Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Marine Protection: Motion
That Seanad Éireann:
acknowledges: -- that Irish waters are crucial habitats for biodiversity and provide an invaluable source of income for rural areas in tourism, fisheries, research, heritage, energy and more;
-- that our seas and ocean are under unprecedented pressure, generated by the combined impacts of climate change, ocean acidification, shipping, fossil fuel exploration, destructive fishing, pollution and use of waters for economic purposes under the Blue Growth agenda;
-- that numerous EU and international agreements obligate Ireland to ensure at least 10% of coastal and marine areas be protected before 2020 and 30% by 2030;
-- that the Government has yet to deliver promised legislation for the designation and protection of marine protected areas, MPAs, despite Ireland’s obligations to achieve good environmental status in our seas under the EU marine strategy framework directive, MSFD, by 2020;
-- that Ireland has one of the largest marine areas in the EU by proportion to its size, and thus has an enhanced opportunity to protect key areas of ecological importance in the north-east Atlantic;
-- that despite this considerable marine territory, Ireland has only 2.33% of its marine extent covered by MPAs, the second lowest coverage in the EU, and those protections are not sufficient to adequately protect these areas;
-- that these sites are almost exclusively located within coastal habitats and river estuaries, leaving ocean species unprotected;
-- that ecologically coherent networks of high quality MPAs, managed in collaboration with local stakeholders, are the best tool to conserve marine ecosystems;
-- that the importance of our seas to the long-term health of the planet requires a dramatic effort to protect them, along the lines of the Half Earth concept proposed by E. O. Wilson and others; notes with concern: -- that the Government has made marine spatial planning a key aspect of Project 2040 without first developing a framework of MPAs;
-- that Ireland has failed in its European and international obligations to protect 10% of its marine waters under Article 13 of the MSFD, the Aichi biodiversity targets, the UN sustainable development goals and OSPAR Convention;
-- that Ireland was declared a whale and dolphin sanctuary in 1991, yet cetacean strandings have increased by 350% in the past ten years;
-- the Irish Wildlife Trust report 2018 shows that 48 species indigenous to Irish waters are facing extinction;
-- that fossil fuel exploration using seismic testing is occurring regularly in Irish waters since 2013, severely impacting on all marine life in the areas it is conducted;
-- that responsibilities for marine management are divided between a number of Government Departments, impacting on the effectiveness of species conservation and fisheries management;calls on the Government to: -- introduce an Oceans Act to protect 50% of Ireland’s seas and ocean with an ecologically coherent network of diverse and significant MPAs;
-- ensure such legislation contains the mechanisms to identify and designate high quality MPAs and ensure they are managed with respect for sustainable livelihoods and their ecological coherence, as part of a European network;
-- ensure such legislation contains financial support for expert staff, monitoring, enforcement and management, utilising available EU moneys under the EMFF, LIFE programme and other sources;
-- establish a consultation process within the legislation, involving all key stakeholders from the fisheries, recreational fisheries, tourism, energy, conservation and other relevant sectors to propose and review protections for such protected areas and input into future designations;
-- ensure designation of inshore MPAs be community-led as far as practicable, with a robust public consultation process as required under the Aarhus Convention;
-- ensure the legislation provides for robust scientific information on habitats, species, heritage sites and geological-geomorphological features to assist in the identification of potential MPAs;
-- ensure coherence in marine spatial planning and MPAs by bringing all activities in the marine under the control of one Government Department;
-- ensure the Common Fisheries Policy allows for the incorporation of strong Irish MPAs that would prohibit any especially destructive fisheries practices and prioritise an ecosystems-based approach to marine management that distributes the quota amongst Irish and EU vessels in an equitable and ecologically sustainable manner;
-- establish a moratorium on the granting of any licences for deep sea mining and fossil fuel exploration in protected Irish waters and prohibit seismic testing within any range of protected areas that would have any deleterious effects;
-- implement a ban on microbeads and the mandatory annual monitoring of micro-plastics in Irish waters.
I thank the Minister of State for attending. Before I outline my reasons for tabling the motion, I will thank some of those who helped to make it possible. I am indebted to my colleagues in the Seanad Civil Engagement group for their support and co-signing of the motion. I thank the many ocean and conservation experts who have helped with the scientific and technical aspects of what is a detailed and complex matter. Some of them are in the Visitors Gallery. I thank the many fishermen and anglers who have helped to inform me on how marine protection measures would affect them. The names are too numerous to mention, but they know who they are and I hope they know of my deep appreciation for their work.
I have a personal connection with this issue. As the House knows, I have come to the Seanad not from a background in politics or local government but from a life of activism and engagement on the high seas. My ten years of campaigning on Greenpeace ships, be it fighting nuclear weapon testing in the south Pacific and toxic waste incineration in European waters or protecting the Antarctic, contributed to my deep love and appreciation of and respect for the awesome power and importance of the oceans.
Following my return to Ireland, I studied ecology in UCC and then in WIT a postgraduate diploma in business development based around seaweed. It was from the latter that I gained experience of another kind when applying for a foreshore licence for sustainable seaweed harvesting. I faced complications and difficulties in gaining access to economic opportunities that small-scale operators on the coastline should be able to access if only the relevant legislation did not date from 1933.
My motion is aimed at tackling Ireland's failure to date to adequately protect the oceans and seas around our island nation. These habitats are crucial, not only for all life in Ireland but also all life on Earth. The oceans comprise over 70% of the planet and the life therein provides us with most of the oxygen we breathe. They absorb an immense of amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and serve as a crucial support for terrestrial and marine food chains. We are an almost unique island nation in Europe, surrounded as we are not only by shallow coastal seas but also the wilder, deeper Atlantic Ocean. These waters have defined our culture, decided our history and shaped our society. We are part of Europe, yet also separate in many ways. We have the highest proportion of marine area relative to our land size. We are the very definition of an island nation.
Fishing remains an important aspect of the economy, as Senator Frances Black will outline. The Government's Our Ocean Wealth agenda aims to increase our utilisation of the enormous wealth of our seas. The European Union's Blue Growth and marine spatial planning agendas lay out a vision for more active engagement with the oceans than ever before. The potential for safe renewable energy generation, sustainable fisheries and the expansion of tourism and recreation in the marine environment offers opportunities and threats.
All is not well in our seas. As many citizens heard in Sir David Attenborough's "Blue Planet II" series and, more recently and locally, on film maker Mr. Ken O'Sullivan's "Ireland's Deep Atlantic" on RTÉ, the world's oceans are under threat from a number of pressures. We are learning more about the highly destructive effects of exploration for fossil fuels using the prevalent technique of sonic booming, that is, massive soundwave generating machines to probe the seabed. It has been shown to be dangerous and even lethal to the plankton that makes up the basis of the marine food chain. It has contributed to the significant amount of noise pollution cluttering up the seas around Ireland, leading to a dramatic increase in whale and other cetacean strandings and mortalities. Other sources of pollution threaten to disturb the delicate balance that allows so much life to flourish in the marine environment. Shipping adds air, noise and waste pollution by contributing to climate change and ocean acidification from emissions. We now know about the significant problem that we are facing with plastic and other waste coming from the land and ending up in the seas, something to which I will advert. Increasing global temperatures are mostly being absorbed by the oceans, leading to coral bleaching and other negative effects, as acidification weakens shellfish and other marine flora and fauna.
Added to these pressures, Brexit has thrown up yet another threat to effective marine management, with the United Kingdom set to leave the European Union and its increasingly effective marine protection agreements, bringing Northern Ireland potentially out of alignment with the South. These threats call for a radical solution. Such an approach can be found in the Half Earth vision of the pioneering naturalist Dr. E. O. Wilson who has laid out a vision of half the world being protected for the continuation of life on Earth and the protection of its species which have taken millions, if not billions, of years to evolve. After all, all life on Earth originated in the oceans. A 50% target might seem ambitious, but it is commensurate with the challenges we face.
