Monday, 31 May 2021
Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021: Second Stage
I thank Senators for their early consideration of this technical Bill that will establish in domestic law the framework of different maritime zones of national jurisdiction recognised under international law. Within those zones, a coastal state is entitled to regulate human activity only to the extent permitted by international law. States have different sets of rights in each zone, which I will explain shortly. It is important to emphasise at this point, however, that the purpose of the Bill is simply to establish those zones and provide for their limits. Separate legislation regulates activities within those zones. For example, the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act regulates fishing and the Sea Pollution Act and Dumping at Sea Act regulate protection of the marine environment.
This Bill has been brought forward to consolidate, in one stand-alone Act, the State's maritime jurisdiction legislation and to update it to reflect recent developments in international law. As Senators will be aware, a significant reform of policy and law relating to both the protection of the maritime environment and regulation of marine planning and development is under way. Dáil Éireann recently approved the national marine planning framework and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will shortly bring forward the maritime area planning Bill. That Bill will introduce a new marine planning system and all marine planning applications will in future be required to meet the objectives set out in the planning framework. The enactment of accessible, stand-alone maritime jurisdiction legislation will make for greater clarity in the operation of the new planning system.The regulation by states of human activity at sea is governed in the first instance by the international law of the sea. A state may only regulate an activity at sea to the extent permitted by international law. That, in turn, will depend on whether the activity is being carried out within a maritime zone of national jurisdiction and, if so, which one. These maritime zones include a state's internal waters, its territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf, and a different legal regime applies within each zone. A coastal state has a different suite of rights and duties within each zone and what activities that state may regulate will depend on the zone in which it is carried out. In general, the international law of the sea seeks to strike a balance between the jurisdiction of the coastal state to regulate activity in its coastal waters and the jurisdiction of the flag state over the vessel from which that activity is being carried out.
The purposes of the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill, therefore, are to provide in domestic law for the establishment and delineation of each maritime zone and to clarify the State's rights in each one. This will facilitate the implementation of the new planning framework and the operation of the new streamlined marine planning system.
The Oireachtas first passed maritime jurisdiction legislation in 1959 and the State's current law in this area is set out mainly in Part 3 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, with important provisions also contained in the Continental Shelf Act 1968. This development of our own law reflects the gradual development of international law over many decades.
Historically, customary international law developed to recognise that a coastal state exercised sovereignty within a marginal sea immediately adjacent to its land territory, known as its territorial sea. The territorial sea could extend to a breadth of three nautical miles. Beyond the territorial sea were the high seas. These were open to all states and no state was entitled to subject any part of them to its sovereignty. All states enjoyed the freedoms of the high seas. These rules remained remarkably stable for more than 200 years.
Following the Second World War, as the range and scale of human activity at sea greatly increased, pressure developed to allow coastal states to extend their jurisdiction further out to sea. This was resisted by other states that placed more value on preserving the freedoms of the high seas. These competing views were finally settled with the adoption in 1982 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea at Montego Bay in Jamaica. The 1982 convention is a comprehensive constitution for the oceans, establishing the legal framework for the regulation all activities in, on and under the sea. The convention fixed the maximum breadth of the territorial sea at 12 nautical miles and established a new maritime zone, the exclusive economic zone. This zone, which may extend to a maximum distance of 200 nautical miles, is a compromise between the two competing views.
As I mentioned, the Oireachtas first made legislative provision for its maritime jurisdiction in the Maritime Jurisdiction Act 1959. That Act established the outer limit of the territorial sea at three nautical miles and made provision for a straight baseline system from which part of that limit could be measured. The 1959 Act was amended in 1964 to give effect to the convention concluded at the London fisheries conference that year, at which the states concerned agreed to establish 12-mile exclusive fishery limits. The Continental Shelf Act 1968 conferred power on the Government to designate seabed beyond the territorial sea as Irish continental shelf in accordance with emerging international agreement on this issue. In 1976, following political agreement at the United Nations, EEC member states agreed to extend their exclusive fisheries limits to 200 nautical miles and an order under the 1959 Act to this effect was made by the Government.
The 1959 Act was amended again in 1988 to extend the breadth of the territorial sea to 12 nautical miles following the agreement reached on that matter in the 1982 convention. The 2006 Act then repealed and restated most provisions of the Acts of 1959, 1964 and 1988, and also established the 200-mile exclusive economic zone in Irish law, subsuming the exclusive fisheries zone.
This Bill is being brought forward now for a number of reasons. First, it will bring the State's maritime jurisdiction law up to date, reflecting in particular developments in international law and practice in recent years. The Bill sets out in detail the sovereign rights and jurisdiction the State may exercise on the continental shelf and within the exclusive economic zone, in accordance with international law.As Senators will be aware, increased levels of activity and development are expected to take place in the economic zone in coming years, particularly in the production of offshore renewable energy.
Second, the Bill will consolidate the State's maritime jurisdiction legislation in one stand-alone enactment. As already stated, this is particularly important in the context of the new national marine planning framework and the forthcoming maritime area planning Bill.
Third, the Bill will ensure that the exercise of order-making powers will be guided by policies and principles linked to the detailed rules set out in the 1982 convention.
The Bill consists of 33 sections and two Schedules. Many of these re-enact, with amendments, the provisions of the 1968 and 2006 Acts. I wish to draw particular attention to the following provisions.
Section 6 deals with the baseline and replaces and builds upon section 85 of the 2006 Act. It establishes the low watermark along the coast as the normal baseline from which the breadth of the State's maritime zone is measured and clarifies, for completeness, that this includes the straight line across the mouth of a river where that river flows directly into the sea. It also provides a power enabling the Government to prescribe, by order, straight baselines and bay closing lines, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the 1982 convention, and preserves the existing straight baselines and bay closing line orders.
Section 7 defines the State's territorial sea. The 1959 Act and subsequent legislation used the term "territorial seas" but the singular "sea", as used in the 1982 convention and other instruments of international law, is now employed. A power to prescribe, by order, boundaries in the territorial sea is also introduced.
