I believe these pillars can coexist through proper, conscientious long-term planning working in tandem with robust, fair and transparent consenting regimes. That belief is reflected in this legislation.
In conclusion, I look forward to our debate on the Bill's provisions. I will seek to respond to any specific questions and will engage further on Committee Stage. I commend this Bill to the House.
On a point of order, when a Bill is introduced the Minister would normally take us through the relevant sections. Is there a particular reason he has not done that? It is very unusual.
I am not entering a debate but I would have made my clarification by now if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle had allowed me the same latitude she gave the Minister. That is all I am asking for. On 24 June last year, the Minister said that the "shared equity scheme is focused on those who need it most. It will work. It has been passed by the Central Bank, has received approval...". That was what the Minister told the House last June. We knew that was not the case because we wrote to the Central Bank, which stated it was not. He said the same thing again on "Prime Time" last week. I presume the Minister is trying to say he misspoke rather than misled both the Dáil and the good viewers of RTÉ. I accept his clarification.
With respect to the Bill, this is incredibly important legislation. It is also, as Deputy Boyd Barrett pointed out, incredibly complex. It runs to 245 pages and has 181 sections. Significantly, there are 22 pages of detailed amendments to the planning and development Acts, which Deputies who have been in the House longer than I have already know is very complex, unwieldy and at times contradictory legislation. I say all that because while the officials have done an incredible piece of work in bringing the legislation to this stage, this House now has the onerous task of ensuring we give this legislation due and detailed consideration. The Minister is right. This is once-in-a-generation legislation. It will define all planning applications for an area seven times the size of the State's landmass for 30, 40 or 50 years and, therefore, if we get it right we will have what everybody in this House wants - a marine planning regime fit for purpose to suit the varied interests of people using it.
If, as has too often been the case in the past, we do not get it right, we will come back again and again, either through legislation, the courts or the European courts, to correct things that elected Members have a duty to get right at this stage. It is, therefore, very important that the Government and the Oireachtas housing committee give sufficient time to this. I cannot see that being a problem.
I would also ask the Minister to make his officials available for any level of technical briefings that the committee or individual members of it may want in advance of Committee Stage to ensure we fully understand this complex legislation.
The Minister said the majority of the 29 very detailed recommendations made by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage in its prelegislative scrutiny report are reflected in the Bill. I submitted a parliamentary question today requesting the Minister to set out in table form exactly where in the Bill they are dealt with and to what extent. That would be really helpful. That has been asked as a genuine question. I would be grateful if the Minister would respond to it.
I have a concern, based on my first and second reading of the Bill, that some key aspects of what we asked for are not fully reflected. I will tease through some of them more as questions than as comments because they are important. One of the biggest areas of concern at the prelegislative scrutiny stage was the lag between the planning regime, which is in front of us, and the marine protected areas legislation, which we have been told will be brought forward later in the year. I find it hard to imagine we will get that, get through it and have it enacted by the end of the year, although we would be facilitative of it if that could be the case. Even if it is passed early next year, it might be up to two or three years before the designation of marine protected areas takes place after that. That is a very long and slow process. That then creates obvious problems with the immediate applications, whether it be for marine area consent or subsequent planning applications and the transitional projects that will follow the passing of this Bill. I am still of the view, as the committee was, that these two measures should have been done in parallel but, given that they are not, I do not see in this Bill what interim protections will be put in place for areas that are likely to be designated as marine protected areas. What additional protections can be put in place to address all of that? Also, what additional level of public participation, particularly for experts and environmental NGOs which have much expertise in this area, will be given? Notwithstanding the long timelag between the passing of the planning regime and the planning applications that will follow, and the designation of the marine protected areas, what can be done to ensure they are, notwithstanding the lack of former protection, protected nonetheless?
Section 6 deals with the marine planning policy statement about which I have a significant concern. It seems this will be developed without any public participation from sectoral organisations, academic experts or the wider public. If my reading of that section is the case, that is very considerable flaw. It may well be in conflict with the Article 15.2 of the Constitution and with our international obligations under the Aarhus Convention. I would have thought a policy statement of that nature would be developed not only by the Minister and the Department but in partnership with all those other agencies, namely, the public, academic and specialised environmental NGOs, which would bring their expertise to bear. Perhaps I am missing something in that section but that is how it reads to me.