At the heart of my motion is the belief that, if we can give the seas some space by removing the damaging effects of our economic activity, they can recover. Ocean habitats have flourished for millions of years without human help and they can do so again if we just allow their natural resilience to restore them. Yesterday was international day for biological diversity, an annual event organised by the United Nations to celebrate and promote this most essential aspect of a healthy environment. However, Ireland does not have much to celebrate, considering our poor performance to date in the area of marine protection. The Government's countermotion refers often to our work at EU and OSPAR regional seas convention level.I support this work and the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive is the best way to support marine areas that are under pressure and ensure the emerging networks of marine protection are ecologically coherent. The amendment seems, on the face of it, to be both progressive and detailed, but, at its heart, it is both an admission of failure by the Government and a commitment to continue with the light-touch and voluntary regime of incomplete marine protection. Our call for a bottom-up, community-led approach to MPA identification, designation and management, and the commitments to put Ireland's fishing communities at the heart of solving the problems of how to sustain our fisheries into the future and to work with our EU partners to ensure the next reform of the CFP corrects the historical wrongs, restores powers to lower impact fishers and reverses the centralisation of fishing permits in Irish permits, are gone. As the EU, G7, UN and leading nations such as France and Canada with young, liberal and optimistic leaders in the vein of our Taoiseach move forward to protect areas with high quality and extensive MPAs, Irish people are left embarrassed by their Government's lack of commitment to solid protections that will help to protect and restore our fisheries and other marine habitats.
Existing areas are almost all designated under the EU birds and habitats directives, meaning they are species instead of habitat-focused, and almost all are based on river estuaries and other areas near our coastline. I welcome the high seas designations, which demonstrate that protection on the high seas is possible, even under the CFP, but we need more, and we need them to be real areas of restoration, not "paper parks". It is not my intention to divide the House, and I hope that the Minister will allow the original motion to proceed unamended. The alterations contained in the amendments take almost every element of strength and innovation from it and we could never support such a fundamental weakening in such a crucial area.
I second this important motion tabled by our Green Party colleague. It is a detailed and comprehensive motion that covers a wide range of issues and policy areas but, at its heart, it is about our stewardship of the earth's oceans, the conservation of the rich environmental, social and economic benefits that we derive from them and how to best go about the identification and designation of MPAs in consultation at all times with local communities. I readily admit that the protection of our marine environment is not something I was well versed in when first elected but, as with many environmental issues, I have learned a great deal from Senator O'Sullivan and her Green Party colleagues and, while researching my contribution, it was clear just how much of an emergency we are in. We need to act incredibly quickly to meet our EU and international obligations by 2020 as well as our moral obligations to safeguard the rich heritage and biodiversity of our waters. It will be tough but not impossible. I hope the Government can recognise this and is willing to act quickly as a result.
Senator O'Sullivan outlined the importance of designating marine protected waters. I would like to focus on the process of how MPAs are identified and designated and, in particular, highlight research and advice on the motion from Dr. Ruth Brennan, marine social scientist and former solicitor, from the Trinity Centre for Environmental Humanities and the Scottish Association for Marine Science, and fisherman, Mr. Seamus Bonner, of the Their work underlines the importance of taking into account how ordinary people interact with their environment when designating and creating management plans for MPAs. We want to be in a position where communities feel connected and responsible for their local MPAs. We want them to be consulted, engaged and invested in their success, which is why we have referenced strong stakeholder consultation in the motion. By taking time to engage communities in a discussion about MPAs, we can ensure these areas can protect shipwrecks important to Irish history, spawning grounds for Ireland's unique abundance of blue whale and dolphin populations or the rare geological features the length and breadth of County Clare and the Wild Atlantic Way for which Ireland is famous.
This does not mean less protection for biodiversity; it means the opposite. It means engaging and galvanising stakeholders who work with that environment on a daily basis to protect it. We recommend the Northern Irish approach to MPAs and ask that heed be taken of the Joint Sub-Committee on Fisheries report, Promoting Sustainable Rural Coastal and Island Communities 2014. The report lists 29 recommendations across a range of sectors which will assist in the continued survival of coastal communities that depend on our marine resources, and their stewardship of the marine environment. In particular, inshore designations need to be co-designed with local coastal communities to ensure a marine stewardship ethos is harnessed and supported from the outset. This involvement of local communities from the outset ensures that inshore MPAs are actively co-managed by the people who live and work with them on a day-to-day basis.
The amendments clearly use the language of economics alone when they refer to an "ecosystems approach", for example, stating "that the Irish coastal and marine environment have a high natural capital and provide valuable services". Ireland's coastal and marine environment is much more than natural capital and services. Concepts such as natural capital and ecosystem services reframe non-human nature in economic and financial terms alone and this is too narrow when this is the only framing presented. The spectrum of how we as humans relate to nature is broad and multifaceted. People love their local beach and will participate in clean-ups even if it is not a Natura 2000 site or of economic benefit. People will swim with dolphins, bird watch, return small lobsters to the water, visit blue whales and learn of the Claddagh fishing village not because these are "services" but because they are beautiful, magical, inexplicable parts of life on this wild green and bountiful earth - a complex world deserving of respect.
The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, which Ireland is signed up to, uses the 12 Malawi principles as the underpinning framework to guide the practical application of the ecosystem approach and provide it with meaning. The principles state that [b]oth cultural and biological diversity are central components of the ecosystem approach," and require that MPAs be managed "for their intrinsic values and for the tangible or intangible benefits for humans, in a fair and equitable way". Framing the environment as providing services does not capture the intrinsic value of the marine environment, its intertwined bio-cultural diversity and, in particular, its intangible cultural heritage. This is not adequately captured by framing culture as a "service". When we speak of our marine environment in the cold terms of economics, the sociocultural context is lost as a means of fostering a long-term marine stewardship ethos within our coastal communities. We need to look on MPAs as an opportunity to revitalise and restore coastal communities that have been hit by declining fishing stocks in Irish waters. This process does not have to be top down and authoritarian. It can be organic and collaborative, building on current coverages of marine protection in terms of designation rather than starting from scratch.
As an island nation off the coast of Europe, we have an opportunity to be a European leader in this area and reflect the ambitious goals, targets and aspirations in our motion. I oppose the Government's amendment, which significantly waters down the aspirational nature of what we have tabled and, crucially, makes no reference to an oceans Bill or something similar. We need a fast and meaningful legislative response to the tight timeline. Significant resources and coherent planning are required to hit our 2020 deadline.The Government's amendment makes no reference to it and does not capture the gravity of the issue or the speed with which it must be addressed. We have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren to protect and safeguard the planet and its environment. The motion could be a first step in ensuring Ireland will play a leading role in that regard.
