What’s the deal with the National Marine Planning Framework?

Published by Kayle Crosson on

28 April 2021 

Have you heard about the National Marine Planning Framework? 

Yes? No? Potentially in passing? 

No problem. It’s a complicated issue that’s been coming up a lot over the past couple of days, and we wanted to get a better understanding of it. 

So we called up Padraic Fogarty, Campaigns Officer for the Irish Wildlife Trust and Ellen MacMahon, Policy Officer for the Sustainable Water Network, to help us get up to speed. 

First off – what’s the Marine Planning Framework all about? 

It’s essentially Ireland’s first maritime spatial plan. 

The objective of these types of plans is to organise marine areas in order to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives. 

And marine spatial plans, when in place, can have a lot of benefits, according to Ellen MacMahon. 

“It’s a great way to collect information and data about our marine environment, which we can then present back to stakeholders and the general public,” she told The Green News. 

Once all this data is analysed, it can help streamline consent processes in marine regions. It can also work for nature conversation, Ellen added, and lead to a “win-win situation” when it comes to sustainable development and climate action. 

And how did this specific Marine Planning Framework come about? 

So back in 2014, the EU Maritime Spatial Planning Directive came into force, and we had to comply by coming up with a marine spatial plan by the end of March this year. 

The Directive is also there to put member states on a sustainable trajectory for the marine environment, so there’s a lot more complexity here than we would normally find with land planning. 

(And another thing to note – the Department had been working on this Framework for a while, and during the public consultation many NGOs, like the Irish Wildlife Trust and SWAN, warned that it was deeply flawed). 

The March 2021 deadline came and went, so now we’ve seen this Planning Framework come in over the past week. 

But one thing that’s missing in it? Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). 

If you’ve kept up-to-date with our marine explainers, you’ll remember that a Marine Protected Area is any area in the marine environment designated for the protection of biodiversity conservation or restoration. 

Their absence, Padraic Fogarty tells us, is “a pretty glaring omission”. 

Going back to our 2014 EU Directive, member states are supposed to take an ecosystems-based approach to marine spatial planning. It’s not just a suggestion or piece of advice – it’s mandatory. 

And at the rate consultations and legislation are going for MPAs, it could be years before we see any actual such areas, according to Padraic. 

Couple this lack of MPAs with the anticipated surge in offshore renewable energy in Ireland, Ellen says, and we run the very real risk of decimating marine environments before MPAs are even in place. 

“We recognise the role that offshore renewable energy is going to play in decarbonising the economy and climate action, but marine protection is climate action. 

Per unit of area, seagrass captures carbon 35 times faster than a rainforest,” Ellen said. 

Aquaculture and fisheries are also excluded from the legal framework underpinning this plan, so “you’re going further away again from an ecosystem approach here when we should be taking everything into consideration under a holistic framework,” she added. 

Okay, so what happens now? 

The Dail is set to vote on the National Marine Planning Framework tomorrow, and is currently slated for a 55 minute debate. 

There had been calls for further Committee scrutiny, but those were rejected so it looks like the vote is going ahead tomorrow. 

Campaigners have been calling for Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien to pull the motion and allow for more scrutiny. That way, they argue, the plan can be updated and strong interim protection for the marine environment can be introduced. 

If it passes as is tomorrow? It could wreak havoc on our marine environment, according to Ellen. 

“If we see this continued disparity with offshore development and MPAs, there is serious concern about the health of our marine environment”. 

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