Section 9 is a new provision. It clarifies, for the avoidance of doubt, that the sovereignty of the State extends to the territorial sea and that the State owns the seabed of the territorial sea, as well as the mineral and other non-living natural resources located there and all forms of potential energy in, on, under or above the territorial sea.
Section 10 extends the State's criminal jurisdiction to cover offences committed on or by foreign vessels in the territorial sea.
Section 11 provides that a person who is not a citizen of the State may only be prosecuted for an offence committed on or from a foreign vessel within the territorial sea with the consent of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, with the exception of certain types of offences relating to fishing, pollution and maritime safety. This reflects the position in international law that the coastal state’s jurisdiction over foreign vessels, within its territorial sea, is concurrent with the jurisdiction of the flag state and should only be exercised in certain circumstances.
Section 12 defines the State's contiguous zone, which is the zone within which a coastal state may enforce its customs, immigration and fiscal rules, and where it has jurisdiction to protect archaeological property and sites. It lies outside the territorial sea and may extend to a maximum distance of 24 nautical miles from the baseline.
Section 13 defines the State's exclusive economic zone and provides a power enabling the Government to prescribe, by order, the boundaries of the zone in accordance with the 1982 convention. It also preserves the existing boundaries order.
Section 14 sets out the sovereign rights and jurisdiction enjoyed by the State within the exclusive economic zone. These include fisheries and protection of the marine environment. For the avoidance of doubt, the section also expressly lists the right to exploit renewable energy sources, and sequester carbon in the geological structures beneath the seabed.
Section 15 clarifies the civil jurisdiction of the State. Sections 16 to 19 replace sections 2 and 3 of the Continental Shelf Act. Section 17 provides a power enabling the Government, by order, to designate seabed. Section 18 sets out the sovereign rights and jurisdiction enjoyed by the State. Section 19 clarifies the criminal and civil jurisdiction of the State. Section 20 provides a reference to any current statute. Section 21 provides that UK Hydrographic Office charts. Section 22 makes it an offence to commit on board an Irish vessel beyond the territorial sea any act which would be an offence committed within the State. Section 23 deals with offences committed by bodies corporate. Section 24 provides for an offence under the Bill. Sections 25 to 33, inclusive, make technical amendments.The First Schedule to the Bill sets out the texts of the relevant parts of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Second Schedule is a table of consequential amendments. I thank the Acting Chairperson for the additional time.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his in-depth elucidation of the legislation. Albeit that the Bill is technical, it is critically important. I will make a few points specific to the legislation and then I will make general points as it is a Second Stage debate.
The purpose of the Bill is to consolidate in one stand-alone enactment the State's maritime jurisdiction law and to update it to reflect developments in international law since it was introduced in 1959. The current law is set out mainly in part 3 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, with important provisions also in the Continental Shelf Act 1968.
Maritime jurisdiction law establishes the State's different maritime zones and provides a legal basis for delineating their limits and boundaries. The State has different rights and obligations in each of these zones and it may regulate human activities in each zone only to the extent permitted by international law. The Bill will update the State's maritime jurisdiction law to reflect developments in international law and practice, as well as relevant developments in Irish law. A stand-alone maritime jurisdiction Act, which is not primarily concerned with one particular activity at sea, such as fisheries or oil and gas exploration, will make the law in this area more accessible. The Bill will also supplement the forthcoming maritime planning and development management Bill, which will establish a new marine planning system. Together with the recently adopted national marine planning framework, it is part of a series of measures that will regulate development at sea while ensuring enhanced protection of the marine environment.
Our territorial waters and the seabed beneath our territorial waters are of critical importance to this country. They are central parts of our jurisdiction and economic potential. etc. Ireland is ideally located to benefit from our natural marine renewable energy resources generated in the Atlantic Ocean. Ireland possesses one of the richest wave and tidal energy climates in the world. The wave energy resources available to Ireland could meet 75% of the Republic's electricity needs. Wave energy or wave power are the transport and capture of energy by ocean surface waves. The energy captured is then used for all different useful work, including electricity generation, water desalination and the pumping of water. Wave energy is also a type of renewable energy and it is the largest estimated global resource form of ocean energy. There is significant potential in wave energy. While we discussing technical legislation, I exhort the Minister of State to bring away from this House the view that we should grasp the opportunities presented by wave energy as a priority.
The fishing industry in Ireland represents an important economic activity, generating national income and providing local employment. The industry contributes approximately €700 million per year to the national income and provides 11,000 jobs. The main areas in Ireland's fishing industry include commercial fishing, processing, marketing, and fish farming. Bord Iascaigh Mhara is Ireland's national fishing body. As the high demand for fish and fish products has put considerable strain on the world's supply, it is important that we consolidate our fishing zones and areas and that we support and keep our fishing industry working to its maximum potential. It is of significant economic value to the country.We need to maintain that aspect. We have great maritime riches in this country in the form of geothermal and wave energy, and the resultant potential to allow us to decarbonise and meet our commitments by creating green energy, as well as major resources in our fishing sector. Therefore, it is important to encourage these sectors and to demarcate, consolidate and delineate in this Bill our maritime territory and seabed and the associated resources. We must enshrine those aspects in this legislation and defend them internationally. In that regard, it is important that we consolidate past legislation by introducing an omnibus Bill to achieve that goal in respect of all existing legislation. We must do that to ensure that these vital resources for the economy of our country are kept within our grasp, potential for use and activation at all times, and that neatly brings me to the end of my six minutes.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I think this is the first time that I have addressed him since his elevation, so I congratulate him on his new role. Section 9 of this Bill concerns "State sovereignty and ownership of territorial" areas. Politicians in this House love to talk frequently about Ireland's neutrality and how it boxes above its weight on the international stage. Today, we must put an end to that myth. I state that because writing things on a piece of paper to satisfy the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was adopted in 1982, is frankly nonsense when we are in a situation where the State can only claim ownership and sovereignty of that which it can protect itself. We are talking here about distances as far as 200 miles off the coast of Ireland, and we do not have the capacity to protect that area.
