January 10th, 2019
Concerned groups and the public are being left in the dark over the Government’s plans to manage Skellig Michael, Ireland’s largest environmental coalition has said.
The comments from the Environmental Pillar come in the wake of the launch of a public consultation in late December on the next management plan of this important UNESCO site.
The site attracted global fame following its inclusion in the new Star Wars trilogy despite concerns from environmental groups over the potential for damage during filming.
The Government must now submit a new management plan to UNESCO in 2019, with the public consultation supposed to help guide and inform the content and direction of the new Plan.
Announcing the commencement of the public consultation process in December, Ms Madigan said that a new and comprehensive management plan will “affirm our responsibilities to this magnificent place”.
She said that the views of stakeholders, communities and those with an interest in the site are “integral” to the 10-year vision for the island,
However, in a letter sent this week to the Minister for Heritage Josepha Madigan TD, the Pillar warned that the consultation is “fundamentally flawed” as the only document available for review is the old plan which expired in 2018.
As there is no draft of the next plan available, the public and environmental groups are “in the dark about the government’s proposals” for the heritage site, the Pillar outlined in the letter, also sent to the Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, Kevin Moran TD.
There is also no mention in the consultation notice about the screening for Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Natura Impact Statement, the Pillar said. It is a requirement by law for an SEA to be carried out for any plans or programmes on the scale of the Skellig Michael Management Plan.
The notification text also says that the responses received from the public and concerned groups will help to guide and inform the content of the new Plan before it is submitted to UNESCO.
The Pillar said that it is interpreting from this text that there will be no further consultation on the actual draft plan something that it says is “absolutely unacceptable”.
In its letter, the Pillar said that best practice should see the draft plan subjected to a six to eight-week public consultation, followed by workshops with key concerned groups, and then the publication of the draft final plan along with the required environmental assessment.
The Pillar also outlined concerned to the Minister with the short four-week window for submissions which includes the Christmas and New Year’s period when most people are on leave.
Earlier this week, the Pillar flagged concerned with a similar decision to launch a public consultation on new draft regulations for upland burning over the Christmas period.
In addition, the consultation is not listed on the Government’s Consultation portal where an alert system should let concerned groups and the public know of consultations.
As a result, most of the Pillar’s member organisations have only just found about the consultation through Twitter, according to Pillar spokesperson Charles Stanley Smith.
Mr Stanley-Smith said that the process is “not adequate” and “runs in contravention” of the Government’s requirements for effective public participation in environmental matters under international and European law and also the State’s own consultation guidelines.
“The success of Star Wars is largely positive in terms of local tourism but in terms of visitor numbers is putting undue strain on Skellig Michael as a leading Irish UNESCO site and on the island’s bird habitats,” he added.
“Despite the clear importance of further debate on this issue, the Government decided that it was best to sneak in a public consultation at the end of December when most people are on leave for the Christmas and New Year’s break.”