Fáiltím roimh an deis páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht seo. Ceapaim go bhfuil an Bille seo thar a bheith tábhachtach; fíorthábhachtach i ndáiríre. Leagfaidh sé amach an fhís don todhchaí agus an chaoi a rachaimid i ngleic leis na dúshláin atá os ár gcomhair ó thaobh athrú aeráide agus athrú bitheolaíochta. Tuigim an méid oibre atá taobh thiar den Bhille seo ach, faraor, ní mór dom a rá, cé nach maith liom a bheith diúltach, go bhfuil mé buartha. Tá 20 nóiméad agam agus déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall leagan amach cén fáth go bhfuil mé buartha faoin mBille seo.
This Bill is 240 pages long. It is important that I would be ag insint bréige dá mbeadh sé ráite agam go bhfuil sé léite. Níl. Tá sé leath-léite agam ach tá na cáipéisí cúnaimh uilig léite agam. There are nine Parts broken into 49 chapters, 181 sections and 12 Schedules. I would have thought pre-legislative scrutiny was essential and we have not done that. We had pre-legislative scrutiny on the heads of the Bill but we did not have it on the actual Bill. I do not belong to that committee, unfortunately, although it is also fortunate because I do not have the time, and therefore I have to read around, as most Deputies must do. It would have been very helpful to me to have a second report published from a committee that looked in a pre-legislative way at the Bill that was published. That did not happen. I always pay tribute to the Oireachtas Library and Research Service because it does tremendous work. It is clearly under pressure because it was only on Tuesday that it was in a position to produce a digest on this. That indicates the pressure the system is under. I was reading this on Wednesday and Thursday in between chairing. I am not complaining; I am simply highlighting the system we have to cope with. As a Deputy, like others, I take my role seriously in relation to legislation but with the size of this legislation, it is extremely difficult. We are nearly back to a situation of "We know best; don't worry, we're doing it for your good", which is something I might return to later in relation to the mother and baby home legislation. That is the mentality. We have not really embraced the Aarhus Convention and the absolute essential nature of the involvement of people in our future. That is the theme of what I am going to say today.
The Bill extends to the whole maritime area. We have had different figures used here today, courtesy of the Library and other documents. It extends from the high watermark to the outer limit of Ireland's continental shelf and includes our territorial seas and the exclusive economic zone. Ireland's maritime area is seven times - someone else said it was 12 times - the land mass of Ireland, spanning over 490,000 sq. km. If we counted our seabed Ireland will be one of the largest countries in the EU. Our 7,500 km-plus of coastline is longer than that of most EU countries. Those figures are subject to change depending on which document is used, so I take those as the baseline. It is very important, therefore, that the area is properly regulated. The absence to date of proper planning and regulation has been absolutely detrimental. I know that is something the Minister has inherited. Daily, we experience the extent of that devastation. Plastic in our seas has been mentioned, and there is plastic in our fish, oil spills, dumping at sea, not to mention raw sewage.
I come from a city that I am very proud of, cathair dhátheangach. Rugadh agus tógadh mé sa chathair agus tá mé thar a bheith mórtasach as ach tá séarachas amh fós ag dul isteach san fharraige. Raw sewage goes into the sea in I do not know how many counties in Ireland. I find that unforgivable and unacceptable. It is basic infrastructure and should be top of the list with any Government. When the housing policy is launched later, and I hope we get a chance for a proper debate at that as well, the absence of infrastructure to facilitate the planned housing jumps off the pages.
Let us take a look at plastic. The 2017 UN report says there are 51 trillion microplastics in the ocean. Each year more than 8 million metric tonnes of plastic ends up oceans. Up to 80% of all litter in the oceans is made of plastic. By 2050 it is estimated that oceans will have more plastic than fish if present trends are not stopped. By 2050, it is estimated that 99% of the Earth's seabirds will have ingested plastic. A study by the University of Plymouth in 2016 said plastic was found in one third of UK-caught fish. It is very difficult to stand here and understand that, explain that, or explain to our children how we as a nation have allowed that to happen and have taken so long to take action.
I understand it is eight years since the first iteration of this Bill.
Parallel with that time we have had periodic reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It said, among many other things, that human activity is unequivocally the cause of the climate crisis and that some changes to the climate are already irreversible.
Today the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, replied to a parliamentary question on carbon budgets and so on. The Minister said:
The recent IPCC report is an important statement on international science's understanding of the climate system and climate change. Its publication could not be more significant or timely. It details the increasingly dangerous future that is ahead of us unless action is taken by all of us now.