It is important to remember that the Naval Service is the State's principal seagoing agency and it is required to uphold sovereignty at sea. It is the only agency which has the capability to achieve this aim throughout the exclusive economic zone, EEZ. The 2015 White Paper on Defence stated:
As the State’s principal sea-going agency, the Naval Service provides a unique sea-going capability. The Air Corps also has an effective maritime surveillance capacity. As the White Paper on Defence (2000) recognised, Naval Service vessels carry with them unique characteristics as an expression of state sovereignty and political will at sea and in furthering policy objectives in the maritime domain.
Is the Minister of State aware that Ireland recently had to rely on the European Union to provide a ship to patrol our fishing waters because of the absence of Naval Service ships? Is he also aware that the Naval Service has two ships tied up and unable to sail because we do not have the people to crew them? One third of our fishery patrols have been cancelled by the Naval Service so far this year. As of mid-May, 32% of the 405 patrol days have been cancelled by the Naval Service in 2021. This includes 86 days cancelled due to personnel shortages, which included some limited number because of Covid-19, and 44 days that were cancelled due to mechanical issues.
The game is up. The European Commission has copped on to the state of things in this country. It recently ordered a formal administrative inquiry into Ireland's ability to enforce European fisheries regulations and found the Irish system to be unsatisfactory. Therefore, the Commission has proposed a specific package of measures to address this situation. I read that the Government is actively working on these issues, but I do not see any evidence of this. This Bill adverts to "Jurisdiction in case of offence on foreign ship in territorial sea" and the prosecution of these offences on foreign ships. Who is going to police this aspect? Successive governments have run the Naval Service down to the crisis level where it is today and made it unable to enforce sovereignty regarding anything this Bill deals with.
Ireland claims sovereignty and ownership over a massive area that extends some 200 miles out to sea. It is an area with significant national resources and potential for maritime development.There is potential for wind energy and capacity for the production and storing of hydrogen, geothermal energy, as mentioned by my colleague, submarine storage, natural gas and carbon sequestration, fishery limits and submarine cables. Cables are now coming into this country, and will in the years ahead, from Iceland and Santander, which will carry massive data. We have just seen what happens in this country with respect to the protection of data and what occurred in the HSE.
In addition to this, we do not have ships with the capacity to see what is going on under the sea. We have decimated the Naval Service's deep-sea divers so we have no idea what is happening on the seabed. The following extract is from a paper entitled, "Patrolling Below the Horizon; Addressing Ireland's Awareness of our Maritime Geospatial Domain", by Lieutenant Shane Mulcahy of the Naval Service, published by the Defence Forces in its 2019 review:
The Irish government's 2015 White Paper on Defence provides limited direction, highlighting the Naval Service's ability to "express state sovereignty and political will at sea in order to further national policy objectives in the maritime domain". This is accompanied by the stated intention to provide an 'enhanced capability' in 'the protection of Ireland's vital sea lanes of communication'. The direction has thus far manifested itself in limited bottom [proofing capability] from surface assets, and a recent foray into the autonomous underwater vehicle sensors. Without systems capable of subsurface detection linked to data analysis systems ashore, the Naval Service remains quite literally, lost in the dark.
We are talking about trying to protect an area of sea that we simply do not have the people to protect. We are incapable of enforcing our sovereignty and ownership over the area this Bill proposes to protect. Quite frankly, we should first get our house in order and have our people ready to defend and protect that which we claim ownership to. We are not in a position to do that.
The Minister of State spoke of fisheries. Our native indigenous fisheries system is being run into the ground. Last week, fishermen in Cork had to protest to make the case that they are being run out of business.
I am sorry I am out of time. There were many things I wanted to say on this Bill, but we should fix our navy first and then start talking about our sovereignty and ownership.
It is welcome we are finally consolidating all the legislation in this area into one Bill. As a young law student working at the Bar for my instructor at the Law Society of Ireland, I distinctly remember being asked to do some work on the law of the sea. I had to go to the bottom of the back shelves, dust off old books and try to make head or tail of what was in them. It is a very complex area of law that very few practitioners go into. However, it is really important for us as an island nation to know where our jurisdiction is and what our rights and obligations are. As Senator Craughwell pointed out, to be able to enforce those rights and obligations is a different debate that the House probably needs to have at a different time.
It is welcome nonetheless that we are modernising and consolidating the law in this area and making it easier to digest and for the ordinary citizen to look through. It reflects the fact that, over many years, since the late 1950s, we have had great progression in this area and quite a lot has changed.
This legislation, which I am happy to speak in favour of, brings the State's maritime jurisdiction law up to date and reflects developments in international law represented by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. That convention laid down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world's oceans and seas, establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources. It enshrined the notion that all problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be addressed as a whole. Amazingly, the convention was open for signature back in 1982, marking more than 14 years of work to get that point, with more than 150 countries participating in the process. It is a fantastic end to that level of work.Much of today's focus should be on the importance of maritime jurisdiction to Ireland as a whole. I recently had cause to engage with Bord Iascaigh Mhara, which is doing fantastic work in promoting fisheries in Ireland and encouraging people to get into the fishing sector and aquaculture. These areas have untapped resources and offer opportunities that we have not done much about to date. We sometimes forget we are an island nation and focus much more on agriculture and not enough on aquaculture. There is an opportunity for coastal communities to get back to their roots in fishing, which is what they do best.
The point Senator Craughwell raised about the fishing community in Cork is a sad story that is not unique to Cork. It also happened in counties Mayo and Donegal. Local fishermen in many coastal communities have not been able to make a sustainable living because of the rules, regulations and difficulties surrounding fishing in their waters. As a State, we can do more to make it easier and more sustainable for coastal fishing communities to fish their local waters.
