I will pick up where I left off on the Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021 before the recess.
It is interest that there can be so much media and public interest in some legislation and tumbleweed around others. I suppose it behoves the Government to make noise about certain Bills and to hope that others will slip under the radar of experts and activists. This is a really important Bill. It aims to consolidate our maritime jurisdiction legislation and provide for updates relating to recent international law developments. The reason I think there should be more interest in this Bill is because it is part of a suite of legislation and frameworks that are looking at our maritime areas. We have a national marine planning framework and are expecting the maritime area planning Bill and yet our marine protected areas have not even been designated. I welcome the Irish Wildlife Trust's initiative of holding town hall meetings around the country on marine protected areas, MPAs.
We cannot discuss maritime legislation and international law without mentioning fishing and our relationship with the EU on it. They have taken over €120 billion worth of fish that we gave the EU up to 2000. Ireland allowed members of the European Union to take this huge amount of fish out of our waters. In my submission to the seafood sector task force earlier this year, I stated that the Government must ensure that our seafood sector receives its fair share of the quotas available to EU member states. It is well beyond time that the wrongs that were done to our fishing industry as we negotiated to join the EU were corrected.
I have consistently reminded the Government that our negotiations on fishing were taken away from us, Denmark and the UK in the first days of the then EEC. This had the impact of directly hampering the west of Ireland's development and led, I believe, to Dublin-focused development within Ireland that has hampered and hindered the development of the entire country since we joined the EU. Any promotion of a fleet tie-up scheme will be a direct recognition that the future of the fishing communities within Ireland is not a priority for the Government and will confirm and show that the Government is intent on the decline and ending of those communities.
I note the contribution of Senator Higgins on this Bill in the Seanad earlier this month. I was also liaising with some NGO representatives who raised concerns about the constitutionality of certain parts of the Bill. There are concerns about the provisions on orders, and the approach to the continental shelf on the basis of designated areas within the discretion of the Government alone.
This Bill will provide for Ireland's maritime zones in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, which was adopted in 1982. This means that UNCLOS predates much EU environmental legislation, as well as significant developments which have taken place since then in international spheres. The Government is deciding to blindly adhere to UNCLOS and not reconciling or resolving some of the maritime jurisdiction issues for various areas, for example, the EU nature directives.
Unfortunately, we do not have a great track record at implementing protections required under both the birds and habitats directives in the territorial sea never mind those in the contiguous zone, in the exclusive economic zone, EEZ, or on the continental shelf. This Bill should at least provide for handling offences under these directives, and potentially as set out in the environmental crime directive.
There are concerns about the UK's exit from the European Atomic Energy Community, Euratom, and the movements of nuclear materials in and out of the UK and concerns on undersea development of radioactive waste facilities. How lines get drawn, what we consider as an installation and the vagueness of the term, "in the vicinity of", are all worrying aspects of the Bill.
There are also significant jurisdictional issues around the Loughs Agency, issues exacerbated by Brexit, as well as concerns around the upholding of our interests in Rockall. The Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2021 makes no provision for Rockall despite there still being disputes between Ireland and Scotland around fishing rights in that area. Because Rockall is uninhabitable, it has no entitlement to a continental shelf or exclusive economic zone.
This Bill repeals sections 2(1) and 3(2) of the Continental Shelf Act 1968 and Part 3 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006. The outer limits of the exclusive economic zone are defined in the Bill as lying 200 nautical miles from the nearest baseline point. There are 33 sections in the Bill, six parts and two schedules. Schedule 1 sets out the text of Parts II, V and VI of UNCLOS.
In 2014, a single maritime boundary with the UK was agreed but since then there has been strategic use of marine zones around carbon sequestration and submarine cables for energy transmission and, therefore, legislation was required for definitions.
There has been no public consultation around maritime jurisdiction and pre-legislative scrutiny was waived by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. Ireland negotiated the sustainable development goals, one of which is "life below water". Sustainable development goal 14 set out goals for 2020 and 2025, with targets to have certain achievements by 2030. Therefore, there are a number of goals that we signed up to but have already missed.
Recently, I asked the Minister for Defence if a ship, the destroyer USS Paul Ignatius, DDG-117, was in Irish waters on 13 and 14 May 2021. I asked whether the vessel had permission to pass through Irish waters; and if so, the distance it passed off the west coast at the time. The reply to the parliamentary question stated:
With regard to Ireland's EEZ, it is not unusual for naval ships or vessels of other States to carry out training exercises within this area or to passage through this area.
This would normally involve prior notification to Irish Authorities where an exercise was taking place close to our Territorial Waters but this is not a requirement. In the case of the USS Paul Ignatius the US authorities did inform Irish Authorities of their presence in the region in advance and I welcome this engagement by our US colleagues.
The location of the US destroyer was within the Irish EEZ, however the ship did not enter into Irish territorial waters. Other State's naval ships or vessels would be within their rights to carry out a training exercise in our EEZ or to traverse the Irish EEZ. This is not in any way an infringement of our national territory.
I hope that the Minister is open to amendments, especially given that he did not allow for pre-legislative scrutiny. We have one of the largest sea-to-land ratios of any of the EU member states, at almost seven times our land mass. This is significant legislation, as part of a significant move around maritime planning and development and we need to be thinking strategically about this.
Why spend so much time talking about climate action and climate change while leaving our maritime jurisdiction as an afterthought? We need to examine the Bill closely.