Thursday, 16 September 2021
Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I thank the Minister for bringing the Bill before the Oireachtas. It is a hugely important Bill that sets out how we will meet some really difficult targets around emissions reductions and the transition to clean energy. I also thank the Department officials, some of whom I see here today, for the huge amount of work they have put into this and for the briefings they gave to our committee throughout the pre-legislative scrutiny of what was previously known the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill. I also acknowledge the huge amount of work which the joint committee put into the Bill at the pre-legislative stage. Our committee put forward around 43 or 46 recommendations in its pre-legislative scrutiny report. The majority of those recommendations, almost all of them, were taken in in the drafting of the Bill. It was suggested yesterday that we had not been issued with the correspondence that we sought from the Department but I want to confirm that the committee did receive the correspondence that we sought, looking for where those recommendations were brought into the published Bill.
There was a suggestion that the committee recommended that marine protected areas should be part of the Bill. That is partially true. The committee did suggest that marine protected areas should be part of the Bill, or, the same recommendation also included that marine protected areas should continue in a parallel legislative process which is under way at the moment. I wanted to clarify that.
The Bill before us today is huge and complex. It consists of a series of pieces of legislation. In the marine and maritime area, in recent months there has been the national marine planning framework, a document which went through a vast amount of public consultation and a huge stakeholder involvement group. It developed a high level overarching planning strategy for how we will manage our marine area, with all the users involved in that from commercial, recreational, fishers and coastal communities. There was huge engagement in that process.
There was also the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill which set out the boundary of our marine area. That is massive, as we have heard, comprising seven times the land area at 0.5 million km². We do not have a proper planning system for how we develop in that area which is why this Maritime Area Planning Bill is so important and so timely. There will be much development in our marine areas over the coming decades, over the next ten, 20, 30 years. Much of that will be offshore renewable development; there will be wind development, cable alignments and interconnectors. There is a lot of stuff. It is not just about wind. This planning Bill will cover that entire area.
There have been concerns about marine protected areas. I share some of those concerns. We do not have a great track record of protecting not just our marine environment but our terrestrial environment as well. Some 2% or 2.5% is designated as protected.
They are actually special areas of conservation, SACs, special protection areas, SPAs, or natural heritage areas. They are not generally designated under planning. They are designated under EU directives such as the habitats directive and the birds directive, and enacted under the Wildlife Act. We do not designate. With the marine protected area legislation we will designate marine protected areas. That legislation is coming. There has been an extensive public consultation period for about five months. I am aware that the Minister travelled extensively around the country meeting with coastal communities and with fishers, and all who have an interest in this. I believe that the marine protected areas legislation will follow closely this Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021, which is right and what we should actually be doing.
A lot of these developments will take time. Before we see these developments in the sea there is a consenting process, a survey process, and the planning applications will have to be submitted much as they are on land. They will be accompanied by stringent environmental impact assessment reports that need to be provided. These will provide for public consultation. The committee was quite strong on those recommendations. I am satisfied that there will be good public consultation in applications made under the Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021. I am quite satisfied that there would be high-level scrutiny and stringent environmental impact reports and requirements on developers if they wish to develop at sea.
I shall now move on to the Bill. It is huge and complex, which it must be because the challenge ahead of us to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and to reduce emissions is huge, complex and ambitious. It needs to be matched with a streamlined planning process to allow us to reach those targets of 51% reduction by 2030 and to be carbon-neutral by 2050. We are going to have to use solar and a whole lot of different renewable energy but the biggest contributor to that will be wind energy.
Deputies spoke about the setting up of the maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, which will be a hugely important agency that will be involved in the initial consenting and the enforcement afterwards. The enforcement has always been weak in our planning system so I am glad to see that MARA is being set up. Deputies all want it in their constituencies because it brings some 200 jobs. I believe that Wexford is the right place for it because there is good experience there and good scientific data built up over the years. Wexford is the right place for it. For any Deputy from a coastal community who is concerned that they will not see some benefit from this, I say that there will be huge economic value to our coastal towns, communities, ports and harbours.
The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, visited Wicklow recently, which is my constituency, when we looked at Arklow and Wicklow. SSE Airtricity will develop its operations and maintenance facility in Arklow. I would be hopeful that Codling Wind Park will look at Wicklow in the same way. There will be that benefit and uplift, including economic benefits, for all coastal communities in this. There will be a huge amount of employment, energy resilience and emissions-free clean energy. It is the future and we need to embrace it. I will be supporting this Bill. I thank the Minister of State.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill today, which is highly technical and complex and which will have major implications for future generations. This Bill will be important to get right. We must ensure that the competing demands for use of our seas are addressed in a way that preserves and protects marine biodiversity, protects the interests of coastal communities and inshore fishermen and women, and provides a meaningful level of public participation on all aspects of marine planning.
The importance of the principle of a just transition cannot be understated in a maritime area such as County Wexford, including Rosslare Port which since Brexit has become one of the most important ports on the island. As we talk about the vital and important move towards sustainable energy, this Bill, if passed, will provide the legislative framework for a new streamlined development consent process for activities in the maritime area, including major offshore renewable energy projects. Offshore wind farms will add greatly to the decarbonising of our environment. It must, however, be a just transition and be mindful of, and mitigate, any potential harm that might impact on local communities and businesses.
Today I will refer to two sectors: the local fishers and charter boat businesses. I have had many conversations with fishers in Wexford. Historically they have felt completely left behind by the Government. They do not have trust or faith that their livelihoods will be protected. This must change. Proper consultation, inclusion and mitigation of harm will be most important when talking about potential applications for offshore development to ensure the sustainability and future of our fishing industry. Small charter boat businesses are a vibrant local industry in County Wexford that contribute hugely to aqua tourism. I emphasise to the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, the importance of proper engagement and working with this sector as well as our fishers.
I welcome that the new national maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, will be based in Wexford. I commend the Minister of State for this. I have already had constituents on to me asking what the intended timeline for the establishment of MARA is, and what the mechanism for staffing this new entity will be. I point out the importance of this authority being fully independent. This authority cannot be allowed to become a rubber-stamping exercise by any government. MARA must employ the widest possible expertise for its workforce, and I have no doubt that the new technological university for the south east can play an important part in this. I speak for the community when I say they await further details of the regulatory authority with anticipation. The creation of 200 jobs is very welcome and will have a very positive impact on the county. It will add value and economic growth to the county. I thank the Minister of State for that.
I look forward to working on this Bill as it progresses through this House. I trust the Minister and Minister of State will take on board the points raised today in order to ensure a marine planning regime that is open, inclusive, transparent, robust, environmentally sound and of economic and social benefit to all interested parties and communities that depend on the marine for their livelihood.
This is hugely important legislation dealing with the incredibly important issue of the marine resources of the State, as others have pointed out. It is worth setting out again for people who are trying to understand this huge and complicated Bill. I have not fully got my head around all of the detail but I have read quite a bit. Fair play to the civil servants for putting it together. It is a complex piece of work dealing with an incredibly important issue.
Ireland has one of the highest land to sea ratios in Europe with 7,711 km of coastline, which is 4% of the entire coastline of Europe. The foreshore area is 9.7 million acres, which is 36% of Ireland's land area. When one includes the full territorial sea area of the country it gives us one of the largest territories in Europe at 220 million acres, which is seven times the amount of territorial land of this country. We are talking about an absolutely enormous territory and resource. We need to think about the context of this legislation and why it is important to us.
First of all, we are an island nation and therefore our sea and our coastline are an integral part of our culture, our identity and our history. These are not small matters for us as a country, on so many different levels. This area also provides a livelihood to our fishers and to many others who work on or around the sea. It is a huge recreational amenity, which is important in all our coastal regions but is particularly important in Dublin. Dublin Bay is a UNESCO biosphere. It is a precious marine resource and visual amenity. I will not underplay the importance of that. Visual amenities are important. It is a huge tourist attraction and has huge economic importance. It is also a recreational amenity. This is not just about Dublin Bay; all of our sea and coastline areas are vital on so many different levels for the communities that live on those seashores and for the people who come to this country. It is one of the reasons that they are attracted to come here. It provides livelihoods for many people. It is also an enormous potential resource in the development of renewable energy. This is not just in terms of offshore wind, it is also about tidal and current energy.
Much work still has to be done to develop the potential of the latter but undoubtedly, these are renewable energy resources we will tap into in future as we try to address the climate emergency.
It is, however, very important to remember that just as we have a climate emergency, we have biodiversity emergency. We declared both of those simultaneously. It would be very wrong to imagine that addressing the urgency of one is more important than the other. In fact, to dismiss the potential for a biodiversity disaster to extinguish life or do extraordinary damage to our ability to sustain human life on this planet would be folly indeed. Biodiversity is critical to our survival as a species. Marine resources and marine life, and the biology of our seas and so forth, are critical to sustaining human existence.
What worries me about this Bill and the approach the Government is taking is we are starting on land, as we have always done in terms of our resources, and now, what we are potentially going to do with our marine resource - a huge resource - is that the interests of the developers and facilitating them will come first. We have a Bill, therefore, which is designed to facilitate the development of that marine resource before we have the legislation to protect the marine resource, the biodiversity, the livelihoods of the fishers and others who gain their livelihood from it, that protects the amenity at every level, whether it is recreational or visual, and that protects the value this marine resource gives for tourism, and indeed, for our heritage, identity and history as an island nation.
I mention in particular someone who is a very important inspiration for me in my area, the great John de Courcy Ireland, who learned his socialism from the sea. He always said the reason he became a socialist was because he worked on the sea and the thing he learned from working as a sailor was that the sea unites people; it brings people together. He understood the incredible importance of that marine resource. One of the great things he lamented, for example, was the fact that we got rid of our merchant navy. I think today about some of the ferry routes we have lost in our own area, for example, Dún Laoghaire to Holyhead. The neglect of our marine resource and the importance of the sea to this country has been a characteristic of the way we have dealt with marine and maritime matters. I fear we are doing the same again.
Do not get me wrong; the Foreshore Act was completely unfit for purpose and had to replaced. We learned that in our area with the attempt by Providence Resources to put an oil rig 5 km off coast of Dún Laoghaire back in 2013, which the local community fought and which Providence Resources eventually pulled back from. At the time, the then Minister of State at the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, Jan O'Sullivan, acknowledged that the Foreshore Act was completely unfit for purpose and did not ensure the proper level of community participation and consultation or the protections we need for our precious coastal and marine resources, and that we needed legislation. That was back in 2013. None of that protection has really come into play since.
This legislation is way overdue and I know it is a big job for the Civil Service. I accept that. It has been a long time coming, however, and when it does come, it does so in advance of the protection of those marine resources that should accompany it. People need to understand about how we talk about ourselves being laggards in terms of climate action. What laggards we are, though, in terms of our marine resources. It is quite shocking, to be honest.
Some 2.3% of our territorial waters are marine protected areas, MPA. As the Green Party Deputy just pointed out, they are not even marine protected areas. They are special areas of conservation, SAC, and so on. It is worth bearing in mind some of the comparisons of our European neighbours. We are 2.3% protected; 45% of Germany's waters and 45% of France's waters are marine protected areas. The US, hardly an exemplar of environmental protection, has 41% of its water protected. Belgium has 36% of its waters protected, the UK has 28% protected, the Netherlands has 26% protected, Denmark has 17% protected, and you can go on through the list. We are at 2.3% and now we are bringing in legislation to facilitate industrial development. Let us be clear: we are talking about the industrial development of our marine resources at proximities to the shore that would not be allowed in most other European countries. The average permission given for offshore renewable energy projects in Europe last year was 53 km from the shore. Before that it was 35 km so it is actually rising. The level of protection that is being given by European countries to their coastal marine resources and amenities is actually strengthening. It is so far in advance of ours that the comparisons are quite stunning, as I will go on to explain.
What is particularly worrying in the context of this legislation is that some of the biggest offshore renewable energy projects anywhere in the world, which will have a fundamental impact on our marine resources and amenities and on those who make their livelihoods in the communities in those vicinities, will be at distances from the shore that simply would not be allowed in most other parts of Europe and many other parts of the world. They have been designated without any public consultation whatsoever but with many conversations with the industry, which even went as far as writing to the Business Committee of the Dáil last week to tell us that this had to be one of the first items on the agenda of the Dáil after the summer recess. That is the level of lobbying. We know from the records that the conversations going on between the representatives of the private, for-profit wind industry and the Government are substantial. These projects were designated relevant projects at very close proximities, which, as I said, would not be allowed in most of Europe.
I will identify the six projects. Two of them are obviously in close proximity to my own area, which would be approximately 10 km from the coastline. Some of them are as close as 5 km and none of them are much further out than approximately 15 km. I will not go through the whole list. People need to understand what the scale of these things are. In the Dublin area alone, there are plans for 61 turbines at 310 m each. That is each turbine standing 100 m taller than the Poolbeg towers. We all know just what a visual impact the Poolbeg towers have on the entire city. They define the entire city, and indeed I love the Poolbeg towers and I would hate to see them knocked down. However, the people of Dublin, for example, should have a say on whether we want 61 of those turbines, which are 100 m taller than the Poolbeg towers, splashed all across Dublin Bay without a proper planning process and without public consultation as to whether people want them. They will, however, be designated relevant projects and essentially escape the regulation this Bill is proposing for that marine area. Much of it is welcome but they are designated relevant projects and will be decided by the Minister, not by the marine area regulatory authority this Bill proposes to establish, as I understand it.
