17 December 2021
A Bill before the Seanad today that is set to determine how Ireland manages its marine territory will be a “lose-lose situation” if passed as is, environmental groups have warned.
The Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) and the Environmental Pillar have urged the Government to defer the Maritime Area Planning (MAP) Bill to amend key elements of the legislation and stressed that it was in “everyone’s interest to get this planning framework right”.
Both the legislation itself and Ireland’s marine spatial plan, the National Marine Planning Framework, would together be “deeply problematic” for all stakeholders, including “those hoping for massive expansion of offshore renewable energy and coastal communities,” according to the aforementioned coalitions.
They also stressed that the current Bill will see offshore renewable space allocation supersede the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
MPAs are any areas in the marine environment designated for biodiversity protection and restoration, and Ireland has only 2.3 per cent of its waters under this status to date.
Ireland has missed its 2020 MPA target considerably, as it was supposed to see 10 per cent of Irish waters classified as MPAs. The Programme for Government did lay out a commitment to achieve the 2020 figure as soon as possible, and to hit a second milestone of 30 per cent protection by the end of the decade if possible.
However, environmental campaigners warn that without interim protection measures in the meantime for sensitive marine sites, offshore wind farms could be developed in “completely unsuitable areas”.
The coalitions have called on the Government to therefore defer the Bill’s passing and to ensure interim measures for vulnerable marine areas in place and to address access to justice issues within the Bill itself.
Marine biodiversity “cannot move for us”
“We are fortunate to share our marine space with a huge diversity of marine species. Planning must avoid those areas which are most important for marine biodiversity, as it cannot move for us,” CEO of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group Dr Simon Berrow said in reaction to the Bill.
Amending the Bill would not be only for marine life, as it is “in the interests of all stakeholders if consents and development aren’t to become tangled up with a multiplicity of legal arguments and issues,” according to Environmental Law Officer at the Irish Environmental Network Attracta Uí Bhroin.
“Those arguments will be made even more complex by the serious issues on access to justice and Aarhus rights in the Bill,” she added.
Responding to environmental NGOs’ concerns on Twitter yesterday, Green Party TD Steven Matthews said the Bill “creates a strict regulatory application process to carry out the development” and added that they would be subject to Environmental Impact Assessments.
The Dáil’s recognition of both a climate and biodiversity emergency in 2019, “means both warrant the same degree of action and that neither is pursued at the expense of the other,” according to SWAN Policy Officer Ellen MacMahon.
“The least the Government can do now is to introduce interim measures to protect sensitive areas before MPAs have been designated,” she said.