Are the ministerial guidelines in section 7, which sets out the procedure for issuing ministerial planning guidelines, mandatory? Do they have the same force, for example, as the highly controversial mandatory ministerial guidelines that apply to building heights and design standards in terrestrial planning? If they are mandatory, why bother calling them guidelines? What not just say exactly what they are, namely, directives? That would make it much easier for everybody to live with. Again, there seems to be virtually no public or, importantly, Oireachtas participation or consultation in the issuing of those. That gives me some cause for concern. I would be interested to hear the Minister's views on that.
The marine planning framework review will take place after six years, as I understand from section 17, but best practice internationally would provide for an interim review after a year. That is an insertion the Minister should make on Committee or Report Stage. Certainly, it is an amendment I intend to introduce. Given the controversial way the marine planning framework was introduced without a vote of the Oireachtas or having been properly scrutinised by the Dáil, I would have thought an interim review would provide an opportunity to tease out some of those matters and for the Opposition and the Government to reach a level of agreement on them, which we did not have when the marine planning framework was originally approved.
With respect to the designated maritime area plans which come under section 20, I am unclear as to who can become a competent authority, designated by a capital "D" and against what criteria that competent authority would be determined. It would be helpful to have some clarity on that.
Protected sites are referred to in section 21(2)(c). These are the already designated sites. That is only a tiny fraction of what we should have reached by 2020, let alone what we have to reach by 2030. Could proposed protected areas also be included in this section? That goes back to the an earlier point I made. Could some form of interim protections be included in advance of any designation for a maritime area plan for example? My big worry is that if we do not do that, we could unintentionally see significant further deterioration of our biodiversity or, even if there is not further deterioration of it, we could not necessarily see a restoration of the biodiversity loss we have experienced to date.
The marine area regulatory authority has been very nicely given the acronym, MARA, and whoever thought that up should get a badge or star. Part 3 deals with the establishment of the new agency. If that is done right it will be a major addition to the regulatory infrastructure, not only of the marine but of the State. However, that means it needs to be fully independent and it needs to have the appropriate level of staff and board expertise, skills and experience. I am not saying there is anything in the Bill that suggests it would not have that, but that is something about which I would keen to hear more from the officials in a briefing and more from the Minister in his reply to this debate or on Committee Stage. This Part is very detailed. I have many questions on it but I do not have time to go through them now. I would be pleased if we could deal with them at future engagements.
Part 4 deals with maritime area consent. Deputy Boyd Barrett will note I am trying to do my best to talk him through as many of the sections as possible. The Part deals with the granting of the marine area consents as well as changes to consents, interim consents and surrender of consents. It is important people understand all of those provisions that are included. This Part also deals with the rehabilitation of security requirements. This is really important particularly in the context of the ongoing disaster that is Derrybrien, which is costing not only the people of that part of Ireland enormous stress and strain but the State very considerable sums of taxpayers’ money on a daily basis. The big omission in it is the absence of any public participation. Again, if I am wrong, I ask the Minister to correct me and detail that in his reply to the debate. Why have prescribed bodies not being included in this process? It would have seemed to me, even if there is not a wider public participation process, that including prescribed bodies that would ordinarily be included and their expert opinion sought in the terrestrial planning process would be very good here. It would strengthen the decision-making process and if it were to do that, it would strengthen the quality of the decision at the end, which would have a knock-on positive effect for the overall planning grant. That is something we all want to see. I have some concerns about whether this particular gap is in line with our requirements under the Aarhus Convention. I am particularly concerned with how it will deal with the transitionary projects - the key first round of applications for those projects that are already in the pipeline and will be key for us to meet our renewable energy targets for 2030.
The last area I want to mention is the sections that deal with judicial review. I have a very strong view that the courts are the last place to be making complex planning decisions on land or in the maritime, but restricting people’s access to justice is not the right way to deal with that. It is not the best way to reduce the volume of planning-related judicial reviews in our courts. There is a narrative that is growing ever louder, namely, that somehow a portion, if not a large volume, of the judicial reviews working their way through our courts are vexatious. Some 68% of applications for judicial review are rejected. The suggestion that any of those that are not rejected and get leave to be heard are somehow vexatious seems not only to cast aspersions on our Judiciary but to challenge the independence of the Judiciary to make those kinds of decisions. There is a very significant bar that justices have to adhere to. If restricting access to justice is not the right approach, what is the right approach to reduce the level of judicial reviews, a matter on which we are agreed? In my view it is the best possible transposition of EU environmental directives, full compliance with the Aarhus Convention and involving the greatest possible participation of the public and sectoral interests at the earliest moment in the planning process so that people feel they have adequate buy-in.
