National Marine Planning Framework: Discussion

Everybody is very welcome this morning. I hope everybody had a nice break over Easter. The committee is meeting in public session to consider the national marine planning framework. I have received apologies from Senator Victor Boyhan. Deputy Ó Murchú will substitute for Deputy Gould. I also have apologies from Deputy Duffy.

To discuss the national marine planning framework, we are joined remotely by witnesses from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Mr. Conor McCabe, Mr. Tom Woolley, Mr. Martin O'Meara, Ms Juliet Fitzpatrick, Ms Marie Duffin, Ms Tracey O'Connor; from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications we are joined by Ms Anne-Marie Clancy; and from the Marine Institute we are joined by Ms Caitriona Nic Aonghusa. Members have been circulated with the opening statements. They are available on MS Teams. I will invite the witnesses to make their opening statements and then we will revert to questions and answers.

I have a note on privilege. Members attending from their Oireachtas offices are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their participation in this meeting. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at the meeting. For witnesses attending remotely, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a person who is physically present. Members must be physically present within the confines of Leinster House in order to participate in the public meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. The opening statements will be published on the committee's website after this meeting.

I invite Mr. Conor McCabe to make his opening statement.

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank the committee for inviting the Department to a meeting to discuss the national marine planning framework. My name is Conor McCabe and I am the principal officer in the Department's marine planning policy and legislation unit. I am accompanied by other members of the marine planning team and also through video link: Mr. Tom Woolley, marine planning adviser; Ms Juliet Fitzpatrick, assistant principal; Mr. Martin O'Meara, assistant principal; Ms Marie Duffin, administrative officer; and Ms Tracey O'Connor, executive officer. Also joining us is Ms Anne-Marie Clancy from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and Ms Caitriona Nic Aonghusa from the Marine Institute.

There has been a cross-Government programme over the last three and a half years to develop a marine spatial plan for the State – what we call the national marine planning framework, the NMPF. The development of an overarching national marine spatial plan was first identified as a Government policy objective in Ireland's integrated marine plan, Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, HOOW.

This plan identified that the organisation, regulation and protection of marine-based activity in Irish waters was being carried out on a sectoral and demand-driven basis, without a strategic framework.

Marine spatial planning, MSP, is also underpinned by EU legislation. The 2014 MSP directive established an EU-wide framework for marine spatial planning and defined it as "a process by which the relevant member state's authorities analyse and organise human activities in marine areas to achieve ecological, economic and social objectives." The directive was transposed under EU regulations into the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018 and the NMPF now has the same legislative footing as the national planning framework.

It is our belief that marine plans should be strategic as well as instructional and informed by effective public and stakeholder participation. Therefore, a core objective has been to ensure that, as well as the wider public, all relevant stakeholders are consulted and encouraged to contribute. This dialogue has been, and will continue to be, facilitated in a number of ways. An interdepartmental group was established to aid the development of the plan. The group is chaired by my Department and is made up of senior representatives from relevant Departments and agencies. There is also an advisory group, chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Peter Burke, made up of key stakeholders from the economic, environmental and social pillars and a parallel process of stakeholder engagement, with a strong focus on coastal communities and unaligned stakeholders. This strand has been, and remains, critically important.

Public consultation on the NMPF began in 2018, beginning a lengthy process during which the marine planning team attended a large number of national and international marine spatial planning events, numbering over 150. Over the course of the last three years, we have met a wide variety of marine stakeholders, including our European marine spatial planning counterparts, UK neighbours, fisheries community, regional port authorities, marine social scientists, marine safety experts such as the Commissioners for Irish Lights, Defence Forces who have responsibility for sea fisheries protection, aquaculture representatives, environmental groups and marine industry representatives, particularly those involved in offshore renewable energy and electricity generation. Our record of attended events shows that during these engagements we visited 24 of the 26 counties in Ireland. A public consultation on the baseline report was open for three months from September to December 2018. During this time, five regional events were held to launch the baseline report and promote awareness of the opportunity for public participation in the process. The output from this consultation informed the development of the draft NMPF.

We published the draft NMPF and launched a public consultation on it in November 2019, with seven coastal regional public meetings taking place between November 2019 and March 2020. We then moved the consultation online, reacting to the public health guidelines relating to Covid-19. As outlined previously to this committee, we focused on coastal locations in order to maximise engagement opportunities for those citizens and stakeholders most impacted by the NMPF. Throughout the process, the Department endeavoured to promote awareness and understanding of the NMPF, and encouraged public participation in the planning process. I am satisfied that the finalised NMPF will be fully informed by these consultations and can truly call itself a citizen-driven plan.

