Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of the Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill is to transfer certain foreshore functions from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Bill will transfer responsibility for the Dumping at Sea Acts to the Environmental Protection Agency. Other than the transfer of functions, there are no significant amendments to the Acts encompassed by this Bill, save for the modernisation of certain phrases and references.

When forming the Government in 2007, it was decided to transfer certain coastal functions from the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The marine functions and staff from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources were transferred directly to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. At the time, the Attorney General advised that primary legislation would be required to effect the onward transfer of the foreshore functions to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This is the basis on which this Bill is now presented.

The foreshore consists of the land from the high water mark to the 12 nautical mile limit and comprises roughly 57% of the land area of the 26 counties. In recent years, the size, scale and complexity of projects developed on the foreshore have changed considerably. At one time, foreshore consents covered primarily small piers and jetties. However, in recent years, applications received concern major State and private sector infrastructure projects, such as municipal waste water treatment plants, large commercial harbour developments, gas pipelines and large-scale offshore wind, wave and tidal energy projects.

To deal with this increasing scale and complexity, it is vital that the development of these large projects accord with the development plans for the functional areas of the local authorities to which they are contiguous. Both land-based and offshore developments in the coastal zone impact upon each other in very significant ways despite the different environmental conditions in each zone. Balancing the impact of a development in one zone with that in the other zone is a major component of the impact assessment of such projects. At a higher level, is it also essential to align and integrate the strategic development plans for both zones.

The effects of developments, one on another, in the coastal zone have been a major challenge for national Governments throughout Europe, leading the European Commission to issue recommendations in this regard. In all countries, this integration of the onshore and offshore development process has proven quite difficult.

With the integration of onshore and offshore developments foremost in mind, the Government decided on the transfer of certain marine functions from my Department to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This will allow for the development of a framework approach to planning in the coastal zone which will seek to integrate and balance the various planning and development requirements on either side of the high water mark.

Consolidation and streamlining of the Foreshore Acts have been under consideration for some time. This process is intended to provide a modern, effective and integrated legal framework for the management of the State's foreshore estate in the future. However, such modernisation is not the purpose of this Bill, which simply transfers certain functions from the Department to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This transfer will pave the way for such modernisation.

The modernisation of the foreshore legislation will require extensive consultation with stakeholders and the public by way of a strategic environmental assessment. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has indicated to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security that, on receipt of the foreshore functions, it is intended to review the Foreshore Acts. I will be happy to appear before that committee in 2010 to give an update on developments.

While it is acknowledged that some elements of the Foreshore Acts require modernisation, it is important to realise that in regard to large projects, the assessment of environmental impact statements and the public participation and consultation elements are fully up to date and in accordance with all environmental directives. Regulations in respect of the Foreshore Acts have been implemented under the European Communities Acts dealing with the environmental impact assessment directive, the public access to environmental information directive and the public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters directive. Therefore, the Foreshore Acts are in compliance with the Aarhus Convention.

The reform of the Foreshore consent process in the context of offshore renewable energy applications was raised in the Seanad during debate on the Bill. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security drafted its own Bill to address concerns in this area and I have no doubt that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will take account of the draft Bill developed by the joint committee when planning this reform. When considering the needs of the offshore wind industry, it is important to bear in mind that, in recent years, foreshore consents have been issued for some 420 offshore wind turbines. However, only seven turbines have been built, with no development having taken place in recent years.

In deciding on the transfer of these functions, the Government is guided by the primary role of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which is to pursue sustainable development. Modernisation of the development consent process can best be served by aligning the onshore and offshore consent processes within a single Department, particularly given the nature and scale of recent offshore energy infrastructure project applications.

To an island nation, the status of the sea fishing and aquaculture industry is very important from both economic and social perspectives. In view of this, the future of aquaculture and sea-fishing-related projects needs to be secured, given the often isolated locations of the coastal communities which these industries support. Granting of a foreshore licence for an aquaculture project is currently an outcome of the detailed consideration of the aquaculture licence application. In certain circumstances, an environmental impact statement must accompany the aquaculture licence application. The licensing of aquaculture sites, including foreshore licensing for such sites, will remain with the Department. This is particularly important given the Department's role in food production.

The administration of the foreshore under the Foreshore Acts generally involves two distinct components: first, the licensing of the activity or development on the foreshore, which is a regulatory role akin to the role of a planning department; and second, the vast majority of the foreshore is State owned and managed on behalf of the Minister for Finance. Therefore, property management is a key role for the Department under the Foreshore Acts. This role of property manager on behalf of the State can, on occasion, give rise to competing applications for the same area of State foreshore. The Foreshore Acts have always provided for this circumstance. Sections 2 and 3 of the Foreshore Act 1933 stipulate that all decisions must be made solely in the public interest.

While I do not envisage that enactment of this Bill will increase the likelihood of competing applications, section 7 specifically provides for co-ordination between Departments before any decisions on consents are made. Both Departments are deeply committed to the establishment of an efficient and effective structure designed to ensure that information on applications is managed in a co-ordinated fashion.

Transfer of the foreshore functions from this Department to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has been the subject of ongoing discussion and planning between officials from both Departments for some time. Transfer of the relevant functions has been dealt with in two phases. The first phase did not require legislative change and took place in November 2008 when the shellfish waters directive and integrated coastal zone management functions transferred to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This Bill, presented on the advice of the Attorney General, will complete the second and legislative phase of this transfer process.

While the Bill does not go beyond assigning responsibility for certain marine functions to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the drafting of the Bill was quite a complex and time-consuming task. The reason for this complexity is that rather than simply transferring functions between Ministers, the Bill assigns responsibility for non-fishery related foreshore consents and coastal management functions to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government while assigning responsibility for foreshore consents concerning aquaculture, sea-fishing and fishery harbour centres to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Certain sections of the Foreshore Act 1933 concern the overall management of the coastal zone rather than the licensing of developments on the foreshore. For example, section 6 provides the means to prohibit the removal of beach material and section 11 of the Act provides for the removal of dilapidated structures. In order to provide for the coherent management of the coastal zone under one administration, these and other coastal management functions are being transferred in full to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

For some time now, both Departments have been working together to ensure not only the smooth transition of the functions between Departments but also the management and future development of the foreshore functions following the transfer. The Departments are committed to working together via an interdepartmental committee to ensure co-ordination and co-operation in the administration of the legislation. The staff transferring between Departments have volunteered for the move and have been in place for almost 12 months in the coastal zone management division of our Wexford office. In addition, five engineers located around the country will transfer from the Department with the functions. The Marine Institute support for the functions transferring will be accommodated in a service level agreement between Departments. The Marine Institute will continue to be an agency under the aegis of this Department.

In addition to transferring the relevant functions, the Bill contains a number of necessary amendments to support and manage the transfer of functions between Ministers. In drafting the Bill, the opportunity was taken to update and modernise the terminology and references in the Foreshore Act 1933.

Section 4 of the Bill provides the mechanism whereby the functions transferred by it may be re-combined under a single Minister at any point in the future. This section provides for the functions to be re-combined by means of an order under the Ministers and Secretaries Act (Amendment) Act of 1939. This would obviate the need for primary legislation to re-combine the functions.

Section 5 contains amendments and additions to the definitions in the Foreshore Act 1933. These are necessary to give clarity to the respective areas of responsibility of the Ministers concerned.

The primary mechanism in the Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill to give effect to the transfer of the functions concerned is contained in section 6 of the Bill, which defines the type of foreshore consents to be determined by each Minister. Where a foreshore application concerns a development that is for the support or development of sea-fishing, aquaculture or a development in a fishery harbour centre, then the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will determine that application. In all other cases the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will determine the application. Throughout the Bill there are references to the "appropriate Minister". In each section the appropriate Minister is determined by reference to section 6.

Sections 7 and 8 provide for a consultation mechanism between the two Ministers on consent applications. In addition, the annual payment limit at which each Minister may agree a licence or lease without reference to the Department of Finance has been increased from £10, as stated in the Foreshore Act 1933, to the euro equivalent of £50,000, or €63,500. This reflects the administrative arrangements currently in place between the Department of Finance and this Department.

Section 9 modernises the reference to the judiciary in the Act. Section 10 is an amendment to the environmental impact assessment legislation as a consequence of the meaning assigned to the appropriate Minister in section 6. Section 11 deletes from the 1933 Act a reference to the Irish Land Commission as that body is no longer in existence.

Section 12 provides a mechanism for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to make regulations to specify bodies and timeframes for consultation where the Minister is considering a foreshore consent. This reflects the existing practice in the foreshore application process where a wide range of bodies are consulted before a consent is granted or refused. The implementation of these regulations, which is a matter for Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government following the enactment of the Bill, will greatly assist in putting in place a time bound period for the consideration of a foreshore consent, by requiring consultees to respond within a defined time period.

Sections 13 and 14 are amendments of the European Communities (Foreshore) Regulations 2009 (SI No. 404 of 2009), which amended section 19 of the 1933 Act earlier this year. These regulations, which came into effect on 30 September 2009, implemented the Aarhus convention's public participation directive 2003/35/EC in respect of the foreshore consent process for applications, where an environmental impact assessment is required. Under these regulations the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is obliged to ensure that the public is fully informed and consulted on such applications. These sections extend the obligations of informing and consulting the public to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in respect of consent applications requiring an environmental impact assessment, which relates to the foreshore functions being transferred to him.

Section 16 updates the reference to "local authority" in the Act in line with recent legislation. Sections 17, 18 and 19 give the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the ministerial role of applying to the courts to seek prohibitory orders for the protection of the foreshore and adjacent seashore and the prosecution of offences. Sections 20 and 21 are consequential amendments to the Fisheries Acts, due to the meaning assigned to the appropriate Minister in section 6.

Sections 22 to 27, inclusive, are transitional measures to provide for the transfer of the ongoing work between the Departments. Both Departments concerned have worked closely together on the drafting of this Bill and on the administrative arrangements necessary for the ongoing support of the functions being transferred. Agreement has been reached between this Department and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the reallocation of the necessary staff and resources for the functions being transferred. Officials in each Department are committed to working together to ensure the continuity of service and to develop a modern framework for managing the Foreshore functions.