Some of the aquaculture businesses that are up and running in my county are not Irish but French. They see the potential, having utilised all the potential off their own coastline, and are now operating here. They have been operating off the coast of north Mayo since the 1960s and doing very well. Local businesses are not taking up those opportunities and we must ask why that is the case. Why has a French company been operating in that area since the 1960s when local people do not feel they can get into aquaculture in a meaningful and profitable way and make a business out of it? We need to work on the whole strategy around protecting marine life and encouraging people to set up businesses in that area. This topic is a little removed from the intention of the Bill, but it gives us an opportunity to put these issues on the record of the House.
I will briefly discuss the Naval Service, which has already been mentioned. Our Naval Service is not operating at full capacity. We have had significant issues for a long time now. Our ships are not properly manned. Experienced and technically skilled individuals are leaving the Naval Service and going elsewhere because the job is not what is used to be and supports have not been provided. I welcome recent moves by the Defence Forces to deal with technical pay but that is only a start. It is fine to have legislation that tells us which waters are ours, what zones we can operate in and what level of enforcement we can bring to bear but if we do not have the manpower to do that, the Bill will lie on the Statute Book and not do a whole lot. There is a need for a wider debate around the practical enforceability of this legislation.
We also need to discuss the maritime sector and fishing industry and how we can properly support those industries. We have taken our foot off the pedal in recent decades and focused more on intensive agriculture and not so much on our waters. I ask the Minister of State to take away those couple of points from today's debate and perhaps work them into Government policy in this area. I commend the Bill to the House.
I, too, welcome the Minister of State to the House to discuss the purpose of this Bill, as he has outlined. That purpose is to update and set out in one stand-alone enactment the law relating to the State's maritime jurisdiction, including by giving further effect to relevant provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to repeal sections 2 and 3 of the Continental Shelf Act 1968 and Part 3 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, and to provide for related matters.
As the Minister of State outlined, the Bill seems to be very technical. Like the previous two speakers, I will concentrate on how we defend the jurisdiction and the problems with the Naval Service. I bring to the attention of the Minister of State an article in The Irish Timeslast Friday with a headline to the effect that this State had to rely on EU ships to patrol fishing waters due to naval shortages. The article went on to say fishery protection is the core role of the Naval Service, which has been hit particularly hard, as others have said, by the manpower crisis impacting the entire Defence Forces. Last year alone, there was a 25% decrease in the number of fishery patrols carried out by the Naval Service compared with 2019.The article states that according to the submission by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to the commission on the future of the Defence Forces, "the situation has continued to deteriorate this year, at the same time as the departure of the UK from the EU has increased the need for fishery patrols in Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone which extends to 200 miles off shore". In its submission to the commission, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine stated that "The high-level assessment of the level of Naval and Air Corps activity in fisheries control operations is that it has been reducing over the past number of years".
I ask the Minister of State to confirm what the article further states, which has been referenced previously, that:
The European Commission recently ordered a formal administrative inquiry into Ireland’s ability to enforce European fishery regulations. It found Irish systems to be “unsatisfactory”. As a result the Commission “put forward a specific package of measures to address the issues raised,” the department said.
These findings are under “active consideration” by the Government ahead of negotiations with the Commission on the matter.
The Department went on to state "Ireland’s fishing waters are the most productive in the EU and the State has a legal responsibility to monitor and control fishing activity in its 200 mile exclusive zone". On that point, when we are discussing our maritime jurisdiction, the Minister of State might confirm the current status of Rockall in respect of Irish fisheries and whether they are able to use and indeed fish off that area.
The article also noted that "Almost half a billion euro worth of fish is landed each year from the Irish zone, with Ireland taking 42 per cent of this by weight." As has already been stated in this debate, the Irish fishing industry employs 14,000 people and is worth €653 million in exports. The Naval Service and Air Corps also have a legal responsibility to monitor the zone.
Today we are discussing the State’s maritime jurisdiction. If we do not address the problems highlighted in this article and the reports that I and my Labour Party colleagues have received in respect of the continuing problems with our Naval Service, we will not be able to protect this jurisdiction. We will not be able to offer the protection that our fishing industry needs. That simply not good enough at this particular time.
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. As the Minister of State stated, this Bill is intended to act as a complement to the maritime area planning Bill, which will establish a single marine planning consent system. This legislation must be consistent and supportive of Ireland's move away from fossil fuels. In February 2021, the Cabinet approved a ban on all new oil and gas exploration, which came into effect immediately. This will be put on a legislative basis, through the passing of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill. Perhaps the Minister of State could confirm that this is the case. I invite him to assuage and assure people that the Bill being read on Second Stage today is not controversial and does not do anything to the contrary to the Government's new policy position. It is modernising legislation that is technical in substance, for instance, changing the word "seas" to "sea". As Senator Chambers noted, it consolidates legislation in this area and will offer clarification going forward.
The Maritime Jurisdiction Bill states that the State may exercise sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring the continental shelf and exploiting the mineral and other non-living resources of the seabed and its subsoil, together with any living organisms belonging to the sedentary species. As I stated, it is important that this precludes all infrastructure used in the exploration or exploitation of fossil fuels and includes infrastructure allowing our national grid to connect to the UK and France.
It is essential that we protect the rights of our small-scale fisheries and level the playing field. Sustainable fishing stocks and ending overfishing are an essential part of sustaining the livelihoods of fishing communities. According to my understanding, the Bill does not affect claims to Rockall Island, which has been a contentious topic over many years. Ireland does not claim it, nor do we recognise the UK's claim over it. Perhaps the Minister of State can assure us that this Bill does not have the unintended consequence of us recognising the British claim on Rockall.In recent times, some of the type of gunboat diplomacy and demonstrations by Scottish and UK fleets around Rockall left a lot to be desired and did nothing for international good relations. The position of the Government is that the islet is uninhabited and should not affect continental maritime territorial claims. I am confident that is the situation.