It also involves ensuring that, when planning decisions are made, particularly in respect of large offshore wind projects, they are made in a way that protects our marine biodiversity as well as the economic and social well-being of our coastal communities and inshore fishermen and fisherwomen.
I therefore have concerns, especially regarding sections 103 and 104, which deal with judicial reviews and maritime area consents. I believe these provisions seek to restrict access to justice, particularly for environmental non-governmental organisations. If that is the case, that is a mistake. I am also convinced these sections are not compliant with the Aarhus Convention. Likewise, section 128(1) appears to be an attempt to restrict access to justice. This could also be in strong conflict with section 50B(1) of the Planning and Development Act 2000. I am on the same page as the Government in wanting to get stuff out of the courts but I have a very different set of propositions as to how to do that. I would like the Minister to consider that matter.
Before I hand over to my colleague, I will make some general concluding remarks. My strong view and that of our party is we need to ensure the competing demands regarding the use of the maritime area are addressed in a way that preserves and protects marine biodiversity, respects the interests of coastal communities and inshore fishermen and fisherwomen and provides the greatest possible level of public participation in all aspects of marine planning. If we strike the right balance, the desire we all have to see significant progress in the development of large-scale offshore renewable wind energy projects can be achieved. We are all on the same page with regard to that objective. However, if we do not strike that balance correctly, and there are areas of this Bill where that may be the case, not only will there be further losses in environment and biodiversity, but there will also be a real risk of additional legal challenges. We do not want additional legal challenges resulting in much-needed renewable wind energy projects being held up in either the Irish or European courts.
I made exactly the same point back when Deputy Coveney was introducing the strategic housing development legislation. Many of us on the Opposition benches, including the Minister's colleague, Deputy Cowen, who was on the committee at the time, warned that, if we were to go down the strategic housing development route, planning would not be sped up and, in fact, many projects would end up in judicial review. That has proven correct. The Minister is now doing the right thing and ending that process. We are engaging with him on the legislation. I am urging us not to make the same mistake in this legislation if we are at all able. If the Minister takes that approach and works with those of us in the Opposition to improve aspects of the Bill that could be improved, we will be able to pass this Bill. It will involve much work over the coming period but will result in the greatest degree of unanimity possible. It is possible to do this. It is being done in the Netherlands, in Denmark and in Scotland. I know the Minister's officials have paid very close attention to these models of good practice.
Again, I am coming to this not in any sort of adversarial spirit. I wish to work collaboratively to understand this very complex legislation. I appeal to the Minister and his officials to work with Members on the Opposition benches, or indeed on the Minister's own backbenches, who raise any legitimate concerns so that this does not end up the same way as the marine planning framework, which got bogged down in a battle which was never political but which was based on the genuine concerns from the Opposition, and so that we get the best possible marine planning regime, one which is in the interests of all sections of our community.
My colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, has substantively responded to the Bill on behalf of our party. My responsibility, as our fisheries spokesperson, is to speak for the fishermen I am engaging with up and down the coast. The Minister will know from the protest held outside the convention centre in recent times that there is real anger across our coastal communities that they have not historically received their fair share of the fish in our waters. Of course, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement made that situation worse with another 15% of our quota lost, resulting in tens of millions lost every year. To put that into context, we have at least 12% of the entirety of the waters within the European Union but get 4% of the fish. What does that mean? It means we lose thousands and thousands of jobs in coastal communities every year and hundreds of millions of euros. That is the context in which the Minister is presenting this proposition to fishermen. There is a distrust of those in positions of political leadership because of historical failures.
I have spoken to fishermen up and down the coast about this issue. Of course, they are not opposed to offshore energy generation. They are intelligent people. They understand we need to meet the State's responsibilities. They merely ask to be genuinely consulted and that their traditional fishing grounds be respected. I understand the industry states this is also its desire. The task facing the Minister in this legislation is to ensure there are robust measures in place regarding consultation, especially with coastal and fishing communities, so that they will genuinely be partners in this process. They are not there to prevent the establishment of offshore energy projects in this State. They just want to make sure they can fish.
A comment has struck me again and again. I put to some fishermen the idea of increased financial supports when they are tied up. They are increasingly forced to fish for lobster and crab. Access to mackerel, herring and other fish such as spurdog has been denied to them, so they are squeezed more and more. I talked about financial supports and subsidies and it struck me that people on a number of piers said they just want to fish like those who came before them. Of course, they want to do so sustainably. They asked for officials of the Marine Institute to go out with them and officials of the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority to come out to the pier to examine what they are landing. They said they just want to fish sustainably. That is all our coastal communities want to do. I believe we can do both. These ideas are not in conflict with one another.