At the request of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the administration of the Dumping at Sea Act will transfer to the Environmental Protection Agency. Part 3 of the Bill provides for this transfer. The Dumping at Sea Act bans incineration at sea, the dumping of radioactive waste and offshore installations and all toxic, harmful and noxious substances up to 350 miles offshore, to coincide with Ireland's portion of the continental shelf. It enables the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to grant permits for certain dumping, as specified in the permits and subject to such conditions as the Minister may specify in the permits. It also empowers the courts to impose such monetary penalty and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, as they may decide, on conviction on indictment, on any person for illegal dumping as defined by the Act.

All applications for dumping at sea permits are carefully considered by the Department, with the assistance of specialist scientific advisers who form the marine licence vetting committee which meets frequently, as business demands. Detailed guidelines have been published by the Department to assist applicants. Copies of those guidelines are available in the Oireachtas Library and on the Department's website. Applicants are obliged to consider thoroughly all non dumping at sea options and, in particular, other beneficial uses such as beach nourishment and land reclamation. Non-dumping solutions have been successfully pursued in a number of cases and are addressed in the context of five year rolling dredging plans by ports and other harbours, by agreement with the Department.

Material for dumping at sea is thoroughly assessed prior to dumping. Approximately 12 dumping at sea permits are granted each year. The type of material which may be disposed of at sea is governed by the international OSPAR agreement, the protection of the marine environment of the north east Atlantic, agreed in Paris on 22 September 1992. Dumping at sea permits are granted exclusively for the dumping of dredge spoil at a specified site. Generally this is as a result of port and harbour dredging which is carried out for maintenance and development purposes. Details of the permits granted are published in Iris Oifigiúil on an annual basis and kept in a public register in the Department as required under the 1996 Act. Details of these permits are also published on the Department’s website on an ongoing basis.

The Environmental Protection Agency is the primary caretaker of the environment in the State. Its key role in licensing the disposal of waste is managing the impact of the waste on the environment. Waste licensing involves the control of large scale waste and industrial activities to ensure that they do not endanger human health or harm the environment. In addition, it has the lead role in managing water quality in the State.

I am aware some local authorities are concerned that a dumping at sea licence is required for the activity of plough dredging. The Department is fully conscious of the requirement for county councils and harbour authorities to carry out dredging on a regular basis, and in all cases every effort is made to expedite the issue of the appropriate dumping at sea permit, subject to the approval of the marine licence vetting committee. A review of this policy from an environmental perspective is not appropriate at this juncture. However, the EPA will be fully briefed on the issue during the transfer process.

The EPA, in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, is responsible for the implementation of the EU water framework directive, an important piece of EU environmental legislation which aims to improve our water environment. It requires governments to take a new holistic approach to managing their waters. It applies to rivers, lakes, ground-water, estuaries and coastal waters. The transfer of the administration of the Dumping at Sea Acts from this Department to the Environmental Protection Agency will provide it with the opportunity to fully integrate the disposal of dredge spoil at sea with its current waste management licensing system and it will assist in the delivery of the water framework directive project.

Part 3 provides for the transfer of the dumping at sea function from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the EPA. A number of minor consequential amendments are necessary because of the transfer of the functions to the agency. In addition, the opportunity has been taken to revise the powers of authorised officers in line with their powers in other, more recent, legislation.

Section 29 transfers responsibility for dumping at sea to the Environmental Protection Agency and vests the functions in the agency. Section 32 amends section 4 of the Dumping at Sea 1996 Act to provide that the Radiological Protection Institute, rather than the Minister, will now prescribe radioactive substances or material as below low level. It must consult with the EPA before so prescribing and it must give notice of the prescribing by having a notice published in Iris Oifigiúil. As a transitional measure, the existing low level standing prescribed for radioactive substances or material will remain in force.

Section 33 provides for the substitution of the EPA for the Minister, as appropriate, in various instances throughout section 5 of the 1996 Dumping at Sea Act and also provides for the addition of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the list of Ministers who must be consulted on an application for a permit to dump at sea. Section 34 contains amendments to section 6 of the 1996 Act to update the powers of authorised officers to accord with current legislative best practice and to take account of technological advances in methods of record keeping, for example electronic data recorders, digital photographs and such like.

Section 35 enacts Schedule 2 of this Bill. Schedule 2 lists by section of the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 where the EPA is substituted for the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and where the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and a Minister of the Government are substituted as specified in that schedule.

Section 36 contains an amendment to section 7 of the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 to enable the EPA to bring summary proceedings in respect of offences under that Act. Section 37 repeals section 13 of the 1996 Act that provided for the payment to the Exchequer of fees collected under the Act. The effect of this repeal is that the EPA may now retain those fees.

Section 38 contains transitional measures for dumping at sea permit applications that have not yet been determined by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and for permits granted by that Minister and in force before the commencement of EPA involvement. Undetermined permit applications will be treated as applications to the agency and permits already granted and in force can be dealt with by the agency as if they had been issued by it. This section also provides for the continuance of existing authorised officers post-enactment and for the substitution of the agency for the Minister in any pending legal proceedings.

The function of the Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill is to transfer specific foreshore functions from this Department to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and to transfer the dumping at sea functions to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Bill will assign responsibility for foreshore licensing for commercial and infrastructural projects together with certain coastal zone management functions to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This will commence the process of aligning marine spatial planning with the onshore spatial planning system. In addition, responsibility for the Dumping at Sea Acts 1996 to 2006 is allocated to the Environmental Protection Agency which, in conjunction with measures implementing the water framework directive, will provide greater coherency in the sustainable management of water quality in the coastal zone.

The provisions of the Bill are intended solely to give effect to the allocation of specific foreshore functions to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and to the transfer of functions under the Dumping at Sea Acts to the Environmental Protection Agency. I commend the Bill to the House.

I wish to share time with Deputy Tom Sheahan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The introduction of the Bill represents a missed opportunity that was summed up comprehensively in the Minister of State's speech. He stated:

Consolidation and streamlining of the Foreshore Acts have been under consideration for some time. This process is intended to provide a modern, effective and integrated legal framework for the management of the State's foreshore estate in the future. However, such modernisation is not the purpose of this Bill,

In effect we are simply rearranging the deckchairs. We have a long and not too distinguished career across all shades of political opinion of significantly underestimating the value of the asset that our territorial waters and foreshore represent to the State. I am disappointed that the opportunity to put in place a modern, effective legal framework to manage and exploit, and deliver to the citizenry of the State the dividend from the proper management of that resource, is not availed of in the legislation. All we are doing is taking the existing legal provisions as they are vested in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, retaining only that which applies to aquaculture licensing and divesting itself of the remainder.

It is symptomatic of the tunnel-vision approach to running Departments that 2.5 years after the original decision to reallocate responsibility for foreshore, we could not have had that extensive consultation process which would have allowed us to deal today with a comprehensive legislative proposal to finally demarcate responsibilities within various Departments. This is only about divvying up the existing legislative provisions and painfully reminds us how we have consistently undervalued our marine resources, our foreshore and all that goes with it.

Much of the legislation governing this area goes back to 1933. Given the technological advances that have been made we could not have envisaged at that stage the extent of the resource we have, which is the envy of many countries across the globe. As we strive to meet by 2020 the target of having 40% of our energy requirements coming from renewable resources and with approximately €18 billion worth of offshore renewable energy projects with the Commission for Energy Regulation, here we are today rearranging the deckchairs some 2.5 years on from the Government decision to introduce a new legal framework. Will it be another 2.5 years before we have that legal framework? Will we continue to lose investment opportunities to develop wind, wave and tidal alternative energy resources? Mineral deposits may lie under our seas. We have had the ongoing controversy regarding the manner in which our gas resources have been allocated and exploited. We definitely need a more comprehensive legal framework to deal with all those issues.

The Bill also raises another critical question. Why does nobody want responsibility for this area? It seems to be nobody's baby. It was in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, was shunted into the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and is now being shunted on to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government which has no track record of dealing with maritime resource matters. In terms of planning, this is an enormous resource which is unlike terrestrial planning per se. Terrestrial planning is mainly concerned with individual property owner rights and obviously third party rights. However, this is a resource that is owned by the State and needs to be exploited in the national interest. However, it seems to be an area of responsibility for which nobody wants to take ownership. By rights this should rest in a properly functioning Department of the marine, rather than in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Minister of State might wish to comment on that later.

We will certainly not have the required legislative framework to assist in that development, which is why we have tabled an amendment that within six months of the enactment of the Bill, the Department should propose an extensive review of existing foreshore legislation and a new framework for foreshore licensing and development. I hope the Minister of State will accept the spirit of that Fine Gael amendment because time is ticking and we have evidence that people who are willing to invest significant amounts of money, are now moving projects to other locations, particularly in the area of wind, wave and tidal energy generation. We lost one big project to Portugal, as I am sure the Minister of State is aware.

The Bill makes provision for consultation between the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which does not fill me with any degree of optimism. I shall instance two areas where consultation is ongoing between the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, where no progress is being made in resolving the issues under dispute. There is ideological warfare between the two on the nitrates directive. The Minister of State may well smirk, but it is a reality that is costing taxpayers and costing farmers. It arises because of the failure of two Departments to adopt a practical approach to the inspections required to ensure compliance with the nitrates directive. No farmer or politician is arguing that there should not be compliance. However, we need an effective and efficient use of taxpayers' resources and a single inspection regime. Yet the Department's inspectors and local authority inspectors under the aegis of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are competing and claiming entitlement to inspect under the nitrates directive. Twelve months on from the original indication in a press statement by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, that this issue was resolved, we are no nearer a resolution.

The other issue is the operational programme for seafood development. The Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, is painfully aware of the ongoing consultations and lack of progress in this matter. We are now some years into the operational programme. There are aquaculture projects which have been approved for grant aid by Bord Iascaigh Mhara and have the potential to increase employment significantly but are on hold because of the turf war between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister of State's Department, which is as much about ideology as environmental issues. What we need is a practical approach. As with the nitrates directive, nobody suggests the environment needs to be compromised, but somebody must decide that the issue is to be resolved within a certain time — perhaps three months — with baseline studies carried out and approved at a European level. This will enable a sector that currently employs around 3,000 people to get on with an expansion programme which could, over a period of five years, double its employment and significantly increase exports. We currently have about 6% of the EU oyster market and 7% of its shellfish market at a time when Europe is importing €8.5 billion worth of shellfish annually. Ireland is one of the few maritime nations in the European Union that could contribute to reducing EU imports and earn significant moneys for this economy if we facilitated that sector in getting on with its expansion programme.