I see the civil servant shaking his head but from my reading of sections 10 and 12 of Part 4 of the Bill, the Minister will decide and can invite or allow further applications for consents until the maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, is set up. Critically, those relevant projects were self-selected by the private developers. They decided, in advance of us deciding what areas should be protected. In the case of Dublin Bay - I will let other people speak for other parts of the country they know better - the Kish Bank and the Codling Bank are sandbanks of extreme importance for fishers, marine life and biodiversity. They are very close to the shore and also have a potentially significant role in dealing with issues such as coastal erosion, and the private company decided it would have that site. Why? It is because it is easy, profitable and cheap for it to develop that site very close to the coastline, at a proximity that would not be and is not allowed in many other parts of Europe. Private developers selected the sites in advance of us designating what areas, biodiversity and livelihoods should be protected, and without any consultation with the public on the selection of those sites. That is a serious problem, because this should not be developer-led.
We would not allow it - I apologise - I was about to say we would not allow it anywhere else. Is that not the problem? That is what we did in this country and it had disastrous consequences when we did this sort of thing on land and let the developers dictate. I remind the Green Party that it was often a strident voice in insisting on proper planning; having proper local area and county development plans; adherence to planning regulations; proper environmental assessments and all the rest of it, but there is none of that in this situation. The private, for-profit developers will be required to give the people of this country, for a public resource, that part of our land and territory, precisely nothing of the energy they produce. There is nothing wired into the legislation, in terms of the benefits for the community, the country as a whole or the cost of energy we might get. I have a fundamental problem with that and also with its being, in effect, the privatisation of the marine resource.
The parts that the private developers grab are decided by them through self-selection, on sites that will have a fundamental impact on our marine biodiversity, fishers, coastal communities, heritage, recreational amenities and tourism, and will have so many other potential impacts. We should be very careful not to cut off our nose to spite our face. Is any of this about saying it is not absolutely imperative to develop our offshore renewable energy potential? No. Technology is a great thing and we now have floating turbines that are pretty much as cheap to put out, at no additional cost, at further distances; as they are doing in the rest of Europe. The impact is less on the fishers and from a marine, impact and heritage point of view.
We can do it. We have the technology and, by God, we have the territory to do it. It is incredible. People only have to look at the real map of Ireland produced by the Marine Institute. They would be aghast and amazed, in a positive way, by how much marine territory we have. We have huge potential to have a win-win, in which we have offshore renewable energy developed at distances that do no negatively or adversely impact on our coastal communities, fishers, marine biodiversity and all the other potentials that exist and are able to develop that renewable energy. Although why on earth would we then privatise that and hand it over to private, for-profit companies that have no obligation whatsoever to feed that electricity back to us at anything other than full market price, rather than get bodies such as the ESB to develop it? It is the same old mistakes we have made in privatisation in the past.
We need a marine area planning regime to replace the foreshore Acts. A regulatory authority is a good idea, although I question the issue of replacing the foreshore, in terms of the area of 3 nautical miles where the local authority will be the relevant authority and beyond that, the MARA. I would like to hear more about that, because after that distance of approximately 5.5 km, the impact of things is significant. The foreshore was approximately 22 km or 12 nautical miles. We will be arguing that we need a buffer zone to protect our coastal amenities, similar to the buffer zones that exist in much of the rest of Europe, which should be at the old distance of the 22 km foreshore and where industrial development would be allowed and a different regime might be used to deal with it. Local communities should have a say and the right to appeal decisions on the development of that foreshore area, right up to the old foreshore boundary.
I wish I had more time but we will have more time on Committee Stage.
I am. Deputy Boyd-Barrett did very well in his 20 minutes. I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill. As has been said by Deputy Matthews, it is a huge and complex piece of legislation for a hugely complex endeavour by the Department. I welcome the opportunity to get into it. It has been said on a number of occasions that our maritime area is seven times the size of our land mass. With the exception of one wind array off the Irish coast, it is a largely untapped resource. This is an opportunity to put in place the appropriate arrangements for the proper planning and sustainable development of our maritime area, with a focus on the development of wind energy, but also of tidal and current energy, in due course, which are more likely appropriate in the vicinity of our near coastline.
The Bill will potentially streamline development in this field. It is important we recognise that from planning to delivery of a wind turbine in Ireland is approximately seven years. The clock is ticking on our 2030 target, which is nine years away, and we have to do this quickly. While I do not condone what Deputy Boyd-Barrett had to say on lobbying of the Business Committee, I recognise this Bill has been in development for quite a number of years. I think it was 2015 when it started, on the back of what he said about the recommendation being made in 2013. The Deputy will accept the Oireachtas sometimes moves quite slowly and the number of years that have passed has probably been a bit excessive, but it does not mean we should not recognise the importance of the introduction of a regulatory body such as MARA that will have the ability to enforce the Bill.
Further changes to the current system also envisage the introduction of the maritime area consent, MAC, process and special MAC cases which will give the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications greater flexibility. I have concerns about the automatic termination which does not afford the Minister or MARA the opportunity to extend a MAC. My understanding is that would be resolved in the courts. Such a provision or omission, if it is being caused by omission, should not be left unaddressed. The Minister of State might come back to that in his response.
It takes approximately seven years to get a wind turbine erected, from concept to planning. In order for us to adequately tackle our climate change obligations and our energy obligations, we need an efficient system.
I look forward to the Bill's passage. I recognise the committee on which I am privileged to serve, the Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, has a significant role to play in the overall thrust of this debate and-or the future developments in onshore and offshore areas. For the moment I welcome the opportunity to have contributed to the debate.
At the outset I want to say how disappointing it is to hear the negative narrative from some Opposition Deputies about this legislation. The Deputies who constantly criticise the Government for not reaching emissions targets or not switching to cleaner renewable energy at a faster pace are the same ones who are now describing this legislation, which is so important for reaching those targets, as a threat to coastal communities or as something that will somehow lead to the demise of coastal communities. It is very disappointing. This legislation represents huge opportunities for our switch to cleaner renewable energy. I am not overstating things when I say Ireland could become a global superpower in renewable energy. The potential for 30,000 MW of energy from floating offshore wind could lead to us providing 2.5% of Europe's entire energy needs and 5% of its renewable energy needs. Not only are we helping Ireland reach its emissions targets and reduce emissions, we are actually helping it on a European scale as well. That is often forgotten.
This legislation is positive and is a good news story as regards reaching our global emissions and climate action targets. There will be challenges and of course there needs to be consultation, but according to the research I have done, particularly on offshore energy, there are opportunities here. Take the fishing sector, for example. At the moment, international super-trawlers are taking vast amounts of fish from coastal waters. These offshore floating wind areas could create a de facto no-catch zone for those big international boats, leading to an increase in stocks and a revival of some stocks benefiting the Irish fishing sector. As well as that, the evidence at the moment shows there are areas of biodiversity underneath these offshore floating wind areas, and smaller ecosystems can be created to help create biodiversity.
We cannot go blindly into this. I spend probably too much time out on the water looking for whales, dolphins and cetaceans. These are animals that hunt acoustically. Obviously, when constructing wind energy there is going to be an impact there, but no development can take place without rigorous environmental impact studies. That has to be taken into account. The inshore fishing sector in west Cork has concerns and that is why the designation of MPAs is incredibly important. That will happen but I do not see why it has to be one or the other. There is urgency around both pieces of legislation.
We talk about consultation. We welcomed the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, to west Cork during the summer and he met members of the fishing sector, ecologists and people concerned about biodiversity. There was consultation there so the argument that there was no consultation is unfair.
I welcome this Bill. It provides immense opportunities for our country and our coastal communities.
We all accept the necessity of dealing with the climate change crisis. We all heard about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report over the summer. We are aware of the situation with which we are dealing. We know we need to make the 2030 and 2050 targets and that renewables are a huge part of this. The byword has to be "sustainability". It is about putting a system and a complete framework in place. Deputy Ó Broin spoke yesterday about this being a once in a generation opportunity. That is true whether we are talking about the Maritime Area Planning Bill or the entire framework, including the national marine planning framework. It is about putting all those pieces together. I welcome what Deputy O'Sullivan said about the Minister of State engaging with NGOs and all the stakeholders. That is absolutely necessary. We welcome what the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, said yesterday as regards plenty of time and consideration being given to all these aspects on Committee Stage. That is an absolute requirement.
We know the difficulties we have with power at this time. There were questions earlier in the Chamber about blackouts and the fears around energy and electricity supply. Some of these issues are due to Covid but there are worries from many people, who know better than myself, about the entire infrastructure being capable of dealing with even more of this offshore wind energy when we are finally able to bring it into play. There are questions about whether we have the infrastructure required or whether we are going to be dealing with a huge amount of power dissipation. That is something the Government needs to assess to ensure that is not the case.
We all accept we need to make sure we deal with sustainability and that means biodiversity and engaging and dealing with fishermen. We all accept the necessity of offshore wind but we need to ensure we can maintain what we have, the resources we have and people's livelihoods. Some of these families have fished for multiple generations and it is a requirement we keep the whole show on the road. There is a big onus on the Government in this entire set-up. We must give the marine area regulatory authority sufficient powers and we have to make sure we deal with the planning process at every point in view in order that we can deliver the end result. A huge amount of engagement with all stakeholders and with the Opposition will be necessary because we need to deliver this. This is about the continuity and sustainability of our entire people.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Berry. Due to the failure to progress this vital legislation over the past decade, back in 2018 I, as Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, secured Cabinet approval for the prioritisation of this cross-departmental legislation, which was driven by the Department of An Taoiseach. It was clear to me back in 2018 as a signatory of the North Seas Energy Cooperation, which was established to facilitate cost-effective deployment of offshore renewable energy, that Ireland needed to tap into this huge economic and environmentally sustainable resource off our coasts. However, I knew we could not do this alone, and in May 2017, along with the European Commission and 13 other member states, I signed Ireland up to the Clean Energy for EU Islands initiative. This law is the very first positive step to move on this agenda, but Ireland requires a radical overhaul of its industrial development policy if we are to achieve our climate goals and fully grasp the economic opportunities off our coasts. This cannot be done on a piecemeal or haphazard basis, as has happened in the past. We must have a very strategic focus on what is in Ireland's long-term interests and not allow this just to be developer-led.
It is estimated that we have somewhere between 50 and 70 GW of clean, renewable electricity off our coasts. That is enough not just to meet our own long-term needs here in Ireland but to produce enough electricity to meet the demands of France and Austria as well. We as a country need to lead from the front on this, create an IDA of the seas and become the major global clean energy exporter just like the Arab states have done with oil. We do not want to wait for another Mainstream moment, or a situation whereby private developers decide how Ireland exploits its renewable energy resources and who that energy is going to be supplied to, just like what happened with Mainstream Renewable Power and Element Power's plan to erect 1,000 massive wind turbines right across the midland counties to supply electricity to the United Kingdom.
This is already starting again. Plans are being advanced to build a major €2 billion port on a 1,000-acre site at Bremore north of Dublin, on the Dublin-Meath border, in order to exploit the potential that offshore wind turbines have to offer. There is no doubt that there is huge potential for such a port, but is it located in the right place? Let us consider that we are likely to have only one such large port on the island of Ireland. It is projected that there will be ten times more renewable electricity generated off the west coast of Ireland than there will be off the east coast. Why are we not focusing on Foynes, Galway, Ros an Mhíl and Killybegs? They are the ports that need to be developed. Foynes will probably be the key port in relation to that. That is where the focus should be.
This issue is not just about where the development happens but who will benefit from it. Last week, we read that the Australian infrastructure giant, Macquarie, has bought the rights to develop an offshore wind farm 5 km off the Connemara coast. It has bought the rights to develop this farm off our coast. When I was the Minister with responsibility for energy, I publicly expressed my concerns about how rights were given for connection to the electricity grid, for wind farms, which were subsequently sold off to make vast sums of money - a licence was effectively sold off - without a shovel being put in the ground. We issued the licences, the people who secured those licences sold them to the highest bidder, and here we are, at it again, issuing authorities to develop projects that are then sold. What did the State benefit from the sale last week of that licence? Nothing. Who will ultimately pay for that? Irish electricity customers will ultimately pay for that. Families around the country who are struggling to pay their electricity bills are the ones funding the speculation, which is starting again, and which was exploited over the last decade in relation to grid connections. It cannot be allowed to happen. However, we are told to fear not. We are told that as a result of the renewable electricity support scheme, the community in south Connemara will benefit from a community benefit fund for 15 years. What will happen after that? We are not giving these rights out for 15 years. It is expected that crumbs will be thrown to the communities in Connemara and that will be good enough for them. That is not acceptable. Those funds should be ring-fenced for long-term economic development in south Connemara over the full lifetime during which the farm generates electricity. It is not about buying jerseys for the local football or soccer team.