This Bill appears to be a piece in a jigsaw. The Minister of State referred to potential energy. Ireland is the Saudi Arabia of clean green energy if it is utilised properly, but we must bring communities with us. It is important that when one hears the word "green" that one does not run to the hills and say it must be right. Every green initiative should be forensically examined to ensure there is no greenwashing. Nobody should shut up just because he or she heard that something is a green technology. It merits close scrutiny. At the heart of such scrutiny is that people are brought along on the green journey of advancements. There should be community gain and community buy-in. If there is not, it alienates the green message and does terrible damage to that message.
This Bill will be an essential piece in the jigsaw and I hope the consultation will follow, as Ireland turns a different page. I hope it will be a very proud page in its history whereby we will use our amazing natural resources, starting with tidal, wave and, of course wind, which is so much more powerful than solar, to create jobs in Ireland and to meet our climate targets and play our part in having a cleaner, greener global economy.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. The purpose of this Bill is to consolidate the State's maritime jurisdiction law into one Act. On the face of it, that is a sensible and admirable purpose but it appears that the Bill's proposers have jumped too many hurdles ahead of the need for the content of the Bill to be debated and scrutinised properly before it becomes law. It makes sense to amalgamate the different elements that the Bill identifies, such as planning for our marine area similar to what is in place for land planning, to regulate all development at sea and to introduce marine protection measures. On that note, I acknowledge the compelling points made by my colleague, Senator Craughwell, relating to the decimation of the Defence Forces and, in the context of this debate, the Naval Service.
The specific concern I wish to raise is the fact that there has been no pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill by the stakeholders most affected by the proposed legislation. There is a historical pattern of rushing through legislation on maritime issues with little or, in most cases, no proper scrutiny. The Government's approach ultimately begs the question: what is it afraid of? Decisions taken today regarding marine planning will have major repercussions for the future. What we should be doing is taking a step back, scrutinising what is before us in a proper way and after mature reflection and debate deciding accordingly. Can the Minister of State tell Members what discussions there were with counterparts in the North or, indeed, in the EU before bringing this Bill to the Seanad? When there are outstanding issues of sovereignty with the British Government over areas such as Rockall and Lough Foyle, why is the Government proceeding with this Bill?
Although the Irish Government conceded in 1988 that a large part of Rockall was under British jurisdiction, successive Governments have repeatedly stated that they do not recognise Britain's claim of sovereignty over Rockall. Most important to the rock would be the 12 nautical mile limit that would grant rights to have a territorial sea, contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. Post Brexit, it is imperative that the Irish Government vigorously restates its claim to Rockall, which will allow this and future Governments to continue to pursue the EU fishing quota under the Common Fisheries Policy and under the principle of equal conditions of access to British waters.I am equally concerned about the Bill specifically referring to the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office being used to establish delineation of the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf. I would like an explanation for this. This is incredible given we are still in a territorial dispute with Britain over a number of maritime issues.
There has to be engagement with our fishing sector on the Bill. It will have a significant impact on the fishing industry concerning foreign vessels, underwater cables, conservation measures, fishing enforcement measures and science research. It is unacceptable that this has not happened. It would also have a bearing on drug trafficking and the presence of nuclear and foreign warships exploiting the seas. Against a backdrop of so many factors, it is not unreasonable to ask the Government to hit the pause button. At this stage, Sinn Féin has not been able to draft amendments for the Bill. However, we are engaging with a number of experts, constitutional academics and NGOs and we intend to table amendments on issues that impinge on the sovereignty of the State when the Bill reaches the Dáil.
Sinn Féin will not support the Bill on the grounds the Government is rushing it through and not discussing it with stakeholders or allowing it to be scrutinised by them, most especially Ireland's fishing sector, not allowing for pre-legislative scrutiny, and asking us to take a leap into the dark with regard to the unknown future consequences of the legislation. That is, of course, my opinion but I am sure it is one shared on this side of the House. It is a wholly unsatisfactory set of circumstances. Our approach will depend on how the Minister of State and his colleagues in government approach our amendments in the Dáil. I sincerely hope, given the concerns I have outlined and the feedback we have received from academics and NGOs, that they will approach those amendments in a positive and collaborative way. This is what is required to ensure the Bill is strengthened and improved.
I join others in welcoming the Minister of State to the House and regretting we have not had pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill because it is very important. There is nothing technical about this. It consolidates a large amount of legislation. In the Minister of State's speech, we heard a lot about the 1980s legislation and various elements being brought together from it. We are in a different moment now and my concern is that some of the responsibilities we have for the marine are not properly reflected in the Bill as it stands.
The Bill is not simply about rights and sovereign rights. These are important and there are places where we need to strengthen them but it is also about the responsibilities that come with this. There are elements I do not see reflected in the Bill. For example, there is a reference to clean energy but nothing with regard to the reality of where we are now with climate and biodiversity. For example, Ireland negotiated the sustainable development goals and I know the Minister of State is a supporter of them. The sustainable development goal on life below water places responsibilities on the State. By 2025, we are meant to be preventing and significantly reducing maritime pollution of all kinds. These are specific goals we have signed up to. By 2020, we were meant to be sustainably managing marine and coastal ecosystems. By last year, we were also meant to have designated 10% of our coastal areas as protected areas. Alongside these is the European obligation to declare 30% of our marine areas as protected.
I am very concerned there is a bit of putting the cart before the horse. We are pushing through the planning framework and legislation to streamline the planning - I was very concerned to hear the Minister of State say that - yet we do not have our marine protected areas in place. There is a disjoint here. We speak about bringing things together and I hope we are able to join this up.
I have tabled a number of amendments, as the Minister of State is aware. They do not deal with every issue but they deal with some issues, for example, the prosecution for offences on a foreign ship. We have the Sea Fisheries Act and the Sea Pollution Act but we do not list the EU directives, which we are also responsible for enforcing if foreign ships are breaching EU law and damaging habitats or birds. This is also part of our responsibility to enforce. Section 19 speaks about offences regarding the exploitation of non-living resources.What about living resources? These are areas that must be looked at.