The sector currently employs around 3,000 people, but doubling that number is eminently attainable. In recent months I have been from the south-west to the north of the country. Last weekend I was in the Inishowen Peninsula visiting Marine Harvest, an aquaculture company which employs around 240 people. It is crying out for new licences so it can get on with the business of expanding its export opportunities and creating new jobs. I understand that in the Minister of State's Department at the moment there may be more than 300 licence applications which have not been dealt with and are caught up in the turf war between the two Departments. That is why I look with a jaundiced eye on the provisions for consultation — because without a definitive timeframe for dealing with licence applications — be they aquaculture licences, foreshore applications or licences for developing offshore energy generation facilities — we are on a hiding to nothing. We will continue to have endless delays, lost opportunities and more people not being able to find work in our economy.

It is a regrettable aspect of the Bill that we are not putting in place the optimum legal framework but rather, rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. It is not as if considerable work has not been done; the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Energy Security and Climate Change has published a draft Bill. It may fall well short — I am not in a position to judge what is required in terms of a legal framework — but it is a starting point. However, Departments seem to have assumed a monopoly of wisdom on these matters and do not accept that the Opposition or the committee system could help or contribute in any meaningful way. That is a poor reflection of our parliamentary democracy. Departments should be open to positive suggestions, particularly when they come from all-party Oireachtas committees; if they need to be improved, amended, and so on, that can be done. To disregard the considerable effort that has been put into this area is extremely regrettable.

Fine Gael will move an amendment to deal specifically with the issue of aquaculture licence applications, with the intention of repealing sections of the fisheries legislation that allow the Department to prevaricate endlessly and refuse to make decisions on applications. I hope, given the jobs crisis and the potential of that sector to create employment, the Minister will view those amendments positively. We will support the legislation on Second Stage but we are disappointed the Government has not taken the opportunity to take a further step and establish a modern legal framework to deal with the new challenges we face. This area can deliver significant economic opportunities and a dividend for the citizenry of the State.

Every time we are here for Question Time I have the same questions for the Minister of State. No progress is being made regarding aquaculture licences, the seafood operational programme and so on. I had thought this Bill might expedite progress in these areas, but I am afraid it will not. I am wary of it. The Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government cannot agree on the operational programme. We are losing out, in my estimation, to the tune of €10 million in co-funding from the European Fisheries Fund because we do not have an operational programme. Why do we not have such a programme? The programme was intended to run from 2007 to 2013, but it is now December 2009 and agreement from the Departments is not expected even in 2010.

I am wary of the transfer of these functions to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Both Departments must work with each other in what I hope will be the interest of the operational programme. One would think the loss of co-funding from the European Fisheries Fund would push the Departments into reaching agreement on the operational programme but they cannot seem to agree. Why is the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food responsible for the area of aquaculture licensing? Is it because it is in the food sector? I do not think the licensing process will be expedited because agreement will not be reached between the two Departments.

As Deputy Creed has said, there is significant potential in the aquaculture sector. Our waters are probably the most fertile in the world for aquaculture ventures. As a nation we are losing out significantly on both jobs and exports. It is a travesty that this is happening. It is immoral that we have not advanced our aquaculture business to achieve even a fraction of the potential that is there. That is embarrassing for the Department, the Minister and the Government. It certainly would be for me if I was in the Minister's shoes.

In the aquaculture sector there is potential for anything up to 10,000 jobs. The Minister needs to look at that. I welcome this Bill wholeheartedly if it helps expedite the granting of aquaculture licences, but I do not think it will.

Another matter which under this Bill is being transferred to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is effluent discharge. A county manager, not of my own county, to whom I spoke recently told me that where there was raw sewage going into the sea they got money from the Government several years ago to put in a new treatment plant and they had to apply for a discharge licence for the new pipe from the treatment facility. The treatment facility went in, the pipe went in and to date, five years later, they do not have a foreshore licence for that pipe. If that is not incompetence, I do not know what is. Five years after the facility went in, the plant is up and running. I complimented the county manager on going ahead with something that needed to be done for the good of the public. I am surprised the head has not been taken off him. He went ahead and did what needed to be done. If he waited for the licence, that sewage treatment unit would not be working and raw sewage would still go into the sea. Can the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, see there is a kind of graph of inadequacies?

I have seen on a small scale only where one-off houses or a cluster houses received discharge licences. I may be deviating a little but I ask the Leas-Ceann Comhairle to bear with me.

One ought not alert the Chair to such matters.

I might take the scenic route but I will make my point. I have seen clusters of houses receive licences to discharge to rivers and streams and there is a case in my constituency where the lakes are polluted as a result. This is why these functions being transferred to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government does not make me feel any more secure.

This is more a question to the Minister of State, and I ask him to refer to it. Will foreshore licences be required for emergency works to deal with coastal erosion? Unfortunately, in my constituency there are three peninsulas and coastal erosion is a big issue for us. I put that question because it happened in my constituency where emergency works had to be carried out. If they had not been carried out the road into west Kerry would have been eroded. Referring to the licence applied for five years ago which has yet to be granted, if, in the interests of the public, they had to apply for a foreshore licence to undertake those emergency works, with the choking in the system I wonder what the outcome would be.

On dredging, another aspect of the Bill, I refer to where loughs or harbours are dredged and the material is to be brought to sea. As Deputy Creed stated, we were in Donegal recently. We were on Lough Foyle where there are 80,000 tonnes of material to be dredged. They have a licence within the lough to dump 15,000 tonnes but the small dredger that has gone in there is not capable of doing what needs to be done. Hence, the entire result of that dredging will be dumped on this site that has been specified for 15,000 tonnes. There will be 80,000 tonnes dumped in the lough on that site which has a licence for 15,000 tonnes. I tabled a question on who has jurisdiction over Lough Foyle — I hoped it would be answered today but that has not worked out. If the EPA is taking over this responsibility, will it have an interest in Lough Foyle? In Lough Foyle there are mussel fishermen and oyster fishermen, and where this dredged material is to be dumped is very near where the mussels and oysters are being cultivated. It will be detrimental on those two industries. The dredged material was supposed to go to sea.

I question the input of the marine licence vetting committee. I was told by officials that when local authorities had jurisdiction over dredging, they could apply on a Thursday evening for a licence they wanted on Saturday morning and, in fairness, the officials informed me that they went through the process rapidly and ensured that the dredging went ahead. Does the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, know what is happening on Lough Foyle? Is it happening elsewhere? Will the EPA be involved, and are the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Environment, Heritage and Local Government involved in what is happening on Lough Foyle at present?

The transfer of responsibility for dumping at sea to the EPA is a positive aspect of the Bill. As the Minister of State said in his speech, the EPA is the protector of our environment and of our waters. Have there been many cases of illegal dumping of sea? I wonder what monitoring to date has been carried out and what policing of illegal dumping at sea there has been to date.

Deputy Creed mentioned the opportunities for wind, wave and tidal power. I also raised with Department officials the plans for a hydroelectric power station in my constituency. Although the project is very much in its infancy, it is exciting. There will be a three-year construction phase and an investment of €1 billion, as well as many jobs. It would be very good for the area. I am not a scientist but the proposal is there and the site has been identified. I would do anything I could to ensure that such an investment of €1 billion over three years went ahead for my constituency.

In fairness to the departmental officials, they were very positive, but they automatically threw 25 questions at me from various Departments, including the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Can we not simplify this process whereby the hydroelectric-powered generating station could go ahead? It should not have to go through a multitude of agencies to get up and running.

If at all possible, applications for foreshore licences should be dealt with like planning applications for houses whereby environmental impact studies and other work must be done prior to construction. Can a timeframe be set for decision dates? In the aquaculture sector in my own area, people bought boats and funding was sanctioned by An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, but they cannot draw down the money because they cannot obtain an aquaculture licence. We should simplify the process to move it on. I would welcome that, but I have reservations.

I wish to share time with Deputy Ferris, with the permission of the House.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking on this legislation. I appreciate that there are many useful proposals in the Bill before us, but is it sufficient to deal with the possibilities and prospects of foreshore development? I have to conclude that it is not. I recognise and support many of the practical administrative proposals in the Bill, but it misses some fundamental issues of principle which will, in turn, cut across any administrative achievements. It is depressing that this legislation is being dealt with on a Thursday in an almost empty Chamber, with a guillotine on Second Stage and all the amendments due to be tabled on Committee Stage in a couple of hours. It makes the case for a separate Department of the Marine, which I have often discussed with Ministers.

If we are ever to realise the full potential of our maritime resources, it will mean turning our faces to the sea again. Political scientists must wonder how an island nation could almost make it a matter for quiz games as to where the Department of the Marine is currently located. Coastal zone management is hidden in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, while other functions are located elsewhere. That is a terrible reflection on administrative structures. A separate Department of the Marine is clearly required with an integrated set of functions and a coherent policy and philosophy.

Far from being negative, I am actually positive about a number of things that have happened, which give us great prospects. There have been successes in the negotiations at the international law of the sea conference. Significant work has also been done by the Marine Research Institute. Excellent work has been published by scholars working in the marine sector, and all of this is positive. However, some fundamental points have not been decided, and that indecision is extremely dangerous. Some of these matters flow from an absence of clear definition of ownership. There is an unresolved issue concerning the very definition of the foreshore. There are also unresolved issues concerning ownership.

Unlike Fine Gael, I am opposing this legislation not in terms of its detail, but because it is insufficient to deal with the great opportunities that lie before us. Whatever way one defines the foreshore, we are talking about 39,000 square kilometres, which is roughly 57% of the land area of the 26 counties. The foreshore is the people's resource. Section 6(1)(c) covering the Foreshore Acts 1933 to 2009 states that foreshore belonging to the State shall be construed as references to foreshore, which for the time being belongs to the State, including foreshore so belonging whether by virtue of Article 10.2 of the Constitution or otherwise. I strongly support that, but when I was a Minister with responsibility for defining heritage, I saw the State as holding this property on behalf of the people of Ireland. It is one of the important transitions from the 1922 Constitution, which can be seen in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 of Article 10 of the current 1937 Constitution. We are talking about a resource which will be massively expanded beyond the conventional definition of the foreshore, in accordance with our well-framed arguments. It is to the credit of those who have made our case at the law of the sea conference.

One must expect to begin with what is in public ownership. Despite the time allocated for this debate, I do not have time to deal with the 17th century allocation by the English monarch of certain aspects of the foreshore to particular parties. Be that as it may, the Bill before us is exciting in terms of its provisions for energy and employment opportunities. If we do not begin with the ownership issue, we will find that existing arrangements concerning property development and ownership will creep out from the land into the sea. We are not simply discussing the four Foreshore Acts being amended by a new Act. It must be recalled that the legislation before us is also affected by recent legislation on planning, ports and harbours.