I fear that Ireland will end up giving away its renewable energy rights in order to hit our 2030 and 2040 targets in an attempt to be the good boy at the top of the class, while electricity customers continue to pay the most expensive electricity in Europe. Instead, we have to exploit this resource, design the bidding process based on job creation along our west coast, ensure that the State secures a royalty for every single megawatt generated and supplied to our national grid or into the new Atlantic interconnector, which connects and supplies electricity directly into the European grid from our western coastal waters, and become the cheapest country in Europe for electricity. The way we do that is by establishing an offshore renewable development authority similar to the Industrial Development Authority that will drive a fully co-ordinated national action plan and will have responsibilities ranging from research and development and supply chain development to the commercial deployment of renewable energy. In the interim, the Western Development Commission, for example, should take over the vital co-ordination role in the short term until that organisation is in place.
On the issue of electricity costs, many households are facing notifications from electricity suppliers that they will have to pay more for electricity. This comes back to the lack of co-ordination. There are families struggling to pay their electricity bills throughout this country. This is not just in terms of the cost of producing electricity and the associated public service obligations, but it is also compounded by carbon taxes. It is very frustrating that those families are paying for subsidies for electricity that is supplied to data centres in this country. They are paying subsidies that go towards the cost of building the infrastructure for those data centres. I believe that is amoral. I fought vehemently against the current approach. In 2018, the Cabinet decided on a new policy statement on data centres that was to ensure that ordinary hard-working families around the country would not subsidise the electricity going into data centres, although that measure has yet to be implemented by the Government. We now see the impact it is having on electricity supply in this country. Data centres sucking up electricity will leave us in a situation this winter like that in African countries where there are blackouts due to insufficient electricity supply because we have not planned appropriately for this. We need data centres but they should cover their own electricity costs. Irish families should never have to subsidise the cost for that electricity. It should never be on their backs. There must be a planning and supply condition in terms of EirGrid providing them with electricity, and the data centres must enter into power purchase agreements, which are effectively electricity supply agreements, with the offshore developers. Let them fund the development of the offshore renewable electricity in the short term rather than Irish electricity customers - Irish families - again having to fund and subsidise the construction of these turbines off our coast.
I thank the Minister of State for coming into the Chamber this afternoon to debate this Bill. It is a Bill that is long overdue. I welcome its publication and look forward to supporting its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas over the coming days and weeks.
I have three points to make. First, I wish to emphasise the importance of the marine domain in this country. I heard some statistics thrown around today and yesterday. The figures I have come from eminent sources. Our maritime domain is 12 times the size of our landmass from a jurisdictional point of view. Looking at it that way, some 92% of Ireland is submerged under the water. This lets us know how important the sea is to this country of ours. Whether we like it or not, we are an island state, a maritime nation and we are completely dependent on the seas and oceans that surround us. I am sure the Minister of State with his green credentials can fully appreciate that. I have three examples as to why the sea is important to us. From a trade perspective, we are a small trading nation. Some 99% of trade that travels in and out of this country is by sea. Deputy Verona Murphy can certainly attest to that. Our sea lanes of communication are very important as are the continental ports in France. It is important that we secure our shipping and ensure our merchant vessels can move freely and unimpeded along those sea lanes.
On the data cables, I am reassured that reference has been made to them in this Bill. They are also very important. If we are planning data cables, we must ensure we can properly secure them and maintain the integrity of those communication lines. There are significant fibre-optic data cables between North America and Europe of great strategic importance. They carry millions of financial transactions every hour. People think that the data cloud is in the sky but in fact the cloud is at the bottom of the sea. If we are planning these data cables, either near our coastline or through our maritime jurisdictional area, it is important that we take this into consideration.
I refer to offshore energy.
The Minister of State knows more than anybody else that the wind and wave potential out there is immense. It is almost immeasurable. There is potential for several trillion euro worth of revenue to be gained from a wind and wave perspective. It is vital that we recognise the importance of our maritime domain. For those reasons, it is important that we improve our maritime positioning. I am not sure there is an understanding of how important it is that we pivot from land to sea and extract as much as possible from a maritime perspective. When I say we can protect and exploit, it is because those two words can be used in tandem. They are not incompatible at all. We can protect the environment and, at the same time, sustainably exploit what it has to offer.
The second key point I want to make relates to MARA, the formation of which I very much welcome. It is a good development and is long overdue. As a proud member of the Regional Group, I am pleasantly surprised that the new body will be based in regional Ireland. All roads do not lead to Dublin but, in fact, to the sea. I am very happy the authority will be located in Wexford. That county deserves this facility for a number of reasons. First, it is coastal county; second, it is a very disadvantaged part of the country; and, third, it is very close to our sea lanes to continental Europe. Most important, it is geographically the closest county to our now nearest EU neighbour, namely, France. Perhaps the Minister of State will elaborate in his closing remarks on where exactly in Wexford MARA will be sited. In the light of recent developments, how will the board be appointed? Will it be through the Public Appointments Service or by Government appointment, and what checks and balances will be in place in that regard? There does not seem to be any input into MARA from a security or defence perspective. Will the Minister of State comment on how that aspect will be fed into the system? The defence and security sectors are key stakeholders in this environment and I would like them to at least have a voice at the table.
The final point I raise is to do with the references in the Bill to enforcement. If we have learned anything from a planning perspective, it is that enforcement is important. From a maritime point of view, enforcement from a number of perspectives must be considered. I refer to our Naval Service. The navy is the primary seagoing State agency in the country and that is exactly as it should be. It operates as a kind of one-stop shop for State services. If the State has a maritime requirement, it generally approaches the navy. That arrangement is called the single-agency concept and it is working very well. For instance, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority does not have vessels of its own. Nor does the Garda Síochána, and even Customs and Excise vessels cannot go out too far and generally piggyback on naval vessels. I suspect MARA will be no different and will have to utilise the resources of the Naval Service. I ask the Minister of State to ensure the navy is properly resourced. It is going through a very bad patch at the moment. I fully appreciate that this is not specifically within the portfolio of the Minister of State and his senior colleague but I refer to the concept of Cabinet collective responsibility. A number of naval vessels cannot put to sea at this time because we do not have the sailors. Navy staff cannot strike and have no access to the Workplace Relations Commission or the Labour Court. They have absolutely no bargaining power when it comes to pay talks. In line with Cabinet collective responsibility, will the Minister of State have a chat with his colleagues and remind them that our sailors and navy staff are relying on Ministers to make a decision to ensure they are not exploited down the line?
In summary, I want to emphasise the importance of elevating maritime matters to where they belong in this island nation of ours. I used the two words "protect" and "exploit" because we certainly can do both. However, we can only do both if we have the proper governance and legislative underpinning in place before we expand into our maritime domain.
Is deas a bheith ar ais anseo i Seomra na Dála. I welcome this Bill because it brings up to date legislation that is far too old and irrelevant to where our island is at today. Deputy Berry's comments were very true. I suspect he and I might have the same source in terms of how big our island actually is, apart from the bit we can see. This Bill is a step in the right direction in terms of putting the legislative framework in place. It could, however, be more ambitious. I am also concerned that the various provisions around community and community-led initiatives will, in fact, result in developer-led activity. It intrigues me that there is even a difference between community-led projects and community benefit funds. There should be just one community benefit and it should be community-driven and community-owned, as opposed to owned by those who seek to develop it.
I note the marine planning policy statements and marine area consent system and the various aspects of those provisions. They reflect a major change in planning legislation, particularly for the coastal communities concerned. It would be beneficial for the Department not to wait until the legislation is passed but to engage now in an information campaign on what this will mean for communities. I come from a county where communities and community spirit were destroyed because of the bad handling of an energy project. I do not want to see any community in my county or anywhere else go through that again.
There needs to be greater engagement with fishing communities on the Bill and its consequences. Our fishing industry is in a very dark place at this time and these changes are adding to their concerns and causing stress. Atlantic coastal communities have the most to gain from the legislation but they also have the most to pay. The Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, has just come into the Chamber. I am sure he had something to do with the decision to locate the new agency, MARA, in Wexford. MARA needs to have a very active and visible presence on the west coast, where the bulk of this development will happen and the bulk of the advantage to Ireland Inc, for want of a better phrase, lies. Communities must be partners in this legislation. If not, the legislation and the new planning system will not work and we will not be able to get the benefits, not just for our economy but for our environment.
Deputy Naughten's proposal regarding the Western Development Commission is worth pursuing. The commission is an organisation with enormous potential. With the proper support and investment, the western investment fund could be key to enabling this legislation to make a real difference and to equipping communities to involve themselves in some of the benefits of offshore wind and alternative energies. Other projects will come under this system. It is not just about alternative and renewable energy; it is about tourism projects along rivers and coasts, which are areas that planning has choked for a long time pending the enactment of this legislation. An active engagement with the Western Development Commission is important. There also must be an engagement with the Atlantic Economic Corridor organisation. If the Atlantic Economic Corridor project and the rebalancing of our country's economy away from the east coast are to mean anything, this legislation and its potential are crucial. Unless there is engagement, we will not see any of the benefits of it.
There are other issues that are crucial to consider. I think the Minister of State will agree that the issue of coastal erosion is not being properly dealt with, either by central or local government. It would be worth his while to see how many local authorities have not drawn down funding to deal with coastal erosion because they do not have the ability to meet the co-funding requirements. Our coast is eroding in front of our eyes. As we move into the winter season, there are beaches, dunes and cliffs there today that will not be there next year. If we are to have proper maritime area planning, coastal erosion must be taken seriously by both Government and local authorities. We cannot just assume it is an inevitable consequence without engaging with local authorities and communities in defending our coasts and coastal localities.
The theory and ambition behind this Bill and behind much of the work of moving to renewable energy is excellent.
We all sign up to it, but ambition is lacking. I constantly hear that from organisations and companies that want to engage with the State. For instance, we aim to have many targets in renewable energy as a country, yet we are dragging our feet and have to be dragged kicking and screaming. Hydrogen is an example one of those areas. I fear that much of the benefits of this Bill will also be wasted because the reality and ambition do not match the rhetoric or our alternative and renewable energy policy. This legislation, welcome as it is, is an opportunity to match the ambition and to match what we do with the rhetoric and do what people say. Otherwise, the legislation will be just another document on a shelf.
Communities, local authorities and private enterprise the length and breadth of the Atlantic coast want to do this. They want to engage with the Department and with private and community enterprise to maximise the power of the Atlantic, as I am sure do communities in the south east and on the east coast. They need the Department, the organisation and MARA to have the ambition that they have. They need MARA to have the flexibility and the desire to work with them on these plans. The Minister should not allow this Bill to make the mistakes that were made previously in developing our renewable resources. He should not allow this Bill and the powers it gives to alienate communities from their own resources and energy. He must allow them to get the economic and social benefits of the Bill. Otherwise, we are wasting our time here.
Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil mé sásta go bhfuil an Bille seo á phlé. Is rud fíorthábhachtach é go bhfuilimid ag plé leis an mBille seo atá ag déileáil le pleanáil amach ón gcósta. Dúradh liom agus chuala mé an Teachta Ó Cuív ag rá, agus b’fhéidir go ndúirt an Leas-Cheann Comhairle é freisin, nach dtuigeann sé cén fáth nach bhfuil Gaeilge ar an Teideal seo agus caithfidh mé a rá nach dtuigim cén fáth go bhfuilimid ag bogadh i dtreo téarmaíochta Bhéarla sa Dáil lá i ndiaidh lae.
Agus muid ag déanamh plé ar an mBille seo, is dócha gurb é an rud atá tábhachtach ná go mbeadh sé inár n-intinn i gcónaí agus muid ag plé le forbairt in-athnuaite agus pleanáil amach ón gcósta ná go gcaithfimid cinntiú go bhfuil tábhacht leis an mbitheolaíocht agus go bhfuil sí á cosaint againn. Chomh maith leis sin, caithfimid cuimhneamh ar na ceantair agus má tá forbairt ag tarlú, tá sé fíorthábhachtach go mbeidh buntáiste eacnamaíochta ag an gceantar agus más ceantar iargúlta é, amhail Conamara i mo Dháilcheantar féin, go mbeadh fostaíocht agus mar sin de ag teacht ón bhforbairt go dtí an ceantar sin.
Le cúpla lá anuas, bhí go leor cainte mar gheall ar go mb’fhéidir go mbeadh pleanáil á chur isteach i gcomhair forbartha in-athnuaite taobh amuigh de ché Ros an Mhíl agus b’fhéidir gur billiún euro a bheidh i gceist leis an bhforbairt sin. Is é an rud atá fíorthábhachtach, má tharlaíonn sé sin, ná go mbeadh buntáiste eacnamaíoch don cheantar. Má táimid ag breathnú air sin, tá sé fíorthábhachtach go mbeadh an t-infreastruchtúr ann. Tá mé ag caint le fada an lá faoin tábhacht go mbeadh infreastruchtúr cuí ag ceantair iargúlta. Nuair atáimid ag caint faoin infreastruchtúr sin agus forbairt amach ón gcósta ag cé Ros an Mhíl, tá sé fíorthábhachtach go n-aontódh an Rialtas go dteastaíonn forbairt ar ché Ros an Mhíl.
Tá sé cloiste againn inniu agus le roinnt laethanta anuas go mbeidh tuairisc eile ar bun sula ndéantar cinneadh ar fhorbairt ché Ros an Mhíl. Táimid ag fanacht ar thuairisc i ndiaidh tuairisce agus caithfidh an Rialtas cinneadh a dhéanamh maidir le cé Ros an Mhíl agus caithfidh an Rialtas a rá go bhfuil sé chun an fhorbairt sin a dhéanamh ar mhaithe leis na daoine áitiúla.
