Seanad debates

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

National Marine Mapping Programme: Motion

 

5:00 pm

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

commends the Government's continued support of the national marine mapping programme, INFOMAR, on the tenth anniversary of its initiation as the Irish National Seabed Survey;

welcomes the findings of the independent economic study which has shown that the benefits of the work being undertaken are estimated at €275 million across a range of sectors;

acknowledges the valuable work that has been carried out in the mapping of over 82% of the currently designated Irish marine territory to date;

supports the policy of carrying out this vital infrastructural work which is underpinning key and economically significant offshore development in renewable energy, environmental protection, detection of our shipwreck heritage, improvement of fishing efficiency and safety of maritime transport.

I am not my party's spokesperson on the marine and must declare that my only interest in the sector stems from the fact that I live on the Foyle. There is a large fishing cohort in the area in which I live. Therefore, I welcome anything which considers how to put in place best practice in order that those involved in the fishing industry and other marine activities might achieve the best results.

I extend my sympathies to the families of the many Irish people, both young and old, who have been lost at sea. In recent times a young man from the area in which I live fell off a fishing vessel off the Orkney Islands and the fact that his body has not yet been found is adding to the distress experienced by his family. People in County Donegal are, however, no strangers obliged to cope with marine tragedies of this nature. I commend those who are at sea trying to provide for their families, either by fishing or working as rescue operators. They do tremendous work and are sometimes not recognised for it. If we mapped their activities, everyone would be extremely impressed.

I asked the Department to provide me with a specific figure to show how the national marine mapping programme, INFOMAR, would benefit County Donegal. The estimated value of the project to the fishing industry in the next 16 years is €95million. The overall benefit to the country of INFOMAR will be of the order of €275 million.

I accept that the intention is to improve the efficiency of the fishing industry by using the data and maps produced in order to target the best areas for fishing. This will lead to a reduction in the use of fuel, etc., and an improvement in fishing stocks. Some might state fishermen would have been in possession of this information in the first instance and that matters should have been discussed with them. However, while they are good at what they do, some fishermen have at times fished juvenile stocks or entered areas into which they should not have gone. As a result, certain stocks have depleted.

I recently read an article which emanated from the UK Parliament and which relates to cod stocks. It states the lifespan of a cod is 16 years but that cod are being caught at seven or eight years of age. Global warming is giving rise to changes in stocks of plankton and other creatures which fish eat. If species of fish have 16 years in which to adapt to such changes and develop accordingly, that is one thing. However, if fish are caught at a younger age, the implication is that the overall species will not be able to adapt to changes in climate, environment and the nature of the creatures on which they feed. I do not claim to be an expert on this matter but if fish are caught too young, then the species in general will not be able to evolve to cope with environmental changes.

I am glad the work being done is supported by that carried out at Georges Bank, Canada. The latter is already yielding results for local Canadian fishermen, which is an important aspect of this entire matter.

The data gathered by INFOMAR are being used to update charts and improve safety. When young people do not return from the sea, the issue of safety becomes extremely important. During the past decade there have been major improvements in safety. For example, the whitefish fleet was renewed and refurbished. I recall occasions when I complained about the fact that many of the boats in that fleet were 30 years or more old, that they were dangerous to work on and that their crews were being obliged to sail further afield in order to ensure they caught any fish. However, the fleet was eventually renewed and people will now state County Donegal obtained 16 of the new boats in the fleet and that most of these have either been sold or are up for sale because their captains are not able to catch enough fish to allow them to make the money necessary to meet their repayments.

The activities of INFOMAR are extremely important to my constituents. Even though it has reached its tenth anniversary, however, I am of the view that fishermen should be asked to give of their knowledge in order that this might inform the work of INFOMAR. The Mulroy Bay chart was updated - using INFOMAR data - when issues were raised about the approaches and access to the valuable aquaculture sites there. The fact that people can have an input is extremely important.

INFOMAR has mapped the entire offshore area of County Donegal beyond a depth of 20 m. Shallower waters such as those of the Foyle, Donegal Bay and Mulroy Bay have also been mapped as part of a number of LiDAR surveys carried out. I received some briefing material from the Department on why these surveys were being carried out. One of the reasons provided relates to sovereignty, the Continental Shelf, the international law of the sea, etc. I wish to refer to a matter, in respect of which there was a fudge when the British-Irish Agreement was concluded. Under the Agreement, Foyle Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission was to have responsibility for salmon fishing on the Foyle. However, it had already held this responsibility since the early 1950s.

It is interesting that the area has already been mapped. Knowing that this debate was due to be held, I submitted questions to the Department over a number of days on the sovereignty of the bed of the Foyle. However, I have still not received any answers. I accept that I am stirring up the sand and that someone somewhere will be hoping I do not say too much more. The Crown Estate claimed ownership of the bed of the Foyle until I challenged it. When I did so, the Crown Estate stated it would make no such claim until the two Governments had made a statement on the jurisdictional matter.

I am aware of the importance of mapping. The plan for the mapping carried out by INFOMAR is to consider how to co-ordinate activity, identify the location of good aquaculture resources, where there is potential for wind energy generation, where there is good marine leisure potential, etc. These are all things that we want. What I want is one body to oversee the planning and development relating to the major resource that is the Foyle and all of its tributaries. The people of the north west deserve to benefit from the economic advantage that can be gained from the marine leisure, angling, commercial and shipping activities that can be carried out on the Foyle.