I move amendment No. 2:
To delete all words after “That Seanad Eireann:” and substitute the following:
acknowledges: - that the Irish coastal and marine environment has a high natural capital and provide valuable services for all parts of the country and economy, including in the areas of tourism, heritage and cultural amenity, transportation and communications, food production, education and research, flood protection, climate regulation, nutrient absorption and energy;
- that, globally, the oceans are facing increased pressures, generated by the combined impacts of human activities and the effects of climate change;
- that Ireland, in co-operation with the European Union and other European countries within the framework of the OSPAR Convention, is committed to ensuring the protection and conservation of the marine environment and the sustainable use of its resources;
- that Ireland is committed to an ecosystem-based approach to the sound management of the marine environment and recognises that marine ecosystems, species and habitats are largely transboundary in nature, thus making regional and cross-sectoral co-operation essential for effective management;
- that Ireland has one of the largest marine areas in the EU and thus has a vital role to play in ensuring the protection and conservation of parts of the marine environment adversely affected by human activity;
- that in the period from 2010 to 2016, Ireland, as a contracting party to the OSPAR Convention, ensured that in the north-east Atlantic the number of marine protected areas expanded from 159 to 448 and that 16.7% of all territorial waters were protected - as of 2016, 7.6% of the Celtic seas were covered by marine protected areas and this number continues to increase;
- that much of the focus of marine protected areas is on ensuring species and habitats are afforded protection from human activity at vital life stages - many of the protection sites are located within coastal habitats and river estuaries and 16.7% of all Atlantic territorial waters are now protected;
- that Ireland aims for an ecologically coherent and well managed network of area based management tools, including MPAs - this involves cross-sectoral management and ongoing research to understand what constitutes coherence and connectivity for different types of species and habitats; and
- that in meeting our responsibilities, Ireland uses the best available scientific evidence as the basis for making decisions, along with other relevant criteria, including adherence to the precautionary principle; notes: - that the Government has made integrated land and maritime planning a priority of Project 2040 in order to realise our island and marine potential and will develop a marine plan for Ireland;
- that Ireland has made significant steps in meeting its UN Convention on Biological Diversity target 11 for the conservation of at least 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020;
- the Irish Wildlife Trust report 2018 highlights that up to 48 species are under various levels of pressure - this has been previously recognised by Ireland in the agreement of the OSPAR list of threatened and declining species and habitats and the extensive list of actions that go with this list; Ireland is implementing the actions outlined in the recommendations of the OSPAR list and the implementation of the EU natura directives also ensures this issue is addressed;
- that with regard to seismic surveying in Irish waters, the National Parks and Wildlife Service has developed detailed and clear guidance on the background to, and the assessment and management of risk to, affected species from this activity - this is in order to ensure best environmental practice continues to be adopted, that human activities are sustainable and that populations of conserved species are protected from disturbance or other potential detrimental effects of underwater sound;
- that establishing the cause of death in a stranded cetacean is a complex matter and a programme of post-mortems on stranded small cetaceans is under way to investigate the issue further; and
- that the marine co-ordination group will continue its work of supervision, cross-Government delivery and implementation of Ireland's integrated marine plan, Harnessing our Ocean Wealth; and reaffirms: - that the Government will bring forward legislation for the designation and protection of marine protected areas, MPAs, with the aim of delivering an ecologically coherent, connected and well managed network of MPAs and that this work must, by the nature of marine ecosystems, be transboundary in nature;
- that this work and other area based management tools must be based on the ecosystem approach and on agreed national, regional and international evidence-based processes and will be underpinned by appropriate legislation;
- that to achieve this objective, Ireland will continue to work with the other countries of the north-east Atlantic through the OSPAR Convention, the European Union and other relevant intergovernmental arrangements;
- that the legislation and process of the identification of potential MPAs will provide for robust scientific information on habitats, species, heritage sites and geological-geomorphological features, and public participation and consultation;
- that Ireland will continue its progress towards meeting our obligations to achieve good environmental status in our seas under the EU marine strategy framework directive, MSFD, by 2020;
- the commitment to ongoing work in developing a marine plan for Ireland as set out in the recently published document, Towards a Marine Spatial Plan for Ireland;
- Ireland's commitment to concerted multilateral action to tackle climate change through the Paris Agreement;
- A Programme for a Partnership Government commitment to chart a course towards achieving a low carbon and climate resilient future by 2050 - known as the 'national transition objective';
- that Ireland's first national mitigation plan sets out this Government's collective approach to reducing Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions;
- that the Common Fisheries Policy continues to allow for the incorporation of MPAs within Irish waters and that quota distribution continues to conform with the requirements set down in the Common Fisheries Policy; and
- that Government will, in line with its established policy position, bring forward, by end-July 2018, the general scheme of a Bill to implement a ban on microbeads in wash-off personal care products and cleaning and scouring agents, with the aim of publishing a final Bill later in the year and securing, with Oireachtas co-operation, enactment by year-end.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I also welcome my party colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English. I agree with the general thrust of Senator Grace O'Sullivan's motion and commend her for providing a briefing on it for Members of the Oireachtas. I acknowledge her work on this issue which represents very welcome engagement on her part. I also acknowledge her background in and deep passion for biodiversity and protecting the environment, including the oceans. Like her, I come from County Waterford, a coastal county that has long associations with the marine sector. It is in all of our interests that policy makers and citizens work to protect marine biodiversity and ensure the oceans, rivers and lakes are as clean and sustainable as possible. We must also work to ensure the countless species living in these environments are sustained. We must implement conservation practices that are practical and effective in protecting marine life. We must be vigilant and guard against any complacency when it comes to damage to the marine environment. This is especially important in the context of the potential extinction of species and the various threats to which Senator Grace O'Sullivan and others have referred in terms of how society engages with the marine.
The Senator's party has introduced legislation on microbeads and plastics, on which work is being done by the Government. I welcome the progress being made in that regard and the various initiatives being taken by the Government in engaging with all stakeholders to make sure we will have a cleaner environment in the seas, estuaries, rivers and lakes. I also compliment RTÉ on its recent documentary, "Ireland's Deep Atlantic", which was a wonderful example of public service broadcasting. The programme gave a great insight into life below the waterline. I commend the cameraman Mr. Ken O'Sullivan and all those involved in bringing amazing footage into living rooms all over the country. The programme makers filmed the species living in and the cold water coral reefs of the north Atlantic. The programme highlighted the biodiversity of the area and was very welcome in raising awareness and encouraging everyone to work towards creating a sustainable marine environment.
It must be acknowledged that the Government has made marine protection and conservation priorities under Project Ireland 2040. We are obliged under the marine strategy framework directive to ensure the various cycles in achieving conservation and protection of the marine environment are upheld. Ireland is already very active in this area and has completed one comprehensive cycle in achieving its objectives under the directive. The Government has also committed to the preparation of relevant legislation. Will the Minister of State provide a timeline for that legislation to assure Members that we are serious about protecting the marine environment? Every Member of the House will have an opportunity to contribute to that legislation during the pre-legislative scrutiny stage which will provide us with an opportunity for more in-depth engagement on these issues.
While the Government agrees with the concept of designated marine protected areas, the motion put before the House by the Green Party does not involve the stakeholder engagement and consultation necessary ahead of such important legislation. The Government fully supports the development of a diverse but coherent network of marine protected areas and has committed to introducing legislation to provide for same. Its position cannot be any clearer.
The motion does not deal solely with marine protected areas. It also seeks Government agreement to a number of fundamental changes to policy which would need wide consultation and also the support of a majority in the Houses. I ask the Green Party to consider carefully what I am about to say. If the motion, as tabled, is accepted, it will mean a moratorium on the granting by the Government of all licences for deep sea mining and fossil fuel exploration in protected Irish waters. Importantly, from the perspective of those of us who come from fishing counties, it will mean changes to the quota system as set out in the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP. It will involve Ireland taking unilateral action which would not be in keeping with our membership of the European Union and the fact that the CFP is based on agreement between member states. Strong and deep negotiations involving all stakeholders, including fishing communities, would be needed in that respect. The CFP is no different from the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and it would be remiss of us to change it unilaterally or try to change it without engaging with all stakeholders.Acceptance of the motion will also mean a major reorganisation of the way in which the Government manages marine matters, moving from supervisory, cross-government delivery and implementation by the marine co-ordination group to a single Department structure.
It is clear that the Green Party's motion is not in line with Government policy in these areas. Specifically, regarding changes to the operation of the quota system of the CFP, it is not within the remit of the Government to unilaterally make changes to the quota distribution rules set out in the CFP, as I am sure the Green Party and other Members of the House are fully aware. I say to the Fianna Fáil Party that it is important to acknowledge the strong and deep negotiations that have taken place with our European partners on the CFP. It is not something from which we can move away lightly. Despite the genuine concerns underpinning the motion, we cannot readily dispose of those agreements and negotiations and I caution against doing so. It is for these reasons that the Government cannot agree to the motion proposed by the Green Party. I urge all Senators to support the Government's amendment which sets out the commitments to introduce legislation in the coming months. It also sets out the Government's agreement with the concept of marine protected areas as outlined in the motion. However, we must complete work on the necessary legislation which will include a prohibition on microbeads which all Members accept is a very positive step forward.
The main point of the motion is that the Green Party wants the Government to introduce legislation to designate 50% of Ireland's territorial waters as a marine protected area. This would, in effect, designate an area five times the size of the island of Ireland as a marine protected area. However, the motion does not envisage a consultation process with the stakeholders who would be affected by such a decision. That is critical. There is no mention of a regulatory impact analysis to examine whether this would be the right policy to adopt. We need deeper engagement on this issue and the forthcoming legislation will give us that opportunity. It will afford every Member of the Houses an opportunity in the pre-legislative scrutiny phase to express their concerns and put forward solutions to protect the marine environment. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response to the debate.
Fianna Fáil will be supporting the motion and I commend Senator Grace O'Sullivan for the great work she has done on it. She must have devoted an enormous amount of time to drafting such a comprehensive motion, which is welcome. It is unfortunate that such a motion had to be tabled to stimulate the action that should already be under way at Government level.