The programme for Government accords an important priority to finalising the NMPF. The NMPF will set out the Government's vision for all primary human activities in the maritime area and is informed by existing and emerging Government policies for those areas and will be the primary decision-making tool for those charged with making decisions on development applications for all marine activities. Policy and plan makers will be obliged to meet the objectives of the framework, thus creating a joined-up approach to policies that to date have often been developed linearly.

If it suits the Chairman and the committee my team and I can address implementation and governance arrangements during today's session rather than in this opening statement.

The national marine planning framework will ensure that there is a better planned and better managed maritime area, with a co-ordinated, inclusive and coherent approach to decision-making and governance, including the long-term vision for proper management, enforcement and environmental protection of our seas. That concludes my statement on the NMPF. I thank the committee members for their interest. We are happy to answer questions.

I thank Mr. McCabe. The planning framework is a significant document, especially if one includes the Natura impact statement and the strategic environmental assessment, SEA, that accompany it. As a document that sets out to plan for the development, use and management of the maritime area, it includes all sectors. I cannot see any sector that has been left out. Every agency, user, Department and commercial or societal user seems to be covered in it, as is environmental protection to a great degree. As an overall strategy for the interaction of all of those users, it covers a great amount of ground. Mr. McCabe mentioned consultation with the public and with stakeholders. A wide range of stakeholders are involved in the advisory group and public consultation on the framework was wide and spread out geographically. Much information is brought together in the framework, especially the mapping and the links to other strategy or guidance documents for other sectors involved in the marine. It is a document to which I will refer anybody who has an inquiry about maritime or marine activity. It stands up to that test. I thank Mr. McCabe and his Department for the work they have put into it. A tremendous amount of work has gone into it over the last two or three years.

I will now move on to the members. I ask members to identify themselves clearly to allow the Debates Office to record their names. Who is to be the first speaker for Fianna Fáil?

It will be me. I am here in the Leinster House 2000 building. I thank Mr. McCabe and all of the team for joining us at the Oireachtas joint committee today. The national marine planning framework is very important. I congratulate all of the witnesses on their work over these three and a half years. In some respects, this is only the start, but still I say "well done". It is of great importance that we set out the strategic planning objectives for all of the economic and environmental activities in our marine territory. When one considers how large our marine territory is - it is one of the largest in Europe and seven times our land mass - one sees that it is imperative that this marine framework be robust, sustainable and very comprehensive, which it is, as the Chairman has already said.

I acknowledge, and we all appreciate, the significant public consultation in which the Department engaged. Obviously there is work to be done in getting the framework through the two Houses of the Oireachtas but, assuming the Department's success will continue in that respect, will the Department's representatives speak to how the implementation of the national marine planning framework will be monitored and how compliance will be measured and reported?

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank the Senator very much for her questions and comments. I appreciate them. There are a number of strands to this. I might share the floor with some of my colleagues in answering. Initially, the governance of the national marine planning framework at a high level will be carried out as part of the Project Ireland 2040 family. We are working with our colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform at the moment to create a governance group. This was identified in the programme for Government, where it is called "Project Ireland Marine 2040". This will be something of a subgroup to the broader Project Ireland 2040 oversight board. We will seek to align the NMPF with the national development plan and the document Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth 2, which is currently being developed and which will be the successor to the very successful Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth. All of these plans, including the statutory, strategic and financial plans, should speak in harmony with one another. At the highest level, that is the broad governance arrangement. I will now speak to the other arrangements we have in place.

As I mentioned, we have an advisory group which has been critical to the development of the NMPF and in getting us this far. I hope it will transform somewhat, but not totally. I would like it to be the same membership, feeding into an implementation advisory group, so it will have oversight and give us the handrails, as it were, and steer us as we go forward. I might ask Mr. Woolley to come in on the nitty-gritty of monitoring.

Mr. Tom Woolley

Just to add to what Mr. McCabe has said, in chapter 25 of the plan we have set out some ambitions around implementation monitoring. I should add it is going to be a focus of activity following establishment of the plan.

Focusing on monitoring in particular, we will be taking a number of steps. As Mr. McCabe mentioned, we will be doing this working with stakeholders and with various Departments across the Government. An important principle to bear in mind is that implementation and monitoring are obviously very much linked. Implementation is about applying a plan and monitoring is looking at how well that has been done, how effective it is, the results of the plan having been applied. One of the first steps on the path will be to agree what we are calling a monitoring approach, which will be a system of measures we will put in place to make sure we are looking at every aspect of the plan as it has been applied. That is process, outcome and context monitoring. We will be looking at that in partnership with the Marine Institute.

