Seanad debates

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Adjournment Matters

Seaweed Harvesting Licences

3:55 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to the House. The motion has been tabled by Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Táim thar a bheith buíoch di as an t-am a thabhairt leis an cheist seo a ghlacadh. Táim ag ardú ceiste a bhaineann le ceadúnas maidir le baint feamainne.

The Minister of State is possibly aware of the recent sale of the State-owned company called Arramara Teoranta that was in State ownership for quite a number of years. The company is a seaweed processing factory based in Kilkieran, Connemara. We have been told by Údarás na Gaeltachta that it was sold to a Canadian company. We wish the new company well and have no issue with the purchase whatsoever.

We have an issue with the licensing regime. My understanding is that the licence regime that covers the process is based on the 1933 Foreshore Act. The legislation states that the State owns the seaweed on our shores and, technically, the people who want to cut seaweed require a licence. It appears to us that the law has not been implemented to the letter until recently. However, there is a tradition, certainly in places like Connemara where I am from, for people to have a stripe or space on the shore to cut seaweed and sell it to the factory. Recently we have become aware that the National Parks and Wildlife Service, I think, wrote to at least one seaweed cutter informing him that he needed a licence if he wanted to continue cutting seaweed. On foot of that we noticed that a number of private companies had applied for a licence to gain the right to harvest seaweed along the foreshore from Kerry to Donegal.

We also know of a licence application that covers the area from Belmullet to Clare. Local seaweed cutters are quite concerned about the issue and are worried that it may affect their rights to cut and sell seaweed to the companies that operate in the industry. Before Arramara Teoranta was sold to Acadian Seaplants it applied for a licence for the area. A number of very large public meetings have been held to discuss the matter where the seaweed cutters, along with many public representative, expressed their concerns. The local seaweed cutters stated that they would like an input into the resource and its management. They are very concerned about sustainably managing the resource. They are also concerned that the seaweed is cut well, that the best is made of it and that they can make a living. There is a concern that if one company receives a licence it would have a monopoly and thus dictate the terms such as the times for cutting and the price. In addition, if it was not happy with a certain cutter it could put somebody else on his or her stripe of seaweed and get him or her to do the work. A number of smaller companies that work in the industry are very concerned that they will be squeezed out of the business.

My understanding is that these licence applications must go before a sub-committee in the Department, the sub-committee then makes a recommendation to the Minister and then the Minister has the responsibility of signing off or granting a licence to the cutters, company or the people who applied. I ask that none of the licences be granted until there is full public consultation with the seaweed cutters and people involved in the local communities. This is necessary to see if this is the best model and the most sustainable way of maintaining the industry. Locally, the seaweed cutters have suggested that they would prefer a fair trade scenario where a co-op or organisation, comprising the seaweed cutters, was set up and would apply for a licence. If a licence was granted they would be able to negotiate with a number of different players in the industry to get the best possible terms and conditions for them and their workers. That is my question for the Minister of State and I hope she will look favourably on the request.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. Táimid buíochas leis an Seanadóirí as ucht an cheist a baint feamainne a phlé anseo inniu.
Public participation is a key element of the decision-making process under the Foreshore Act 1933. At the outset I want to stress that foreshore licence applications are subject to a public consultation process, during which comments can be submitted to my Department. A number of licence applications for seaweed harvesting have been received by the Department and are currently under assessment. These applications vary considerably. They are made by both individual and commercial harvesters. Some have applied for a licence to harvest specific types of seaweed in a single or a couple of adjoining bays while other applications extend over a large area of coastline. The species and amounts of seaweed proposed to be harvested are also varied, ranging from very small quantities of Carrageen Moss to significant volumes of ascophyllum nodosum. End use applications range from artisan food products to animal health products to high grade fertiliser.
I urge people with a particular interest in, or a tradition of involvement with, seaweed harvesting to use the opportunity afforded by the public consultation process to make their views on the applications known to my Department on the applications in question. These consultations are expected to begin very shortly. They will be advertised in the local and national press and published on my Department's website. I am aware of the interest that some applications have attracted and of the one referred to by the Senator. My Department is in the process of making all applications that are deemed complete available on my Department's website and is issuing instructions to applicants on the public consultation procedures. Given the level of interest in these applications, I have decided to extend the consultation period from 21 working days to 30 working days.
All applications will be assessed in the context of the relevant regulatory framework, including any obligations that may arise under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. Following the conclusion of that assessment and the recommendations of the marine licence vetting committee - which I think is the committee that the Senator referred to - and my Department, I will be in a position to make determinations on the applications.
It is important to remember that living seaweed acts as an important habitat for marine and coastal species as well as having economic potential. In this context, the need to ensure sustainable exploitation of this valuable resource through the regulation of seaweed harvesting under the Foreshore Act 1933 is vital. This is the focus of my Department's efforts.
I am sure that Senators will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment directly on any specific application that will ultimately come before me for determination. However, any established rights in law will not be interfered with. My Department is seeking legal advice on the interaction of folio rights with the Foreshore Act and the European Communities (Birds and Habitats) Regulations 2011.

My Department is seeking legal advice on the interaction of folio rights with the Foreshore Act and the European Communities (Birds and Habitats) Regulations 2011. In addition, I will seek to definitively clarify the position on traditional and appurtenant rights. It must be remembered, however, that the majority of foreshore is in State ownership and that the associated seaweed is also, therefore, owned by the State.

As I previously advised the House, the specific issue of seaweed harvesting licensing is currently under review in the context of the forthcoming maritime area and foreshore (amendment) Bill.

4:05 pm

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister of State for the reply. I welcome the extension to 30 working days for the period of consultation. I appreciate that on individual applications, the Minister of State cannot get involved but would she be willing to meet with representatives of the seaweed harvesters on more general issues around the lifestyle they lead and the type of development of the industry they would like to see? Would it be possible to have a meeting with the Minister of State and her officials in order that they could put some of their concerns to her on the whole area of seaweed harvesting for the future?

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I thank the Senator. I should make the point that I have to retain a level of objectivity with regard to making these decisions because of the role I play in it. I will certainly give consideration to the request the Senator has made.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Go raibh míle maith agat.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.01 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 29 May 2014.