As an island nation, we have a special relationship with the oceans. We have a moral and economic obligation to protect and enhance the immense natural resources of our waters and ensure future generations will be able to enjoy them. There would be no need for the motion if the Government had taken action to tackle these issues at an earlier stage. Why has it delayed doing what needs to be done? Urgent action needs to be taken and the Government’s amendment shows how much it is in denial on the task in front of it. We have just heard Senator Paudie Coffey cite the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, as the reason some of these actions cannot be taken. The Government plays a big role in the negotiations on the CFP and with some joined up thinking, one could enhance the other.The Government knows the actions called for in the motion are necessary. It is way behind on meeting its commitments. If one looks at the upcoming deadline of 2020 to have 10% of marine area designated, it is nowhere near it. It is clear the Government knows it is falling behind its commitments. Like St. Augustine, it says it wants to do the right thing, but just not yet. The way the Government has gone about trying to evade its responsibility in the countermotion is sad. The motion talks about the pressures on Irish seas and oceans and the need for us to take action to tackle this. The Government responds that the oceans are facing pressure globally. I have a newsflash for the Government. Ireland is also part of the globe and we have a responsibility to do our bit to look after our part of it and so far, this Government is failing miserably. The motion points out that just over 2% of our marine area is designated as marine protected area, which is the second lowest in the EU. These are mainly concentrated around river estuaries and along the coast, leaving ocean species unprotected. The Government response is to claim that almost 17% of Atlantic territorial waters are now protected. It does not mention is that it is talking mainly about other countries' territorial waters, not our own. The fact remains that we are way off our 2020 target of 10% and have enormous work to do to reach our 2030 target of 30%. The Government is trying to shirk its responsibility, but it is clear it is in denial about the extent of commitment required to properly address this issue.
The motion refers to the fact that whale and dolphin strandings are up by 350% in the last ten years. The Government's response is that establishing cause of death in those strandings is a “complex matter”. This is clearly not a Government that is focused on taking action. Instead it prefers to duck and dive its responsibilities while further damage to our marine natural resources continues. In its countermotion, the Government promises to bring forward legislation to designate marine protected areas, but it has been saying that for a while now and yet still there is nothing to show for the empty promises. We are here debating this motion, when instead, as Senator Coffey mentioned, we could be passing the legislation required to deal with this issue and to fulfil our moral and legal obligations. The time to act is now and the Government must act on this motion as matter of environmental urgency. The Senator has to be commended for bringing the motion. It is unfortunate that it has come to this because this legislation is long overdue and every day that it is not introduced or passed is another day of detriment to our natural environment.
Senator Craughwell is next. He has an amendment too but he cannot move it yet because only one amendment can be dealt with at a given time. When the other amendment is disposed of and voted on, the Senator's amendment can then be moved, but he can speak to it now.
I appreciate that. I welcome the Minister of State and Senator Grace O'Sullivan's motion. There are few people in this House who are as well qualified to speak as Senator O'Sullivan on this issue. With all due respect to my colleague, Senator Coffey, from the south east, "give us marine protected areas, dear lord, but not just yet", tends to be the Government's answer to most things. It says that it has legislation coming down the line, it will go to a committee, it will talk about it and it will do anything, but in the meantime, our oceans are getting worse. Plenty of people have adverted to the various documentaries on the state of the world's oceans. We have to start moving.
I will throw the Minister of State a lifeline to save blushes all around and to save us from dividing the House. Setting a target of half of all Irish waters is an extremely high bar to set, especially considering the very low amount of Irish territorial waters currently protected. We need to think of the practicalities of setting the target that high and we also need a realistic timeline to get there. My colleague, Senator Paul Daly, was speaking about timelines there. I would hate to be hanging. That is all I can say on the timelines right now. I favour 30%, as does my colleague, Senator Boyhan, who has cosigned my amendment. Some 30% is the target set out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN. It is also a target that Ireland has agreed to in principle, so I am not asking the Minister of State to do anything that he has not already agreed to. It is 30% for two reasons. It is scientifically defensible and it represents a real and more realistic level of ambition. I offer the amendment not to weaken the motion but to improve its chances of getting through. I hope it will be accepted with that in mind. I ask the Government to support my amendment as I believe that by achieving the 30% target, we can still make Ireland a leader in this area.
There has been much talk about the Common Fisheries Policy, etc. There will be no fish the way things are going in our oceans. We see thousands of tonnes of plastic being pulled out of the oceans. We see fish being strangled with cast-off nets. We see irresponsible exploration. At the end of the day, we have to start with something. This 30% is a low level to start at and I accept what Senator O'Sullivan has said. I understand for somebody with her commitment that setting the target low is something she would find difficult to accept but, at the end of the day, we have very little. I ask the Senator to consider accepting the amendment. Some 30% is a start. It brings us a long way towards the Senator's 50%. If we make that start, there is some chance. Waiting for legislation is like waiting for Godot. It will just drag on and on, and things get worse all the time. To make life much easier for all of us here this evening and to save me from dividing the House, let us go for the 30% and accept the amendment. It is not an unreasonable request. I think it is one that we can all live with. Given that the Senator already has a principled position that 30% is a target she would seek to reach, I do not see any reason she would not accept the amendment.
On behalf of my party, I welcome this motion and acknowledge the tremendous contribution that Senator O'Sullivan has consistently made in this Chamber. I have learned an awful lot from the work she has done. What I really like about this motion is that it presents a really coherent vision for what we should be doing with our ocean resources. I am genuinely disappointed the Government could not find a way to work with the motion or, indeed, with Senator Craughwell's amendment, which we would be happy to support as a party. Senator Craughwell is quite right that the Government has already committed to the 30% figure. It seems almost churlish to stretch for ways to find objections to this motion. My colleague from Fine Gael mentioned the Government being committed to the preparation of legislation. We heard a great one in a committee yesterday where a civil servant told us that legislation is in the Minister's mind. Come on. Nothing is happening here. Right now, we have a really good motion that we should be buying into. I commend my colleague, Senator Daly, who I thought made some excellent points in his speech. Fianna Fáil is on board with this. I think Fine Gael is missing an opportunity on this issue.
I want to talk about microbeads. They are causing immense problems in our oceans. Senator O'Sullivan was the first to bring this to the attention of the Chamber. I am not sure how long ago it was at this stage but it was last year. We are promised that legislation is coming. I am not convinced. These microplastics are being put into everyday products such as soaps, gels, cosmetics, deodorant and toothpastes, and they end up in our oceans.It has been estimated that between 15 trillion and 51 trillion microplastic particles have accumulated in the ocean, with between 80,000 and 219,000 tonnes of microplastics entering the sea from Europe every year. We have lost a year since Senator Grace O'Sullivan's initial Bill came in and another 200,000 tonnes from Europe have entered the sea. Also, over 70% of deep-sea fish have ingested plastic, which is a frightening statistic. I have taken those figures from a study conducted by the National University of Ireland, Galway.
A growing number of countries seek to ban such particles. Holland, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium and Sweden have all called for an EU-wide ban. Cosmetic companies have found ways of producing exfoliating products without the need for plastic-based microbeads. The products are advertised as such and seem to sell well. The recent introduction of the sugar tax is an example of political will forcing companies to adapt well before legislation comes into force. Legislation needs to be advanced to protect our environment. Legislation went before the Dáil and Seanad last year and we await the legislation promised by the Government.
The moratorium on exploration seeks to guard against same as it has an adverse effect on the environment. The motion also wants the extent of the damage and pollution analysed. Of course we should support the motion. If we are serious about it then we will endorse its aim and make sure that we do not continue to exploit fossil fuel possibilities. We need a greater vision at this time.
I remind the Minister of State that this country is one of the largest importers of fossil fuels in the EU. We need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and establish a direct replacement in our society. Without direct replacements we will continue to use fossil fuels from other States and not develop our own. Where is the morality in this matter? We also use energy that is produced by the nuclear industry in Britain.
We need to develop offshore renewable projects, as a matter of urgency. We need to use our own huge potential for offshore renewable energy to supply this State with clean green energy. Offshore renewables include offshore wind technology and the potentially available tidal and wave power. These sources of renewable energy, in particular offshore wind energy, can supply this island with a considerable amount of its electricity need but, sadly, it is non-existent.
Sinn Féin has a couple of concerns about the motion but nothing will stop us supporting same. Reference has been made to destructive fishing. Can we assume that destructive fishing is not authorised under the Common Fisheries Policy? Sinn Féin buys into the broad motion and we still feel it is worthy of our support.
We have signed up to international agreements to set aside 10% of our waters by 2020 and 30% by 2030. As has been pointed out, only 2.33% of that has been identified. We, as a country, are way behind the curve on this matter. The Government has said it knows we are way behind the curve but has asked that we give this matter more time. To be frank, that attitude is not good enough.
We support the concept of marine protection areas but acknowledge that there are arguments for and against them. Some believe a sanctuary area with no commercial activity helps populate surrounding areas with fish and shellfish. There is such an area on the south coast of England. There are mixed opinions about same and some people think such areas become a mecca for predators. There are also areas like the cod recovery area in Greencastle, County Donegal, where although there has been very little trawling for years, the fish population in the area does not seem to have recovered, thus leaving the area barren.