The marine resource is immense. The protection of marine biodiversity is the responsibility of all. I appeal to the Minister, as did my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, to get this legislation right. There have obviously been substantive submissions from inshore fishermen's organisations and others into this process. I ask that, at the various stages, these groups are heard and engaged with. If we do this right, we might get legislation which strikes the right balance and does justice to all stakeholders.
Deputy Sherlock will be following Deputy Howlin. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. As we know, it provides a legislative framework for a new streamlined development consent process for activities in the maritime area, including offshore renewable projects. As has been said many times in this debate, our sea area is seven times the size of our land mass. As an island nation with one of the largest seabed territories in Europe, this Bill will be essential in shaping the future of marine areas and developing a spatial strategy for that entire area. If done correctly, it will help scale up our renewable energy capacity and protect our coastal communities and marine habitats while also providing a foundation for what need to be sustainable fishing and tourism sectors.
As have others, I note that environmental NGOs such as An Taisce, the Irish Wildlife Trust and the Sustainable Water Network, in addition to some in our inshore fishing community, have voiced their dissatisfaction with the prior consultation process. As far as they are concerned, this has not adequately considered many of the issues they have raised in the required depth. However, we are well aware, particularly in the context of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, that we cannot delay any longer with regard to the development of renewable energy, such as offshore wind. That sector will be enabled by this unprecedented legislation. That being said, good consultation is always key, as I hope the Minister would accept, as is parliamentary scrutiny. I know the Minister will understand and appreciate that and will engage with the committee on amendments and so on.
The Labour Party supports the thrust of this Bill, especially with regard to the need to address the current lack of cohesion around Ireland's marine planning consent regimes and the confusion and duplication this causes. Anybody who represents a coastal community or constituency will understand the concerns people have and the problems that have arisen in respect of the range of different agencies and organisations involved, the planning consents and so on and how these affect economic and environmental development in our coastal areas.
We are also conscious that the passing of this Bill with appropriate amendments will be essential in helping Ireland to reach its climate action and renewable energy targets, particularly in enabling the scaling-up of offshore renewable energy.
To achieve our climate action goals, we will have to lean heavily on renewable energy and offshore wind energy will play an enormous part in that. Ireland needs to harness its potential to be a world leader in wind energy as part of a broader new industrial strategy, aside from meeting our climate action targets. The case of Denmark, a similar-sized country, is illustrative. Since the oil crisis in the 1970s, the Danes have invested heavily to become world leaders in wind energy and turbine production, having the world's largest wind turbine industry with 90% of its output exported. Consequently, the country has the highest proportion of wind power in the world, accounting for a little under half of its total electricity consumption. This has drastically cut its carbon emissions and decreased citizens' energy bills and the country's dependence on imported fossil fuels, which are subject to geopolitical and price instability.
We need to take this example as a model of best practice and apply it here. If we are ambitious enough, Ireland can become the next superpower in renewable energy and produce up to 5,000 MW of offshore wind energy by 2030. Wind power has the potential to transform our country in a similar way to how oil transformed the economies of the Gulf states. Respected economists have written and commented about this. We have the potential to achieve energy independence and become an exporter of clean power to the EU grid. If we are to achieve this, we must have a national strategy that does not allow us to fall prey to the so-called resource paradox we have seen in other resource-rich countries, wherein strategic assets are sold off and privatised without any public gain.
A significant part of the emergence of the Danish wind success story was the birth of local community wind co-operatives. For instance, Denmark requires 20% of all renewable energy projects to be offered to local communities with 67% of onshore wind energy coming from citizen-owned parks in 2016. Such wind farm developments, whether onshore or offshore, work best when there is active stakeholder consultation and participation and community involvement from beginning to end and where local communities benefit directly and indirectly from the sites.
I urge the Minister and Government to examine the Danish experience in the context of this Bill and of broader Government policy to strengthen community involvement, co-ownership and acceptance of offshore wind projects. While the need for offshore renewable energy and energy security is clear, we also have to strive to protect the delicate ecology of our seas. Our climate and biodiversity crises are inextricably linked. As a recent joint report from the UN's leading climate change and biodiversity bodies stated, we can either solve both crises or solve neither.
