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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 7 Dec 2021

Vol. 1015 No. 4

Dublin Bay Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to establish a special committee of the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly to serve as a Dublin Bay Authority; to provide as an objective for the Authority the preservation for current and future generations of the distinctive character of Dublin Bay and its ecology as a coastal resource; to confer on the Authority the function of proposing and promoting policies and priorities for the protection and enhancement of the environment, and in particular the water quality, of Dublin Bay and of its natural habitats and wildlife; and to provide for connected matters.

I am introducing this Labour Bill in order to promote a radical new vision for the protection and enhancement of the wonderful natural amenity on our doorstep that is Dublin Bay. If my Bill is passed, it would establish a statutory Dublin Bay authority charged with preserving for future generations the distinctive character of Dublin Bay and its ecology as a coastal resource. The authority would have the aim of creating a better framework for environmental protection, governance and improvement of water quality for all of those who use the bay. The idea is that the authority will create and strengthen a better framework for the protection of one of the great resources that our city has. Indeed, it is one of the greatest resources that all of us in Dublin have, not just those in my constituency of Dublin Bay South. All of us in Dublin have strong connections to the body of water stretching from Howth to Sorrento Point. We have strong connections to the bay. It is often the first thing we see when we fly into Dublin when coming home. It welcomes us, it is where many of us learned to swim, sail or paddle and, of course, it is the location for the opening chapter of our greatest novel, Ulysses.

I am proud to have worked with a number of people on this Bill, particularly our local councillors in Dublin Bay South, Mr. Dermot Lacey, Ms Mary Freehill and Mr. Kevin Donoghue. Councillor Lacey in particular has been calling for a model like this for some time. I have also worked with swimmers from the Half Moon club in Poolbeg and a group that was formed in 2020 arising out of concerns about water quality in the bay, namely, SOS Dublin Bay. As many colleagues will be aware, the latter's "Save Our Sea" petition has more than 20,000 signatories.

Since the start of the terrible pandemic and throughout the various Covid lockdowns, we know how much the bay has become a place of refuge for year-round and seasonal sea swimmers. All too often, though, water quality has been poor and swimming has consequently been under threat in the bay. Biodiversity in the bay, including marine life, is under threat as a result.

We want to establish a statutory authority with a specific mandate to propose and promote policies and priorities for the protection and enhancement of the environment, natural habitats and wildlife and to ensure proper monitoring and regulation of sea water quality.

The membership of the authority would come from among elected members of the Eastern and Midlands Regional Assembly and others with a special expertise or interest in the future protection of Dublin Bay. While environmental protection will be a key requirement of the new authority, it would also have a mandate to improve access and facilities around Dublin Bay. We are conscious that there is an informal task force which has some responsibilities around Dublin Bay but which has no statutory powers. As a result, there is a lack of co-ordination for the protection and enhancement of this wonderful amenity.

For decades we have witnessed the crumbling dereliction of the old Sandymount and Blackrock baths and a lack of facilities for those who would like to be able to use the sea and the bay in a more meaningful manner. We might even see a lido with public access for all swimmers in George's Dock if we establish a new authority with statutory powers that this Bill anticipates and envisages. Such a statutory model works elsewhere. For example, on the east coast of the US, a statutory task force was established some years ago for Chesapeake Bay to preserve the future of the bay, improve water standards and encourage greater use of the bay by local people. That is the sort of community facility we want to see established in and around Dublin Bay. That is why this Bill is so important.

At the end of October, I asked a question of the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on water quality in Dublin Bay. I was seeking to ensure a better system for monitoring water quality for all of us who swim in the bay throughout the year. On the floor of the House, the Minister disclosed that he, a regular sea swimmer as am I, had recently had an ear infection and wondered if it might be connected to the quality of water in the bay. I have never, to my knowledge, become sick as a result of poor water quality in the bay, but this is a real concern for many others with whom I regularly swim. Many of us have concern about ongoing discharges from the Ringsend wastewater treatment plant and the potential damage that dredging is causing to the ecosystem and biodiversity in Dublin Bay. It is not just about human usage of the bay; we also want to protect marine life and biodiversity.

We need a joined-up and co-ordinated approach to the protection and enhancement of the bay. This Bill and the statutory authority it envisages would represent an important first step towards realising the true potential of the bay. I look forward to the Government accepting the Bill given that it has a very important environmental purpose and could really garner cross-party support. I look forward to future debates on it and to working with colleagues and others in the new year to ensure it will pass.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.