The motion suggests we have a consultation process for stakeholders. Sinn Féin fully supports the idea. A stakeholder is someone who may lose his or her home or business when whatever he or she has a stake in fails. The fishing industry should not be included in the same class as non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and should never enter a forum where it is in a minority.
With those points aside, we fully support the motion and welcome this debate. There has been a lot of interest in this motion. It would be a shame if the Government continued its opposition because the motion presents a real vision for what our oceans should and could be. The motion appears to have the support of everybody except Fine Gael. I hope that the Government will have a late change of heart. I have great confidence in the Minister of State who hails from County Meath, which is just down the road from County Westmeath. If one cannot be from County Westmeath, then County Meath is the next best thing. Perhaps he will have a change of heart between now and when he speaks on the issue.
I welcome the Minister of State and acknowledge his presence in the Chamber.
The motion tabled by my colleague from Munster, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, has generated a very important debate. She has championed such debate on many occasions. She brought forward a Bill on microbeads. While the Bill was a positive one, unfortunately the action required to resolve the matter has not occurred. The Senator has been involved in the debate over recent years. She has promoted the sea, sea activities and the environment in which we live. The motion that she has brought forward is an example of her beliefs. It is important that this House should have such a debate. This House has a proud record of dealing with important issues, including environmental issues.
I am sure that the Minister of State, Deputy English, will answer all of the questions. I ask him to clarify when he proposes to bring legislation forward. If there is a process that we need to go through, we should hear that from him. If he clarifies the situation, he will go a long way to allaying the fears that nothing is happening at a Government level regarding this issue. We must consider many aspects, whether it is the Common Fisheries Policy and the effect, if any, this legislation would have on it. I hope the Minister of State will bring that information to the Chamber today. I ask him to inform us what effect this legislation, which we could bring in today, would have on the Common Fisheries Policy. The people who work in the fishing industry are deeply concerned about the direction of the project and what supports will be provided by the Government. It would be positive if the Minister of State clarified the matter. We need to thrash out the issues. Senator Grace O'Sullivan's proposal is very positive. However, we and the communities affected need to know what the knock-on effects will be. Traditionally, fishing communities have been located on the periphery of this country. Whether it is Tramore, Baltimore or Union Hall, these are rural communities and the inhabitants know the sea and their environment. They are like farmers who know their land and fisherman are the farmers of the sea.
The clarification about the likely effects is very important and will enable us to bring this legislation and information forward. I am being honest when I say that this legislation is an important piece of work but we must ensure that we bring everyone with us. I ask the Minister of State to clarify what effect the legislation will have on the fishing industry. I ask him to supply all of that information so we can have a debate. This debate is so important as it affords us an opportunity to thrash out those issues. After we get the clarification from the Minister of State, we can make the right decision. What we could do here tonight is rush through the legislation but that would have a knock-on effect on many issues. I seek clarity on the matter. When we get clarity, then we can make an informed decision.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I commend my colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, on the tremendous amount of work she has done on this motion, which I was delighted to co-sign. The motion is another example of how important it is to have voices like hers in the Oireachtas making the case for protecting our natural environment. We are the custodians of this world for future generations and we need to heed the almost daily warnings about environmental matters.
Before I speak about one specific aspect of the motion, I will respond to some comments made by Senator Coffey. We call for an end to new licences being granted for fossil fuels and mining, as we have done many times before. We understand, however, that the Common Fisheries Policy cannot be changed unilaterally. That is why we only ask that the Government would seek to change the system and make it fairer. We want to work with our European partners, many of whom have moved way ahead of us in this area.
The motion specifically calls for designated marine protected areas to be community led. This matter is very important to me. The Government must ensure that fishing communities are cared for and protected as we also work to protect our seas. Those communities know better than anyone what happens off our coasts and are aware of the threat that climate change poses to livelihoods. I vividly remember a briefing that took place here in Leinster House last year. I listened to one fishermen speak passionately about the four generations of his family who had worked on fishing boats. He explained that the industry was much more than just a job to them.It was a central part of their identity and way of life. He was so emotional and deeply upset that because of falling fish stock and degradation of water quality, his son would be the first in a line of five generations who could not take up this way of life. I keep those people in mind today. I often speak about Rathlin Island, where my family is from. It is a great example of the cultural heritage that also surrounds these island communities. A healthy ecosystem is so important to maintaining that heritage. The local history, folklore, myth, placenames, navigation lines, wildlife, migration routes, tidal currents, streams, shipwrecks and marine life are all closely interlinked. These cultural aspects of our islands bring a richness to life there and they depend on healthy ecosystems to keep them going through the generations.
The ecosystems approach holds that humans are part of the ecosystem and human activities both affect the ecosystem and depend on it. That is the spirit of this motion - protecting our waters for people and also for the fish that swim in them. In 1992, the convention on biological diversity noted that the ecosystems approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. It recognises that humans with their cultural diversity are an integral component of many ecosystems. This highlights again the key role that fishing communities play in marine protection such as their ability to highlight the risk to marine life from fossil fuel exploration. Fishermen in the Porcupine Basin report that tuna and mackerel are no longer travelling to those areas to feed. They are telling journalists and ecologists alike that great damage is being done by seismic testing and the terrible practices of supertrawlers or enforcement agencies.
We often talk about the healthy, vibrant, biodiverse and world class seaweed harvested on our coast, which is sought after by high quality medical and cosmetic producers all over the world. Traditional seaweed harvesting communities have maintained these resources through years of careful work. We have to respect that. As part of this motion, we are asking the Government to ensure that Ireland's marine protected areas will be designated with the full involvement of those communities. Serious mistakes were made previously in nature conservation when bog and corncrake protection paid no heed to community concerns and paid no respect to the good work done by communities to protect and conserve areas for generations. This cannot happen again. In the North of Ireland, it has taken years to designate MPAs because they are chosen in accordance with a careful, bottom-up and respectful process of including local fishing communities and other users of the marine in deciding how best to manage those areas. In contrast, stakeholders have been told that such a process is not a priority for this Government. We need to rethink this. Locking fishing communities out of a delayed, roughshod MPA process is a recipe for disaster and could end up damaging relationships long after the Minister has left his Department. It would leave communities and ecologists cleaning up the mess of broken trust for years to come. I am really happy to hear that Fianna Fáil is supporting the motion.
I welcome the Minister of State. I thank Senator Grace O'Sullivan of the Green Party and the Civil Engagement Group for their commitment to the motion. I do not think we need to question Senator O'Sullivan's bona fides or her commitment to this whole area. She is an expert and has taught us all a hell of a lot about marine life. Behind all this it is about the protection of biodiversity, the rich sea life that we have and the need to protect our waters. I too am conscious of the east coast but particularly of Donegal, where I recently met farmers and a number of councillors involved in the fishing industry in Killybegs. I went on a trip there and was reminded yet again of the importance of the whole fishing industry to Ireland as an island. The amendment moved by Senator Craughwell is an important and reasonable compromise with the 30% target. That is what the Government is working towards and we should support it. We need to reach ground here.
On legislation in general, I am saying to every Minister and Minister of State who comes in here between now and the summer recess that we are being told time and time again that we have not got enough business to do in this House. We are sitting a day and half this week and a day and a half next week. I am calling on Senators to use their influence with the Government. We can initiate business in this House. The Minister of State talks about pending legislation and I would be interested to hear what he has to say about legislation in respect of this particular matter. I challenge him and the Government to start initiating legislation in the Seanad. We are paid handsomely to do a job. We are willing, able, ready and committed. We have a Chamber here. Let us get on and do the business we are meant to be doing. It is up to the Ministers and their officials to prepare legislation. It is the Government's call to initiate legislation in this House. I hope next week that the Ministers I meet will be able to say they are going to take up that challenge. That is what this House is all about. The Taoiseach came in here only once since I was here and talked about the need to perfect and work on legislation as being a principal role of Seanad Éireann. Let us have no more excuses about legislation. Let us bring the legislation in here and work on it and send it back to the Dáil. I am going to tell the same story to every Minister and I am going to keep a log. We have time and we should be doing legislation. That is our primary function.
I think the amendment proposed by Senator Craughwell is reasonable and I hope the Minister of State will reflect on it. In terms of the national marine spatial strategy, headings have been published by the Minister of State's Department. It is in his area of responsibility. He might share with us how it is going. What is happening to it? I think it is a really good strategy and should be part of the national development planning framework. It is a separate document. I request that we have statements on it in the Seanad the week after next. The Minister of State might give a commitment to send someone in to talk us through it. It is a very important piece of work and it is important that we see how it is progressing.