At present, one body is responsible, on a cross-Border basis, for controlling salmon fishing on the Foyle and will soon have responsibility for dealing with matters relating to aquaculture. Why are we negotiating with the Crown Estate, given that it has told me it has no claim on the Foyle until the two Governments have sorted out the jurisdictional issue? In recent months I have worked closely with a number of politicians and non-politicians who have interests both in the Foyle and its tributaries and further afield. While attending the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly this weekend, I spoke to people from all backgrounds and thus far, no one has told me it is not a good idea. Moreover, under the St. Andrews Agreement, an evaluation of the processes and bodies is in place. I note my suggestion has been pooh-poohed by people from some Departments on our side who have stated it is an impossibility. However, my point is that it is not an impossibility for anyone else to whom I have spoken. My suggestion is that the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission should be expanded, broadened and rejigged to embrace all activity on the Foyle to achieve what this mapping project seeks, namely, a single overall plan. While I have taken a single example that could be spread right around the country, this point is quite specific and pertinent. We need an overall plan and a single body which in this context must be a cross-Border body such as the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission to implement the plan without third party interference or subsequent third party claims from the honourable Irish society, the Crown Estate, the duke of this or that. There is a serious problem when some people can tell anglers who have been fishing for many decades and whose groups have a membership of 500 that they can have two rods.

We have local knowledge that might be part of what will be thrown up by the mapping but we cannot develop the potential of this mapping study until such time as there is real engagement on who delivers on the results. How should it be blended together? There are pluses and minuses associated with the existing departmental responsibilities for the marine sector. It is disadvantageous to have seven Ministers or Ministers of State with responsibility for the marine. One could argue that this is advantageous because people such as the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, as well as his ministerial colleague, Deputy Gormley, and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry all have roles to play in this regard. While this means everyone is feeding into the process, I have been in politics for long enough to know that "feeding in" means that if one does not have responsibility for an issue, it will be at the end of one's list of priorities. Nevertheless, I accept that a subgroup under the Taoiseach has been established to deliver greater co-ordination in respect of the marine.

Ireland is an island surrounded by a valuable resource. It is of tremendous importance both to map what is there and that the Government should take our marine potential seriously. We should have training colleges nationwide to prepare for careers to do with the sea. We should support the marine tourism industry, which is not the case at present, as it constitutes an untapped resource. I am unsure how long INFOMAR intends to take to finalise the project, as it has done quite a lot of work already. However, by the time of its 15th anniversary, work on the next stage should be well under way, namely, the co-ordination of who is responsible for delivering on all the information it has collated.

Photo of John CartyJohn Carty (Fianna Fail)
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I second the motion and will speak later.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I will restate the first paragraph of the motion which "commends the Government's continued support of the national marine mapping programme, INFOMAR, on the tenth anniversary of its initiation as the Irish National Seabed Survey". It is worth mentioning that Ireland now has the biggest marine territory of any country in the European Union. As a result, we need to explore or map these territories for the long-term benefit of Ireland. The national marine mapping programme, INFOMAR, is a joint venture between the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute and the successor of the Irish national seabed survey. Covering approximately 125,000 square kilometres of Ireland's most productive and commercially valuable inshore waters, INFOMAR will produce integrated mapping products covering the physical, chemical and biological features of the seabed. The mapping exercise has been long-running and is a necessary responsibility for a large marine territory.

The motion is relatively uncontentious and it could be argued that a motion in support of INFOMAR's activities is somewhat akin to supporting home-made bread and apple pie. It is not contentious as all Members are in favour of the mapping project. I commend the view expressed by Senator Keaveney that what really is at issue is the use of the outputs from the mapping programme. It could be argued in the context of an earlier debate on the Order of Business today that Members should be in the Chamber tonight to discuss the number of people in Ireland who are unable to pay their mortgages or the small businesses which cannot access finance or the plight of those many homes with unemployed young graduates.

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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The answer lies in the marine sector.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Such issues should be Members' real subject of discussion, given that no Member is against this motion or opposes the mapping of our marine territory. While I will leave that point, it merited being made.

I will turn to the motion in a general sense. The main advantages of the mapping project relate in the first instance to the development of offshore energy projects as mapping is key to identifying suitable sites and cable routes for wind, wave and tidal generators. That constitutes one good byproduct of the mapping project, while another pertains to safer offshore navigation. Moreover, it will support work being carried out under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, whereby Ireland has been successful in extended continental shelf submissions, to which Senator Keaveney alluded. Use of the data also includes the simulation of tides which is useful for aquaculture and coastal protection engineers, as well a production of maps on the nature of the seabed, whether mud, sand, rock or gravel, which is used both for environment protection and more efficient fishing practices. Similarly, the data can be used to provide updates for the national shipwrecks database maintained by the national monuments service which is used by sports fishermen and divers. These constitute the essential, immediate and practical outputs or benefits from the mapping programme being commended.

The INFOMAR programme began in the summer of 2006 with surveys of valuable fishing and fish farming areas in Bantry Bay, Dunmanus Bay and fish spawning areas off the south-west coast. The 2007 survey began in April of that year to extend coverage of the biologically sensitive area around the Dingle Peninsula and continued by mapping Galway Bay in July and Waterford Bay in October. The programme has been extending gradually in that fashion and continues to map areas around the country. To date, its achievement has been the creation of a marine dataset to underpin present and future Irish economic, environmental, infrastructural and social policy decisions, as well as upgraded Irish marine surveying infrastructure and so on.

It is important to make a general reference to the use of mapping data. I am completely in favour of approving the continuation of the mapping process, recognising the achievements in that area to date and commending its future use and continuation. A subject worthy of mention in the House is the manner in which these data will be used. The one thing that comes through from all the analyses of our current economic situation and the international situation is the fact that fossil fuel resources are running out. They will become more expensive in coming years. Oil will become an increasingly expensive commodity. Consequently, the development and use of wind and wave energy as green alternative energy resources to finite fossil fuel resources is very important. We must develop both onshore and offshore wind energy. The mapping process will be useful in that context for the siting of wind farms and the identification of satisfactory locations on the seabed. Wave energy is being explored in Ireland and is worthy of continued exploration. I understand continued progress is being made in this area, which is important. The mapping data will be important for developing wave energy.