The Labour Party has been at the forefront of biodiversity protection along with climate action. In our latest manifesto we made a clear promise to set up maritime conservation zones to allow Irish fish stocks to recover. Such marine protected areas are necessary and are obligatory under the EU's maritime spatial planning directive, which states that countries must have an ecosystems-based, sustainable approach in respect of marine planning frameworks. The process of scaling up designation of MPAs in Ireland to 30% of maritime area over the next decade is welcome. As it stands, however, as was referenced earlier, there is minimal participation of Ireland seas, covering just over 10,000 sq. km. At just 2% of Ireland's total maritime area of nearly 500,000 sq. km, this is among the lowest in the world. We are falling short of our international and commitments in this regard. Significant concerns have been expressed by environmental experts on this issue, particularly about the incredibly slow progress by Government until now in the context of marine protected areas. Professor Crowe of the UCD Earth Institute stated: "Current Irish legislation does not define MPAs and is limited in its ability to enable the conservation of many of Ireland’s threatened or important species, habitats and other marine features of biological or cultural significance." His report concludes, and this view is shared by other experts and environmental groups, that Ireland's network of protected areas "cannot be considered coherent, representative, connected or resilient or to be meeting Ireland’s international commitments and legal obligations."
We know from the experience of other EU countries that such legislation may take two to three years to pass, be enacted and come into effect. I urge Government to strengthen and implement any interim measures it can to protect areas of the marine environment in the meantime. I extend my party's support to this Bill. We look forward to proposing more detailed amendments on the issues I raised and those that others may raise in this debate at later stages of the legislative process.
I thank our spokesperson for affording me five minutes to contribute to a Bill that runs to 245 pages. As one not known for short speeches, I will do my best to touch on one or two aspects of this. The Long Title begins, "An Act to regulate the marine area". That is a mouthful and that is an ambition. It is to regulate an area that is seven times the size of our land mass. We are doing it for the first time. For too long, this island nation ignored or at least downplayed the importance of the marine environment and the seas that surround us. We have traditionally been fixated by the land. The emotional and visceral attachment of the people to the land is evident in our history and our literature. We are finally looking to the sea, not only as a means of transport for our goods and, as in the past, of escaping poverty, or for our fisheries, important as they are, but also to address our protection of marine diversity and as a means of addressing the critical and urgent goal of decarbonising our economy.
As my colleague, Deputy Nash, said and others alluded to, wind potential is enormous around our island nation. It is the future in terms of decarbonising our economy and we need to progress quickly to harness the technologies available to do that. That will initially mean harvesting off our eastern and southern coasts. Then, when technologies develop, which will not be in the very distant future, it will be in the area the Leas-Cheann Comhairle represents. There is the greatest potential for floating wind turbines off our west coast. We need to do that in a regulated way to make space for all marine utilities, and in a sustainable and planned way, in co-operation with all sea users. That is why a regulatory framework of this kind is essential.
I will make a brief point on that and we will come back to it. We need to move quickly on who will service those offshore wind facilities. We need a designated port. I have had discussions with a number of Departments and Ministers and there is no urgency about ensuring we have a designated port to service offshore wind. The bids and the investment are coming in from Pembroke in Wales, Liverpool in England and other ports. If we do not get our act together, we will lose the capacity to service our offshore wind facilities from our own port. I will come back to that point.
In the couple of minutes I have left, I will address one important aspect of the Bill. That is the exciting establishment of a new marine area regulatory authority with, as Deputy Ó Broin said, a wonderful acronym, MARA. This maritime regulator can ensure the optimum and orderly development of our coastal potential. I am delighted this new agency is to be sited in Wexford.
That was a prescient, wise and intelligent move by the Government. The body will become an important component of a new maritime area in Wexford town. It will be sited ultimately in a development now under way, namely, Trinity Wharf. I express my appreciation to the Government and the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, for the decision to site it there. It will have synergies with the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which is already sited there. It is a good and wise decision. The maritime tradition of Wexford is second to none. Many streets in the town are called after vessels that sailed from the harbour, of which there were hundreds over centuries. It is appropriate, therefore, that down the quay front from the statue that commemorates the founder of the United States navy, Commodore John Barry, a new agency will regulate the next and most exciting chapter of Ireland's sea tradition.