I am going to share time with Senator Alice-Mary Higgins. I will take six minutes and she will take two. I am delighted to speak in support of what I call Senator Grace O'Sullivan's "motion on the ocean". I oppose the Government's diluted - pun intended - countermotion. As the song goes, although I will not be singing it, "thank God we are surrounded by water." However, it would seem from the evidence that informed the motion that we do not look after the beautiful ocean around our 7,500 km coastline.
Never in the history of humanity has the health of the oceans been more threatened. The decline of ocean health impacts on us all. The decline impacts on the very livelihoods that depend on the sea. It impacts on the life that tries to live in the sea. I still remember my children's chant when they were little and going to the seaside: "I can see the sea, I can see the sea." I remember the excitement, that magic moment as we turned a corner of a twisty road and the ocean spread out twinkling before us. How are we looking after our ocean that charms us so? Not very well. Many scientists and experts from all over the world agree that we are potentially entering the sixth mass extinction of sea creatures. The International Programme on the State of the Ocean report 2013 warns of the high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.This is due to a combination of pollution, ocean warming, overfishing, acidification and de-oxygenation. Our neglect threatens the very abundance of the ocean, an abundance that we can no longer take for granted. Marine dead zones are now a reality thanks to pollution. We estimate that there are at least 20 in Ireland, including in many of our best known estuaries, for example, estuaries of the River Blackwater and River Bandon in Cork, and Castletownbere Harbour.
Oceans produce between 50% and 85% of the oxygen we breathe. They are a sink for carbon, taking up approximately one third of all CO2 generated by human activity. The resulting drop in pH is having a drastic effect on marine ecosystems. Europe is facing major shellfish losses due to acidification. The 2016 Environmental Protection Agency noted that acidification effects were being observed in Ireland's offshore surface waters. The dangers are here.
Thanks to the prescient Micro-plastic and Micro-bead Pollution Prevention Bill 2016 introduced by my colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, two years ago and with a little help from Sir David Attenborough, we now know more about the scale of plastics pollution and its devastating consequences. Some 8 million tonnes of plastic leak into the oceans each year, the equivalent of dumping a truck of plastic into the sea every minute. If we keep on going this way, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050 and 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic. Our wanton neglect of the oceans has been bad for dolphins too, with a 350% increase in dolphin strandings in the past ten years.
We can do something if we act as this motion sets out. Dr. Malin L. Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers University, stated: "The impacts are accelerating, but they're not so bad we can't reverse them." There is hope. I have seen first-hand rivers like the Lee, which used to stink, being brought back to life. There is now the Lee Swim. Rivers like the Sullane in Macroom, where I learned to swim, are clean again. They are places where people can swim once more. We can and must do this for our oceans too, particularly the oceans around our lovely country.
I call on the Minister of State to support the motion and to consider the unanimity in the House. The cornerstone of the motion is its call on the Government to introduce an oceans Act to protect 50% of Ireland's seas and oceans with a community-driven ecological network of diverse and significant marine protected areas, MPAs, by working bottom-up rather than top-down with those who live and work in communities, as was usefully outlined by Dr. Ruth Brennan at yesterday's meeting and echoed by Senators Ruane and Black, and by designating places like Galway Bay, Tralee Bay and Roaringwater Bay. Let us honour commitments to legislation and the numerous EU and international agreements that we have signed up to and to which we are obligated.
As outlined in the motion, something else we can do is establish a moratorium on the granting of any licence for deep-sea mining and fossil fuel exploration in protected Irish waters and prohibit seismic testing within any range of protected areas that would have a deleterious effect. Let us instead grow and support innovative research and breakthroughs in sustainable energy opportunities.
I ask Senators, please, to support this motion on the ocean which I was proud to co-sign with my Civil Engagement colleagues. Let us look after much better the ocean that we are lucky enough to have all around us. Let us reverse the damage and pass on our beautiful seas to the next generation in a healthier state, teeming not with plastic and pollution but with life.
I will not take that long. I pay tribute to Senator Grace O'Sullivan, a true environmental warrior. I am delighted to support this motion. Throughout our engagements, be they on the environment, health or housing, we have seen that a bottom-up, community stakeholder approach is the way to go. Stakeholders and communities need to be at the decision-making table. It does not seem to have occurred to the Government to allow that to happen, however, even though it is the way to achieve progress. As such, there is no way that I could support an amendment that removed this essential detail and diluted the motion. We need the experts, fishermen, farmers and everyone working on our seas and lakes involved. They know best how to plan for and protect our historical heritage, which we will hand on if it is not destroyed.
We must look after our planet's well-being because our planet looks after us. We are surrounded by seas but, as Senator Kelleher mentioned, they have become toxic. The images we saw recently of a sea of trash, with plastic everywhere killing off what kept us alive, opened our eyes. We cannot wait to protect this environment. It is priceless.
As an urban dweller and as a Dub, I mostly beat the streets of concrete, and I am committed to doing that into the future, but I have become more aware of what feeds and protects me, my family, my community, our country and the world, that is, the cleaning and healing nature of our seas and land. We all go about destroying them, however, so we need to cop on. We do not have the luxury of time. We are losing a great deal every day. Responsibility for that lies with the people, not any one government, so I will be strong on the question of stakeholder involvement. This impacts on everyone's environment. We will need to feed into that process. Stakeholder involvement promotes ownership of any decision that is taken, be it difficult or one with which people do not agree 100%. Ownership would make things happen.
I commend Senator Grace O'Sullivan and urge her to keep at it. We will follow in her footsteps. I hope that Fine Gael will wise up.
So much has been said quite beautifully by others. Coming from the west, the sea is vital for me, just as it is for everyone else. No one in Ireland is not within reach of and relationship with the sea. That is clear in how Senators have spoken. I add to the commendations of Senator Grace O'Sullivan. She literally took our Civil Engagement group and plunged us into the ocean, forcing some of us into the waves in Waterford with her. I was happy to do so, but the wild Atlantic would be more my natural milieu.
The Senator is someone who speaks with passion but also authority. When she discussed microplastics and made her proposals on microbeads, it took a year for those issues to be progressed. It is important that there be no delays when a proposal or idea comes through that is right. The House is a place where that can be recognised, for example, in the eloquent speech of Senator Paul Daly, who responded to the points raised and discussed many of his own. I was struck by his remark about us being on a globe and how this was not something that could be managed separately. We have a global responsibility. The species that visit our shores migrate. We are in a relationship of flows between parts of the world. It is imperative that we never seek to lag behind in terms of action but instead lead the way. That is what is being requested in this motion.
It is important to clarify a matter. It was suggested that this motion would change fishing quotas or the rules under the CFP. Clearly, it does not. Rather, it points out that Ireland, as an island surrounded by sea, needs to bring a number of important points to bear when we take part in the negotiations on and development of the CFP. We represent entire communities, not simply businesses and ships that may choose to visit or transport fish from our shores.It is very important that not only the environment but communities are sustainable. The reason I will not be able to support the Government's counter motion is not simply because it dilutes the vision and ambition of this motion but also because in its fragmented nature it speaks about limited lists of protected species. When we speak about the environment, we simply cannot talk only about the trees, without reference to the forest and its undergrowth which makes it work as an environment. Similarly when we speak about particular species, we need to talk about the environment in which they flourish. In the same way we cannot talk about the fishing industry without reference to the community in which it flourishes and the many different kinds of relationships that the community will have with the sea.
My colleague spoke about Lough Hyne, a marine lake which is one of the only marine protected areas in Ireland. I have had the pleasure of rowing on Lough Hyne at night, when one of the smallest organisms, which is not protected, the bioluminous plankton literally set the waters alight at night. Now there is a flourishing tourism business in the off-season for people who want to visit and see Lough Hyne at night. This is an example of what I mean when I talk about a sustainable relationship for communities with their natural environment.
I urge the Minister of State to consider the very reasonable amendment put forward by Senator Craughwell and to accept this correct motion. There are thousands who signed the petition.
Some 7,000 people know about this issue and have signed the petition. Tourists and locals visit our shores. I am from the west and know about the thriving and important business that has developed around foraging, seaweeds and the extraordinary festivals such as Food on the Edge, which is a whole new way of appreciating marine life, leading to a really important and sustainable level of high engagement by the food industries and small craft food industries. This is the big picture.