We can all agree that this resource belongs to the public, but it may be affected by the Planning (Amendment) Act 2000, for example. A planning function could be extended towards the foreshore, but it is extraordinary that elected representatives who sat on harbour boards in the old days are now gone. Such representatives are, in fact, absent from most of the consultation process mentioned in this Bill. One Minister is referred to, in talking to another Minister, as a consultee. I will come to that point in a moment. I regard that as insufficient. It will be a worthy amendment on Committee Stage to say, "that when the local authority's opinion is being expressed". The local authority is again changed in definition in the most recent planning legislation. Once again, it is not a reserved function, so we are therefore talking about a local authority without it being involved directly or extensively through elected representatives offering their opinions on projects. What if the local authority is involved in a partnership-type project and indulges in a type of consultation where it is required to put a little advertisement in the newspaper, consult the Minister involved and under the strategic infrastructure legislation, go straight to An Bord Pleanála?

I return to my phrase, "turning the face of the Irish people towards the sea again". We all began by imagining that this was a resource that belonged to all the people. What I have just described is a set of consultations that really does not involve the public in any significant sense. The Minister of State in his speech suggested that foreshore legislation had two functions. One was management, which I believe he might suggest includes a planning function. The other was the management of a resource, namely, property. How may one adjudicate between competing uses without creating mechanisms that are transparent and inclusive?

This legislation continues what I would term a philosophy of exclusive ministerial discretion. It has happened in the past that the foreshore found itself being extended inland with extraordinary consequences, as for example the people of north Mayo know. The Minister retains that type of discretion. How accountable is that? Again, this is primary legislation. The advice of the Attorney General was to the effect that the transfer of functions needs to be handled by primary legislation. I recall that type of advice when I was a Minister. It is extraordinary, however, that he stopped short and said, in effect: "I would strongly recommend that you begin at the basics and go from there", and God knows there was enough time to do that, but obviously he did not. He is really saying that when the functions are transferred to three entities, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, as regards dumping at sea and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in relation to agriculture matters, at that stage the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will begin the bigger task, which has all the prospects of not being achieved in my lifetime, regardless of how long I live.

The reality, therefore, is that a fundamental mistake is being made from the point at which one has begun. Again there are issues that are more specific as regards the ministerial power that is there. Addressing the Minister of State's point about management — and managing a property — leases are being given, and if I am wrong about this I am happy to be corrected. Both leases and licences can be given out. If a 99-year lease is given, for example, the ability of the State to recover from this is not very clear, even in this legislation. What, for example, is to be attached by way of condition? How are new scientific findings to be handled?

Now I come to the fundamental point. Several times during the Minister of State's Second Stage speech the "public interest" was referred to, as it is in the text of the Bill. How is this to be defined? If the public interest is to be defined without the ownership issue having first been established with certainty, then a process is in place which enables Ministers who hold disparate views to reach different decisions on the appropriate use of the resource. If this does not happen, there will be complete confusion. I found the absence of reference to the recent planning legislation which has been fundamentally changed extraordinary in the Minister of State's speech. What is the position where reclamation takes place? If I understand the last amendment to the planning legislation, and the reclamation is adjacent to an area controlled by a planning authority, will it not fall under the foreshore legislation? The Minister of State might address this in his reply.

The problem is that we have the consequences of irresponsible building in flood plains. We have the consequences of irresponsible building near estuaries. Some 60% of the population live within 10 km. of the sea. We have the opportunity and funding available to do research on climate change, linking that to the fine research already being done in our institutions. What provision is there in the Bill for addressing this? The Labour Party and I strongly support the proposals for dumping at sea. There are many other features we can support in this legislation, but it would be entirely irresponsible of us not to note the points that are not being dealt with.

Why did I mention the houses built in the flood plains and too near estuaries which are now at risk because of the extreme flooding? I did this because precisely the same thing could happen from the same motivation. The same people could drive a carriage through such planning legislation as exists already. On the development of harbours and ports, what is significant about all the recent legislation is the notion of "light regulation", with little delay involving the opinions of the people affected being taken into account. One could have a combination of developments around ports, for example, that could seek to advance themselves under strategic infrastructure, which might not necessarily be ecologically valuable.

I want to issue a warning to my colleagues in the Green Party, An Comhaontas Glas. Somewhat like the cuckoo, they do not normally appear after Tuesday, I believe, although I saw one today. They are as rare as the corncrake in some parts of Ireland and in referring to them I am mindful of the new buzzwords that came into use just a few years ago, "sustainable development". Just as important as sustainable development is the test of public benefit. These two phrases are redolent of the Bill. Public interest, which will be defined by the Minister and sustainable development as defined by the Department, do not deal with what every man, woman and child is entitled to insist on, namely: "This resource, not owned by landlords or strangers, but by us." Much more, it is established under international law as belonging to all the Irish people and given in their name to the State. Suddenly this State asset finds itself encroached upon by developers, one after the other, who have talked to local officials and argued that their proposals met the test of sustainable development. If they meet the test of sustainable development after the resource has been stolen from the people; this amounts to property being stolen from the people. In the event, the test of sustainable development does not mean much.

If the development proposed is such as to not balance all the different usages that exist in respect of the sea, many a manager would state that he or she granted the permission because it was in the public interest. Such a manager might state that he or she placed a notice in the newspaper and that furthermore, the Minister had eight weeks in which to express his or her opinion and he or she also thought it was in the public interest. My response is that this is not good enough. All these little processes are out of scale when considered against the asset's intergenerational value. I am one of those who accepts sustainable development because I am strongly in favour of intergenerational justice. It is the coming politics, wherein people will debate not taking an action, such as the development through Tara, for example, that one would visit upon future generations, who subsequently will pay the price.

We are only beginning to envisage what is possible in respect of the sea and the work being carried out by the Marine Institute is most exciting. I strongly support the contributions already made regarding energy sources but this really only constitutes the beginning in respect of food sources, the management of recreation and so forth. All this requires that one begins with the very principle encapsulated in the transition I described previously between the Free State Constitution of 1922 and the Constitution of 1937. Why are we afraid to state that we own it? Is it because we may be standing in the way of some chancers? I refer to those who believe that all one must do is to reclaim a bit, make a proposal, get it through one's local council, satisfy the Department and then, before one knows it, one has property. Such people are not inventing the seabed, the foreshore or anything else. They are in fact making a grab.

The legislation should define the foreshore, the seabed, the public ownership, the public interest and the transparencies. It should include the public with regard to public representatives and should curtail seriously the right of officials participating in partnership activities who in turn later will constitute the planning authority. In many cases, people are clearly conflicted in this regard. They are invited to take part in some grandiose projects. Their function simply is to wave it on because heaven is about to happen. Thereafter, they find themselves on the receiving end of a planning application from which they fail to disqualify themselves. If this does not then proceed, one might argue that because the people with the money are getting impatient, one should have the right to go to An Bord Pleanála straight away. An Bord Pleanála then will shorten the process and place an advertisement in the newspaper.

This is chaos and misery. This is the misery of the chancer's world. This is the Dublin Docklands Development Authority all over again. The reason I decided to oppose this Bill is simply because I did not want the Dublin Docklands Development Authority writ national. I seek transparency with regard to the national assets. I do not wish to see a replication of the appalling north Mayo notion whereby the foreshore heads inland at a rate of knots, depending on ministerial whim. Therefore, this is how one starts.

As for the arrangements regarding the transfer of functions, this is always a tricky issue in the public service. While some people want to give things away, others wish to retain them. I remember being in that position myself between 1993 and 1997. I recall an assistant secretary who told me that on hearing I was taking over X, he decided I would not even get the Department cat. However, on learning that he was being transferred himself, this senior civil servant was obliged to fire himself into reverse. When I asked him how successful he had been, the answer, of course, was "moderately".

I have raised a number of issues to which the Minister of State may wish to reply and I will put them to him now. The Minister of State should provide Members with a clear timeframe. For example, can the issue of the ownership of the extended Irish seabed come before the Joint Committee on the Constitution? Can the Minister of State provide Members with the timescale in respect of the fundamental legislation to which reference has been made? If the transfer of functions to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government takes place, what timescale will apply with regard to that fundamental legislation? Second, the Minister of State should explain how it is proposed to balance the Planning and Developments Act 2000, with particular reference to section 227(8), to the planning requirements pertaining to the foreshore? As for the constitutional issues pertaining to Articles 10.1, 10.2 and 10.3, is there a proposal to declare ownership in advance that is consistent with the case that was made to the law of the sea conference?

As I noted, I strongly support the proposals in respect of dumping at sea and I strongly support the work of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Minister of State's response should address the functions of the marine licence vetting committee, which advises on licences and which operates on a non-statutory basis. Is it proposed to give it either statutory or extended functions? Finally, is the Minister of State convinced he has retained sufficient flexibility to enable researchers to draw down funding and co-operate, for example, with international bodies on addressing issues of coastal management, even if this requires cancelling a licence that has been issued previously or an application that has been made within the terms of this Act for research?

This Bill would be welcomed were it to ensure that the process of granting foreshore licences and in dealing with dumping at sea was tightened up. As it stands, a number of issues have caused concern, particularly with regard to foreshore licences. The case that immediately springs to mind is the controversy over the granting of the foreshore licence to the companies involved in the Corrib gas project. This was granted in May 2002 by the then Minister responsible, Deputy Fahey, conveniently just before the general election. There has been no indication that a proper consultation process was followed in this regard. Another issue pertaining to the Corrib project is the sale of Bellanaboy Wood to Shell for the construction of the terminal. The sum paid was not disclosed and all requests from me and others, including freedom of information requests, to have the sum paid to Coillte for Bellanaboy Wood made public have been refused.

The foreshore is defined as the area between the high water mark and the 12-mile sea limit. However, the pipeline to be laid at Rossport before the recent decision by An Bord Pleanála requesting that it be re-routed was nine kilometres from the landfall of the pipeline coming onshore. It again appears as though Departmental officials or the Minister responsible simply made the decision without any real reference to the broader issues at stake and certainly without any consultation with anyone outside of the companies involved.