It is totally unacceptable that successive governments have utterly failed to produce comprehensive legislation to protect family environment. In this context I absolutely welcome that we are finally beginning to look at this area and to regulate it. My serious concern, however, is that once again we are prioritising development and seeing this development through the prism of developers and profit. I wish to see my city thrive. I wish to see Rossaveel developed as a thriving port. I am totally in favour of renewable energy. I am not in favour of not learning from the mistakes of our past and once again looking at development in our seas in a way that repeats the mistakes of the past. It was bad enough that we made mistakes but to do it again with the evidence of climate change and biodiversity emergency is simply unforgivable. I for one will not be part of it.
I despair when I hear a Deputy from the Government backbenches talk about disappointment with regard to the negative nature of the debate from some of us on this side of the House. As I have said before, I do not have the luxury of despair. I am paid a salary and I am paid the salary to speak out. Despair is not something I will give in to, although one could very easily go into it. When the context of the debate is set by somebody saying "do not be negative" then we have learned absolutely nothing. The most dangerous thing we can do in this country, unfortunately still, is to ask a question. There is something seriously wrong with our democracy when questions are dangerous. I do not believe the Minister of State is of that ilk and I do not believe he is from that background but I find it important to say it when I hear the debate being framed as "do not be negative, let us be positive". This is far too important for that type of drivel from any Deputy. We need to actually use our voices so that we stand up for the future of our children.
It seems to me we have learned nothing from the climate or biodiversity emergencies, nor indeed from the Covid pandemic, all three of which crises were and are consequent on the unsustainable exploitation of our natural resources or assets. What is required, and what we should have learned at the very least, is that we are not the owners of the earth nor the sea. Rather, we are the guardians, and the decisions we make will have consequences for the country, the planet and our children. As guardians it is our responsibility to protect our natural resources and, within that framework of protection, to enable and allow development that puts the common good to the fore.
I am telling the Minister of State openly that I could not possibly have read all of the Bill, but my difficulty with it is that it is not being done within a framework of protection, although we are using those words. We are going down the line of development and the protection comes afterwards. It appears to me that the Bill has it back to front, given that we have utterly failed to provide the protective framework first. We know this from the failure to have any marine protected areas except 1% or 2%, and one haven that is the marine nature reserve lake in Cork. We know the programme for Government in 2020 commits to meet 10% as soon as possible, and 30% by 2030. We fell far short of the targets to date.
Along with this Bill we also have the marine protected area advisory group. Its report, Expanding Ireland's Marine Protected Area Network, is 336 pages long. I really appreciate all of the work that went into writing that report. It was completed in October 2020 and published in January 2021. The report states, "Ireland’s network of protected areas cannot be considered coherent, representative, connected or resilient or to be meeting Ireland’s international commitments and legal obligations." I am familiar with the background. Consider also the Library and Research Service's Bill digest, the report of the committee, the EU frameworks, the policies, and the plans that we have all done. Then we come up with this Bill but there is no protection. We are being told those protections will come in the future. Will the Minister of State please explain how we are going to give out licenses and permissions and then in the future marry this with the protected areas legislation? Please explain that. I would be the first to support that but I just cannot see it happening.
Consider the prioritisation of industry over environment. The committee identified nine issues and 27 recommendations. We are being told by the Minister of State that all of those were incorporated into the Bill. I will be precise here. There are nine key issues and 29 associated recommendations. Library and Research Service's Bill digest kindly went through those recommendations to see which ones had been incorporated. I would have thought this was the role of the Minister of State when he had 20 minutes to give his speech. He only used up ten minutes of that time and two of those minutes went to housing. I would have thought the Minister of State could tell the House which recommendations were incorporated and why, and which were not. Members are dependent on a Bill digest from the Library and Research Service, which was published only on Tuesday, to tell the House which recommendations were incorporated. It is significant to me that practically almost every single recommendation from industry was accepted.
On the nine key issues and 29 associated recommendations, one of the Green Party Deputies spoke earlier and said that one of the recommendations was to include the marine protected areas in this Bill. The Deputy rightly said there was an alternative. Obviously, we have had to keep all of the committee members happy. From reading between the lines it seems to me that there was a huge push to have the marine protected areas but when that could not be done, according to Department we then got the alternative which was to happen in parallel. I understand that when something is happening in parallel we move together on it but this must be a different interpretation and it is going to come sometime in the future. The second one was accepted that it would be developed in the future.