The data will also be important when the new Common Fisheries Policy is negotiated in the European Union. This is due to come up for review, as is the Common Agricultural Policy, and the data from the seabed surveys will be critical in advancing the Irish position. We must try to redress the fact that we were lax in protecting our fishing interests in the past and correct it in the future.

The development of wave and offshore wind energy, the development and protection of our fishing industry and the development of safe buffer zones to generate new fishing stocks all make this survey of vital interest. For that reason my party will not oppose the motion. We only oppose it to the extent that we consider it almost facile that it is on the agenda. However, it is on the agenda and we will support it.

6:00 pm

Photo of John CartyJohn Carty (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister and the fact that we are debating the Government motion on the national mapping programme, INFOMAR, on the tenth anniversary of its initiation. I thank Senator O'Reilly for his contribution. I am glad he is not opposing the motion. The motion is worth debating because many benefits accrue to this country from the sea and it is important to be aware of them.

We should pay tribute to the people who manned the ships long ago and who did not have accurate maps even to navigate into ports. They had to do so through visual assessment and had to be extra careful where sandbanks were prevalent. They are to be commended. Mapping has always been important in Ireland. We recall the men who mapped our land as well as the sea. This is an island nation and that work was most important. I am very conscious of it because my great, great grandfather was a map maker. He mapped the land, not the sea. I therefore have an interest in this issue from that point of view.

To be parochial, the mapping of my native County Mayo will be very important, especially in light of the gas find off Broadhaven Bay. The Minister will be well aware of that as he has spent a great deal of time in the area in the recent past. The find has caused much controversy but, please God, it will work out. I compliment both the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs on all their efforts in trying to bring a successful conclusion to the events taking place there.

Westport is one of the best tourist towns in the country. There are many marine enterprises there, including yachting, aquaculture and so forth. The mapping programme will be of huge benefit to people there in planning other enterprises to create employment. Employment is the main issue, especially at present, and the mapping programme will give them an incentive to carry out the works they plan. As has been mentioned, wave energy will be important. I believe the west coast of Ireland experiences stronger winds than any other part of the country, so it will be worthwhile to investigate that also.

Consider the benefits of the mapping programme for the different sectors. For fishing, the estimated present value of benefit is €95.404 million, for aquaculture it is €57.816 million, for biodiversity it is €11.118 million, for renewable energy it is €40.026 million and for energy exploration it is €49.309 million. That is only the commercial aspect. One can see it is a huge benefit to the country and I compliment the Marine Institute on the programme and the people who are undertaking the work. The total benefit across the sectors amounts to €275 million.

I support the motion and I am delighted it will not be opposed by the principal Opposition party.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire. Tacaím go mór leis an rún seo. Is annamh na laethanta seo a bhfeicimid áisínteachtaí Rialtais á mholadh toisc nár chaith siad airgead amú ach a mhalairt, go ndearna siad infheistíocht chiallmhar le hacmhainní agus airgead poiblí. Ar an ócáid seo, ta moladh tuillte. Is léir go mbeidh an teacht ar ais ón infheistíocht sa tionscnamh INFOMAR an-mhaith ar fad. De réir staidéir neamhspleách, tá luach €275 milliún curtha ar an leas a bhainfear as an tionscnamh seo ar fad. Is iontach agus is dearfach an scéal seo.

It is good to see, for a change, a Government agency being praised for sensibly investing public money instead of being criticised for wasting it. An independent study has valued the benefits of the State's marine mapping programme at €275 million. This is more than four times what will be spent completing the programme, which is impressive. This is one of the largest science projects ever undertaken in Ireland and an excellent example of co-operation between State bodies, given that it is jointly managed by the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute. It represents a truly impressive return on investment.

I strongly disagree with those who suggest this topic is unworthy of consideration in the House or irrelevant to the great issues that now face the nation. Investment in innovation, research and development is fundamental to Ireland's efforts to address the economic crisis we now face and, more importantly, to generate high quality jobs and provide employment opportunities for a new generation of graduates. When I was in secondary school, I was told that Ireland had no natural resources. The INFOMAR projects kills that myth once and for all.

While the focus of much political attention has been on NAMA and the banking crises, we must not lose sight of the fact that solving the banking crisis on its own will neither restore competitiveness nor create new opportunities for Irish business. We must maintain the integrity of the banking system but all that will do is put us on the same level as countries whose banks did not go mad lending money to highly speculative ventures in a bubble economy. To get ahead of our competitors we must do much more. Recognising that it was only a myth that we do not have significant natural resources, it is right that we should focus on the fact that we have the best wind and wave potential of anywhere else on the planet and a wonderful climate for growing biomass. The exploitation of these natural resources requires investment in research and development and in the people with the skills to undertake this research. The establishment of the Marine Institute and the investment in the INFOMAR project together form a belated recognition of the importance of the sea to Ireland's future economic development.

Ireland is an island nation but, sadly, since the foundation of the State, we have failed to be a maritime nation. We have failed to develop our fishing industry properly despite having a 220 million acre marine resource on our doorstep. We failed to take a strategic approach to the development of the offshore wind energy sector despite having companies in Ireland with the potential to generate more than 2,000 MW of energy from existing resources. That amounts to 40% of Ireland's total energy requirement from green energy sources. If we were to take a strategic approach to the development of our maritime energy resources, I have no doubt that Ireland could become a world leader. According to the National Offshore Wind Energy Association of Ireland, we have the potential to become a centre of excellence in green energy deployment. This opens up a new economic opportunity for our nation, the chance to become a world leader in research, development and demonstration in a technological field that will be central to world economic development in this century. Shell has estimated the value of the renewable energy sector at $1 trillion in the next five years. Ireland can become a leader in this industry in much the same way we have developed technologies for information technology and pharmaceuticals. A centre of excellence in offshore wind technology, perhaps based in one of the third level institutions, would support employment in areas such as turbine design, foundation technology, energy storage, installation, servicing and training.