Section 12 of this Bill gives the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the power to nominate bodies to submit observations on applications for licences. I have submitted an amendment to this section setting out specifically that the consultation process must also involve relevant local groups with a proven interest in the area for which the licence has been applied. This could include, for example, local fishermen and others with an economic interest in the foreshore or representative local groups with concerns regarding the environmental impact and safety issues. I will return to the foreshore licence granted for the Corrib project to note this process was not followed, with the result that whatever the overall issues, there was from the very outset an atmosphere of mistrust and a feeling on the part of local communities that something that would have a massive impact on them would go ahead without any input from them. It is also important with major projects, such as Corrib, involving the oil and gas reserves that lie off our coast, the criteria for examining the merit of the proposal also take into account the economic impact. This would involve consultation with independent experts in the field able to provide an unbiased opinion on how much revenue would be generated and the likely benefits for local employment and the national economy.

Had such criteria been applied to the Corrib proposal, there might well have been a different outcome. Indeed, in his report rejecting the application in 2002, senior planning inspector Mr. Kevin Moore of An Bord Pleanála referred to the economic aspects of the proposal, claiming it did not fit in with the need for balanced and sustainable regional development.

Given the number of projects taking place, or planned, on foreshores, it is important proper monitoring and controls are in place to take into account the impact on the environment and the traditional use of the foreshore area for fishing, amenities and so forth. Huge potential exists in the areas of aquaculture and renewable energy production. For this to be properly developed in the interests of coastal communities, legislation must be in place to ensure proper planning conditions are attached to the granting of foreshore licences. These must strike the right balance between the economic development of the areas concerned and the environmental and other issues that may arise.

The need for a proper and accountable process regarding the granting of licences for projects is underlined by the fact the Government has set such ambitious targets for the production of energy from renewable sources. A significant proportion of it will be from sea-based wind and wave. It is important the right framework is in place and that such projects are in a position to begin as quickly as possible. Therefore, with the proviso that all interests are consulted, the period of consultation involved should not be too drawn out.

Many of the problems in the past could have been avoided if the consultation process were broad and open from the beginning, therefore not subject to the same suspicions and objections after the initial decision was made.

This is a good news Bill, one we do not get many of these days.

No news is good news.

This is good news. I am delighted to finally see the passing over of functions laid down in the foreshore Acts from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I am, however, upset by the Title. I note that in the first few months of the Obama Administration, it got good at coming up with good, snappy and positive Titles to legislation. If I were working for the Obama Administration, I would call this Bill, the clean seas ocean energy and coastal zone management Bill. I am sure we can move forward with thinking a little more laterally about the proper Titles of legislation and the Attorney General is working in this area with his departmental colleagues.

It is over 50 years since Rachel Carson's book, The Sea Around Us, was first published. For me, that was a magical book about life in the oceans with the changing marine environment, its possibilities and need for custody, management and careful consideration of marine development proposals. The point rings true when one considers the area from the high water mark to the 12 nautical mile mark off the Irish coast is the equivalent of two thirds, 57%, of the area of the Twenty-six Counties. It is a precious area with economic activity but one on which we do not have much information.

It is important to properly manage this resource. The growing interest in recent years in coastal zone management concentrates our mind on how precious is this area, where the land ends and the ocean begins. We must get the interface — the thin line — between land and sea right. We must ensure any developmental proposals of this area are carefully considered and the end result is a positive for Ireland.

The coastal zone management strategy is sadly gathering dust some ten years after it was drawn up. It was an excellent document in its time. Our ideas about how to be proper custodians of the ocean resources have moved on in the decade since the strategy was published. We now see the sea as a living, changing and precious biosphere. We must carefully work this resource with this in mind in a true act of stewardship.

There is enormous potential for development in this resource. An area equivalent to 57% of the State's landmass gives enormous scope for energy generation needed to support the human population, whether it be tidal, wave or ocean current based. There is always the real danger that we will rush into allowing development to take place as we see it as positive. I am a fan of ocean energy and the capacity of offshore wind energy to generate significant amounts of electricity for Ireland is only too clear from the existing limited projects. However, the planning aspect of such development needs to be got right.

At the time of the introduction of the strategic infrastructure Act five years ago, I put on record my concern at moving too fast with very large projects. Paddy Shaffrey, the architect and planner, said during the peak of the boom that the big infrastructure projects, which will be with us for 50 or 100 years, must be considered carefully to ensure we get them right. As they will be with us for many generations, so what if it takes several years to get them through the planning process.

The scale and implication of marine-based energy projects are massive for the entire maritime environment. I would love to see many hundreds of wind turbines around our coast. However, I want them put in the right places. As Deputy Higgins pointed out, there is a need to carefully assess wind farm developments. Any assessment of their planning applications must be carefully done with examination of bird migration patterns and the impact on sea life. We must ensure, for example, sediment is not churned up by wind farms, killing fish breeding stocks in the process. The work done by environmental impact assessments can assist in this regard. There is a world of difference between placing a row of turbines four miles or 20 miles off the coast. If they are 20 miles away, they will be practicably invisible.

If they are four or five miles out to sea, however, they can bring about a significant change in the visual environment. It is important to put on record the kind of scale these projects entail. Some of the larger wind turbines that have been proposed are 100 m high with blades that are up to 80 m long. In essence, they are comparable in scale to the Pigeon House chimneys. The type of consideration that should go into where we place those turbines merits very wide consultation and a large amount of public involvement as well. We have to ensure that a mechanism is put in place to allow the public to be consulted in a meaningful way on massive developments that are proposed to take place. People have joked about putting site notices on the beach, but I think we should do that. In addition to the local newspapers, we should put up some kind of site notice to inform people about significant development that is proposed in the foreshore area.

Part of the changes in the planning system must involve greater public consultation. Getting that right is crucial. The visual assessment is crucial. I am not convinced that under the current planning regime there are people sufficiently qualified to judge the impact on the visual environment, whatever about the flora and fauna and other aspects of proposed developments. As we move the Bill towards enactment, we also need to look ahead to modernising the foreshore legislation and bring it from its current embryonic form dating to the 1930s when one simply put the plans on display in the local Garda station and the same planning regime applied whether it related to the holding of the Laytown Races or a 300 m high development in Dublin Bay. We need to think carefully about making it easy enough to run the Laytown Races but fairly complex and meaningful consultation should be required if we want to construct 200 or 300 wind turbines.

The potential for ocean energy is very significant. I did a back of an envelope calculation on the Kish Bank wind farm——

Deputy Cuffe should stay away from envelopes.

Especially brown ones.

——and realised that the output when the wind is blowing would be approximately half of that of the largest nuclear power station in the United Kingdom. We are at a comparable scale where ocean energy can deliver significant amounts of electricity into the national grid. If we can tap into ocean currents in particular, we have the potential for a steady energy supply source that could be the Holy Grail in terms of tackling our electricity needs. The work Ocean Hydro, Wavebob and many other companies are carrying out on test beds in Galway Bay and the proposals for the Mayo coast will allow us to prototype this technology and move into feeding energy into the national grid, which is a good thing.

I wish to touch on the concerns raised by the Coastal Concern Alliance at several meetings. I have no doubt its members have met with Opposition Members as well. The essence of their thinking is that we should consider carefully how we plan what happens on the foreshore. They say we need a planning process that is comparable to what we do on dry land and that we should have meaningful consultation and visual assessment of what happens. I agree with all of those sentiments. We have to consider carefully how we go about doing that.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is the natural home for the allocation of foreshore licences. As always, I am concerned when someone dealing with a national issue is embedded in a Department that might not tie in as well as it should to moving the issues forward. Climate change and energy security and foreshore licensing fit slightly better together within the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This is a positive thread.

I return to the issue of this being such a significant new frontier that occupies 57% of the land area, if one can call it that, of the State. When new frontiers are opened up, there is a real danger of claims being staked that are more to do with the economic benefit to the person hammering the stake into the ground than to the State as a whole. I am worried about the possible complexity of ensuring that the rights of the State are protected and that we harvest the potential energy and benefits from the ocean, but that we do it in a democratic and equitable way. The 1930s legislation is creaking under the strain of the pressures being put on it.

We can learn from the legislation that has been put in place to deal with development in new ways. Deputy Higgins referred to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. In many ways that was the brainchild of his colleague and former party leader, Deputy Quinn. In many respects it put in place a strong and positive framework for the development of——

But not the financing.

——the masterplan and framework. As Deputy Higgins indicated, the financing issues are cause for considerable reflection, in particular, the operation of individuals on boards of both banks and the authority, which does not seem like good corporate governance. At a committee meeting in recent days, the chairperson, Professor Brennan, alluded to the challenges she faces in her role at the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.

Getting planning right is important. In the docklands there was a parallel planning approach. One could go to the regular planning authority, in that case Dublin City Council, or one could go directly to the authority through a planning scheme. I am not convinced that it has stood to us too well because it makes it complex and impenetrable to the ordinary member of the public. There are lessons from that in terms of how we proceed with ocean resources.

The best way forward is to put in place a strong assessment of our coastline and foreshore, and that should happen sooner rather than later. When we have that in place, it will be much easier to measure applications for development within that biosphere if we have a strong ground study of what is there and its importance.

And the public ownership having been defined.

That is a crucial part of moving those projects forward.

I welcome the transfer of functions that is envisaged in the Bill. In the past ten years the State has done considerable groundwork on considering coastal zone management and contemporary practices in other European countries. I hope we can learn from that as we move forward to modernising the planning regime that will apply in the foreshore area. There is an unparalleled opportunity for both development and protection of the biosphere. I look forward to the developments that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will bring forward to modernise the legislation in this area.

I wish to share time with Deputy Paddy Sheehan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the Bill, principally because of my first-hand experience of a number of recent applications for foreshore licences and how complex and cumbersome a process it is to get such a licence. In the case of one application for a major project, there are local and national implications. It is important to ensure licences are legally correct but, at the same time, there should be a process of a general freeflow in assessing and dealing with licences. Applicants should have ready access to people in the Department on a daily basis if it is a project of national importance. The problem is that given the human and technical resources in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which had responsibility, this may not be possible. However, when we are so hungry for any positive developments in this country, particularly if they could be the catalysts for other developments, there should be no barriers to achieving those licences, particularly where no contentious issues arise and in areas where a number of industries already exist and where they would not interfere with the environment. For that reason I am glad to speak on the Bill and, having had that recent experience, to state that there is a need for it provided that it speeds up the process, will provide the expertise to assess applications for foreshore licences and will not create a big backlog at the end of a few years.