Around the section regarding the continental shelf, I suggest an entire new section be inserted that captures the full scope of what we need to do. We have sovereign rights being asserted in a very narrow way in language designed almost for the oil platforms of the past, which I hope must be and should be in the past. The language does not include an assertion of sovereign rights in the management of all the other kinds of marine activity we can expect in the future. It is not in section 18. Section 19 speaks to civil governance and deals with offences, so I wonder where that space is around the regulation of best practice and setting forward how things should be done and not just what is an offence. There is the question of seismic activity underwater, which is incredibly important. An area of the future may be cultural activity in and on our waters.
There is much scope in the Bill and some of the framing is very narrow. It seems like a slight updating of energy facets, where we imagine windmills on top of gas drilling. It is not capturing the scope of what we must do if we are to fulfil our responsibilities.
I have another very small suggestion that would help. With section 21 we could amend the Wildlife Act to not just cover the State's territories and seabed but the sea above that seabed. That would increase the usability of this Bill when it comes to elements like marine protected areas, which are so important. I concur with those who have spoken about the need for greater resources in this area. I know wonderful people have left the navy because of pay, conditions and the lack of opportunities for progression, but there is also the question of the meaningful mandate. I know many people were heartbroken when we stopped doing search and rescue in the Mediterranean. I know people who left the navy after that time. There is a role for our navy to do meaningful and good work again if it is resourced and rewarded. This mandate would be interesting and engaging for people who might enter the navy.
I also note it is not good enough that we are getting a baseline for maritime research from the UK. It is not good enough that maritime research is all being done by private companies feeding back. We know from hearings of the climate committee that we should have much stronger public maritime research so that it is public data that are being used to make decisions. We need huge resources in that regard.
There are concerns around Rockall and the Minister of State is aware of the actions in January 2021. We had an agreement and it is not as clear now that it is understood by all. I will bring forward other recommendations but the wider concern is the amount of power given to the Minister with regard to the jurisdiction of the State. We must be very careful that the Oireachtas would have a key role here. The Minister of State knows that previous court rulings have required that we do not overly cede powers to the Minister. Will the Minister of State reassure us on how this has been examined from the perspective of constitutional balance?
I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. Like Senator Chambers, I was fascinated by the law of the sea as a young law student in UCD. Key to this is the commitment to multilateralism, and the law of the sea was a multilateral success. If we are going to solve some of our bigger global challenges, it must be through participation in organisations like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which can help resolve some of the challenges.
I hope that in the context of this legislation, there will be much emphasis on the importance of conservation, sustainability and biodiversity. This is going to be a really important part of the legislation. We should consider as policy how to extend that beyond our national jurisdiction. Decisions about what happens on the high seas can have a particular impact on us as a coastal community.We know that our real territory is ten times that of our land territory. As a result, decisions that happen at sea impact on us in a big way. We need enforcement. When one considers the affect of global warming on the sea, it has impacts in terms of disturbing marine life and other species and by the heating seawater. It also has an impact on our coastal communities because it causes coastal erosion. We must look at trying to raise awareness of all those issues. I hope that, in the context of the COP26 discussions, the Government will take a very strong approach towards protecting our oceans, which are a core resource.
One of the most innovative lines of research in this area is the INFOMAR research being done by the Marine Institute and the Geological Survey of Ireland. They are looking at the physical and biological make-up of our sea bed. They hope to have it all done by 2026. I am glad to see that elements of this research are feeding into the junior certificate curriculum. As part of the reform of the leaving certificate, I would love to see elements of the law of the sea being introduced so that we could talk about our national sovereignty and our territory, which extends out to the sea, and the fact that we appreciate the importance of our oceans.
There has been some confusion in the comments today whereby issues relating to the Bill before us, which is consolidating legislation, and the upcoming marine planning and development management Bill, which is very important legislation that will deserve a lot of scrutiny, have merged. The Bill before us is essential consolidating legislation. As Senator Craughwell and others stated, we will need to ensure that we can enforce it in order so that those who are looking to damage the oceans and the sea will know that we will take action against them. I strongly support the legislation.
Deirtear gur Bille comhdhlúthaithe atá i gceist anseo. Déarfainn níos mó ná sin, is Bille é a thugann dlíthe muirí le chéile and that it is very important that we have a coming together of the law on maritime issues, and a clarity that has perhaps been lacking. I disagree with a previous speaker who stated that this is writing some words on piece of paper to satisfy a UN convention. It is tremendously important to put together on paper, and in a single place, clarity about what the law means, especially in the context of jurisdictional issues.
I welcome the Bill and I recognise its importance. I come from a coastal community in Dún Laoghaire, as the Minister is aware. We have a fishing community in Dún Laoghaire, albeit a small one in comparison with some of the larger fishing centres around the country. One of the welcome elements in the Bill, although it probably does not solve any problems for individual fishermen, is the recognition of potential. Reference is made in the Bill to both living and non-living resources. I feel that the Bill focuses to a greater extent on non-living resources. We should be talking about living resources as they affect our fisheries industries. We know from various instances around the country in recent times of the dissatisfaction of fishermen. We must address this. We cannot address it simply by subsidising fishermen to sit at home. People involved in the industry want to be at sea. They do not want their boats tied up in port. They want to be out fishing, gathering a catch and bringing it home.
When we talk about resources and the natural resources in this area, it is important to remember that overfishing helps no-one. The protection of those resources is as much as anything else about controlling the extent to which they are exploited.
I welcome the reference in section 9(2) to the potential resources in the context of energy. I welcome the exploitation of renewable forms of energy. Senator O'Reilly referred to wind energy and wave energy. Wave energy in particular has enormous potential. I hope that in the future, as the technology develops, we will be able to exploit that.