By involving our third level institutions in the development of this and other renewable sectors we can ensure our economy remains to the forefront of what will be one of the world's fastest growing industries in the 21st century. What IT and pharmaceuticals were to Ireland's economic development in the past, renewable energy can be to our future.

I am pleased to note the Marine Institute is not resting on its laurels but has embarked on another groundbreaking initiative, namely, Smart Bay. This is marine-based research and a test and demonstration platform that will encourage leading edge researchers and industry consortia to collaborate on important commercial and environmental research to develop new products and services to tap into the global market for environmental technologies. The objective is to advance opportunities associated with marine resource development and to enhance our ability to monitor and manage our marine resources. As Dr. Barbara Fogarty of the Marine Institute recently pointed out, this initiative will leverage the existing base of foreign direct investment in Ireland and stimulate new opportunities for collaboration with small and medium enterprises, attract international Framework 7 research projects and funding and contribute to the positioning of Ireland as a major player in emerging markets for innovative and green technologies. I have no doubt this project will generate an impressive rate of return for the taxpayer and, more important, attract international focus on Ireland's maritime research potential.

I am delighted to support the motion. In these dark and dismal days we need not just to knock public sector failures but also to praise public sector successes. In particular, we need to recognise and celebrate the great work now being done by Ireland's research community. Ireland now has top researchers contributing to discoveries in science, engineering and technology. This was recently recognised by the European Union which provided €5 million in funding to help fund talented Irish researchers carry out their research internationally as part of its INSPIRE scheme. The programme allows Irish researchers the exciting opportunity to spend time at a top level research institution of their choice worldwide and then reintegrate back into Ireland, bringing with them the knowledge, skills and networks they have gained during this time abroad. The scheme enhances international collaboration and allows Irish scientists and engineers to be to the fore in global research projects.

I urge my colleagues to look at the list of INSPIRE fellows and the work which they are doing across a broad range of disciplines. Some examples include Dr. Robert Lynch, who studied at the University of Limerick before spending time in Germany working on his postdoctoral research in electrochemistry. Now he is off to the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the Polish Academy of Science, Warsaw, to find out how to cut the cost of producing electrodes for renewable energy devices. Dr. Aisling Redmond has been working at the Royal College of Surgeons on breast cancer. Of the 2,500 women diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Ireland, 30% to 40% develop resistance to treatment and her quest is to identify a marker that can act as a target for drugs. She stated: "With this fellowship I will spend some time working at the Cambridge Cancer Research Institute." At the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, Dr. David Hoey applied his mechanical engineering skills to see how bone forming cells reacted to loading. Many cells have hairlike cilia on their surface, and Dr. Hoey found that simply bending these could trigger bone formation. The significance of this is that in surgery, repair might be a better option than replacement. At Columbia University in New York, David will work on biomedical engineering.

The brilliance of these young people, pioneers who are a source of pride and whose work must be supported, will drive not only Ireland's economic recovery but also help to create a better world for all of us. I commend both the Government and the European Union on funding the research.

Mar achoimre bheag ar an méid a bhí le rá agam, deirfidh mé gur minic, san am atá thart, a dúirt daoine nach raibh acmhainní nádúrtha againn. Chun an fhírinne a rá, nuair a amharcaimid ar an poitéinseal agus an cumas atá sa tír seo - ó thaobh na tonnta agus na gaoithe de, mar shampla - tá sé soiléir go bhfuilfimid chun tosaigh ar aon tír eile ar domhain. Tá aeráid iontach againn le haghaidh biomass freisin. Caithfimid tabhairt faoi dea-úsáid na n-acmhainní sin chun leas muintir na tíre seo a bhaint amach. Tréaslaím le bunú agus cur chun an Institiúid Muireolaíochta, agus an infheistíocht sa tionscnamh INFOMAR freisin. B'fhéidir go bhfuil sé beagáinín déanach, ach is iontach an rud é go bhfuil an aitheantas caoi á thabhairt do thábhacht na mara anois, ar mhaithe le dul chun cinn eacnamaíocht na hÉireann sa todhchaí. Is trua é nár bhaineamar an leas gur chóir dúinn a bhaint as na n-acmhainní atá timpeall orainn sa mhuir san am atá thart. Is deas an rud é go bhfuil dul chun cinn á dhéanamh anois. Cúpla míó shin, bhí caint faoin tionscnamh "Spirit of Ireland". Ba bhreá liom cloisteáil ón Aire mar gheall ar dearcadh an Rialtas ar an tionscnamh sin. Thug an scéal sin an-dóchas dom ag an am.

I would like to see something exciting, bold and daring that will reflect the importance of producing renewable clean energy and the importance of seeing Ireland jump ahead into a leadership position by doing something dramatic in the area of becoming a net exporter of energy, if that were possible, and clean energy at that.

Photo of Francis O'BrienFrancis O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I will be sharing time with Senator Ned O'Sullivan.

I welcome the Minister. I also welcome the motion on the marine survey, which is brilliant. As Monaghan is an inland county, I ask forgiveness if I am not as well versed as other Members with the shoreline of the country.

Nevertheless, as previous speakers stated, the benefits to the country of this survey are enormous with regard to the commercial shipping and fish trawlers which use our coastline. It will also be of benefit to marine leisure and yachting has been mentioned. Safety at sea is very important and the loss of many lives over the years has saddened many families. Aquaculture and fish farming are important and have improved and grown during the years. Materials such as sand and gravel are extracted for use in the construction industry and coastal projects for environmental protection are very important. The size of the area mapped is five or six times the size of Ireland. Within this area the benefits that may come in the future such as gas and oil exploration are very important. The Government and various people who carried out the survey have done something that will be of great benefit to the country. It will help create jobs in wave and wind power and other renewable energies.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator O'Brien for sharing his time with me.