As previous speakers stated, it is critical that there should be consolidation and streamlining of the Foreshore Acts. This is long overdue. The Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security addressed this matter and has provided a Bill that if implemented could resolve some of the issues I have raised. The committee seems to be one of the better committees of the Houses and has made some very good proposals on climate change and on this Bill, which deals with energy security. A large number of energy projects seem to be held up because of foreshore licence difficulties and the committee saw the need for legislation. I suggest to the officials here today that they might influence the Minister to take the committee's Bill seriously and accept it if it is introduced in Private Members' time.

As previous speakers stated, the modernisation to which I referred is not contained in the Bill; it contains a shift of responsibility and transfer of certain functions from one Department to another and the jury is certainly out on how effective it will be. One of the reasons there is such a demand for a better system is because an amount of €16 billion in potential investments in energy generating projects has been mentioned and at a time when we are crying out for development in this country, this should not be allowed to continue to happen. I am convinced there is considerable potential for offshore wind or ocean energy development. It may not be the panacea for all our problems but potential exists.

The transfer of powers between various Departments will not remove the requirement for a new foreshore licence and process to be developed, as the current arrangements do not include any evaluation criteria with which to evaluate multiple applications for the same site. Perhaps the officials might deal with the issue of multiple applications for the same site. Will the Bill help in this respect? It is not clear what the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will do with existing applications for foreshore licences. Will the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government evaluate licences that exist but have not been evaluated or will it seek new applications when it has established its own evaluation process? A new evaluation process will not be established until completion of the strategic environmental assessment, SEA. While the SEA has commenced, it is not due for completion until the end of 2010. Hence, an authority is not expected to emerge until 2011 and a process to award licences is likely to be lengthy, as evidenced recently in Scotland where a project was launched in September 2008 but is not due to be completed until 2010, 18 months later.

Will what is being put in place expedite foreshore licence issues? I am aware of two licences in Kerry for experimentation with wave energy which presents a number of opportunities for the country. Tidal energy is very much concentrated in the north-eastern part of the country whereas the western seaboard is very suitable for wave energy. A company is seeking foreshore licences for two sites but the process is being delayed. I am concerned that the companies could move elsewhere or that we might lose the opportunity if there was a change of emphasis. We might never realise the potential we have. It is hoped that the new arrangements to be put in place following the transfer of responsibilities that the Bill will put in place will help to expedite those licences.

Deputy Sheehan, for whom aquaculture is a big issue, will speak next but before he does I will tell the Minister of State that it is very important that we take this issue very seriously. The potential of our shoreline is considerable. At a time when we seek other possibilities and when the people entrusted with coming up with new ideas for job creation are not coming up with too many, there are ideas for our shoreline and oceans. This is an area of opportunity, as outlined by Deputy Coveney in his new era policy. Without facilitating these projects by expediting foreshore licences, we might lose this opportunity.

While I welcome the Bill, many points require clarification. I must state here and now that I welcome it to see whether it will expedite decisions on applications lying in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the past number of years that have not been dealt with. It is a sad reflection that people in my constituency who have applied for foreshore licences to develop industries that could have immense employment potential for the area are held up by red tape and bureaucracy. It is frustrating for the people concerned who are trying to play their part in the country's economy. They are being met with a stonewall fence by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, raising repeated questions on various matters concerning same.

I remind the House that, as environmental issues and cost constraints increasingly limit the catch of the world's fishing fleets, and as the population of the world grows, it is inevitable that future global demand for fish and other seafood will be satisfied only by farming our seas and fresh waters. Even in Ireland, more than 35% of all fishery products sold in supermarkets and restaurants are now of farmed origin. These include salmon, trout, Arctic char, turbot, halibut, sea bass, sea bream, tilapia, mussels, oysters, prawns, shrimps and even tuna. Farmed cod and other white fish will become increasingly available in the near future.

We must cater for the impact of that on world fish food production. As an industry, our greatest resource is the marine environment, where aquaculture has the potential to provide a truly indigenous livelihood for those living in relatively remote areas such as those I am familiar with since I came into this House. I have advocated their cause in this House on several occasions but, alas, that has fallen on deaf ears.

All along the Irish seaboard, these small communities would be viable if they were allowed to develop the industries they are planning. They would be of immense benefit to employment in those areas. The fishing industry and inland fisheries 50 years ago were the bread and butter of the economy of people living in isolated areas. They supported jobs in many associated businesses, such as fishing equipment, including manufacturing, supply and maintenance, fish feed manufacture, channelling road haulage, vessel charter and operations, as well as in fish processing, sales and distribution, both locally and further afield.

We are entering an era where energy can benefit from this industry, with wave and wind power. That too is bedevilled with red tape and bureaucracy from environmental demands. It is a sad reflection that local people all over rural Ireland are up against a stone wall defence from faceless bureaucrats who will not even agree to their natural demands, the demands of the people concerned who know only too well that they can develop a business but will not get the opportunity to do so. It is very frustrating to sit on plans for five years and not get off the ground.

I hope I will see the effects of this Bill when it is passed but I hope the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will not carry on with the same approach to those individual industrialists who have the will, the way and the power to develop their proposed industries. At long last, I hope the Minister of State will bring my message to his senior counterpart in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that the Department should weed out the unnecessary bureaucracy that exists in these applications.

In the Minister's speech, he referred to the purpose of the Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill, saying it was brought forward to transfer certain foreshore functions from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I too would like to see these functions operating well under the new transfer. When forming the Government in 2007, it was decided to transfer certain coastal functions from the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. That is only now coming to fruition. Did it take two years for the Government to realise this was an urgent matter that should have been dealt with when the Government was formed, when it contemplated transferring it, and not half way through the lifetime of the Dáil, if it goes for the full term? I doubt that will happen but it is better to live in hope than die in despair. I hope the Minister of State will think hard and deliver on the points the Minister explained in his introduction.

The foreshore consists of land from the high water mark to the 12 nautical mile limit and comprises 57% of the land area of the 26 counties. There is no other Deputy in this House who knows the foreshore better than me, when I have Dunmanus Bay, Bantry Bay and half way up the Kenmare River estuary in my constituency.

Do not forget Bandon.

The Minister of State can deal with that and the flooding. He is not too far from it and if he could look after the flooding in the River Lee, there would not be such devastation in Cork.

At long last it looks like the Government has seen the light of day. I am amazed at the Minister of State with responsibility for the marine dragging his feet. I know people who applied for foreshore licences in Bantry Bay and half way up the Kenmare River estuary who have been waiting four years for the Minister to make up his mind. I call on the Minister and I hope that under the new Bill things will be expedited and that these people at long last can see some light at the end of the tunnel to bring to fruition the fruits of their efforts.

I wish to share time with Deputy Ulick Burke.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

This Bill is a major missed opportunity. Foreshore is one of the greatest resources of this State. Not alone has this resource not been exploited by the State, but we have down through the years constructed an almost incomprehensible regulatory regime that has all but blocked every effort by people wishing to promote any type of enterprise or development on, in or under this resource. As of now, the people of this country are on their knees not praying, but beaten down by economic circumstance. The main way forward will be through enterprise and jobs. This is a resource that should be considered in the context of promoting both. However, the State has not done so over the years and, unfortunately, the Bill will do nothing to encourage enterprise or jobs in terms of that resource.

This resource is vast and includes more than half the land mass of the State. In the past, anything up to 12 nautical miles away was considered to be water. We now know this resource has major potential. This Bill will do nothing to help exploit it. We inherited this resource from the Crown and have regulated and controlled it, and above all ensured that over the years, if at all possible, nothing constructive happened in this regard. This has been the effect of the regulatory regime in place. We have piled regulation upon regulation and have had complexity compounding complexity. Now we have a tangled series of regulatory efforts which involve leases, licences, consents, approvals and environmental impact statements, EIS, from different bodies and Departments. We are out of our minds to be using this resource in this fashion.

It is no harm to mention what barrister Mr. Stephen Dodd had to say following enactment of the Planning and Development Act 2000:

The 2000 Act provides another regulatory step in the already entangled and over-complicated area of the foreshore. The requirement to obtain planning permission for development within the foreshore is a significant jurisdiction for planning authorities. However, the co-ordination of the foreshore licensing regime and the planning code in addition to over-regulatory codes is, perhaps, in need of greater simplification.

That was, perhaps, a bit of an under-statement because what it did was to apply one additional regulatory system. I am not suggesting there is no need for regulation but, if we must have it, let us have sensible, streamlined regulation in terms of this resource.

The Bill, in the main, is okay — I agree with some of the comments made by Deputy Creed — but it does nothing to address the main problem. The history of this legislation is even worse. In 2007, the decision was taken to have a complete review of the legislation. That review, which was carried out by consultants — I do not understand the reason Ministers and their assistants, advisers and top officials in the Departments cannot carry out these reviews — could have led to progress and identified areas where change was required and led to some type of strategic vision in terms of their development. It was supposed to take account of what was happening in other countries in terms of advances, of which there have been many if one cared to bother looking at them. What happened? A decision was taken, in principle, to divide the functions as per this Bill following which nothing else happened.

The effect of the decision to introduce this Bill two and a half years ago is that all other activity stopped. In the meantime, applications piled upon applications. There are now hundreds of applications awaiting decision but nobody is dealing with them. It will be somebody else's child tomorrow, next year and so on. This is an utter disgrace and a detrimental side effect of this Bill.

The Department does not know the number of applications awaiting decision. In June 2008, I tabled a question in regard to the number of foreshore applications for marina developments — a small aspect — made in the past ten years, the number of applications granted and refused and the general reason given for refusal. I was told in response that the information required was not immediately available and when compiled would be communicated to me without delay. Of course, I never received it. In June 2009, I tabled the same question, the response to which was that the information requested by me was not readily available and would be compiled and made available to me as soon as possible. I am still waiting for it. That is an example of how this whole area is treated.

The only area in respect of which I made any progress was in regard to a couple of community applications, one involving a rowing club and the other involving a marina in a village, which had been held up owing to an inability to obtain a foreshore licence. While there was goodwill, another body, the Valuation Office, was also involved and it would not release the figures required. Following a great deal of haranguing and pestering, I got a decision that private valuations could be used, thus enabling us to get the applications concerned through. The attitude is one of control, regulate and above all not to do anything in case a mistake is made.