The Bill seeks to provide the legislative framework for a new streamlined development consent process for activities in the maritime area, including offshore renewable energy. The Bill also provides for the establishment of a new agency, the maritime area regulatory authority, to undertake certain consenting and enforcement functions in the new regime. Types of projects or activities that would fall under the new MAC system under the marine planning and development management Bill include offshore renewable energy and gas storage, telecommunications cables, ports, harbours, marine environment surveys and pollution, while also helping to address the threat of climate disruption.
It is critical that coastal communities and the fisheries sector are fully protected within the new process, while also ensuring tourism potential is not impacted. Much of the conversation regarding this plan emanating from the Government has revolved around the potential to scale up offshore wind energy in line with increased targets, aligned with a halving of carbon emissions by 2030. However, there has been little or no meaningful public consultation with local communities on the plans. It appears that much of the focus on maritime planning is on developing wind energy, while on the other hand targeting the effective wipeout of the entire fishing sector. Where is the sustainability in this approach? While I agree with wind energy at sea, in no way should it be allowed to impede the fishing sector. This sector was abandoned by successive Governments before and during Brexit and has since been abandoned by the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Green Party Government, which happily sat idly by as €43 million was wiped off fishermen's income in the blink of an eye. The hope for the Government is that it can now stagger along until the decommissioning of the Irish fishing fleet happens. It is a case of getting rid of it. Ireland and Europe worked hand in hand together to wipe out the fishing industry.
The Bill must demonstrate how fishermen and rural coastlines and islands will benefit from it. Areas of Irish water will be set aside for construction. If that is the case with this proposal, jobs will be created in all sectors at sea, both long term and short term. Can we guarantee that fishermen who are now out of work can get some of these jobs? Such issues must be examined in order that we can bring hard-pressed fishermen totally on board. Have discussions taken place with fishing groups throughout the country and what has been the outcome, as they are masters of the sea and the voice that must be listened to?
The discussions must be honest, unlike the recent visit to west Cork of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue. He mistakenly sent a press release about the successful visit he had with fishermen in west Cork the day before he arrived, which meant this political stunt backfired and showed what little regard he had for the fishing groups and fishermen of west Cork. There is a degree of mistrust in rural, island and coastal communities and that must be examined more deeply by the Minister. If he wants to get this across the line, which is of great importance, he must do so with their consent and by working with them. When he visits constituencies such as Cork South-West, he might contact all the elected representatives so that we can work with him rather than looking at party members from elsewhere on the political spectrum. It will come back to us, the Deputies in these areas, and if we are being overlooked and are not part of the process, we will make our own mind up from there.
If the Bill is to be managed properly, we must have honest and straight discussion on the benefits and pitfalls and explain how we soften the pitfalls to the benefit of rural communities. The loss of fishing grounds must be avoided at all costs. I recently met with the successful fish farm groups in Castletownbere. I put to them the upset of inshore fishermen when large fish farms are given licences taking up large areas of the sea. That is a huge concern. We are facing something similar but of a different nature in the bigger seas and there is concern about it. In fairness, some of the people who have fish farms are genuine. They are local and they are providing local employment but there is a concern about them. There is a land-based alternative in some countries and that must be examined here as an option.
I was listening to the fish farmers and I fully agree with them. The biggest blockages they have in this country, and I hope the Minister of State does not come up against the same pitfalls, is the licences being applied, for example, for a fish farm. I am not saying that a fish farm should or should not get that licence, but it takes ten years before it is notified. Imagine someone applies for planning permission for a house or anything else and has to wait ten years for a response as to whether they get it or not. It is an astonishing situation. I know it is not under the Minister of State's Department but it is under the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and it has to be answerable to these applicants, whether their application is genuine or not, and that is another area the maritime Bill should be looking at because we should be looking at all issues of the sea.
What I am trying to say is that there is engagement and discussion but I wish that discussion had gone on before Brexit last year. No matter how I mentioned it in the Dáil, the Taoiseach was away with the fairies and he did not understand what I was talking about. It was obvious the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine did not understand it. They led blindly into an agreement out in Europe that decimated Irish fishermen and ruined their incomes and livelihoods. There was no answer bar dragging themselves into decommissioning, hoping that will get things across the line, get rid of this and then move on.
I also note that our harbours will be involved in this Maritime Area Planning Bill. Harbours and piers need to be looked at seriously. There are so many in west Cork that need upgrading and that is probably the case throughout the country because they are in a shocking state of disrepair. I can name many, and one is the pier at Union Hall. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine was down recently to do the Fianna Fáil road trip, for all the good it was to the fishermen of west Cork, as the pier users in Union Hall got no announcement as to when that pier will be expanded or works done on it.
Floating terminals were mentioned. I cannot understand for the life of me why this cannot be considered in a more serious light. I am certainly not an expert on floating terminals but I did put forward a very genuine proposal to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, last year in a spirit of openness and dialogue. To be fair, he rang the individual in question in west Cork, a person who had huge experience across the world and wanted to invest some money in Ireland. We have a situation where we have faced many amber alerts in the last 12 months. We are on the verge of a blackout in Ireland and, if the Minister of State does not mind me saying it, a bit like with the Brexit negotiations, the Government is asleep at the wheel. We have to look at other ways. This plan is down the road. I know the Minister is trying to speed it up and I respect some parts of that, but it is still not going to be a solution to the situation we are in right now. The floating terminal was a great solution by a west Cork company that was willing to invest and willing to do this off Cork Harbour. Please tell me where I am going wrong or where this guy is going wrong because it is happening all over Europe. It seemed to be a green solution and a great solution, but not in Ireland. It cannot happen off Cork because we are Irish. Is that it? I went into great detail with the Minister. I raised it on Leaders’ Questions at some stage and had three minutes with our leaders to try to get that point across because I had taken advice and listened.
While we need to discuss the Maritime Area Planning Bill, as I said, I wish the Government gave as much time to other maritime areas. I am supportive of much of the Bill but if rural communities, inshore fishermen and pelagic fishermen are not properly consulted, I will be led by their call as they are the only people I am answerable to inside in the Dáil - the people of Castletownbere, Kilcrohane, Mizen Head and all the way out along the coastline to Kinsale, by Union Hall and Glandore. They are the people who put me here and the people I represent. If the Minister of State is in west Cork, he might decide there is only a certain sector that he wants to speak to but I want everybody spoken to. I want everybody on board. I want to make sure that everybody's livelihoods are protected, the livelihoods that were lost by complete and utter neglect. This is an opportunity to turn it around. There may be advantages and there will obviously be snags and disadvantages that we will have to iron out. I am supportive of this if they are ironed out and if there is complete consultation. I will be meeting with fishing groups over the weekend and discussing this with them. I will be meeting farming groups and I have just texted in regard to an IFA meeting over the weekend. I want to talk to them because they represent rural communities and I want their vision and their view on this. In fairness, we are in the House talking about it, which is positive and something I welcome. Hopefully, we will keep along that line of discussion and go from there.
I am glad to speak on the Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021, which seeks to provide a legislative framework for a new streamlined development consent process for activities in the maritime area, including offshore renewable energy. The Bill also provides for the establishment of a new agency, which is the bit I do not like, the maritime area regulatory authority, or MARA. I remember “Mara” used to be referred to on “Scrap Saturday” and that was P. J. Mara, God rest him, a friend of mine. I hope this will not be another quango. We have so many of these quangos and agencies. If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will allow me to digress a small bit, we have the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, which is totally unfit for purpose. Two young men from my constituency drowned nearly 11 years ago off Helvick and there was no proper investigation or inquiry. Nobody with seagoing experience is on that board. There is every kind of hanger-on or political appointee but nobody with seagoing experience. It is imperative, if this MARA is to be set up, that we will not be shouting “Mara”, as we heard back in the past, and that it has people who know what they are doing.
I know nothing about offshore wind energy but I am all for it. I heard a Deputy say earlier that the stocks might be replenished because some of the bigger boats might not be able to commit themselves in the area. That should have been looked at years ago. Our fishing industry has been wiped out and all we see is the compensation scheme. I remember when the Carlow sugar factory, in the Minister of State's constituency, closed and it was then moved to Mallow. I had huge engagement with the people moving it because there was massive equipment which went through Tipperary and there were problems all over the place. I apologised to the contractor after a delay of three or four days trying to get through the town of Cahir. He said that, if the truth be known, he was moving it closer to the scrapyard in Haulbowline. The closure sent it to Mallow and Mallow was gone shortly afterwards, with the loss of that valuable industry. We have lost the fishing industry. We are not learning from our mistakes. It is all but lost. It is lost, it is gone, and we have a compensation scheme. What good is compensation for people whose lives are at sea, whose lives are work at sea, who are providing jobs and spin-off jobs and, above all, providing food for our people and people who want to visit our shores? What has gone wrong?
I know there is a review of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board at the moment but it is a token review. It is not fit for purpose. Who will be on this new agency? Is it more party cronies divvying it up between the three parties, or somebody might lobby from abroad and send texts to get on it because they know somebody? This is what is wrong here.
We are trading recklessly as regards power supply for our country. I was in contact with EirGrid last spring to be told we had two orange and two amber alerts in the fall last year. Without doubt, we are going to be lurching into darkness this year. There have already been unexplained power cuts in different towns and people have contacted me, albeit the power cuts were short. We have to consider the damage that does to equipment, especially when it is without notice. It is bad enough if a swan hits a power line, which can happen in my area, or there is an accident, a storm or an act of God, and we have to turn it off. The Government is closing down peat stations and not replenishing supplies. We are trying to rush by setting up this agency and bringing forward this legislation.
We definitely need to utilise wind. God knows, we have enough area of sea around the country and I have the research figures here, which I do not have time to go into. It is massive, as we know. We are a small island country but we are losing our destiny as a sovereign nation. We have lost it; we have sold it. Who owns these big conglomerates that are going to come in and develop this? I heard Deputy Calleary, for whom I have great respect, mention the community developments. The same happened with the turbines. There was huge angst and anxiety in my constituency because they were all out-of-town developers and big companies that were doing the development. They thought they could, like Cromwell, nearly take over the county of Tipperary. When Cromwell came over the Vee from Port Láirge - the Minister of State knows the area - he looked down on the plains of south Tipperary and the Golden Vale. What a land worth conquering, he said. Some of these companies think the same and they treat people with disdain. They do not consult, they do not engage and there is no bottom-up engagement with the community.
I am all for community, forbairt in local people and the meitheal spirit, but we have gone away from it. I note two meetings in my county in recent days trying to revitalise our villages. Public meetings start at the bottom. They have been denuded and cleaned out, with shops closed, pubs closed - everything closed. The way the housing policy is going now, we cannot build houses and we are herding everybody into the cities.
On this specific legislation, I will work with the Government constructively. However, as I said, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage brought forward another part of this before Christmas and he did not even go through pre-legislative scrutiny. This is not the way to deal with such issues.
I have listened to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and others who know more about this than I do talk about their fears regarding big companies when they come in. Do MARA and the other agencies have the power to police it? The Garda has neither authority nor equipment to go out on the sea to deal with the Marine Casualty Investigation Board and they conduct desktop studies. Conducting desktop studies with these big companies would be very dangerous.
The policy around our renewables and our energy is gone daft. The price of ESB is gone hugely expensive. I am told that in Lanesborough, the Government is dismantling a peat processing plant and it is being exported to Germany and being put into reoperation as a peat processing plant out there. I am all for climate change and being sensible about green policies but this is daft. We are closing down. We are tying our two hands behind our back and nearly blindfolding us. We will be in the dark in the winter. We will be fumbling around trying to feel our way or back to the candles. This is not the answer.
Sustainable local involvement by community groups must be nurtured and supported. We should take chapters from the different pieces of legislation across the water in England where they have community gain in all planning applications. Deputy Michael Collins, my colleague in the Rural Independent Group, stated before me how he knows that the fish farms and the merits of them can be achieved elsewhere. That is what the planning authority is for, but for any decision to take ten years is archaic. No developer will wait.
Then we had the situation in the Minister of State's constituency where our friends in An Taisce are holding up a fabulous splendid pristine-clean company to process our milk into cheese that is needed, with a Dutch company as partners. For a fourth time, they are going back to the courts. We are told they will go to the European court. Where was An Taisce when we allowed all these data companies to come in here and make the ordinary public pay for the ESB for them by the reverse charges? This is crazy stuff. We are crucifying and, as I mentioned the late Oliver Cromwell, we are going back to the people to make them paupers again - pay up, shut up and stay quiet. Over the past 18 months, we have terrorised them and locked them down completely. Our freedoms have been denied to us.
In this area, we have allowed the fishing industry to go like the beet industry, but will we allow these big offshore companies to come in? We do not have the expertise and, meaning no disrespect to the Department officials here, we probably have no proper expertise dealing with it either. We need to get in the right people and expertise. As I said, we need to get the right people on MARA because if we do not, we are piddling against the wind. We are talking about wind energy here and we could create a lot. All the hot air spoken here last night would nearly power the place for a week if we could capture and use it. That often happens in here.