We are asking the Minister of State to act and take urgent action now. An environment which has existed for thousands of years can change in five or ten years. We are also talking about the wonderful resilience that was described. Let us show that we are in tune with it. I ask the Minister of State to support the motion, because our motion is very constructive. I thank all those who have spoken on the motion. I hope we will all get into the sea in a few months time.
I thank the House for an opportunity to address this issue. I acknowledge the work that Senator O'Sullivan is doing in this area and the expertise she brings to it. Generally we agree on most things and we certainly agree on where we want to end up. That is the reason I am disappointed with some aspects of the motion and, in particular, to the approach that has been taken online. The reason I know the number who signed the petition is that I track it and most of them contact me after they sign it, because that is what the petition asks them to do. That is fine.
The motion that is online that people are asked to read and to sign is different from the motion put forward in the House tonight. The two motions do not match up. I do not like that way of doing politics. I think people should know exactly what they are voting for. The motions do not add up. The online motion, supported by the Green Party, to which people sign up is very different from what is being put forward in the House tonight. The intentions and desires are the same and we all share them, but I am a little disappointed by the way the online petition is different and that is not a good way to do business.
I recognise Senator Grace O'Sullivan's expertise in this area and that she is genuine in trying to work in this area. She was one of the first to raise the need for legislation to prohibit microbeads. I held a different brief at that time and I took a debate on the issue of microbeads in the Seanad. At that stage I outlined to the Senator that we agreed with the concept but that the Government had to go through a certain process to be able to do that. We have gone through that process and we have notified every body, because we are part of a European project and the legislation should be with Cabinet before the summer and come to the Oireachtas as well. I acknowledge that this is as a result of Senator O'Sullivan's work. When we can agree, we certainly do agree.
It is not a case of opposing a matter for the sake of opposing, but I cannot accept this motion and I do have to oppose it because we could not support all the issues that are encompassed in it. I hope the Senator will understand the reason for this position by the end of my speech. I will certainly be happy to engage with the Senator. I appreciate that she wanted to engage with me this week but there was no time on my side to do that.
I have to disagree with Senator Paul Daly because many of the actions are in motion and Ireland is very much involved at European and international levels and is playing a leading role. It would not be correct to say there was no action. Senator Daly may nod his head in disagreement but I know the officials who are here behind me and the hard work they are doing on the issues for a number of years. We also have teams in Cork and Wexford and they, in conjunction with the Department, are working very hard on this matter. They take their work very seriously and are very committed to it. It would not be justifiable to say that nothing is happening, because that is not true. I know that Senator O'Sullivan is not saying that, but other Members are because they are not as informed as Senator O'Sullivan. It is fair enough that Senator O'Sullivan wants us to do more and I accept her credentials in looking for more.
Let me respond to Senator Ruane's point. She claimed some of our counter motion but did not give the full story. We are not just approaching this from a hard economics point of view. We are very clear on that point. It is important that the people who want to sign the petition and support the general thrust of it will read all the motions and will read the counter motion. I will not put it all on the record but I will give the opening paragraphs.
We acknowledge as a Government:
- that the Irish coastal and marine environment has a high natural capital and provide valuable services for all parts of the country and economy, including in the areas of tourism, heritage and cultural amenity, transportation and communications, food production, education and research, flood protection, climate regulation, nutrient absorption and energy;
- that, globally, the oceans are facing increased pressures, generated by the combined impacts of human activities and the effects of climate change;
- that Ireland, in co-operation with the European Union and other European countries within the framework of the OSPAR Convention, is committed to ensuring the protection and conservation of the marine environment and the sustainable use of its resources;
- that Ireland is committed to an ecosystem-based approach to the sound management of the marine environment and recognises that marine ecosystems, species and habitats are largely transboundary in nature, thus making regional and cross-sectoral co-operation essential for effective management.
It continues. I ask Members to desist from saying that the Government focus is only on hard economics because that would not be true. That would be a failure to recognise the work that the country is doing and which is paid for by our taxpayers.
The motion refers to the importance of involving stakeholder engagement. That is what we do in all our work. It is actually laid out in the marine strategy directive to which we have signed up that we have to have community and stakeholder involvement in all our consultations. That is another reason that I cannot accept this motion because the Government has to go through all the process to set targets and goals. It would be wrong to come to the House, discuss them and set them.
As part of the stakeholder engagement, we also have to recognise that the potential in the marine protected areas has to be based on robust scientific information. We have to go through an assessment when we are setting them. It is not a case of picking a percentage figure out of the sky. I accept that Senator O'Sullivan is not suggesting that but others are quoting figures. The Government has to go through a process to assess any marine protected area. We are involved in that process and we are committed to doing that. Let me repeat we are committed to scientific assessment and stakeholder engagement. We try to do that in all our work in this area because we try to bring people with us.
We published an issues paper on our marine strategy in December 2017. I chaired an initial workshop about six weeks ago. There is a very strong working group comprising all the stakeholders. There have been a number of public sessions. Senator O'Sullivan attended one of those sessions this week in County Wexford. That process is under way and I am happy to have a debate on it in this House. This would highlight the work we are focusing on as a Government and the interest of all parties in this area. We will involve everybody as much as we possibly can.
My colleague, Senator Coffey, informed the House that the Government supports the development of a diverse but coherent network of marine protected areas. We have already committed to introducing enabling legislation to provide for them. We are acutely aware of our position regarding marine protected areas, the necessity to legislate and to designate them. Today's motion is not one which the Government can support and the Green Party is aware of some of the reasons as I have outlined but also from previous discussions and debates we have had in this House. Some of it goes beyond the scope of Government , as we must go through a process at European level to be able to do that.
I have been asked by a number of Members to outline the proposed legislation that the Government will bring forward.We wanted to get the microbeads legislation published first, which we will do before the summer. We can continue to bring forward legislation in this area after that, maybe in the summer or autumn and also in autumn 2019. We all want to do it as quickly as possible and we are committed to doing so. It is not a case of just setting aside debating time in here, though that is important. There is a lot of work involved in putting the legislation together. We have a team of people who work very hard but cannot do everything on day one. Extra people have been employed in the section but the microbeads legislation is being brought forward because this House led the charge on the issue and we are responding to that, as we will do in respect of the whole area.
The Green Party wants the Government to introduce legislation to designate 50% of Ireland's territorial waters as a marine protected area. It appears the party wants to unilaterally force this decision on both the Government and all those using the marine area. A policy decision of this magnitude needs to be researched and thought out and stakeholders need to be informed and their voices and opinions heard. I imagine the Green Party intends that but the motion does not say it. It calls for the 50% designation but we cannot do that without going through the whole process. To designate even a small area as a marine protected area needs to be thought through, considering the objective of the designation, the expected outcomes and how it would be managed and enforced. It is important that we can manage areas we designate as such and that it has an impact. It is not a case of picking 30% or 35%, as in the amendment, because it has to mean something and not just on paper. We have to be able to back it up and know how we enforce it and manage it. It is not enough to just put in a figure.
The Green Party wishes to take a policy decision of great magnitude to designate an area approximately five times the size of Ireland's land mass without any research or consultation. The motion uses the word "significant" but the area is five times our land mass and this needs proper negotiation, as well as a study of the scientific data. Accordingly, I cannot agree with this proposal although it does not detract from our stated position of introducing legislation for the MPAs. I and the Government fully recognise the need for MPAs but a unilateral declaration of 50% of the marine area is not the way to garner support for the measure.
The motion also seeks Government agreement to a moratorium on the granting of licences for deep sea mining and the exploration of fossil fuels. We have had many debates on this and the Green Party is well informed of the Government's position on matters relating to climate action energy and offshore exploration. There was a large discussion on the recent Solidarity-People Before Profit Private Members' Bill, the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2017, in which the Government set out its position and I will not use all my time tonight setting it out again.
We are also being asked to look for a change in the quota system set out in the Common Fisheries Policy. The Common Fisheries Policy already allows for the incorporation of marine protected areas within Irish waters, with consultation from other member states. Our quota distribution needs to conform to the requirements set down in the Common Fisheries Policy. Ireland cannot unilaterally make changes to the quota distribution rules, though we can do it when the time is right.
There is also a request for a major reorganisation of the way the Government manages marine matters into a single Department structure. Responsibility for marine management is divided across various Departments and the marine co-ordination group has the role of supervision, cross-Government delivery and implementation of Ireland's integrated marine plan, Harnessing our Ocean Wealth. It is the intention of Government that this integrated approach will continue. There are often calls for one Department to deal with this but it is important we involve all the different Departments who have a say in it and the marine co-ordination group does this quite effectively. I consult them on any decisions I have to make on behalf of Government on licensing, leases and so on. Some Members may not be familiar with our integrated marine plan to harness ocean wealth but I ask them to read it, where they will see the involvement of all stakeholders and other players.