Everybody is aware of the potential of this resource. We have dealt over the years with the potential of the fishing industry. However, the fishing industry is in decline and we must consider other ways of developing our coastal communities. We must diversify if we are to create jobs. I am not speaking of anything new in terms of potential. We are all aware of the potential of oil, gas, windfarms, tidal energy, aquaculture and leisure facilities — I referred earlier to the marina development — and the possibilities in this regard for tourism. When speaking about matters relating to the sea, I cannot let pass the opportunity to speak about tourism and the need to support the Cork-Swansea ferry campaign which could assist in bringing people to our coastal communities. In every respect, these resources are not being encouraged to the extent they should be.

Regarding the future, I am not too encouraged by the attitude of the Government. In February 2008, I tabled a question to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government about the plans in respect of the co-ordination of foreshore licensing and the planning code. The reply I received concerned me. It referred to the provisions in this Bill and stated:

The transfer provides my Department with an opportunity to review existing foreshore legislation and my officials have been examining the interface between the planning code and foreshore licensing with a view, over the medium term, to ensuring rigorous environmental controls in relation to foreshore licensing arrangements and maximum coherence between foreshore licensing and existing land use development consent procedures.

On the face of it, this is no harm. It is the attitude behind that approach that causes concern. It has all to do with regulation, control and ensuring damn all happens unless it actually squeezes through the tight regulatory regime. This is the wrong attitude and wrong approach. For a country that needs the enterprise available from the exploitation of this resource, this is the reverse of what we should be doing.

I accept we need a regulatory regime, to take a streamlined approach, to be transparent, accountable and to ensure consultation, in particular for local communities, but this process must result in decisions. Our approach in regard to foreshore should be to regulate to the extent necessary, but to encourage enterprise to the extent possible. This Bill does not take that approach. What is contained within it is unexceptional. However, let this be the beginning of a journey to achieving the objectives I have outlined; otherwise, we are wasting our time.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on this Bill. The background to all of this and the difficulties that have arisen with the Bill stem from a major failure of Government. Following the general election in 2007, the Government decided to transfer responsibility for the sea fisheries, aquaculture, marine engineering and research, foreshore licensing for all aquacultural developments and foreshore licensing for certain activities, other than those identified in the Bill, to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Some two years on, we are now transferring these functions, with the exception of those relating to agriculture, back to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. That must indicate to everybody who has an interest in the foreshore and its potential that the Government has no policy for its future. When these changes occur and the areas of responsibility are moved from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will the personnel associated with these areas of responsibility within the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food move with them? If they do not, the delays that are now so obvious with regard to licensing of certain projects will continue. Only one person has responsibility for aquaculture licensing and he is dealing with 300 applications. The Minister is well aware of that. That person, coincidentally, was transferred under another Government scheme from another Department to that responsibility. There is no real determination on the part of any Minister in the Government to respond in a meaningful way to the obvious needs in this area. Potential is being lost due to ongoing delay.

The intention was to provide a modern, effective, integrated legal framework for the management of the State's foreshore. I can see nothing in this Bill that will change the failure, delay and incompetence in dealing with simple issues. Now, the huge potential for development will be strangled. I can offer the Minister an example. It is an application the Minister is familiar with because representations were made to him about it many years ago. Among the responses that were received with regard to the application was one from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department to which we are now transferring all this responsibility.

The Department stated that the proposed development would occur within Galway Bay complex, candidate special area of conservation under the EU habitats directive, and the inner Galway Bay special protected area under the EU birds directive. The birds and habitats sites are collectively known as Natura 2000 sites. The Department refers to the requirements under Article 6.3 of the EU habitats directive, that appropriate assessment of the likely impact of the proposed development on the conservation objectives of these areas be carried out before the Department would be in a position to comment. It is asking for an appropriate assessment when there are no personnel to carry it out. Regardless of the embargo on the recruitment and appointment of personnel to these very important positions, the reality is that there is one person, who does not have a background in this area, dealing with those applications and there will be no appropriate assessment. How could any important project be progressed when one is obliged to go through a network of birds directives and so forth?

The original application I have referred to was withdrawn because the site chosen in Kinvara Bay was so polluted with raw sewage the applicants were told by the Department to transfer elsewhere. Another site of half an acre was found in a more suitable area by the local people who knew the area inside out, not by somebody in Clonakilty who would not even know Kinvara Bay or any of its small inlets. However, there it came under the other network where appropriate assessment was required under all of the headings of the birds directive. The person concerned has been traditionally involved in aquaculture. When he was out in the bay this afternoon he said there were several hundred Brent Geese in the habitat. They were within a stone's throw of the activities taking place in his aquaculture site and there was no interference. The people who put these requirements on paper have no regard for the reality of what is happening on the ground. The two activities I mentioned can take place without the huge impact suggested by the contents of the birds and habitats directives.

If this legislation is to succeed there must be a realisation that this network of directives must be dismantled to realistic levels to respond to the protection of the environment. If not, there will be delay after delay. The person I mentioned has huge personal savings invested in this application but there is nobody in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to respond in a positive way or to realise the investment people put into these projects, only to be turned down and delayed. There are 300 others around the Irish coastline in a similar situation.

We are confronted with yet another legislative measure. It will only further compound the entanglement that currently exists to prevent development. One does not have to travel far to see headlines about the difficulties for major projects. There is the gas coming in from the coast of Mayo. What has happened there? There have been years of turmoil. Consider the capacity and potential for wind power development and the projects that are at pre-planning and planning stage. Approximately 1,900 MW await development. When will these be developed? Everybody is aware of the needs at present.

The Bill would be welcome if there was appropriate parallel realisation on the part of outside agencies of the confines and restrictions that are imposed. Unless they are settled this legislation will be on a shelf gathering dust because nobody will invest due to the waste of time and the prohibitions that exist against reasonable development.

I wish to share time with Deputy Timmins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I understood no order was made this morning for the cessation of Second Stage at a particular time.

There was. I am obliged to call the Minister at 5.30 p.m.

I am astonished that a country that has more than 90% of its landmass under water does not have a Department to look after its interests. The one thing I can say on behalf of the former Taoiseach, the late Charles J. Haughey, is that he established a Department of the Marine. It is astonishing that Fianna Fáil in government decided to scrap that Department. The marine is where all our natural resources are based and where there is enormous potential for job creation and inward investment — nothing but advantages. This is a vain attempt to transfer responsibilities. What does the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government know about sea matters? That it will be responsible for future investments in this regard is outrageous because it is primarily concerned with onshore matters.

We are living in a different era. The Foreshore Act 1933 never envisaged Ireland extracting gas from its seabed or the installation of ocean energy devices like offshore turbines. Such developments are the country's future in inward investment and job creation, but the 1933 Act was never intended to handle them and nothing in the Bill will prepare us for future investment opportunities.

Speaking as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, the Government has failed to attract investment that is otherwise leaving us daily for Scotland, Portugal and Denmark. We have failed to deal with the applications for investment in offshore renewable energy. It is disgraceful that we are still depending on legislation dating back to 1933. The Act's remit stretches form the high water mark to the 11-nautical mile limit, comprising 57% of our landmass. Future development will occur beyond the 12-mile limit.

However, we still do not have legislation to deal with it. My all-party committee produced legislation entitled the offshore renewable energy development Bill and presented it to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources 12 months ago, but we still have not heard anything about it. Nor has the Government done anything to introduce its own Bill.

Nothing in the Bill before the House refers to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. It refers to consultation between the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, but neither will handle offshore renewable energy. There is no reference to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. There is no facility for consultation with it. Section 7 amends section 2 of the 1933 Act and states, "Where the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (being the appropriate Minister) is considering making a lease in accordance with this section, then the Minister so considering shall consult with the other Minister on the matter before deciding on whether or not to make the lease." What about the third Department?

Will the Minister of State explain what the Government is doing to attract inward investment? Through my committee's work, we know that €16 billion is waiting to be invested in wind, wave and tidal energy. Some of that money is drifting to other countries because people have been waiting years on their foreshore licence applications.

The Deputy's seven minutes have expired.

This is frustrating. Through the Houses' committee structure, people genuinely worked on an all-party basis in the country's interests and produced legislation because a Department will not. However, the Bill before the House makes no reference to the industry's potential.

Yesterday, my committee produced a report on the post-2020 electricity requirements. This came after a public consultation process in which submissions were made to us. I invite the Minister of State to read our report and check our website. Given the outrage expressed by potential investors over the lack of a proper planning structure for offshore renewable energy and the delays involved in dealing with these issues, I appeal to the Minister of State to speak with his friends in the Green Party, who have obviously done a deal between themselves. Any Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources worth his or her salt would not have allowed this legislation to pass at Cabinet level without insisting that reference be made to the role of his or her Department in the development of an important part of the economy.

I thank Deputy Barrett for sharing time. I will make two points on this legislation. The first has been covered by many speakers. On the coasts of Wales and France are marinas and harbours, but we have an unexploited tourism resource that has never reached its potential or been cultivated because the Government has never taken the marine seriously. As Deputy Barrett stated, we do not have a Department. One can go from south County Clare to County Mayo without encountering a marina. The one in Greystones is being developed successfully, but it encountered many difficulties, including foreshore valuations. The Minister for Finance had responsibility and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and everyone else had an input. At the same time, no one had an input. Many projects were parked because people got tired of waiting.

The most important word spoken by the Minister of State was "modernisation". Legislation must be modernised. The Celtic tiger is over. We do not have oil or mineral wealth. Our only resources are people, innovation and education, but no legislation covers the thousands of kilometres of our seabed. The resources therein are being plundered and our seabed is being damaged because we have no control over or commitment regarding the situation. It might be one of our most important resources. It could take us out of the recession. We need to work with universities, including NUIG, and the marine industry to map the seabed, as its potential is unlimited. When we look back in ten or 20 years' time, our neglect of that potential will be one of the great shames of this era.

How many minutes do I have?

Two will be plenty.

I welcome the Bill's introduction by the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen. Like Deputy Barrett, I had the pleasure of being the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, when I had responsibility for foreshore licences. It must be one of the most bureaucratic and frustrating areas in which to work. It is not appropriate to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I hope this legislation will ensure an efficient administration system. If one needs a good example of bad bureaucracy, it is this division. In this regard, I appeal to the Minister of State and to the Minister, Deputy Gormley, who is taking over the portfolio. This legislation must ensure an efficient approach to the processing of applications in what Opposition Deputies have rightly described as a significant area of offshore and onshore development.