I am glad to have an opportunity to make a few brief remarks in the debate. I agree with Senator Mullen who picked up on what Senator Joe O'Reilly stated on how relevant the debate is in the context of the overall depressed economy. I accept the point but this is a useful forum for such a discussion. I cannot imagine this discussion taking place in the other House because it would break into a partisan row. A Cabinet Minister is here to listen to our views on the topic and if it is going to get an airing anywhere, the Seanad is the best place for it.

There is no question that huge strides have been made in the area of safety because of the work of INFOMAR and proper mapping of the ocean bed. I happen to be reading the novels by Patrick O'Brian who created a character who is a British naval officer at the time of the Napoleonic wars. The books give a great insight into the type of maritime ability people had prior to proper mapping. They were guided mainly by their observations of nature. They knew winds, bird life and other natural movements around them. They were able to do a great job and they were fantastic seafaring men. However, that would not do in today's world where seafaring traffic has increased by multiples and safety must be our first priority.

The days when Davy Jones' Locker was the only knowledge people had of the ocean bed are long gone. Information is wealth and it is only in recent decades that we have begun to seek proper information about what is going on under the surface of the sea. As an island nation, we have much to gain from the work of INFOMAR and we should look forward to the challenges that this new information is giving us.

I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security and recently I was afforded a couple of opportunities to visit counties Galway and Mayo. I saw the work being done by the Marine Institute in Galway Bay on spearheading new technology for the harnessing of wave and tidal power. Apart from creating energy, which will be valuable to the economy, we are poised to be leaders in the provision of this information worldwide. We could possibly reprise our achievement in being leaders in the IT revolution which initiated the Celtic tiger. I compliment the Minister and his party for putting the idea of renewable energy to the forefront of Irish political life in the past ten years. We have all learned and my party is glad to learn and embrace this philosophy because it is the future and without it we have no future.

I note that some county councils have started to pick up on this and in particular I pay tribute to Mayo County Council which seems to be very proactive on energy developments in Clew Bay. Recently, representatives from there attended a meeting of the Oireachtas joint committee and I met the county manager. Mayo County Council seems to be coming out of the traps very quickly on this and the work of INFOMAR in mapping will be essential to its chances of success. I know the Minister is committed to completing the programme, of which 18% remains to be done.

I live at the mouth of the Shannon Estuary and studies seem to indicate that the tidal conditions there would be quite suitable for some form of tidal energy plant or development. As the Minister is more than aware, it is the proposed location for the new liquefied natural gas, LNG, terminal which, unfortunately, has been held up by a serial objector but the matter is coming to the end of the tunnel and it should begin in 2011. As we are at it we should examine the ocean floor and try to tie everything together. We have a power station there which is being renovated and enhanced. It is hoped to have a new gas facility there in a couple of years. Let us tie the whole lot together and have something under the sea as well. I commend the work and I am sure that the Government will continue its commitment and that we will complete the mapping process.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan. To be honest, I am not an expert on marine mapping and the expert back-up parliamentary research team that conducted all of my research on this consisted of myself as the rest of the team was off.

The national marine mapping project is putting together a database of critical knowledge and this knowledge is critical for a number of reasons. On previous occasions I would have made the point that the fact that we do not have a senior Minister or Department for the marine sends out the wrong message about how we do our marine business. Responsibility for the marine is spread across a number of Departments. Deputy Ryan is one of several Ministers who have come to the House to discuss various aspects of marine legislation as we have had the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister for Transport and now we have the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. In the interests of joined-up thinking in the Civil Service I would have called before the current budgetary difficulties for a Minister with responsibility for the marine. As an island nation we send the wrong signal by not having a Cabinet Minister responsible for the marine. I recognise the obvious difficulties in realising that vision now. Nonetheless, it was a backward step to row back on the Department of the Marine, as the previous Government did. The marine sector is worth almost €3 billion per annum to the economy. It is a huge source of revenue, whether through fishing, shipping or leisure activities.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, is familiar with south-west Cork. The INFOMAR programme began in Dunmanus Bay and is now moving towards Galway. It is important not just from an academic point of view but also for the people of the area, whether coastal management committees under the auspices of various local authorities, fisheries managers or aquaculture operators, and others to which it intends to deliver a range of useful data products, for example, cable and pipeline installation, coastal zone management, renewable energy, coastal engineering, foreshore licensing, inshore fisheries, port security and safety, oil and gas exploration, shipping and navigation. We spent many evenings in this House debating the Harbours (Amendment) Bill introduced by the Minister for Transport. It led to one of the recent record filibusters in the House because there was an issue about the control of ports and Bantry Harbour being subsumed under the Port of Cork. We are very proud of the organisations in that part of west Cork.

Fisheries and the marine are sectors in which we can re-boot the rural economy. They are almost revenue neutral from the Government's point of view. In recent years fishermen's organisations have lobbied most Members because the industry is on its knees, not through lack of demand but because of regulation, control and legislation that has gone mad. The sea-fisheries legislation imposes severe restrictions and sanctions on those found guilty of breaking these laws. In most other European countries they would face administrative sanctions. Frequently, however, off the coast of west cork the existing powers allow the authorities to seize equipment and the catch and bring fishermen to the Circuit Court. The legislation has criminalised an entire industry or profession. We need to consider this issue realistically and switch from criminal to administrative sanctions.

The Government must make a decision about the next European Commissioner. There is a great deal of debate about who that will be. Many names are in play and I have no difficulty with any of them. They are all very fine, able people. We could rest assured knowing that they would do a fine job in any Commission in any area but we should chase the fisheries Commissionership. It is of great importance to the country and we need to take the matter seriously. I have listened to the fears, concerns and reservations of those involved in the industry. To do this would send a strong message. We cannot provide a Cabinet Minister but we need to seek a Commissioner in that area from among the very fine candidates mooted by political and non-political sources.