A number of Senators referred to Rockall. Believe me, nothing would have given me greater pleasure than for the Minister to sneak into the Bill some sort of claim on Rockall, but I am not really sure that is the right way to proceed. This is a matter I would like us to address in the longer term. Equally, like other Senators, I am uncomfortable with the references in section 21 to the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. I do not understand why we are not relying on European documents.I understand the costs involved and the expertise required to develop these maps are considerable and for Ireland to do it alone would be an enormous project. It is something we should be working on but why are these maps not being made available in a centralised way in Europe?
There is confusion in this debate between militarisation and neutrality. I agree with the comments on the difficulties being faced by the navy. It has an incredibly important role to play, as others have already said. Being a neutral country is not problematic. What is problematic is the idea that as a neutral country, we should not invest in military technology or resources because we should. There is a very important role to be played by the navy here and I disagree with the suggestion that we should not be putting things into this Bill that we cannot protect. Again, there is a difference between protecting and policing. The protection comes in this Bill by enshrining our maritime jurisdiction in law, thus allowing us to enforce issues of international law that we could not otherwise do. Policing or enforcement is a different matter and we definitely have a deficit in that area.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank the Department for the comprehensive briefing note provided to Members. It is always helpful to have such briefing notes. The information provided gives us a detailed breakdown of the Bill but does not oversimplify what is relatively complex, consolidating legislation.
The purpose of the Bill is to update and set out in one stand-alone enactment the law relating to the State’s maritime jurisdiction. Our maritime jurisdiction law establishes the State's different maritime zones and provides a legal basis for delineating their limits and boundaries. The State has different rights and obligations in each of these zones and may regulate activities in each zone only to the extent permitted by international law.
Senator Ward spoke earlier about clarity, which is really important. I agree that while we cannot have absolute certainty, we do need absolute clarity in the context of this legislation. I welcome the outline of the Bill which is important. I am conscious of the background to it and of how it reads in the context of the forthcoming maritime area planning Bill. The Bills are connected in the context of the bigger vision and bigger plan to interconnect all aspects of this issue. I want to be fair and give credit to those involved. This Bill is important and will supplement the maritime area planning Bill. Senator Higgins referred earlier to the importance of all of the related issues, some of which have been mentioned today including marine life, fisheries issues and the challenges facing the fishing industry on the island of Ireland. Senator Chambers said earlier that it is important to remember that we are an island, surrounded by water. We know the ongoing challenges that affect us. This is not the day to talk about fisheries quotas but hopefully something good will happen in the future. The fishing industry is facing major challenges. There are also issues around offshore renewable energy, which is important, as well as maritime planning, environmental protection, biodiversity, life under the sea and what is going on there, not to mention climate change, all of which are interconnected.
I want to acknowledge the work of Senator Higgins on this legislation. I have seen some of the amendments she has tabled and they are impressive. To her credit, she has put a lot of work into this. Hopefully some of us will be in a position to support her amendments and the Minister of State will be in a position to accept some of them. I welcome this Bill in the wider context of marine planning. We need certainty around legal issues relating to the coast and our maritime jurisdiction. We should also have an ability to control, conserve and protect in the context of planning and the sea.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and wish him luck in his portfolio. I am bitterly disappointed that I only have three minutes to speak. I want to talk, primarily, about the fishing industry in Ireland. As we all know, we have been left with only 15% of the fish in Irish waters, with Europe taking the rest. As an island nation, we do not get one fish from Danish, Swedish, Belgian or Dutch waters.We are not allowed to catch one fish in the North Sea, yet 85% of fish in Irish waters is taken from us. The Minister of State spoke about protecting our industry. Some people raised the involvement of the Naval Service and I do not dispute what they said. The Irish fisherman, whom I have represented for 35 years, are deeply upset, angry, in despair, feel a sense of hopelessness and are protesting about what has happened during the past year. The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority criminalised fishermen. They have no access by way of appeal to the High Court, Supreme Court or Circuit Court. They have been penalised in an atrocious fashion.
The Common Fisheries Policy has been a nail in the coffin of Irish fishermen. Since we joined the European Union our fishermen have been struggling. Our inshore fishermen, the small operators who fish for lobster, crab and shrimp, which we love to see on a restaurant menu, are a dying breed. I live in Schull, which is a beautiful area. I remember as a young man seeing 35 to 40 trawlers fishing from that area, ranging from big vessels to small 35 ft to 40 ft trawlers. I would like the Naval Service to police those foreign vessels that come to our waters in their droves. That is the reality. Someone will be here in ten years’ time asking what happened to our fishing industry, as it will have gone down the drain. We as politicians must take some responsibility for it, including my party historically. I raise this issue with a sense of desperation because I represent the coastal communities of Castletownbere, Union Hall, Schull, Kinsale, Ballycotton and all those areas. They are asked to accept wind and wave energy. I think they would be minded to do so but there is great anger among coastal communities from Donegal all the way down to Kerry and west Cork at what is happening to our fishermen and fisherwomen.Our fish catch is minuscule compared to that of the Dutch and the Danes, etc. We must look at the bigger picture.
Before I conclude, I wish to ask the Minister of State about an issue that may not be covered in the legislation. Can he examine an issue raised by a colleague of ours, namely, a wreck on the southeast coast? As a councillor and a Deputy, I raised issues about the famous MV Kowloon Bridge, the MV Rangaand the MV Bardini Reefer, all those shipwrecks that were not Irish owned. They have come ashore on our coastal areas and have done tremendous damage to the beauty of our beaches and peninsulas. There is no merit in pursuing the insurers. Some of these vessels are registered wherever. The Minister with responsibility for the marine should be in a position to get rid of those wrecks and to do it before there is further damage to our villages, coasts and beaches, which has happened historically.
I welcome the Minister of State. My colleague and friend, Senator O’Donovan, was right in what he said about the wrecks off the Cork coast. Action needs to be taken. Also, regarding our fishermen, there was a protest at the Port of Cork last weekend. There is growing concern and disquiet among our fishermen about their treatment and plight.