I want to make a few remarks on the board of the proposed maritime area regulatory authority. Section 43 of the Bill, a critical part of the legislation dealing with the establishment of the board, provides that it will have a chair and ordinary members. Those ordinary members will comprise five civil servants, a representative of the County and City Management Association, CCMA, and four others. We need to revisit that. This independent agency will be as important as An Bord Pleanála. Five representatives of five Departments and the representative of the CCMA making up a majority is not exactly the ideal independent board I would want to see. I make that point openly. Section 46 excludes Deputies, MEPs and Senators from serving on the board. That is fine and I do not quibble with it. I do quibble, however, with the additional exclusion under that section of elected members of local authorities. It says something about the attitude of Government that the county managers are included ex officiobut elected council members are specifically excluded. Those members would have something to add and at least one should be included.
My time is almost up. I will have an opportunity in committee to deal with other issues. I will look carefully at the judicial review procedure and I was interested to hear Deputy Ó Broin's view on it. The threshold for getting a judicial review is very low, although the Deputy rightly says that 68% of applications do not even meet that low threshold. A large number, however, do meet it. I agree with him that the courts are not the place to ventilate complicated planning matters and we should try to avoid that. I expect there will be people who simply want to delay process. If there is another avenue to go and a statable case, no matter how hopeless the argument, they can get a judicial review. That is something we can look at again. This is important legislation.
While I have the floor, I beg the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's indulgence on a small matter of etiquette and good manners. I noticed over the summer period the number of Ministers - Fianna Fáil Ministers in particular - who have been traversing the country and availing of opportunities to visit constituencies. A number of them visited my constituency and I was happy to see them there, but they did not extend the courtesy of notifying all Members of the Oireachtas when they visited constituencies. I would not call it a protocol but there is a convention of etiquette and good manners such that Ministers at least notify all Members of the Oireachtas when they are visiting constituencies.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I welcome that the new regulatory body, MARA, will be set up in Wexford town. It will be a fine location for the regulatory body and key personnel. I would like to make the case for Cork in terms of the servicing of offshore renewable energy. The deepwater port of the lower harbour would be an excellent key national reference point for such servicing. There are many points along the Atlantic seaboard that would be appropriate for that purpose and we can all work and coalesce with each other on that agenda.
We are very conscious that the EU strategy on offshore renewable energy has key targets and there is a massive opportunity in that. We know we will need 27 GW of offshore wind to meet our zero-carbon targets by 2050. Putting that into perspective, Moneypoint power station generates approximately 850 MW. The opportunity is there in terms of offshore generation. There are questions inherent in this legislation that have yet to be answered in regard to the offshore opportunity. We know that wind will provide a source for decarbonisation. We know it must come from floating offshore wind on the south and west coasts because traditional fixed-bottom offshore technology is only for shallow waters such as those of the Irish Sea, which gives limited space and capacity for the development at scale that is needed. We must start now by ensuring that floating wind projects contribute to the target of 5 GW of offshore wind by 2030. Starting now means we can begin to develop the supply chain, including at ports such as Cork, in order that floating wind platforms can be deployed from Irish ports up to and beyond the 2030s.
A major constraint on starting now and securing the benefits of floating wind for Ireland stems from the uncertainty from Government on how the sector will be progressed in the short, medium and long term. The forthcoming climate action plan should have a target for floating wind. Will the Minister tell us whether this has been addressed? How will he ensure the legislation caters for floating wind development? In order for floating wind projects to contribute to our 2030 target, developers need to be surveying at sea next spring or summer. If developers have to wait for the new regulatory authority to be set up, which could take up to 18 months from the passing of the Bill, they could miss the boat. How will the Minister ensure floating wind developers can achieve permission to survey outside of the 12 nautical miles zone in 2022? The maritime area planning legislation is a major reform, as we know, but Ireland has been sea-blind for too many decades at this stage. That is evident to everyone here. We want to ensure the industry can scale up and scale out. Those permissions for surveying need to be given as soon as possible and that should be addressed within this legislation. We are calling on the Minister to provide those consents in advance of the regulatory authority being set up in Wexford.