I shall now turn to the industry considerations. The Bill digest shows that Nos. 1 and 3 were partially accepted; No. 14 was fully accepted; No. 15 was fully accepted; and No. 16 was fully accepted. They are all green ticks. When we go to the community dividend, however, we see, in regard to the first of these, "the Good Practice Principles Handbook provide for an adequate, transparent, and fair distribution of benefits to communities" was considered "not applicable" by the Department. I could not disagree more strongly with this. I have that handbook and I have read it. It has just been published. The Department's reaction to all community dividend key issues is "not applicable" including:
Future iterations of the Renewable Electric Support Scheme provide for community benefits stemming from offshore wind projects.
Consideration be given to the potential for wider dividends to be provided in respect of protecting and preserving biodiversity.
Consideration be given to the potential for wider dividends to be provided in respect of grants and scholarships.
There may well be good reasons for this but when a Minister of State comes to the House and says this is most significant legislation, then there is an onus on him or her to explain that.
My time is running out so I will move on from the specifics. I agree this is the most important piece of legislation we are going to look at in the Dáil. We must learn from the three crises we are living through which are Covid, climate and biodiversity. There is no way we can continue doing business as usual. This is the penny that has not dropped. There is cognitive dissonance. Part of the Government is saying we must do the right thing by climate change and the other part is saying we are back.
The Tánaiste used the expression that the economy was going to blast off or take off. There is something seriously wrong with those expressions. That cannot be anymore. We simply cannot have growth for growth's sake. We simply cannot do that. Now, this Bill is covering everything, not just renewable energy. It is covering every single thing and all types of projects, from cables to renewable energy to the storing of gas. I want to quote it exactly for people who are listening. The Bill digest states:
The Bill is designed to work for all types and sizes of maritime projects from the harvesting of seaweed to the development of offshore renewable energy. Other types of projects or activities which fall under the Bill include gas storage, telecommunications cables, ports, harbours, marine environmental surveys and ... dredging.
Therefore, it covers everything.
Ar chúrsaí feamainne, cúpla bliain ó shin chuir mé rún os comhair na Dála maidir le feamainn. An rud bunúsach a bhí á lorg agam ná go mbeadh polasaí náisiúnta ann maidir le cúrsaí feamainne. Breis is trí bliana ina dhiaidh sin agus fós níl polasaí againn.
We have no policy for seaweed in Ireland. More than three years ago, I placed a motion before the Dáil. It was the most basic request that we would have a policy with regard to sustainable seaweed use, recognising the wonderful and magnificent resource it is, and that it should be used in recognition of, number one, the traditional harvesters who have stood their ground for a long time and then the possibilities in terms of pharmaceutical projects and food and so on. Nothing has happened. We have no policy for the islands. We are still waiting for something basic. Scotland has both policy and legislation; we have nothing. And into this vacuum, we are now bringing this legislation, which to me, on reading and subject to further debate, is a thumbs up to unsustainable development. I see the Minister of State shaking his head. I hope he is right. I take his shaking of his head as a positive thing.
It is difficult for me, however, because I hear comments about how we have to change the law and the judicial review system. I am eternally grateful for the people on the ground who have used every fibre of their being to bring to our attention what is happening in the environment and in relation to climate change.
No later than 31 July last year, the Supreme Court said the Minister of State's policy and plan was at nought. His piece of climate legislation was void and invalid. Why? It was absolutely vague. What did it say exactly? On 31 July, the national mitigation plan was quashed. The Supreme Court concluded that "the Plan falls well short of the level of specificity required to provide that transparency and to comply with the provisions of the 2015 Act". That is the background. In this Chamber, we tend to give out about people who object. I do not like the word "object". I have met very few objectors. I have met concerned citizens and residents. Indeed, they have been hailed by the courts as part of the trinity, the trinity being the local authority, the planner or developer and the ordinary person on the ground, who is an integral part of the planning process. Where is that provided for in this Bill? There is no provision for public participation when we are talking about maritime area consent, MAC. That only comes later. There is a most negative attitude to community involvement and that should be top of the list.
If we are going to embrace new technology and new alternative energy, then it must be community-led, not a split and divide that is being produced in this handbook, where we throw the natives a few pennies to keep them quiet. In the process, there is the danger of dividing and conquering them as opposed to saying to the community that this is a fantastic project, it is theirs and let us lead the way. Sin é cuid den réiteach ar na dúshláin atá os ár gcomhair.