I submitted a motion to be considered on the Adjournment three weeks ago about an issue affecting the coast of west Cork that is stifling marine activity. The sea lettuce off the south west coast which is particularly bad off Inchydoney Island is an environmental mess and causing unquantifiable damage to that area. That Adjournment matter was ruled out of order on the same morning that another Senator's Adjournment matter about a water quality issue in Bantry was accepted. I was told the Minister had no jurisdiction over the matter I had raised. I attended a meeting about the Courtmacsherry sewerage scheme and lobbied the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, during the summer. Senator Boyle must be aware of that issue too. It is incredible that I can table a matter for discussion on the Adjournment that is ruled out of order and then find that the county manager has established a task force which includes representatives from the Department. Either we have jurisdiction over this issue or we do not.

There is a total lack of joined-up cohesive thinking about the marine. One of the biggest mistakes we make is not to have a Minister with responsibility for the marine. It is not good enough to scatter these responsibilities to the four winds. I do not know if the decision on the new Commissioner has been made. I am not privy to Cabinet discussions but I urge the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to ensure we go after this Commissionship because it is just as important that we seek it as we find a person to fill the position.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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I assure Senator McCarthy that whatever list of names is flying around as the next Irish Commissioner, or the next European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, I am not part of that list, even though the bookmaker Paddy Power is quoting me at 14/1. I am quite happy to stay in this Chamber, despite all the turbulence of recent days.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Labour)
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The newspapers have not been kind to us or in charting the Senator's star either. We can surprise them all.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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That is true. This debate may, in many respects, seem esoteric but that is one of the reasons the Seanad should exist. While we need to balance our daily Order of Business in respect of current events and the change agenda as represented in the preceding statements on postal codes, we also need a Chamber that takes a long-term view of Ireland and its resources. We have not fared too well in the past in this respect. It is amazing that as an island country it took us until 1999 to engage in a national seabed survey. It has been a successful survey that has mapped a huge area, ten times the size of the national land area. There is another 13% to be surveyed in the next phase.

This debate covers the effect of the survey on coastal communities, sea-dependent industries and the harvesting of the sea. In the first instance, however, we are discussing the seabed and its use. Our coastline covers the largest area in the European Union that can be used for manifold purposes, as the survey and the 2008 independent review of the mapping programme show. Those uses have been mentioned - fishing, biodiversity, renewable energy projects and the like. I would like to know how the seabed can be used. The depths are significant but an apparatus can be attached to the seabed to harness tidal power. While the technology is being developed and the engineering work is being done here, it is being tested off the Scottish coast. That is a comment on us. Scotland's potential for renewable energy drawn from waves, tides and wind is equal to ours but we should be trying to maximise the added value we obtain here. Nevertheless, the company should be commended for exploiting the export potential of its technology.

The purpose of this debate is to see how the follow-on survey from the national seabed survey will come into being, be properly resourced and determine what we intend to learn from it. The INFOMAR study is integral to the national development plan. In our present fiscal situation questions arise about devoting resources to anything or whether we need a timetable for the project. This project needs a particular political action to ensure it receives maximum priority because it affects our long-term development. It is a long-term plan. A 20-year lifespan will perhaps see everybody in this Chamber out, in terms of their longevity and participation in political life. If we have anything to offer the future development of the country, these are the projects we need to develop rather than think of the next election.

The value of the INFOMAR programme is that it represents much of what recent Government policy has tried to promote through the smart economy document concerning the interdependence and inter-relationship between science, technology and innovation. Resourcing it properly, recognising it and making it a main plank of Government policy are important aspects. What needs to be done, arising from these statements, is to provide a clear sense of purpose from this House. The contributions of Opposition Members follow through on this. In this survey we will be doing the country a service. If there are question marks where they are usually raised in the current fiscal climate, particularly in the Department of Finance, it is up to everybody in the political system to meet that challenge head-on because, although there may not be an immediate political impact, or one that individual politicians can latch onto and thereby achieve self-aggrandisement, this is something the country needs to do and is for its betterment. On those grounds, the Minister, the Department and the placing of the project within the National Development Plan should be given every possible support.

Photo of John EllisJohn Ellis (Fianna Fail)
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Does Senator Doherty wish to speak?

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Sinn Fein)
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I do but only briefly. Seo an céad lá dom a bheith ag caint tar éis bháis an Seanadóir Callanan agus ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a chur in iúl dá bhean chéile Sheila agus dá pháistí ar fad.

I take this opportunity because I do not see the motion before the House as contentious in any way, shape or form. Mapping of the seabed is obviously very important and will benefit many areas. One matter on which I wish to focus is the dispute between the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and its relationship with the mapping of special areas of conservation, SACs, where shellfish farms are operating. The situation is causing severe distress to over 300 applicants whose applications are ready to be renewed. Some 80% of these farms have made investments and will not now achieve their 40% return from the European Union because by not mapping SACs the Government is in breach of the directive in place. When money is available from the European Union under the programme for fisheries 2007-13 but cannot be accessed by the Department because of a lack of mapping, there are serious questions to be raised in this regard. It is a scandal that money committed by the individuals concerned for these indigenous enterprises cannot be recouped because the Department has failed to carry out such mapping. This must be rectified immediately.

I am aware that in 2008 the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, announced €4 million in grant aid for aquaculture and €1.4 million to facilitate the mapping of SACs. At face value, this seemed good but I am informed the downside was that the €4 million needed to complete the project related to the previous grant applications from 2005 to 2006. More important, the €1.4 million allocated for the mapping of SACs was allocated for one year only, with the result that only 12 bays have been mapped in the south of Ireland and the money has been spent with nothing further forthcoming.