Is údar díoma dom nach bhfuil agam ach seacht nóiméad. Cuireann sé iontas orm nach bhfuil ach an méid sin ama agam chun Bille atá 247 leathanach ar fad a phlé. Tá i bhfad níos mó sa Bhille ná fuinneamh gaoithe. Tá an fuinneamh gaoithe thar a bheith tábhachtach ach tá go leor rudaí eile ann a thiocfaidh chun cinn de réir mar a bheidh an Bille seo á phlé. Beidh tionchar ollmhór aige seo mar baineann sé le chuile shórt sa bhfarraige ón leibhéal lán-mara. Is é sin an leibhéal a bhíonn ag an bhfarraige nuair a bhíonn an taoide istigh. Nuair a bhíonn an taoide tráite, beidh an talamh sin fós faoi thionchar an Bhille seo amach go 200 míle ó chósta na hÉireann. Táthar ag caint ar achar atá rud éicint ar nós seacht n-oiread níos mó ná achar an Stáit seo. Is mó i bhfad atá againn faoin bhfarraige ná mar atá againn ar thalamh na hÉireann. Ceathracha bliain ó shin, shíl chuile dhuine go mbeidh saibhreas go deo ag na tíortha a fuair ola ar an talamh amach ón gcósta ach ní mhair sé sin i bhfad. Feicimid sa Mhuir Thuaidh go bhfuil an gás gar ó ídithe. Is rud amháin faoin bhfuinneamh in-athnuaite ná go bhfuil sé in-athnuaite agus go mbeidh sé ann go deo a fhad is a bheidh an gaoth ag séideadh agus a bheidh taoidí agus tonnta ann. Sa ghearr-théarma, is ag brath ar tuirbíní gaoithe a bheidh muid. Beidh níos mó agus níos mó acu seo amuigh sa bhfarraige. Beidh cuid acu ag snámh agus cuid acu ceangailte go grinneall na farraige. San fhad-téarma, dá bhféadfadh muid taoidí a cheansú ar bhealach éigin agus fuinneamh a bhaint astu - agus is é an t-iontas nach bhfuil sé déanta fós ar bhonn tráchtála - bheadh sé i bhfad ní b-oiriúnaí mar tá rud amháin chomh cinnte is atá mise anseo agus is é sin go dtránn an taoide dhá uair sa lá agus go mbíonn lán mara ann dhá uair sa lá.
Mar sin, tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go leanfaimid linn ag infheistiú sa teicneolaíocht nua agus go mbeadh an tír seo mar eiseamláir agus mar cheannródaí i bhforbairt na teicneolaíochta nua a bhaineann leis an tionscal seo ar fad. Tá mé buartha gur infheistíocht choimhthíoch is mó a bheidh i gceist agus, mar sin, go mbeidh an brabach ag dul taobh amuigh den Stát. Breathnaím timpeall orm féin ar rudaí a tharla sna glúinte atá thart nuair a bhí muid bocht ach rinne muid na forbairtí móra muid féin. Is é an Stát a chuir na crainn. Is é Bord na Móna a rinne forbairt ar an móin, rud a chinntigh go raibh fuinneamh againn ag am go raibh an tír seo thar a bheith gann ar fhuinneamh. Is é Bord Soláthair an Leictreachais a thosaigh ag giniúint leictreachais as uisce, rud a bhí thar a bheith mór ag an am. Tá na comhlachtaí Stáit againn le scil áirithe sa ghnó seo cheana féin. Táim ag caint faoi Choillte, Bord Soláthair an Leictreachais agus Bord na Móna. Ba cheart don Stát mór-infheistíocht a dhéanamh agus cinnte a dhéanamh go bhfuil an t-airgead agus an acmhainn ag na comhlachtaí sin chun infheistíocht a dhéanamh sa tionscal seo agus chun a bheith chun tosaigh. Más iad atá i gceist, is mó seans i bhfad go mbeidh na poist lonnaithe in Éirinn agus go mbeidh daoine as na pobail áitiúla á bhfostú.
Ar ndóigh is ceann de na rudaí a gcaithfear a dhéanamh ná gréasán leictreachais a chur timpeall na tíre are fad a cheanglóidh le Sasana, ar ndóigh leis an oileán seo agus le Mór-Roinn na hEorpa. Caithfimid a chinntiú - beidh mé ag breathnú níos géire ar an mBille seo nuair a bheidh deis agam – go mbeidh fostaíocht áitiúil i gceist. Níl aon mhaith a bheith ag breathnú amach ar na sceirdeanna agus ar na muilte agus tuirbíní gaoithe amuigh ansin agus gan aon phost a bheith ar an mórthír agus sa cheantar Iorras Aithneach. Níl aon mhaith a bheith ag breathnú amach ar na sceirdeanna gan aon fhorbairt a bheith déanta ar Ché Ros an Mhíl. Tá áthas orm go bhfuil na staidéir ar fad le bheith críochnaithe roimh dheireadh na bliana. Tá súil agam go ndéanfar cinneadh dul ar aghaidh leis an bhforbairt sin go gearr ina dhiaidh sin.