I am asking the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan. He is a Green Party member. I have respect for the Minister of State but the policies are on their head when we have data companies using such quantities of electricity. We are building more of them and we are boasting about them. There is a building going up on the Naas Road - the Ceann Comhairle probably sees it as well as I do. It is massive and we cannot get a henhouse built or build a log cabin. We cannot build log cabins anymore because we cannot cut the trees. I said yesterday morning here that when somebody plants any crop they are entitled to harvest it. You should not have to get a licence to harvest a crop of trees after waiting 25 or 30 years.
On this Bill, I look forward to engaging with the Minister of State on it. Deputy Collins was lamenting the fact the Minister of State was in west Cork and he never met the Deputy or told him. That is disrespectful to any Oireachtas Member but it is happening all the time. The Minister of State promised to visit the wonderful Knocklofty House in Knocklofty Demesne, a former home of the Earl of Donoughmore who was kind to the IRA men on the run, looked after them, left them train and fed them. The house now is being plundered. The Minister of State promised to come and see it. I beg the Minister of State to come and see it because it will not survive another winter.
A couple of years ago, Wexford County Council put forward proposals to develop Trinity Wharf in Wexford town to rejuvenate a brownfield site at the heart of the town to help to develop the socio- and commercial development of the area, to facilitate economic growth and, in particular, to create a vibrant place to live, to do business and to support the cultural part of that town. I was delighted recently when the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, provided almost €19 million under the European Regional Development Fund, ERDF, scheme to help to develop that as the location is wonderful, looking over Wexford Harbour and Wexford town has a rich maritime history. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, visited Wexford town only two weeks ago with me and the mayor, Mr. Garry Laffan, from Wexford town, where he confirmed that the new maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, will be located in Trinity Wharf. I could think of no better location.
There is a rich history in Wexford and we have deep connections to Savannah, to Newfoundland, where you can still hear the Wexford accent several hundred years later, and to Argentina. We did not go to anywhere handy in the United States, like New York or Chicago. We went to some very distant places but our history and tradition is still there.
I wish MARA the best as a key agency. It will be in a county where we already have the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is a crucial agency to support the Maritime Area Planning Bill and to ensure it will be effective in ensuring the protection of our coastlines and developing the potential of those coastlines, but to do so in a manner that is safe and protective of our coastlines and our climate and in a way that recognises the local communities. It will be critical that in any developments that MARA will oversee, the local communities on the coastlines are protected and, whether they be the fisheries or the villages, are involved and consulted. They should also benefit from any economic advancements as a result of developing offshore wind energy, such as wind, tidal and other wave energies. Of course, that would be another key part of it as well.
We are facing a catastrophe around climate change or, to use the more apt phrase because of what is happening, global warming. MARA will be critical to ensuring we can develop that offshore energy in a manner that recognises the importance of our coastal culture. Our sea area is seven times the area of our landmass. We have huge potential there to develop it, but in a sustainable way that helps to tackle global warming and climate change.
As I say, this will be a hub of excellence based in Wexford town. I tried to argue that if you stood up on top of Vinegar Hill in Enniscorthy town on a ladder you could see the sea on a clear day and maybe Enniscorthy would be a great location for MARA but that was an argument and a stretch a bit too far.
I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on this Bill. It has huge potential. I also congratulate the Ministers of State, Deputies Noonan and Peter Burke, who no doubt have had significant input into these proposals.
I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Maritime Area Planning Bill 2021. As an elected representative for one of Dublin's coastal constituencies, I am all too well aware of the negative impact planning along the coastline has had on local communities, over the years and right up to the present day. This is an extremely important and vast piece of legislation and will have far-reaching consequences for generations to come.
We need a robust system that will deliver for the State and, most importantly, our coastal communities, which have often been forgotten and failed.
It is all well and good speaking about vast pieces of legislation, but I do not see us getting the basics right in Sandymount or Ringsend. When you walk down the Shelly Banks and around Sandymount strand and experience the dreadful smell of what the council tells us is Ectocarpus - there are vast amounts of it, making Sandymount strand almost unusable - or hear that another "do not swim" notice has been put in place, it is upsetting for residents and visitors. You might stroll by the Poolbeg lighthouse, which is a popular spot for sea swimming at the Half Moon swimming club, and see brown foam floating on the water's surface only to be told by officials it is harmless and just the result of heavy industry further up the Liffey. Sandymount strand as well as Clontarf in the north of Dublin are regularly unusable because of neglect by State authorities, including the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. During the winter, I regularly get reports from rowers in the Stella Maris Rowing Club and St. Patrick's Rowing Club of raw sewage floating past them as they row up the Liffey or along the coast. Recently, I reported what appeared to be waste discharge but was told it was grand. If you saw it, you would not put a dog in it, never mind kids. You would not feel safe even wading into it up to your ankles.
This situation is not acceptable and has to change. We must do something about it. Coastal communities should not have to put up with these failures time and again. We need to start getting the basics right. The State needs to start delivering for these communities. We need additional water quality monitoring at beaches and shorelines where there are swimmers year round. Sea swimming has taken off and is something we must keep up with, but we are not at the moment. Information needs to be made available to the public rather than buried online. It needs to be published in local media and on social media. We need to escalate rapidly the development of infrastructure nationwide to treat raw sewage before it is discharged into coastal waters. We need short-term engineering solutions to be put in place while works are being carried out to prevent further discharges of raw sewage every time there is heavy rainfall. These requests are moderate and would improve the impact on coastal communities immensely.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute on the debate. This is a welcome Bill that is necessary to ensure the maritime area will see some sort of control over the development of its resources as well as preservation of environmentally vital areas, which is probably a more important element at this stage.
Our record of protecting the environment has been pretty poor. The marine area has really only been recognised in Ireland recently. Those of us who have lived in maritime areas have known of its importance to our communities. In the past, there has been a them or us attitude to preservation of the marine environment, but that is changing. Vitally, we know the whole environment is interlinked.
I would be concerned as to how the planning of the marine environment will progress even with this Bill. Marine protected areas, MPAs, are geographically defined parts of the marine environment where a limit has been placed on offshore industry and other human activity to protect marine habitats. Only a small percentage of our marine environment is protected currently. I believe it works out at approximately 2.13%. This will have to increase significantly in the next few years. It is not something our fishing communities and island communities should be afraid of, but given how the Bill might develop, they may well be.
MPAs are a key tool in ensuring the conservation of marine ecosystems. Legislation on expanding the MPA network will follow the Bill, but why must it follow? They could have been managed together. The network legislation is large and complicated, but this so-called complicated Bill has been put back a couple of years already. I am afraid that damaging human activities, pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change will be left until the end after a great deal more damage has been done.
Developers will be granted marine area consents, MACs, in ecologically important areas. There is no way around that, which I understand. According to Dr. Tasman Crowe of the Earth Institute in his contribution during the committee's consideration of this Bill, the MPAs will require "implementation as part of the national marine planning framework" and "co-ordination among relevant Departments and wide and sustained consultation". Therein lies a major part of the problem, as it seems everything falls down in this country when we need to have Departments work together to achieve a goal. How will the Minister of State ensure Departments will work together? Which Department will take the lead? Will his Department even be interested in seeing how this develops? These are important questions and their answers will have an impact on how the Bill progresses and whether it is successful.
The Bill does not include all of the marine environment. It amazes me that this can be the case. Fishery harbours are not included and fish farming has been kept out of the Bill. How could a Bill that is supposed to deal with the marine environment leave out fishing ports and fish farming? While there appears to be some mapping of consent for fish farms in the Bill and through the environmental process, how much does it integrate fish farming into the overall marine environment protection? This is a vital issue.
The Bill's main purpose seems to be the development of offshore energy projects, particularly wind, although there is tidal and wave power as well. There is no doubt it needs to be managed in a way that allows schemes that have already gone some way down the development road to go ahead. I presume they will still need to have regard to environmental needs. Even though all of the MPAs have not been designated, it will still be known where they are likely to be. This needs to be taken into account.
I note that marine planning is developer-led and the intention is to move to a plan-led system. This is a laudable aspiration and is where we should be heading, but we do not have a good record of it in Ireland. That problem will arise in future. Will marine developers supply environmental impact statements for their developments? An offshore environmental impact statement, EIS, will be the same as an onshore EIS in that it will not say a development should not go ahead. A system should be developed like the one that obtains in respect of Natura bays and fish farming, in which regard we did something well, albeit only because we were forced kicking and screaming by Europe into doing it. Working through it was slow, but it has done a proper job. Under it, it is the Department and the Marine Institute that carry out the assessments and tell the developers what the latter have to take cognisance of in the licensing regimes. That is where we should be going with all developments. The State or its planning authorities should conduct the assessments, not the developers. He who pays the piper calls the tune. That is the reality of the situation. As I have stated numerous times, I have yet to see an EIS that says a development is too detrimental to the environment to go ahead. The person paying for the assessment will get the answer he or she wants. We could face this problem in future.
There is an opportunity to do this right. Let us take the time and put a genuine plan-led development system in place. The plan-led aspect is vital. I would love to see it working out that developments take place in this way. Unfortunately, only time will tell whether that is what we achieve through this process. If we need to change and adjust to protect the environment, I hope we will not be too late in doing so. We must get this right. Maybe I am being too negative. I am not wildly confident we will have such a system, but I hope we do. If we do, we will have something to point to as a model for the way ahead. Maybe we will be able to move the offshore development system onshore so that we can have proper developments onshore as well. Time will tell.
I am pleased to speak in favour of the Bill, which will lead to many new and exciting developments in our marine economy.
The establishment of this authority will ensure that these developments will be done in a well-managed way, striking a delicate balance between sustainable development and managing our environment for the good of all humans and the millions of other species of flora and fauna with which we share our land and seas.
Ireland has a long and proud tradition of marine enterprise and exploration. I am a Teachta Dála for the coastal county of Clare. We must remember that 75% of our population live in coastal counties. The new authority will be of benefit to all of us, and I will support this Bill. The new authority will research, plan, and manage a maritime area seven times the size of our landmass. The main basis for this legislation is contained in the National Marine Planning Framework, part 1 of Ireland's marine strategy, which was published by the Government just over a year ago. This is a comprehensive and valuable document. Many of the records contained in this report were recorded and observed by the Marine Institute. Will this body be absorbed into the new authority or will it remain an independent entity?
Ireland's location in the north Atlantic has given us a favourable climate since the end of the Ice Age, but with increased industrialisation over the past 200 years we have endangered not only ourselves but our climate, which we now know is a delicate balance. The creation of this new authority will bring vast rewards for all those involved in the marine. We now know that an increase of 1oC can lead to a 7% increase in moisture content of tropical storms. We have seen the effects in some of the recent storms and subsequent flooding in many of our towns and rural areas. In recent years, Ireland has spent millions on constructing flood defences for many cities and towns throughout the country.
Clare has a proud tradition in the provision of electricity for the entire State in world-leading headline projects that have been game changers. In the first years of the State, 20% of the entire budget was invested in building the Ardnacrusha electricity project and the creation of a national grid. It provided enough electricity to power the entire State. After only a few years, it provided 80% and it now produces only 2%. Following the oil crisis, the State decided to reduce its dependence on the use of oil to produce electricity and built the coal burning Moneypoint power station, which over the past 40 years, has provided up to 45% of our electricity needs. The scientific advice has advanced and it is now essential that we reduce our carbon emissions and use green energy to power our energy needs. It is with great satisfaction that I acknowledge the regeneration plans for the Moneypoint power station by the ESB, along with international partners in the world-leading headline Green Atlantic project. They are planning to transform this location into a strategic base, with its deep sea port facility to provide green energy for Ireland and the strategic use of new technology offshore floating windmills to provide all of Ireland's electricity, and in the future, exporting this clean green energy.Work on this project has started and a large part of the infrastructure is in place. Within this project is also the development of a green hydrogen generation plant which is expected to power fuel our ships, trains and heavy goods vehicles and, probably in the foreseeable future, aeroplanes, which will be a massive asset for the nearby Shannon Airport.
While mentioning the Shannon Estuary, I must also highlight the excitingrural regeneration and development fund application lodged by Clare County Council and supported by Enterprise Ireland for the establishment of a new maritime training centre in Kilrush. I understand that it will provide marine safety training to all personnel involved in maritime operations, including our rescue services, those who will construct and service these new floating wind turbines and all others involved in the marine sector.
In recent years, we have seen a number of important and strategic developments held up or cancelled by serial objectors who, for ideological or other reasons, have lodged numerous objections. Does this legislation include any measures to provide for address of these concerns in a balanced and fair way for all sides? Is the issue of commercial rates liable to a local authority also addressed? Will the hundreds, if not thousands, of marine wrecks at the bottom of sea be dealt with within the administrative area of the new authority?
Under section 36, the authority is answerable to the Minister. Does this extend to the answering of parliamentary questions?
I support this Bill. It will facilitate the headline projects I mentioned in County Clare. I look forward to its safe passage through the Houses.
I am glad to contribute to the debate on the Bill. For many decades, we in Ireland turned our back to the sea. I come from a coastal community, where we have Cork Harbour, the second largest natural harbour in the world, Cobh Harbour, which is steeped in history, Ballycotton Harbour and Youghal Harbour, where the film "Moby Dick" was made not that long ago. The coastline along that area is maritime and it is inhabited by fisherfolk, which is a dwindling community, one that needs our support.