As the Senator will be aware, my Department is committed to introducing enabling legislation to allow for the formal creation and management of marine protected areas. I know the motion is about getting it more quickly and we would like to bring it forward more quickly too, but we have had to deal with other legislation including the overall strategy for the marine. The Government and I are deeply committed to the development of primary legislation to provide for the creation of a network of marine protected areas in accordance with the requirements of the marine strategy framework directive and other international commitments. Our objective is to enact legislation for the designation and protection of marine protected areas to deliver an ecologically coherent, connected and well-managed network of MPAs which, by the nature of marine ecosystems, are transboundary and consistent with the target for effectively conserved marine coastal ecological regions under the convention on biological diversity. This legislation and the process of the identification of potential MPAs will be based on robust scientific information on habitats, species, heritage sites and geological and geomorphological features. We have to go through that process. It is a means to an end but we have to go through the process and I hope Members understand that.
The Bill we are drafting will allow for the designation of various types of MPA by regulation, including the geographical delineations and the provision of the necessary special protection measures required by the MPA in question. These regulations will identify what human activities, if any, need to be managed, limited or allowed in each potential MPA and will identify the time periods when restrictions will apply. As the marine strategy framework directive is also concerned with the sustainable use of our marine environment, social and cultural factors will also be a consideration. Senator Ruane made a point that it was not just about economics and I am clear about this. We are committed to it and a European strategy commits us to it, so even future Governments will be committed to doing it.
Stakeholder contribution is a very important process with any proposed legislation and I wish to reassure the Senator that there will be consultation at national and local community level on all aspects of MPAs. However, MPAs are not simply a matter of their designation, as the Senator's motion implies. There are a number of other critical questions to be considered. The same is true of the 30% amendment; it is not just about picking a number. We have to decide what kind of marine protection measures are required and where they should be located. Why are we designating them? What are we protecting and what form of restriction is needed? Who will enforce the MPAs, have responsibility for their ongoing and overall management and have a budget to do so? What penalties should be in place in order for them to be meaningful? I recognise the Senator is genuine about this but I am setting out the process of bringing about the legislation to achieve it.
I want to ensure that this proposed legislation will provide a strong basis to deal with all of these issues although today’s motion offers little in respect of these issues. The motion was designed to frame the discussion but does not go into the detail, though we will have the chance to debate the legislation in here and in committee. People have referred to 2030 targets and 2020 targets but the purpose of any area designated should be to ensure that we are able to reach our good environmental status, GES, targets under the MSFD. An expert advisory group will also be established under the MPA legislation to make recommendations for candidate designations and I look forward to engaging with it at the earliest opportunity.
In terms of the current level of MPAs mentioned in the motion, a significant number of protected areas have been designated under the EU birds and habitats directives. These include a number of special areas of conservation and special protected areas. The proposed legislation intends that new types of marine special protection measures will be added to the existing measures and, over time, provide for the designation of a coherent and representative network of marine protected areas.
As I already stated, Ireland is actively involved on the international stage and in this capacity has ensured that the level of MPAs in the north-east Atlantic continues to expand. The OSPAR intermediate assessment documents the increase of MPAs and advises that considerable progress has been made towards an ecologically-coherent and well-managed MPA network within the OSPAR maritime area.
I was asked about the marine strategy framework directive. My Department is responsible for national marine environmental policy in Ireland, which is principally achieved through the implementation of the marine strategy framework directive, MSFD. The MSFD forms the basis of our sustainable interaction with our marine environment. The purpose of the MSFD is to integrate environmental considerations into all aspects of marine policy and activity in order that we maintain or reach a point of good environmental status in our seas and oceans and, thereafter, that we ensure that this status is maintained through sustainable use of our seas. The MSFD requires that we assess our marine environment, develop GES targets and indicators, monitor our environment in light of these, and, where necessary, introduce a programme of measures, including marine protection measures, to address issues affecting GES being achieved. Key to any successful programme of measures is ensuring that we have a coherent and effective network of marine protected areas and other spatial protection measures across all the EU’s marine regions. This is also a reason for not accepting the amendment to the motion.
Other issues were raised but I do not have the time to address them. I will come back to Senators on individual questions.I wish I could come back in but am conscious of the time. I will come back to the individual questions.
I thank the Minister of State for his comments. In respect of the petition on the avaaz.orgsite, it is not specific but it is quite close to the motion. It is my view that it is very much in line with the motion. I am very disappointed with the Minister of State's response. I know our motion is ambitious. That is because of the pressures that are on the marine environment. I recognise that we have special areas of conservation, SACs, and natural heritage areas. However, we have to get a move on with the marine protected areas and the OSPAR marine protected areas specifically. We can do that. This motion outlines how we can do so and not keep pushing the can down the road. We keep talking about how we have to go through this and that process but, in fact, we do not. We can work with stakeholders and communities to identify this in a timely way. We are pushing it down the road.
That is July. What we are talking about here are the MPAs. I will be pressing my motion because I believe we need to do this and show leadership. Here we are once again not taking action with regard to climate change. We are talking and talking. We are an island nation on the western fringe of Europe and we have more territorial waters than many states. We really have something so valuable and we can stand up and show leadership in this area. The Government is just pushing it down the road and it is not going to happen. We can get on with this.
I urge the Minister of State to accept the motion and recognise the unprecedented pressures on the marine environment. We are the laggards again. Only 2.3% is designated as marine protected areas. We have an obligation to have 10% by 2020. That is in 17 months. It is not going to happen if we sit here and listen to the Minister of State's proposals to kick the can down the road. The motion is solid, timely and ambitious. What are we as a nation if we do not have ambition? Let us set the agenda with regard to our marine environment. We are an island nation and a great marine territory. Let us do something today to support the communities around the coast of Ireland and all the communities in Ireland that have a connection with the seas, as Senator Higgins has said. Let us take a position as a nation. Let us support my motion and show the people that we have determination to move on the OSPAR MPAs.
I am fully in support of what the Minister of State says about stakeholder engagement. I understand that we need robust scientific analysis. I attended that meeting last week in Passage East in Waterford. There were four members of the public there along with some public representatives. The person leading out on it told us that in Wexford, three people attended. Where is the engagement and the communication with stakeholders? It is not happening. What I witnessed in Passage East was a box ticking exercise. Essentially, the Government's agent was there to inform the very few people who attended.
These are coastal villages and the meeting should have been teeming with community members but there was no-one there. It was such a small group and mainly composed of public representatives. We were told that this is a process and that it will take at least nine months to get a report. The report will have to come before the House and then will have to be discussed further. Where are we going with our commitment to our environment, particularly our marine environment? We are so rich in this resource and so lucky. Why not take the action today and do something positive? I understand there is strategic development and we will feed into the process. With regard to OSPAR MPAs, let us do it today.
I thank Senator Paul Daly and his party. It was Fianna Fáil which committed Loch Oighinn to a marine reserve. It is a tremendous reserve. It was Charles Haughey who created the marine sanctuary in our waters for cetaceans.
I have listened to the debate very carefully. We do recognise the significance of this motion and I have spoken at length on that. The issues that concern ourselves and the Government do remain regarding the lack of consultation and engagement with stakeholders.
It is very serious to unilaterally make decisions that impact on agreements and negotiations we have made with our European partners in terms of the Common Fisheries Policy. We do know that we need sustainable environmental protections for our marine biodiversity as well as on land. The Minister of State has outlined in a very strong way that he proposes to bring legislation forward in the coming weeks and months. There will be ample opportunity to engage with that legislation. For that reason, we are standing over our amendment.
We feel it is the right thing to do in the interests of all stakeholders. We are not playing politics with our environment. I do not say for one moment that Senator Grace O'Sullivan is doing so. I know her passion and commitment over many years, long before she got into politics. However, I do believe some others might be using an opportunity here. We feel we are doing what is right by the country and the stakeholders who will be impacted by this motion. We feel that the Minister of State is adopting a very pragmatic, positive and proactive role in bringing forward legislation that will address the concerns of Senator Grace O'Sullivan and other Senators. For the sake of a few weeks or possible months, we should wait on that and properly engage with it.
The Government amendment has been defeated. That has been disposed of. We move on to Senator Craughwell's amendment. Does he want to move it? If he does not want to move it, that is fine, we will go back to the original motion.