Since the Bill will be passed through the Dáil quickly, I ask that we be given an opportunity at a later date to discuss the administrative and policy arrangements that will operate in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It is vital that we no longer have road blocks in the issuing of foreshore licences. As Deputies Higgins and Burke stated, it is important that many of the frustrations and blockages to date be brought to an end. It is critically important that this area, which is of particular significance for offshore energy, is developed. The innovation associated with this type of industry should be also attached to the development of foreshore licences, marine technologies, fishing and aquaculture. It is appropriate that this sector should come under the aegis of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I support the initiative being taken by the Minister of State.

I will be brief so that we can move on to the Committee Stage debate. Some of the issues that have been raised by Deputies can be dealt with in the context of the Committee Stage amendments.

Deputy Creed and many others suggested that the Bill represents a missed opportunity. It is important to explain that a number of options were considered as part of the modernisation of foreshore licensing functions. It was deemed necessary, on foot of legal advice and other considerations, to pursue that process in three phases. As I explained in my opening speech, the first phase of the process was completed in September of last year when a number of functions were transferred. This legislation provides for the second phase of the process — the division of responsibilities and the transfer to the Environmental Protection Agency of certain functions relating to dumping at sea. The third and final part of the process will take place after the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has engaged in consultation. Nobody who listened to today's debate, in which a vast range of opinions were expressed, will be in any doubt about the quantity of work that needs to be done before we can reach that point. It is clear that some fundamental issues need to be considered in the context of the modernisation of the foreshore licensing regime.

Will the process be completed within the lifetime of the Government?

It is difficult to predict.

Is it difficult to predict how long the Government will last, or how long the process will take?

It is difficult to predict virtually everything at the moment. A number of Deputies made the point that many of these functions could be best managed by a stand-alone Department of the marine. We have had such a Department on a number of occasions. Two Deputies who are present in the Chamber served in that Department. Interestingly, other European countries with long coastlines have had similar experiences. As a member of the interdepartmental marine co-ordinating group, I think people would be surprised to find that 12 Departments are involved in marine matters. Even if a stand-alone Department of the marine were reconstituted, most marine functions would have to be retained by those parent Departments. I do not have time to elaborate on the many reasons for that.

A single Department is needed.

Deputy Creed expressed concern about warfare between Departments.

Deputy Tom Sheahan referred to aquaculture and to the operational programme. A number of issues need to be resolved following the European Court of Justice's adverse finding against Ireland at the end of 2007. The subsequent issuing of a reasoned opinion brought us even closer to being fined. The Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government have put together a roadmap for dealing with all of these issues. Significant resources — time, personnel and money — have been made available to compile the necessary documentation. It takes time to gather such material in any event, but it is being done as quickly as possible in this instance.

A number of people, who will deal with foreshore licensing in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, have been trained in recent times. When they are in place, the staff who are currently in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be able to concentrate all their time and energy on applications like those mentioned by Deputy Tom Sheahan. They will also deal with aquaculture, fishing harbours and fisheries matters. The same staff will be in place, but they will have a much narrower focus.

Deputy Tom Sheahan also asked about foreshore licences for emergency works, which will continue to be a matter for the Office of Public Works. I remind him that the Loughs Agency has jurisdiction over Lough Foyle. Some work in that regard is being done by the Department of Foreign Affairs. As far as I can establish, the Department is not currently aware of any cases of illegal dumping at sea.

That does not mean there is no dumping.

As the hydroelectric project may be based on land, it will not necessarily have a foreshore element. I am not quite sure about it. A number of the points made by Deputy Higgins would be more relevant to the third, rather than the second, phase of the process, with which we are currently dealing. The process that is under way at present involves the division of responsibilities and powers between the two Departments and the Environmental Protection Agency.

It is a great pity we are not at the third phase.

We are not at the third phase because a number of processes have yet to be completed. Certain people have very strong views in this regard.

Members of this House expressed diametrically opposed views during today's debate. Interestingly, individual Deputies expressed diametrically opposed views within their own speeches about how this issue should be dealt with. A significant amount of work has yet to be done. Everyone who has taken a genuine approach to this matter appreciates that this serious job should be done properly.

Deputy Higgins queried the philosophy of ministerial discretion. I was in philosophical agreement with many of the points he made, including this one. It is fair to say that the scope of ministerial discretion is substantially circumscribed by a number of directives, including those relating to environmental impact assessment, public participation in decision making, access to justice on the environment and public access to environmental information. As it is not an absolute power, I do not think the Deputy's concerns in this regard are well founded.

Although the question asked by Deputy Higgins about the conditions that apply to leases has nothing to do with the process we are undertaking today, it will be fundamental to our consideration of the third phase of this process. The Deputy argued that we have not properly defined the public interest, but we have a good idea what it is. Such matters will have to be dealt with.

When I left the Chamber briefly, I took advice on the question the Deputy asked about public ownership. I am satisfied the issue of ownership by the public is as clear as one could expect it to be. It is certainly clear enough for the requirements of this Bill. I agree with the Deputy that the dangers which are associated with the transfer of ownership are compounded in circumstances in which unscrupulous types might have access to the commodities being transferred. Quite frankly, there is an obligation on the Government and on the Oireachtas to ensure the public interest is defended in this regard.

Deputy Higgins also made a point about the concept of intergenerational justice, which is beginning to gain considerable credence. It will be of great importance to the third phase of this process, if not to the Bill before the House today. I do not know the answer to his question about the timescale for the taking of the next step. The role of the marine licence vetting committee will not be changed by this legislation. I do not doubt that its role, statutory or otherwise, will be considered when a fundamental examination of foreshore licensing is undertaken. I assure the Deputy that neither this Bill nor the subsequent legislation will have negative implications for research funding.

Deputy Ferris expressed concern about difficulty in accessing information on the Corrib gas field. I have been assured that a full process of public consultation was followed in respect of that project.

Deputy Cuffe spoke about new frontiers. The important point he made about the need to vindicate the rights of the people was very similar to the point made by Deputy Higgins, although it was expressed in somewhat different language.

Deputy Deenihan referred to key infrastructural developments. Considerable progress has been made in that regard in his constituency. To the best of my knowledge, licences have been issued in respect of the project he mentioned.

I join those Deputies, including Deputy Deenihan, who commended the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security on the work it has done, which will inform the decisions of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in this regard.

Before I took up my current position in the Department, I would have agreed with Deputy P. J. Sheehan's point about the need to expedite decisions. As a Minister of State, I can make inquiries within the relevant section of the Department about any specific case raised by a Deputy, Senator or constituent. I frequently find that the information provided in response to questions that were quite clear does not address those questions.

We are used to that.

Some of the problems associated with resources will improve when an additional 18 officials and five engineers start to work on infrastructural projects in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, while the current staff continue to work in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, like many other Deputies, spoke about the size of this resource. He argued that the regulatory regime has stifled development. On the other hand, public interest questions have had to be addressed in line with the principle of the Foreshore Act 1933 which, as Deputy Barrett said, could not have foreseen the challenges that emerged. I suggest that the primacy of the public interest requirement represents a major and worthwhile benchmark.

Deputy Burke asked whether staff will move. It is intended that five engineers will move. I should point out that they are not based in Clonakilty — they are based around the country. They know what happens in Kinvara Bay, Clonakilty Bay, Lough Foyle and elsewhere. He also spoke about realistic objectives, which would have been fine in 1980 or 1981. It certainly would be much more difficult to set out realistic objectives at national level in the aftermath of a European Court of Justice finding against the country. The Deputy also made a point many others made regarding opportunities in the fields of alternative and wind energy but nobody managed to answer the question I posed in my opening address in respect of the fact that of 420 wind turbines approved only seven have been built, none in recent times.

They cannot get interconnection. That is the reason.

There are many other reasons.

They cannot get connected to the grid.

Deputy Barrett may well be right but there are also issues with regard to engineering works of a particular scale that are available in other countries but not here. There are issues concerning port facilities. The Department of the Marine, which no longer exists as such, being part of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has a fishery harbour in Killybegs which is currently the primary port for alternative energy transfers in the country. Perhaps the Department did something right at a particular point.

It is not the fault of the Minister of State but because the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has no involvement in the process on a legislative basis.

Deputy Barrett made the point that the 1933 Act could not have foreseen many of these matters. I also made that point.

We have provision approved for between 1,100 and 1,700 megawatts, with less than 2% built. We need to look very carefully at the reasons. Deputy Barrett is right about one of the reasons being interconnectivity but there are others. At some point it might be useful for the joint committee to consider making a presentation to the interdepartmental marine co-ordination group if its Chairman was interested in doing that.

I can assure the Deputy and the House there is constant consultation under way at present with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources regarding any projects that contain an energy element. Concerning this Bill, the process is to transfer responsibility to two Departments and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. That is all that is envisaged at this stage.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 108; Níl, 21.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Andrews, Barry.
  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Ardagh, Seán.
  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Bannon, James.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Behan, Joe.
  • Blaney, Niall.
  • Brady, Áine.
  • Brady, Cyprian.
  • Brady, Johnny.
  • Browne, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Ulick.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carey, Pat.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Conlon, Margaret.
  • Connick, Seán.
  • Coonan, Noel J.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Cregan, John.
  • Creighton, Lucinda.
  • Cuffe, Ciarán.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Curran, John.
  • D’Arcy, Michael.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Devins, Jimmy.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • English, Damien.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Michael.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Flanagan, Terence.
  • Gogarty, Paul.
  • Gormley, John.
  • Hanafin, Mary.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hayes, Brian.
  • Hayes, Tom.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kelly, Peter.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kennedy, Michael.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lee, George.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Lenihan, Conor.
  • McEllistrim, Thomas.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Moloney, John.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, M. J.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • O’Brien, Darragh.
  • O’Connor, Charlie.
  • O’Dea, Willie.
  • O’Donnell, Kieran.
  • O’Dowd, Fergus.
  • O’Flynn, Noel.
  • O’Hanlon, Rory.
  • O’Keeffe, Batt.
  • O’Keeffe, Edward.
  • O’Keeffe, Jim.
  • O’Mahony, John.
  • O’Rourke, Mary.
  • O’Sullivan, Christy.
  • Power, Peter.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Sheehan, P. J.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • White, Mary Alexandra.
  • Woods, Michael.

Níl

  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O’Shea, Brian.
  • O’Sullivan, Jan.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Sherlock, Seán.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Upton, Mary.
  • Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Costello.
Question declared carried.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Now.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.