For many generations, we have treated the sea as a dumping ground. It was fantastic to be in the presence of the Taoiseach recently when he opened the waste water treatment plant pumping station in Cobh dockyard, where up to quite recently 44,000 Wheelie bins of raw sewage per day were being dumped into Cork Harbour. That has stopped. We have done something similar in Youghal and Carrigtwohill, but there is a lot more to be done across the country to treat effluent and to stop the sea being treated as a dumping ground. I am concerned too about the plastics, including microplastics, that our finding their way into the sea and out into the ocean. We have an awful lot more to do in that regard.
It would be remiss of me when talking about the sea and the potential of the sea not to say that we must the best we can to safeguard the America's Cup. It would be a shame if we lost it. Generations into the future will not forgive us if we let it go. I call on the Government to do what it can. I know we are discussing an infrastructure Bill but infrastructure will need to be developed to make this happen. Plans already in place will have to be brought forward. It would be a fantastic event for the country if we could get it. We should do all we can to bring it here.
Mention has been made by colleagues of green hydrogen. I am not sure if the Ceann Comhairle is aware of it but there are plans to erect large wind turbines off the coast of Cork. This is known as floating wind energy. It is very exciting. I often wondered how it could be possible to have a floating turbine and whether the first storm would knock it over, but technology has advanced so much they are floating, tethered to the bottom. They are enormous. For many years, people have objected to wind turbines on land and they have become a bit toxic and they do not want to look at them. People will not be able to see the floating wind turbines because they are out at sea, but they will have an impact when out at sea, in particular on the marine environment. That is why this Bill is so important. We need to plan these things carefully. A company in Cork called Simply Blue Energy Limited has fantastic plans to do this. The plan is to pump the electricity onshore and to use that to create green hydrogen by splitting the water into hydrogen and oxygen and using that hydrogen to generate electricity to power our trucks, ships, aeroplanes and to pump it into the gas grid. We have one of the most modern gas grids in the world. This has to be planned properly. It also needs to be fast-tracked and supported as best we can. It is hugely exciting. The only emissions from this when the hydrogen is burned is heat, energy and water. It is really good. It is the future for us all.
Talking about the future and about infrastructure brings me to another point. Quite often we in this House plan in election cycles. We plan from one election to the next. Five years is the maximum, then everything stops and we start again. Recently, I was in the company of a group of people who wanted to honour a man called Edward Bransfield, who discovered Antarctica on 30 January 1820. At the moment the ice sheets of Antarctica are melting at a ferocious rate. The ice sheets in Greenland are melting at a ferocious rate. The glaciers are melting at a ferocious rate. While we were in recess, some reports came out which were staggering. These reports suggest many towns I represent such as Midleton, Cobh and Youghal will be underwater in the next 30 years. They also suggest much of Dublin will be underwater due to rising sea levels. I have done a fair bit of reading on this and it seems this particular issue is unstoppable. The sea has warmed, the ice is melting and this is irreversible. What we should do now is plan ahead to see what we can do to safeguard our towns, cities and people from rising sea levels. There is no point in waiting until the water is coming under our door. That is too late. Maps produced by the EPA and OPW are pretty scary. All the low-lying areas are at risk around our coastline. However, we are not as bad as some parts of Europe. I have seen some suggestions for infrastructure that must be put in place, and which can be, to safeguard against and prevent the damage and the worst outcomes that can happen. I have seen some reports that suggest 100,000 addresses in Ireland could be at risk by 2050, which is not far away. If we are to safeguard these addresses and these people, homes, businesses and infrastructure, we must start planning now. The Minister of State is probably well-seized of this. We must take action. This is something that is coming and from what I have read, and I have read a lot on it from people who have studied it a lot, it cannot be stopped. It is going to happen. We can throw our hands in the air and say this is or more of this or more of that but I have read the science and I am quite concerned about it. Thus I would suggest that when we are talking about this Bill, we ensure we get our act together regarding rising sea levels. It is hugely important.
With respect to the other issue of global warming, we are aware, and it has been said again and again that the agricultural sector produces much methane from the dairy herd. There is much interesting research going on, which suggests methane could be reduced by feeding a very small amount of a certain form of seaweed to cattle. That seaweed could and should be harvested in the marine environment and this is something we should perhaps consider as well. We must produce food but it should be clean food and green food and the answer is in the blue sea.
I have spoken many times in the House on the areas of fishing and the marine and some of the issues I have raised highlight the need for better marine planning, so I am pleased to be speaking on the Bill. I will first address maritime spatial plans in chapter 2. We will have to wait and see how these spatial plans work in practice but progress in the area is welcome. The Bill states:
(2) The objectives of a [maritime spatial plan] shall be— (a) to analyse and organise maritime usages in the maritime area for the purpose of achieving ecological, economic and social priorities,
(b) to establish a national strategy for the Government in relation to the strategic planning and sustainable maritime usages in the maritime area,
(c) to apply an ecosystem based approach for the purpose of supporting proper planning and sustainable maritime usages in the maritime area, and
(d) to promote the colocation of different types of maritime usages in the maritime area.
I have highlighted on a couple of occasions the lack of joined-up thinking when it comes to the planning of marine activities. I used the example of cable-laying activities being issued a licence to operate in fishing areas, which effectively meant two separate Departments granted licences for two different activities in the same area, leading to conflict. The conflict stemmed from the lack of clear rules and regulations as to what activities would have priority. Fishermen were receiving cease and desist letters from cable-laying companies because the fishing activities were interfering with the cable laying. It is for reasons such as this that we need a clear maritime plan for an area to organise the usages in such a way as to reduce conflict. The fishing community in particular has been hit hard over the past number of years. It is the oldest and longest-established maritime activity. In the same way as horses have the right to use our roads, fishermen have the right to use our waters. I therefore hope that when a maritime spatial plan is being produced that at all times the rights of Irish licence holders to fish in our waters are protected and that it, above all other activities, has the right of way in our waters.
This Bill also establishes an organisation, much mentioned today, to be called the maritime area regulatory authority. I have some examples of issues it might consider working on as soon as possible, though the agency is not yet set up. The first is an issue related to salmon drift net fishing. Following recent correspondence with licence holders for salmon drift net fishing, I was supplied with a copy of correspondence sent to them by the former Minister of State, Mr. John Browne, father of the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne. My correspondent received this letter on 13 February 2007 regarding a temporary suspension of salmon drift net fishing in the interests of conservation. The correspondence refers to a hardship fund aimed at alleviating hardship related to loss of income derived from salmon harvesting in recent years, caused in turn by the cessation of mixed-stock fishing in the interests of conservation. The hardship fund or compensation package was given to licence holders willing to relinquish their licences. Those who held onto their licences in anticipation of a resumption of salmon fishing have not yet received any compensation, nor have they been permitted to resume their fishing activities. The letter goes on to state:
In the future event that stocks recover in each of the rivers of the Waterford estuary, and it is established through the results of the genetic stock identification project that significant numbers of fish destined for other rivers are not intercepted within the estuary by commercial nets, it should be possible to exploit the identified surplus by all methods.
This paragraph clearly shows that under certain conditions, salmon drift net fishing would be allowed to return. More than 14 years later it remains suspended. In the interest of fairness to the people involved, I ask the Minister undertake the a number actions, or perhaps MARA could carry them out. The first is to arrange for a stock identification project to be completed on all relevant rivers to establish whether stocks have returned to a sufficient level for all of the fishing to resume. The second is to reintroduce the hardship fund for any remaining licence holders who wish to relinquish their licence on the same terms as were offered in 2007.
The second issue the Minister or MARA could turn their attention to is the introduction of regulations which see shellfish boats being no longer able to land their catch in UK ports. From 1 October, bivalve mollusc shellfishing boats can no longer land their catch in the UK, meaning they must go to Belgium or France to land their catch. Boats being unable to land in the UK mean hours and hours of additional sea journey time to land catch in EU ports and then more time to get the catch transported back to Ireland for processing.
These fishers are not included as part of the trade and co-operation agreement because they are non-quota. They receive no compensation but are gravely affected. Seven boats are affected by this and all of them are owned in County Wexford. The extra cost imposed as a result of this change will cause major hardship for those hardworking fishermen who are trying to make a continued success of their businesses. Those affected must be supported by a liquidity fund to allow for the costs incurred as a result of the change and to give them time to identify mainland EU processors as we now have only one processor in Ireland.
The way those affected have been treated is unacceptable but is symptomatic of the way in which our Government treats our fishing communities. When it comes to Northern Ireland the protocol can be kicked down the road but we are enforcing it to the nth degree here. This has created an uneven playing field. The Government must think that if no one mentions it, then it will go unnoticed but untold damage is being done. In fact, the Government's treatment of the fishing industry lately, which has been mentioned in the House many times today, has been crazy. I previously highlighted issues around fishermen being expected to spend hundreds of thousands of euro to provide quayside weighbridges when perfectly operational weighbridges are only a few metres away in a factory setting, all as a consequence of the European Commission interfering unnecessarily in our fishing affairs, based on information given by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, SFPA.
The third area that we need to see more movement on is the wind farm construction base at Rosslare Port. No disrespect to the Minister, but there has been much talk today of MARA, a quango that has not yet been set up. It is to be housed in Wexford in a building that has not been built yet. I want to be optimistic and I hope that it transpires that we get MARA and that it is housed in Wexford because the Wexford people do not deserve spin; they deserve delivery. Rosslare Europort is ripe for investment. I do not believe that the heel-dragging will bring the much-needed foreign investment to the port. We need action. We need the Government to deliver on the words that we continually hear on local and national radio. Rosslare Europort is the country's most strategic port and it is in urgent need of investment. Giving taxpayers a double bang for their buck would mean awarding the offshore construction wind base to Rosslare Europort which will provide the infrastructure required and repair the neglect of that port for the last 30 years. I hope that MARA will be a success. Too many State authorities end up putting unnecessarily onerous barriers in the way of people they are supposed to be helping. I hope that the work of MARA will focus on removing barriers to investment and innovation for all of the hard-working people involved in various marine activities across the country.
I will finish on the issue of landing catches in the UK, which I urge the Minister and Department officials to take very seriously. These fishers have spent millions of euro on their fleet. They are now seeing their businesses and their family life turned upside down through no fault of their own because of Brexit. They believed that they would be compensated as part of the national fleet but because their catch is a non-quota species, they have been excluded. No compensation is available to them. They are being told they are not being affected but nothing could be further from the truth. It is the fishers' belief that because there are only seven boats in the Irish fleet, the Government does not care because that amounts to only seven votes. However, I remain optimistic on their behalf and believe that this Government, the Minister and departmental officials have the foresight to prove them wrong. The entire fleet is owned and based in Wexford and as a Wexford woman I know that Government members elected by the people of Wexford, including the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, who has just returned to the Chamber, are well aware that all of Wexford is united behind this small group of fishers and the many who live in our fishing communities. Those who work in the only scallop processing plant in the country, based in Kilmore Quay, are also full-square behind them. We have the best fish restaurants in the country because of our fishers and I am going to name some of them because they deserve it. They depend on the seven boats that the Government may see as representing only seven votes. I will name all of the restaurants I can because those who work in them, their families, communities and county have votes. We have La Côte in Wexford town, the Lobster Pot in Carne, Sharky's Fish and Chips which has become a well-known chain, the Silver Fox and Mary Barry's in Kilmore Quay, the Strand Tavern in Duncannon, The Hollow in Ramsgrange, Byrne's in Ballyhack and Greenacres in Wexford town which has won the best seafood chowder award. These are all family-run businesses, supporting the community and based on our fishing sector and seven boats. I implore the Minister to take that on board and consider the communities in which those seven boats are involved. I am available to discuss this issue with the Minister, the Government or departmental officials at any time.
No, I am not.
The Maritime Area Planning Bill is a component of the national marine planning framework designed to manage marine development. The Minister synopsised this Bill yesterday as setting out to develop and integrate the management plan for 500,000 sq. km. of our ocean and foreshore. The magnitude of the responsibility this Bill seeks to address was highlighted in the Minister's opening statement when he said that we have not inherited the earth from our parents but have borrowed it from our children. The Minister described the scope of the Bill to provide for a marine planning system which will address environmental and planning issues from the smallest boathouse to the largest offshore wind farm. The Bill will establish a new body, the maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, to undertake certain consent and enforcement functions in the new regime.
The enactment and implementation of the Bill will help Ireland to meet its climate action and renewable energy targets. There are very lofty goals within this proposed legislation. Who are the stakeholders? They include Ireland Inc., our coastal communities, our ports and regions, those who draw their living from the ocean, those involved in energy generation and the tourism sector. What are the opportunities? They include the development of a marine-based energy infrastructure having full regard to sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, carbon mitigation, energy security as well as community and enterprise development.
MARA has said that its offices will be located in Wexford which I welcome. I also echo the calls of others in this Chamber regarding the designation of Rosslare as the future wind development port in the country. I am sure the Minister is aware that the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on a recent tour of the country described the future designation of the national wind port as a "competitive process". However, I would point, as I have done on numerous occasions in this House, to the lack of investment in the south-east region over decades. Rosslare is located exactly where it should be in terms of facilitating developments along the east and south coasts. It is also adjacent to the Welsh coast but beyond that, it could be a significant boost to the economy of the south east.