The benefits of mapping have been outlined by different Senators today but there is an immediate problem, one that the Department should have known about since 2000 when Ireland implemented the Natura 2000 habitats directive that introduced SACs. It is having a severe impact on indigenous enterprise. To put the matter in context, the aquaculture industry is worth €120 million per annum. When we talk about the benefits of investing, we can see the return in this instance. However, I understand there is a stand-off between the two Departments with consequential intransigence. I am informed that it is a simple matter but because of the stand-off between the two Departments nothing is happening. I am also informed that a mediation process has been established between the two Departments but this issue needs to be resolved immediately. People are losing their jobs day in, day out. Because the Government is responsible for the hold up, the matter must be sorted out. I commend the Minister on the mapping project but this matter must be dealt with as a priority. I would welcome the Minister's return to the Seanad, or to me, on this matter. I understand it does not fall directly within his remit or that of Department but it is connected to the overall debate we are having in the House today and, therefore, worth mentioning.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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I am very glad to be here to reply to the various contributions made and acknowledge the very good work done by our public servants in this area. As Senator Mullen said, too often we concentrate on the negative and do not recognise the things we do that are innovative and progressive. In this area what we are doing is world-class and worthy of recognition. On 6 and 7 October at an international conference in Dublin Seabed 100, the programme of Irish seabed mapping begun in 1999, was reviewed, had its results showcased and achievements lauded. Mapping of deeper waters was completed in 2005 under the direction of the Geological Survey of Ireland, GSI. Since 2006 an effective partnership between the GSI and the Marine Institute has been tackling the near-shore seabed under the INFOMAR project. In speaking to Senators today I am keen to outline the results of this effort to date and the benefits which have accrued, both in terms of the increased skills base and the added value for specific sectors.

Before examining the detail of how the project has operated and what it is delivering, it would be good to examine its fiscal costs and benefits. An undertaking of this scale is not cheap. Expenditure on the Irish national seabed survey totalled €32 million, while the budget for the INFOMAR programme is €4million per annum. It is imperative, therefore, that such a programme be examined to see if it represents value for money. In 2008 an independent financial review of the programme was completed. The review, carried out by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers, examined, under Department of Finance rules, the options and costs to completion of the current work. The study calculated in a prudent way the estimated benefits accruing from the work across a range of sectors. In the commercial sector the areas examined were fishing, aquaculture, biodiversity, renewable energy, energy exploration and aggregates, while impacts on the knowledge economy and research and legislative savings through the avoidance of non-compliance fines were also calculated. The study examined four options, from the cessation of activity through to the acceleration of the programme. A large number of non-quantifiable benefits were identified, particularly relating to the environment. The study did not put a monetary value on some of the speculative benefits such as a hydrocarbon find, a major biotechnology discovery or the avoidance of major costs such as clean-up costs arising from an oil spill. Although the study recommended a ramping-up of the programme, if possible, the option chosen was to continue the current level of funding with an estimated net present value of benefits of €275 million and a benefit to cost ratio of 4.4.

I wish to cover the mechanism for mapping Ireland's seabed in which we are engaged. Ireland is a relatively small island on the west European seaboard and isolated on the Continental Shelf of the north-east Atlantic. In order to define the limits of our underwater territory beyond the traditional territorial waters and understand what it may contain, the seabed must be mapped. The first significant seabed surveys, part of the national preparation of a submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, took place in 1995 and 1996. The results supported the extension of our seabed area to more than 1,000 km off the west coast. This was a considerable resource in which the Government was prepared to invest. Marine science and geo-science have since become priority themes in Ireland's science and technology landscape.

The Irish national seabed survey, INSS, funded by the Government, was designed to produce comprehensive information on all aspects of the seabed as a basis for its sustainable management. From 1999 to 2005 the survey successfully mapped all waters deeper than 200 m, in addition to considerable areas of shallow water. The project completed not only the depth mapping or bathymetry but also provided a groundbreaking set of multibeam backscatter - used for resolving seabed type - magnetic, gravity and ancillary data. Deep seismic surveys examined specific regions and video and physical samples provided ground truthing of interpretations.

The Canadian Centre for Marine Communications was engaged from 1999 to 2000 to assist with project planning, design and specifications. Stakeholder feedback has been involved in all aspects of managing the programme to ensure it meets the needs of society. At an early stage changes were implemented to maximise the value, including a shift from paper-based to digital technologies, making mid-depth surveys with deep water surveys and concentrating on the needs of customers.

Many ships have been used. The Irish company Global Ocean Technology Limited, GOTECH, won a contract from 2000 to 2002 to undertake the deep water mapping and used the SV Bligh and the SV Siren, the former in deeper waters and the latter in relatively shallow waters of 200 m to 1,000 m in depth off the south west. The Marine Institute's RV Celtic Voyager and latterly RV Celtic Explorer have been the mainstay of the INFOMAR programme. Additional work on the Rockall bank used the Granuaile, a vessel of the Commissioners of Irish Lights.

The INFOMAR programme is being jointly undertaken by the GSI, under the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, and the Marine Institute, now an agency of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Since 2006 INFOMAR has been dedicated to mapping the more challenging inshore and coastal waters. The first phase focuses on 26 priority bays and three priority areas, the second on completing all remaining areas unmapped. The initial approval for INFOMAR covered three years from 2006 to 2008 and, following a positive financial review in 2008, the project has been approved to at least the end of the current national development programme in 2013.

The INFOMAR programme, focused as it is on shallow waters, has needed other platforms for acquiring data. Following a successful trial in 2002, coastal airborne surveys using laser mapping have been a regular part of INFOMAR, particularly in the clearer waters off the west coast in waters up to 30 m deep. The Celtic Explorer has worked in coastal and inlet waters as shallow as 50 m and the Celtic Voyager to 20 m. Biological and geological sampling, as well as video surveys, are undertaken from these various ships, as well as from a small rigid inflatable boat. The final most shallow area in the inshore is now being mapped using the most recent addition to the national fleet of research vessels, the RV Keary, a 15 m aluminium catamaran built and equipped specifically to carry out shallow water mapping.