Ar ndóigh, tá go leor eile sa Bhille ach ní bheidh mé in ann tagairt a dhéanamh ach do dhá rud. Tá baint aige seo le ceadú cearta feamainne do dhaoine. Mar a dúirt mé ag an tús, baineann sé seo leis an trá suas go dtí an líne lán mara. Ar ndóigh, tuigeann muid uilig gur chúis achrainn iad na cearta feamainne – tá siad ar chuid de na folios ach níl siad ar chuid eile dóibh. Caithfimid déileáil leis an gceist seo agus caithfimid bheith aireach mar Theachtaí Dála nach ndéantar faillí ar chearta an phobail sa chás seo. Baineann sé le cáblaí leictreachais, le snáitheanna optaic agus le píopaí uisce a chur faoin fharraige, rud atá thar a bheith tábhachtach i gcás cuid de na hoileáin amach ón gcósta.Tógaim faoi deara gurb iad na húdaráis áitiúla atá ag plé le ceadanna pleanála a thabhairt cois cósta, suas go 3 muirmhíle amach ón gcósta. Níl a fhios agam go baileach céard é sin i gciliméadair. Arís, caithfidh an acmhainn a bheith ag na húdaráis áitiúla chun déileáil le seo.
Sa 26 soicind atá fágtha agam, ba mhaith liom rud eile a lua a chuireann iontas orm. De réir reachtaíocht atá á cur tríd an Dáil ag an Rialtas faoi láthair, beidh ainm Gaeilge ar gach eagraíocht Stáit a bhunófar amach anseo. Is cuma cén acrainm atá ann - agus cé chomh glic is atá sé - is ainm Béarla atá molta sa chás seo. Tá an Rialtas ag dul in aghaidh an méid atá á dhéanamh ag an bPríomh-Aoire agus é ag stiúradh Bille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla tríd an Dáil. Tá mé cinnte go dtuigfidh an Leas-Cheann Comhairle an t-iontas atá orm maidir leis an gceist áirithe seo.
Aontaím leis an méid atá ráite ag an Teachta Ó Cuív ó thaobh ainm na heagraíochta. Tiocfaidh mé ar ais go dtí an dara pointe. Is dóigh liom go bhfuil an chéad phointe tábhachtach. Ba chóir go mbeadh ainm Gaelach ar an eagraíocht seo. This is very complex and important legislation. It probably has not received much attention outside the specific sectors that are considering it but it potentially has significant ramifications for large parts of the country. The Bill consists of 245 pages setting out a planning regime for a maritime area that is seven times the footprint of the land mass of the State. It is enormous. This is once-in-a-generation legislation, so it is crucial that we get it right.
There are enormous opportunities in this area. I think of my own locality in terms of Cork Harbour and the potential that exists there for offshore wind energy. This is vitally important. It is difficult not to think of some of the failures in connection with wind turbines on land, which is very important and valuable technology. However, too often, the planning process that surrounded such wind turbines led to conflict with local communities and misunderstandings. A lot of that arose from inadequate consultation. I am hoping that through this legislation we will ensure those mistakes are not repeated and that the consultation is very intensive and gives adequate opportunities for communities to have their say. In so doing, it is likely that the danger of legal challenges and conflicts with heritage legislation, conservation areas and designations of that kind will be minimised. We need to ensure the communities in question buy into that.
That brings me on to the second point on which I agree with Deputy Ó Cuív. The first point on which I agree with him relates to the title of the organisation, which should be in Irish, in keeping with the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill that is currently going through these Houses. As well as being crucial in terms of energy and climate change and the benefits that can bring, there is also the potential for significant generation of wealth. I would much prefer, as Deputy Ó Cuív pointed out, that it would be either the State or local communities that would benefit from that wealth and that, as much as possible, the State or community energy trusts should be directly involved. That would also be a subtle way to ensure there is community buy-in for this. Local communities, particularly those that could be affected by the generation of wind energy, need to benefit from the wealth it may create.
A maritime issue that could be affected by the Bill is that of draft net fishermen. It is a very specific issue but I wish to flag it because I have raised it in the past . There are not many draft net fishermen left. They are in a very small number of locations. Their experience is that since the regulations were changed and they came under Inland Fisheries Ireland some years ago, their voice has not been adequately heard. It is a long tradition but there are very few people still at it. We need to look at the structures in order to ensure the voice of the draft net fishermen and fisherwomen is heard and that they are adequately represented. I might raise the issue again at a later opportunity.