I spoke recently to Mr. Glenn Carr of Rosslare Europort who told me that the envisaged cost is somewhere between €100 million and €150 million, substantially less than the money mentioned earlier to secure the round the world yacht race.
The extension of that facility into the future would benefit Ireland far greater than the tourism boom that might come from yacht racing.
What of the impact on stakeholders, the fishermen and coastal communities, the impacts on our biodiversity, the marine protected areas and our special areas of conservation? Deputy Naughten spoke earlier of the need for a significant and sustained community component, a wind energy rebate into the future. That is an absolute prerogative in this policy.
How does this strategy promote data centre development? I have asked questions in the Dáil in recent weeks, and have yet to have adequate answer, on how many memorandums of understanding, MoUs, have been developed with data centre companies in this country. I understand it is anywhere between 30 and 75. It is said between 30% and 35% of Ireland's energy consumption will be required for data centre management. Are we building these windmills for Ireland Inc. or are we building them for foreign companies to invest in wind generation and data management here?
The long-term strategy is very important in protecting our coastal communities as this strategy unfolds. As others have noted, there are significant pressures on our fishing industry. Factory trawling is going on adjacent to our shores. Can fishermen's trawlers in Ireland be retasked in the future to support offshore wind generation? We should remember that in the recent fishermen's discussions, fishermen lost 15% of their quota. We have some 12% of waters in the EU, yet we can only land 4% of fish caught in these waters. This is an undescribable horror for people who have been in the industry for so long and who see it wane. Maybe wind energy generation can offer some regeneration of income into these coastal communities.
Marine pollution was touched on. There is a significant problem with marine microplastics, as I am sure the Minister is aware. We cannot talk about marine conservation without talking about future social initiatives to change consumer habits. We are talking about stopping fossil fuel generation in the Irish Sea. Why are we not talking about reducing plastic at the same time? It is certainly a no-brainer to me.
I commend the quality of the debate from colleagues yesterday and today. They have offered the Minister and the Government points to think on. We are closing out on the development of fossil fuel and natural gas from the marine environment, but we must ensure we retain national ownership in these future commercial revenues we will create in wind energy generation. I look forward to further developments with Government with this strategy. The south-east coastline is a pre-eminent amenity for people in my constituency and adjacent areas. There are very significant discussions about very large wind farm areas along the south coast. These cannot be foisted on the people of the south to generate for Ireland Inc. and generate energy for foreign data centres without some community coupon and without regard to the wishes of people living in these areas. I look forward to engaging with the Minister and the Department on these issues. I hope to see a genuine effort to designate Rosslare Europort as the future wind generating port in the national development plan.
Fáiltím roimh an deis páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht seo. Ceapaim go bhfuil an Bille seo thar a bheith tábhachtach; fíorthábhachtach i ndáiríre. Leagfaidh sé amach an fhís don todhchaí agus an chaoi a rachaimid i ngleic leis na dúshláin atá os ár gcomhair ó thaobh athrú aeráide agus athrú bitheolaíochta. Tuigim an méid oibre atá taobh thiar den Bhille seo ach, faraor, ní mór dom a rá, cé nach maith liom a bheith diúltach, go bhfuil mé buartha. Tá 20 nóiméad agam agus déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall leagan amach cén fáth go bhfuil mé buartha faoin mBille seo.
This Bill is 240 pages long. It is important that I would be ag insint bréige dá mbeadh sé ráite agam go bhfuil sé léite. Níl. Tá sé leath-léite agam ach tá na cáipéisí cúnaimh uilig léite agam. There are nine Parts broken into 49 chapters, 181 sections and 12 Schedules. I would have thought pre-legislative scrutiny was essential and we have not done that. We had pre-legislative scrutiny on the heads of the Bill but we did not have it on the actual Bill. I do not belong to that committee, unfortunately, although it is also fortunate because I do not have the time, and therefore I have to read around, as most Deputies must do. It would have been very helpful to me to have a second report published from a committee that looked in a pre-legislative way at the Bill that was published. That did not happen. I always pay tribute to the Oireachtas Library and Research Service because it does tremendous work. It is clearly under pressure because it was only on Tuesday that it was in a position to produce a digest on this. That indicates the pressure the system is under. I was reading this on Wednesday and Thursday in between chairing. I am not complaining; I am simply highlighting the system we have to cope with. As a Deputy, like others, I take my role seriously in relation to legislation but with the size of this legislation, it is extremely difficult. We are nearly back to a situation of "We know best; don't worry, we're doing it for your good", which is something I might return to later in relation to the mother and baby home legislation. That is the mentality. We have not really embraced the Aarhus Convention and the absolute essential nature of the involvement of people in our future. That is the theme of what I am going to say today.
The Bill extends to the whole maritime area. We have had different figures used here today, courtesy of the Library and other documents. It extends from the high watermark to the outer limit of Ireland's continental shelf and includes our territorial seas and the exclusive economic zone. Ireland's maritime area is seven times - someone else said it was 12 times - the land mass of Ireland, spanning over 490,000 sq. km. If we counted our seabed Ireland will be one of the largest countries in the EU. Our 7,500 km-plus of coastline is longer than that of most EU countries. Those figures are subject to change depending on which document is used, so I take those as the baseline. It is very important, therefore, that the area is properly regulated. The absence to date of proper planning and regulation has been absolutely detrimental. I know that is something the Minister has inherited. Daily, we experience the extent of that devastation. Plastic in our seas has been mentioned, and there is plastic in our fish, oil spills, dumping at sea, not to mention raw sewage.
I come from a city that I am very proud of, cathair dhátheangach. Rugadh agus tógadh mé sa chathair agus tá mé thar a bheith mórtasach as ach tá séarachas amh fós ag dul isteach san fharraige. Raw sewage goes into the sea in I do not know how many counties in Ireland. I find that unforgivable and unacceptable. It is basic infrastructure and should be top of the list with any Government. When the housing policy is launched later, and I hope we get a chance for a proper debate at that as well, the absence of infrastructure to facilitate the planned housing jumps off the pages.
Let us take a look at plastic. The 2017 UN report says there are 51 trillion microplastics in the ocean. Each year more than 8 million metric tonnes of plastic ends up oceans. Up to 80% of all litter in the oceans is made of plastic. By 2050 it is estimated that oceans will have more plastic than fish if present trends are not stopped. By 2050, it is estimated that 99% of the Earth's seabirds will have ingested plastic. A study by the University of Plymouth in 2016 said plastic was found in one third of UK-caught fish. It is very difficult to stand here and understand that, explain that, or explain to our children how we as a nation have allowed that to happen and have taken so long to take action.
I understand it is eight years since the first iteration of this Bill.
Parallel with that time we have had periodic reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It said, among many other things, that human activity is unequivocally the cause of the climate crisis and that some changes to the climate are already irreversible.
Today the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, replied to a parliamentary question on carbon budgets and so on. The Minister said:
The recent IPCC report is an important statement on international science's understanding of the climate system and climate change. Its publication could not be more significant or timely. It details the increasingly dangerous future that is ahead of us unless action is taken by all of us now.
It is totally unacceptable that successive governments have utterly failed to produce comprehensive legislation to protect family environment. In this context I absolutely welcome that we are finally beginning to look at this area and to regulate it. My serious concern, however, is that once again we are prioritising development and seeing this development through the prism of developers and profit. I wish to see my city thrive. I wish to see Rossaveel developed as a thriving port. I am totally in favour of renewable energy. I am not in favour of not learning from the mistakes of our past and once again looking at development in our seas in a way that repeats the mistakes of the past. It was bad enough that we made mistakes but to do it again with the evidence of climate change and biodiversity emergency is simply unforgivable. I for one will not be part of it.
i despair when I hear a Deputy from the Government backbenches talk about disappointment with regard to the negative nature of the debate from some of us on this side of the House. As I have said before, I do not have the luxury of despair. I am paid a salary and I am paid the salary to speak out. Despair is not something I will give in to, although one could very easily go into it. When the context of the debate is set by somebody saying "do not be negative" then we have learned absolutely nothing. The most dangerous thing we can do in this country, unfortunately still, is to ask a question. There is something seriously wrong with our democracy when questions are dangerous. I do not believe the Minister of State is of that ilk and I do not believe he is from that background but I find it important to say it when I hear the debate being framed as "do not be negative, let us be positive". This is far too important for that type of drivel from any Deputy. We need to actually use our voices so that we stand up for the future of our children.
It seems to me we have learned nothing from the climate or biodiversity emergencies, nor indeed from the Covid pandemic, all three of which crises were and are consequent on the unsustainable exploitation of our natural resources or assets. What is required, and what we should have learned at the very least, is that we are not the owners of the earth nor the sea. Rather, we are the guardians, and the decisions we make will have consequences for the country, the planet and our children. As guardians it is our responsibility to protect our natural resources and, within that framework of protection, to enable and allow development that puts the common good to the fore.
I am telling the Minister of State openly that I could not possibly have read all of the Bill, but my difficulty with it is that it is not being done within a framework of protection, although we are using those words. We are going down the line of development and the protection comes afterwards. It appears to me that the Bill has it back to front, given that we have utterly failed to provide the protective framework first. We know this from the failure to have any marine protected areas except 1% or 2%, and one haven that is the marine nature reserve lake in Cork. We know the programme for Government in 2020 commits to meet 10% as soon as possible, and 30% by 2030. We fell far short of the targets to date.
Along with this Bill we also have the marine protected area advisory group. Its report, Expanding Ireland's Marine Protected Area Network, is 336 pages long. I really appreciate all of the work that went into writing that report. It was completed in October 2020 and published in January 2021. The report states, "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." I am familiar with the background. Consider also the Library and Research Service's Bill digest, the report of the committee, the EU frameworks, the policies, and the plans that we have all done. Then we come up with this Bill but there is no protection. We are being told those protections will come in the future. Will the Minister of State please explain how we are going to give out licenses and permissions and then in the future marry this with the protected areas legislation? Please explain that. I would be the first to support that but I just cannot see it happening.
Consider the prioritisation of industry over environment. The committee identified nine issues and 27 recommendations. We are being told by the Minister of State that all of those were incorporated into the Bill. I will be precise here. There are nine key issues and 29 associated recommendations. Library and Research Service's Bill digest kindly went through those recommendations to see which ones had been incorporated. I would have thought this was the role of the Minister of State when he had 20 minutes to give his speech. He only used up ten minutes of that time and two of those minutes went to housing. I would have thought the Minister of State could tell the House which recommendations were incorporated and why, and which were not. Members are dependent on a Bill digest from the Library and Research Service, which was published only on Tuesday, to tell the House which recommendations were incorporated. It is significant to me that practically almost every single recommendation from industry was accepted.
On the nine key issues and 29 associated recommendations, one of the Green Party Deputies spoke earlier and said that one of the recommendations was to include the marine protected areas in this Bill. The Deputy rightly said there was an alternative. Obviously, we have had to keep all of the committee members happy. From reading between the lines it seems to me that there was a huge push to have the marine protected areas but when that could not be done, according to Department we then got the alternative which was to happen in parallel. I understand that when something is happening in parallel we move together on it but this must be a different interpretation and it is going to come sometime in the future. The second one was accepted that it would be developed in the future.
I shall now turn to the industry considerations. The Bill digest shows that Nos. 1 and 3 were partially accepted; No. 14 was fully accepted; No. 15 was fully accepted; and No. 16 was fully accepted. They are all green ticks. When we go to the community dividend, however, we see, in regard to the first of these, "the Good Practice Principles Handbook provide for an adequate, transparent, and fair distribution of benefits to communities" was considered "not applicable" by the Department. I could not disagree more strongly with this. I have that handbook and I have read it. It has just been published. The Department's reaction to all community dividend key issues is "not applicable" including:
Future iterations of the Renewable Electric Support Scheme provide for community benefits stemming from offshore wind projects.
Consideration be given to the potential for wider dividends to be provided in respect of protecting and preserving biodiversity.
Consideration be given to the potential for wider dividends to be provided in respect of grants and scholarships.
There may well be good reasons for this but when a Minister of State comes to the House and says this is most significant legislation, then there is an onus on him or her to explain that.
My time is running out so I will move on from the specifics. I agree this is the most important piece of legislation we are going to look at in the Dáil. We must learn from the three crises we are living through which are Covid, climate and biodiversity. There is no way we can continue doing business as usual. This is the penny that has not dropped. There is cognitive dissonance. Part of the Government is saying we must do the right thing by climate change and the other part is saying we are back.
The Tánaiste used the expression that the economy was going to blast off or take off. There is something seriously wrong with those expressions. That cannot be anymore. We simply cannot have growth for growth's sake. We simply cannot do that. Now, this Bill is covering everything, not just renewable energy. It is covering every single thing and all types of projects, from cables to renewable energy to the storing of gas. I want to quote it exactly for people who are listening. The Bill digest states:
The Bill is designed to work for all types and sizes of maritime projects from the harvesting of seaweed to the development of offshore renewable energy. Other types of projects or activities which fall under the Bill include gas storage, telecommunications cables, ports, harbours, marine environmental surveys and ... dredging.
Therefore, it covers everything.