This important legislation requires greater scrutiny on Committee Stage and this debate is helpful. If we cast our minds back to 1959 and then forward to today, notwithstanding the evolution of time, clarity and certainty are now required. Senator O’Donovan mentioned our joining the European Union but many would say it has had a detrimental effect on our fishing industry. When we consider what happened with Brexit with respect to the EU-Great Britain negotiations and take account of climate change, it all shows we need to act to protect our marine resources. In the context of our internal waters, territorial sea, the contiguous zone and the exclusive economic zone, there is much to discuss in the context of this Bill.
I welcome the work of the Port of Cork in the context of the post-Brexit and new pandemic world. The twice weekly ro-ro service from Cork to Antwerp is putting Cork and the Port of Cork at the heart of Europe in terms of connectivity. I wish I had more time to discuss this important legislation. It is not only about maritime jurisdiction and legislation.It is about the people who work in the industry. It is about the resources in our seas. In his remarks, Senator Malcolm Byrne mentioned COP26. I suggest that we invite Pat Cox, who chaired that forum, to address the Seanad as part of our ongoing discussion.
I welcome the Minister of State. I welcome this Bill, which is probably a precursor to a more important Bill regarding planning and all that goes with it. Marine planning is a complex area, covering a variety of sectors, especially with regard to renewables, which are important but difficult under the planning system that we have in this country. I urge those in the Houses of the Oireachtas who can to visit the Marine Institute in Oranmore in Galway. I commend the team for all the work it has done there in the many years it has been involved. It has done tremendous work. If one looks at the maps provided, which the Marine Institute has worked on, one will see what it calls the real map of Ireland, the current designated Irish continental shelf, which is more than ten times the area of the landmass of Ireland. Work began on that project in 1999 and continues today as the integrated mapping for the sustainable development of Ireland's marine resource, INFOMAR, project. It is a joint venture between the Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute. It is an important area. It does tremendous work. It is an ongoing project. I have served in the Department with responsibility for natural resources in the past. This area is impressive and important.
Like others, I also touch on the area of Rockall. For those fishers who relied on a catch in the areas around Rockall, the current scenario is detrimental to their economic well-being. I have spoken to fishermen who traditionally would have got 40% of their income from Rockall. It is a problematic area and I urge ongoing engagement between the Minister of State's Department, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Scottish authorities.
I am conscious of the time. I know many people have made contributions and I will endeavour to address some. I thank Senators for their consideration of the Bill and the contributions which they made. As I indicated in my opening statement, the Bill will update and clarify the law relating to maritime jurisdiction of the State in a single, accessible, stand-alone enactment, describing the different maritime zones of national jurisdiction recognised by international law. It sets out the State's jurisdictional rights in each of them and confers the power on the Government to delineate them in domestic law. How the State decides to exercise those jurisdictional rights is left to separate legislation. That is important. To address a number of Senators' contributions, this is consolidating legislation. I know that many issues were raised in different areas but this is consolidation legislation.
The Bill seeks to clarify the criminal jurisdiction at sea. The Maritime Jurisdiction Bill has a narrow jurisdictional focus and it is a vehicle for regulation of human activities at sea or for laying down detailed routes for protection of the marine environment. This will be done in separate legislation such as has been mentioned in the House already. The maritime area planning Bill and planned legislation will allow us to establish and manage marine protected areas.
I apologise for not being able to get to all the Senators. To comment on some key things mentioned, one matter raised by a number of Senators was pre-legislative scrutiny. It is important to recognise that that was a decision by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, which waived pre-legislative scrutiny. This was not a request of the Government but a decision of the committee. It is its right, as with any committee, to decide to waive pre-legislative scrutiny.
In my earlier statement, due to time constraints I shortened some of what I was saying. Section 21 provides that UK Hydrographic Office charts may be used in evidence in court proceedings to establish the low water mark and other maritime features relevant to determining the limits of the State’s maritime jurisdiction, so I will say that formally.Overwhelmingly, the question of Rockall was raised as an issue more than any other. The issue of the exclusion of Irish vessels from the 12 mile zone was raised by Senator Kyne and a number of others. To reassure the House, my Department is working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on this issue. As Senators will be aware, the Government's long-standing position has been that remote rocks in the middle of an ocean that cannot support human habitation should not be the subject of claims of sovereignty by any state. It is for that reason no Government has ever made such a claim and has also never recognised the UK claim to Rockall, which was made in 1955. Traditionally, we have treated the waters around Rockall as part of the UK's exclusive economic zone and, therefore, while the UK was a member of the EU and part of the Union's waters open to vessels of all member states, we did not recognise a 12 mile territorial sea around it. The Government has been in contact, as mentioned by Senator Kyne, with the relevant Scottish and UK authorities about Rockall over recent years, and intensively since the beginning of this year, but clearly this issue has become more complex since Brexit. The Minister for Foreign Affairs discussed this matter directly with his Scottish counterpart, the Cabinet secretary, Mr. Mike Russell, before the recent Scottish elections and contacts have resumed since the election and will continue. We are committed to addressing the issues involved, reflecting the long-standing fisheries tradition in the area. Rockall has been mentioned by many Senators. It is important to recognise in the process of the consolidation the Bill providers for that it does not change anything that is in place. It consolidates everything into a single Bill.
I particularly acknowledge Senator Higgins and the issues that she has put forward. She has tabled a number of amendments and has done some very detailed work in the area, which I commend her on. I thank the Senator for them and we are currently examining them. We will go through these tomorrow on Committee Stage. I am afraid that, given the short time available, it is unlikely that these can be accepted in the Seanad. However, I am prepared to consider the Senator's proposal in the amendment to section 11 on Committee Stage in the Dáil if she can arrange to have it tabled there. I will have to consult prior to that with relevant ministerial colleagues and the Parliamentary Counsel.
I am conscious I have again gone over time and I will conclude.