The INFOMAR project is carefully managed under a cross-departmental project board, reports to a technical advisory committee of stakeholders and undergoes detailed NDP monitoring. I am delighted to advise that the project is on track, meeting both financial and technical targets. To date, the priority area off the south west has been completed, with the priority bays of Galway, Bantry, Dunmanus, Tralee, Donegal and Sligo. Dublin Bay will be completed this year and work has commenced on the rest. Under the current Government decision, the project will again be reviewed in 2012.

What has come from all this and what are the project outputs? Data are processed, interpreted and customised to meet the needs of a wide range of customers and stakeholders. Starting with energy, suitable anchoring sites must be identified for offshore renewable energy extraction from wind or wave energy projects and seabed classification maps provide accurate information on site conditions. Similar information is required for site selection for drilling rigs for oil and gas exploration and production. Exploration relies on the interpretation of seismic, magnetic, gravity and geological information. The PricewaterhouseCoopers study valued the benefits to the energy exploration sector at over €49 million, with a further €40 million of benefits for the renewable energy sector.

In terms of fisheries, marine life is not uniformly distributed throughout the oceans and the occurrence of many species is strongly influenced by the nature of the sea floor. Some favour a rocky habitat, others a muddy one. Reliable fish habitat maps are equally valuable to trawler owners as to national fishery regulators and environmental agencies. Fish habitat maps will promote efficient harvesting while minimising the environmental damage caused to the sea floor by excessive trawling and contribute to national and EU fishery regulations and policies. The study valued the benefits to this sector at some €95 million.

In terms of environmental protection, the Irish have traditionally associated coral reefs with the warmer climates of places such as Queensland in Australia. In recent years they have become familiar with the wealth of similar reefs on the edge of our continental shelf. In particular, cold water carbonate mounds extend from south of Ireland along the Atlantic fringes as far north as Norway. They nurture juvenile fish, but equally they require satisfactory protection as valuable marine heritage. In 2007 Ireland became one of the first countries worldwide to protect such environments with the designation of four special areas of conservation. Benefits accruing from the legislative area were estimated at over €7 million.

In terms of aggregates, the vibrant economy of the past decade saw an unprecedented level of construction of national infrastructure. The considerable resulting pressure on land-based aggregate resources means there is increasing interest in potential offshore resources. Seabed surveys designed to test for offshore aggregates have recently been undertaken. The mounds and ridges, often glacial, are valued both as fish breeding grounds and as sites for renewable energy installations. The seabed surveys' results can inform prudent decision making in dealing with such conflicting interests. The benefits in this sector are estimated at some €85 million.

Regarding marine safety, hydrographic charts around the coastline have, until recently and apart from minor updates, dated from the late 19th century. Some are now obsolete owing to shifting sediment patterns in the intervening period. The changing demands of shipping have placed additional and different pressures on busy sea lanes. Coastal seabed surveys have been undertaken to characterise modern shipping lanes, ensure safe passage to ports and provide modern charts.

Heritage is an important aspect of seabed management. Detailed mapping is essential to support the delineation of special areas of conservation. Shipwrecks on the sea floor have been mapped with remarkable clarity, often illustrating the way the ships sank and came to rest on the seabed. Many are national monuments and may represent heritage extending back as far as the Spanish Armada.

In terms of marine research, a key use of the data produced is as an enabler for leading edge research. More than 200 projects to date have benefited from data, advice or funding, including a project to deploy instruments that will monitor a range of environmental parameters in Galway Bay involving both INTEL and IBM. In another, NUI Galway, funded by the Griffith Geoscience Research Awards, will investigate groundwater-sea water interactions affecting drinking water supply on the Clare side of Galway Bay. A conservative value of €10 million has been estimated for benefits arising from research.

In terms of delivering the data, early on it became clear that the programme would fail if it focused exclusively on data acquisition. From interaction with stakeholders, a digital environment, including web delivery and geographic information systems, GIS, was seen to be the way forward. Duplication and backup are employed for data security. Web mapping allows users direct access to their target data sets using GIS. The most recent interactive web data delivery system which allows users high speed web download is the first such fully interactive system of its kind in the northern hemisphere. Every effort has been made to facilitate data usage. A policy of free access to data sets for all users was introduced in 2007.

The results of seabed mapping have become a key component of Ireland's emerging knowledge economy. The mapping has been the foundation for a state-of-the-art information management system. The level of activity sustains a significant skills base and will ensure Ireland has a healthy foundation in both geo-science and marine science in the future. The seabed mapping has also built an unprecedented level of co-operation among agencies.

Public awareness of seabed mapping has increased gradually in recent years. Popular images like shipwrecks and coral reefs have delighted an audience that is increasingly attuned to the enterprise and career opportunities of science and technology. These audiences, even those with limited formal scientific knowledge, visit the relevant websites with increasing frequency and download appreciable levels of information. The policy of free access for all users has encouraged this process and many commercial users regularly return to the websites for updates.

At Government level, I am pleased that there is recognition that geo-science programmes such as seabed mapping can provide an accessible avenue for students who may eventually study varied aspects of science. This helps Ireland to reach its science and technology targets in building its knowledge economies. Collaborative seabed mapping has also advanced the co-operation between the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Ireland's continued investment in seabed mapping is essential to complete a task, started in deep waters in 1999, that will only be finished when all coastal waters have been surveyed. Seabed mapping is set to deliver a remarkable range of data sets which will underpin Ireland's policies and regulation for many decades. They will provide an excellent foundation for research and services and comprise a unique teaching and outreach resource. Many industrial and research sectors have gained benefit according as the national pool of expertise has increased. Ireland is establishing a marine data infrastructure consistent with state-of-the-art technologies and methodologies. Seabed mapping has enhanced the international profile for Irish marine expertise. It is a reflection of the Government's commitment to science and technology in general and specifically to geo-science and marine science and a statement that Ireland is a forward-looking nation which is science-friendly and eager to support enterprise based on world-class endeavour.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Kieran PhelanKieran Phelan (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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Ar 10.30 maidin amárach.