Ar chúrsaí feamainne, cúpla bliain ó shin chuir mé rún os comhair na Dála maidir le feamainn. An rud bunúsach a bhí á lorg agam ná go mbeadh polasaí náisiúnta ann maidir le cúrsaí feamainne. Breis is trí bliana ina dhiaidh sin agus fós níl polasaí againn.
We have no policy for seaweed in Ireland. More than three years ago, I placed a motion before the Dáil. It was the most basic request that we would have a policy with regard to sustainable seaweed use, recognising the wonderful and magnificent resource it is, and that it should be used in recognition of, number one, the traditional harvesters who have stood their ground for a long time and then the possibilities in terms of pharmaceutical projects and food and so on. Nothing has happened. We have no policy for the islands. We are still waiting for something basic. Scotland has both policy and legislation; we have nothing. And into this vacuum, we are now bringing this legislation, which to me, on reading and subject to further debate, is a thumbs up to unsustainable development. I see the Minister of State shaking his head. I hope he is right. I take his shaking of his head as a positive thing.
It is difficult for me, however, because I hear comments about how we have to change the law and the judicial review system. I am eternally grateful for the people on the ground who have used every fibre of their being to bring to our attention what is happening in the environment and in relation to climate change.
No later than 31 July last year, the Supreme Court said the Minister of State's policy and plan was at nought. His piece of climate legislation was void and invalid. Why? It was absolutely vague. What did it say exactly? On 31 July, the national mitigation plan was quashed. The Supreme Court concluded that "the Plan falls well short of the level of specificity required to provide that transparency and to comply with the provisions of the 2015 Act". That is the background. In this Chamber, we tend to give out about people who object. I do not like the word "object". I have met very few objectors. I have met concerned citizens and residents. Indeed, they have been hailed by the courts as part of the trinity, the trinity being the local authority, the planner or developer and the ordinary person on the ground, who is an integral part of the planning process. Where is that provided for in this Bill? There is no provision for public participation when we are talking about maritime area consent, MAC. That only comes later. There is a most negative attitude to community involvement and that should be top of the list.
If we are going to embrace new technology and new alternative energy, then it must be community-led, not a split and divide that is being produced in this handbook, where we throw the natives a few pennies to keep them quiet. In the process, there is the danger of dividing and conquering them as opposed to saying to the community that this is a fantastic project, it is theirs and let us lead the way. Sin é cuid den réiteach ar na dúshláin atá os ár gcomhair.
If I may be so bold, as the Ceann Comhairle and I well know, I do not come from a maritime county. As we all know, however, we have a multiplicity of harbours in our county. We have two canals, a harbour in every town and the Barrow navigation. We are fairly familiar with the waterways.
I agree with much of what my colleague, Deputy Connolly, had to say. I would respectfully put my hand up in defence of some of the poor, much-maligned Government backbenchers, who can never do anything right. We have to progress every way. We have to progress to protect the environment and look after our people and their ongoing needs. We must progress as well in view of the fact that our population is much greater than it was. It is almost double what it was in the 1950s. That was progress whether we liked it or not. It was something that makes our existence here more sustainable.
I strongly support the Bill and its concept. I feel it should contain a reference to planning and development as well because, as we know, on land, the local authorities are governed by planning and development. There is no reason we cannot apply that to the sea as well. There are, however, huge amenities there, both on land and at sea. It would be very remiss of us to avoid doing what we need to do now to modernise, establish the protection and allow the development that is in keeping with that protection within the guidelines while at the same time meeting modern requirements. That is progress and we should deal with that.
I noted that my south Kildare colleague mentioned the marine and the Naval Service. I would echo that. We all have respect for our military, be it marine, naval or air. We need to bear in mind that we take them for granted very often and we should not do so. They are an important part of our constitutional package. We must always keep that in mind and show them the respect they deserve. I hope that is borne in mind in the course of ongoing debates on this particular issue or other similar or associated issues.
I am a supporter of alternative energy. The difficulty is how to provide it and how to achieve it in the best way possible, in agreement with the environmental and the various constituent bodies we have to deal with. If we do not, we will find it impossible to progress. A couple of years ago, in the course of a general election, I ran into a lot of hail over wind turbines. Everybody had every reason in the world there should be no wind turbines at all. They wanted to prove they were bad for your health, they would fry your brain, there was no future or living with them, and the amount of noise they generated was worse than anything that was ever known or had been measured before. This was despite the fact we had been living with ESB generating stations for almost 100 years. A huge amount of noise was generated by the ESB stations in their immediate vicinity. We had workers who worked in those facilities all those years and nobody ever raised a word about their health or their hearing or anything else. If there was ever a noise I experienced, it was when I spent a lot of time with machines and heavy machinery. I can assure the Minister of State that the inside of a generating station generated more noise than anybody would ever want to hear.
We are now looking at alternatives because this may affect our ability to provide alternative energy. I am a little worried that referring to reliance on the ocean as a location to generate energy may prove foolhardy if it cannot be done and if it does not happen within a specified time. We need to do what we are proposing to do within ten years. That is the time limit we have. I do not believe we can achieve it within ten years. If we cannot, then we need to make alternative plans as well, whatever they may be. Of course, what we develop on the sea must be in line with what protects the marine as well. We cannot just decide, as we have been doing in the past, to pour the sewage into the sea from wastewater all over the country. Nobody cares about it, and given the choice, as we were, of paying water charges or pouring the wastewater in the sea, we said to continue pouring the wastewater into the sea. It is hardly a way to preserve our amenities.
What I would urge is this. I am not so certain how sustainable the generation of large-scale generating plants at sea will be in the future.
There is no reason to believe some of the gales, hurricanes and tsunamis that have affected other parts of the globe will not reach the Atlantic as well. We need to be cautious and mindful of what might happen and we need to have an alternative plan. There are various other ways we can generate electricity. We may have to generate more on land. The Arklow Bank is a classic example of where it works but there is very shallow water there. One does not have to go down too far until one hits rock. That is not the same in parts of the Atlantic. A little caution in regard to what we are doing needs to be borne in mind.
It is in everybody's interest to protect our environment and to provide for the livelihoods of the people who live on this island. We will be charged with the responsibility. We could decide to stop growing food and then we could die of starvation, which is a worldwide issue. It was never more prevalent than it is at present. With the growing population worldwide, there is more starvation than ever. Some of it is in areas of conflict, but not all of it, and we need to be mindful of that. When people tell us it will be all right at the time and all the food we like can be imported from elsewhere, but they will have it and we will have to get it. That is the problem.
I support the Bill and its concept. I support the protection of the environment and the protection of our own industries, insofar as we can, to ensure we can exist in the future and that we do not become the victims of a worldwide campaign that would leave us poorer and others improving at our expense.
I thank all those who made contributions in this valuable debate. Many aspects of the Bill were covered. I ask those who have not read the Bill in detail to do so and familiarise themselves with it, because it is the most comprehensive review of marine legislation that has been undertaken since the formation of our State. This is once-in-a-generation legislation and a true cross-government initiative, led by my Department and joined by colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the Attorney General's Office and the wider marine legislation steering group. It clearly demonstrates that this Government is working together towards the agenda we have set out in our programme for Government.
The marine planning system we propose is designed to work for all types of development, from the smallest boathouse to the largest offshore renewable energy project and protects our oceans through the rigorous environmental assessment of plans and projects. The four key pillars on which our planning system is to be based are clearly set out in this Bill. With regard to forward planning through the national marine planning framework and comprehensive subnational planning, those who say we are not putting the cart before the horse when we published the framework can now see the logic to all this legislation. Some 21 of the 92 statutory planning policies set out in the plan relate to the protection of our marine environment. All future subnational plans and any decision made by An Bord Pleanála or local authorities must be in line with these policies. It is the plan in plan-led and not just empty rhetoric.
The creation of MARA shows how ambitious we are on this reform. These will no longer be myriad actors and agencies operating in the maritime area. We are, in anticipation of the enactment of this legislation, undertaking some of the preparatory to begin the establishment of MARA, as soon as permitted by the passage of this legislation. The consenting and development proposals by the board and local authorities are provided for in a way with which the public is familiar. There are no surprises here. People know how it works and they know how they can interact with the process. The experts will examine the merits of projects and will balance their impacts against environmental factors. We will not make such decisions in this Chamber. To ensure all of this happens in a rigorous and robust regulatory environment, we have set out that it will be an offence to operate outside the regimes we are creating and that MARA and local authorities will have the full weight of the law behind them when pursuing these offences.
Two main themes have emerged in the debate: participation and protection. Both have been central to the development of the marine planning system. Public participation statements will guide the development of forward plans. The statements set out, in detail, the practical details of public engagement; who will be consulted, when they will be consulted and the methods for consultation. The statements will include a range of participation mechanisms far beyond a simple single public consultation. They will be laid before the Houses to facilitate the participation of relevant Oireachtas committees.
On a project level, it is clearly stated in the Bill that the public will have its say in the planning permission process and that planning consent cannot be issued without public consultation. MARA will only make decisions based on frameworks and guidelines that have been subject to public consultation and scrutiny in these Houses. Schedule 5 clearly states that MARA will use the extent and nature of stakeholder engagement by a MAC applicant and assessment criteria. This is clear recognition of the nature of multi-user marine space.
The enactment of the legislation will afford a far greater level of environmental protection than exists. Forward plans and guidelines will always include robust protections for our environmental measures. Of course, there are complexities in this area. We may require some changes on Committee Stage and I am open to all reasonable amendments that are tabled within the overall scope of the Bill. We really want to make this work. Within the context of the overall package of marine governance reform, we are progressing the development of the legislation and marine protected areas, as indicated on the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. We concluded the first round of public consultation this summer on this crucial piece of the jigsaw.
The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, and I have listened to members and we look forward to working with everyone on Committee Stage. Let us remember why we are introducing this key legislation. We need to ensure we act as custodians of our environment and move to taking plan-led approaches to our interaction with the oceans; create a system that works for all, in a manner that is familiar and accessible to the citizen; meet our climate action goals in a way that does not undermine our environmental protection obligations; and lay the foundations for the long-term management of our maritime area through the creation of independent agencies that oversee this in a holistic fashion.
I look forward to working with Members on Committee Stage to further develop and improve this Bill, but as almost all Members have stated over the past two days, we need to do this in good time. We need to ensure MARA is up and running, appropriately capitalised and can fund itself to deliver the ambitious suite of services set out in the Bill. We need the planning and licensing systems operational as soon as possible to begin the process of consenting for the wide range of activities and developments envisaged. Most important, we need to make sure the object to place the citizen at the heart of this process is realised, as soon as possible.
I thank Members for their contributions and we have noted all the issues raised last night and this afternoon. I look forward to working with all Deputies, as we progress through Committee Stage.
I welcome the comments by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, on this important legislation and note his remarks on the need to put citizens at the heart of the process and ensure we meet our climate action goals, in a way that does not undermine our environmental protection obligations. That is exactly what the Government is doing. I strongly disagree with the narrative being put forward that the requirements of the offshore renewable sector are somehow being put ahead of marine biodiversity protection. This is not a binary choice. We can, and must, have a healthy resilient and biodiverse marine environment, while achieving our ambition on renewable energy.
I am confident we will achieve this and support coastal communities to thrive in the process. Our Department is reviewing and independently analysing 2,200 public submissions on the expert group report on marine protected areas. As part of this engagement process, I attended a number of gatherings at which I met fishers, young people, companies involved in the blue economy, heritage fishing interests, environmental NGOs and many others, both online and in coastal towns from Donegal to west Cork and Waterford.
The common ask from everyone I met was for ongoing and meaningful engagement and participation. This echoes the contributions made in the House yesterday and today. We have taken this on board and are designing mechanisms for participation at local, regional and national level. I will be making arrangements for officials leading that process to make themselves available to the Oireachtas joint committee to discuss consultation and outline a way forward and I would encourage Members to engage constructively in that conversation.
In November we will begin to develop the marine protected areas legislation and this work is expected to continue into 2022. The scope and complexity of this process, along with the need for it to remain independent of the statutory consent process, necessarily means the marine protected areas legislation will post-date the establishment of new marine spatial planning regime, which is centred around human activities. However, I intend to investigate the feasibility of pre-designation for important habitats, species and ecological functions through the designated marine area plan process.
It is worth noting the existing measures to ensure the protection of the marine environment that are already applied in Ireland. These include legal requirements for strategic environmental assessments, environmental impact assessments and appropriate assessments; the protection of listed species and habitats under the birds and natural habitats regulations and the Wildlife Acts; and the designation and conservation of Ireland's Natura 2000 network of sites. These are binding environmental targets under the national marine planning framework that are now central to the national planning and consent process for maritime activities.
We know we will not be able to deliver our blue growth ambitions for renewable energy, blue carbon storage, food production, transport and tourism if we do not actively protect the marine environment from human-made pressures. The Government's measure of success in this regard will have to be a marine environment that is clean, healthy, well understood and resilient to climate change. A thriving maritime sector that is sustainable has better prospects in the long term and that marine resource will feature species and habitats that are protected and biologically diverse for many generations to come. I look forward with my colleagues to delivering on that. As I said, we have had a number of queries form Members here today and yesterday and we will try to get back to Members individually in relation to those. We look forward to this Bill progressing.