Wednesday, 13 November 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Senator. I will deal with his specific questions in the second part of my contribution.
An aquaculture licence is required by law for the cultivation of finfish, shellfish and certain marine plants such as seaweed. My Department considers all applications for aquaculture licences in accordance with the provisions of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997, the Foreshore Act 1933 and application EU legislation.
The licensing process involves consultation with a wide range of scientific and technical advisers, as well as various statutory consultees. The legislation also provides for a period of public consultation. In addition, the Department must adhere to a wide range of regulatory requirements and other legislation that impact on the licensing process.
On appropriate assessment, a key component of the aquaculture licensing process is a series of measures designed to address the impact of aquaculture on the environment. This series is known as appropriate assessment or AA. This process arose from a European Court of Justice case against Ireland in 2007. The European Court of Justice declared that, by failing to take all the necessary measures to comply with the EU habitats directive in respect of authorisation of aquaculture programmes, Ireland had failed to fulfil its obligations under that directive.
The EU habitats and birds directives have resulted in the designation of certain bays by the National Parks and Wildlife Service as special areas of conservation and-or special protection areas for birds. These are known as Natura 2000 sites and most aquaculture takes place within or adjacent to them.
In the negotiations to address the ECJ judgment, the Department agreed a process with the European Commission and the NPWS that would govern the State's processing of aquaculture licence applications. The appropriate assessment process is managed, in the main, by the Marine Institute via environmental and scientific contractors commissioned by the institute to carry out the necessary fieldwork and desk analysis. To date, the Marine Institute has submitted appropriate assessments on 32 bays to my Department, of which Ballyness Bay is one.
Ballyness Bay in County Donegal has been designated an SAC. There are also a number of other special areas of conservation and special protected areas close to Ballyness Bay. Full consideration was given to the likely interaction between these areas and the proposed aquaculture activities. No aquaculture operation currently operates within the Ballyness Bay special area of conservation.
The appropriate assessment considered 20 applications for aquaculture operations in the bay, which consisted of 14 for the cultivation of oysters only, five for the cultivation of oysters and clams and one for the cultivation of clams only. The number of sites being applied for has subsequently been reduced to 18 applications as applications for two sites for oysters were withdrawn.
As part of the statutory and public consultation process, the legislation requires periods of statutory and public consultation in respect of these applications. All observations received within that period are carefully considered by the Department.
In accordance with the applicable legislation, notice of the applications concerning the Ballyness Bay was published by the applicants, not the Department albeit under the instruction of the Department, in the Donegal Democraton various dates between 14 March and 26 March. From the date of the relevant notice, the public had four weeks to make written submissions or observations to the Department on the applications specified in the notice. During that time, the application documentation was available for inspection in the Garda stations specified in the public notices and on the Department's website.
In addition, the legislation governing aquaculture licensing provides for an appeals mechanism. Any member of the public who wishes to appeal a ministerial decision may do so by submitting an appeal to the aquaculture licences appeals board, which is an independent body established by statute.
The Department has received a number of representations from members of the public and public representatives on the licensing process as it affects Ballyness Bay. In addition to general complaints concerning the appropriateness or otherwise of intertidal aquaculture in Ballyness Bay, there have been specific concerns expressed concerning the consultation process. Specifically, the placement of public notices in the Donegal Democratis regarded as inadequate by a number of members of the public and public representatives. However, the procedures in respect of the public notices adhere fully to the legislative requirements.In addition to the public notices, the applications were available to view in specified local Garda stations and on the Department's website.
In conclusion, the licensing process in respect of Ballyness Bay conforms fully with all legislative requirements. The legislation is designed to protect the public interest, including the applicant. The statutory and public consultation phases in respect of the applications referred to in Ballyness Bay have concluded. It is, therefore, essential that I do not engage with parallel discussions outside of the statutory process. As the applications referred to by the Senator are the subject of ongoing detailed considerations as part of the process, it would not be appropriate to comment further pending a conclusion of that process.