Some of the first steps we will be looking at will include establishing a baseline. In the first days of the plan, whichever policy it might be we are looking at, we will look at what is the current situation and then as time goes on we can monitor progress on a plan via process, outcome and context against that baseline. We will be establishing indicators and looking at the best available knowledge to understand the change that has come about as a result of the plan being applied. As a result, we would like to establish a semi-regular reporting process, potentially yearly, depending on what is agreed with the stakeholders involved. Through that process we will develop a good baseline for making recommendations as and when it is time to update the NMPF.

I hope that gives a short snapshot to our approach to monitoring and what we have planned. It will be an evolving field. Every policy area will vary in terms of how much confidence we can put behind understanding and being able to monitor the situation. Where we can, we will take advantage of existing monitoring programmes. I am happy to provide more detail if Senator Fitzpatrick has further questions.

No, that is great. I thank Mr. Woolley very much.

I am in Leinster House. I thank the Department for the briefing material and for the very detailed private briefing it gave us last week. Like Senator Fitzpatrick, I acknowledge that this is a hugely significant piece of work, but also a hugely significant statutory framework for future planning in the marine area.

One of the concerns I want to raise at the outset is that this is a statutory plan, so it has in many respects a similar status as law does. It will be the statutory basis upon which planning decisions on a wide range of activities will be made in the marine space in the future. When one thinks about what normally happens with legislation, which is that the Government produces it, the Oireachtas scrutinises it, potentially amends it and finally agrees it through a procedure in both Houses of the Oireachtas, with this, it is a different process. It is important we put that on the table. It is great that we get a public briefing, but we may or may not get further committee or Dáil sessions. We are not involved as legislators in the making of this plan in the same way as we would be with legislation. The reason I say that is that Article 15.2.1° of the Constitution is very clear in placing the exclusive responsibility for making legislation with the Oireachtas.

It seems to me that we are not making something; we are being asked to approve it after it has been made. That is a significant statement of fact.

Following the private briefing on the last day we met, we had some discussion on the formal legal procedure for this, which caused me to take a look at section 73 of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018. It provides not just for this type of session but, for example, for a relevant Oireachtas committee to scrutinise the plan, produce a report, make recommendations, etc. such that we are not constrained by whether we proceed from here to a Dáil motion to approve. It is important that members acknowledge that. I think we need to scrutinise this to the maximum extent possible without delaying the process in any way. I have not yet finished reading the 400-page plan. It is very technical and much of it is way beyond my own competence, let alone the technical accompanying data and documents. I think this committee needs to do a little more than have one briefing on this. We need a formal pre-legislative scrutiny process and report, followed by Dáil and Seanad debates before any motion is proposed. I intend to propose this formally at the end of today's meeting.

I have two questions, the first of which relates to the constitutional and legal question. Has the Department secured sufficient legal advice with respect to how this is proposed to be approved by the Oireachtas? Is it satisfied that it is fully compliant with the Constitution and the relevant section of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018, which I mentioned earlier? If we pass this, we want it to be legally and constitutionally robust. I am interested in hearing the Department's views on that question.

My second question is on an issue I have been raising consistently since the start of this process, namely, the marine protected areas. We do not have those designations mapped out. We do not even have sensitivity mapping of where they might be as we move from the very low identification to the 30% that we need at a later stage. It seems to me that by approving a plan without adequate mapping, we are requiring planning officials from local authorities and An Bord Pleanála to have to make very complex planning decisions without visibility of the marine protected areas and, therefore, the impact of any possible planning decision on the ecosystems of those protected areas. It is a little like approving a county development plan without having the zoning map and matrix approved at the outset, something all of us who have a background in local government would acknowledge to be a roundabout or back-to-front way of doing things. What can the witnesses say to us on the issue of the marine protected areas and the lack of sensitivity mapping and how, if and when this plan is approved, that will make planning decisions by planning officials difficult if not, in some case, impossible?

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank Deputy Ó Broin for his comments and questions. I am not sure where to start. To be fair, the two questions posed by the Deputy are not really for us. The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018 was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas and written into law. We are only following the lead that Members such as Deputy Ó Broin would have fed into the legislative process. We are following that to a T by seeking to have a public hearing on this plan. Any committee can engage with us on it. I am not sure what more I can say. The legislation was written and approved by both Houses and it is line with the Constitution, I presume. It is not for me to comment further. As I said, we are following the legislation only recently passed in 2018. This is part of that process. The recommendations the committee decides to make are a matter for the committee further to this process. As I said last week, my team and I are open to any type of hearing on this. We are happy to make ourselves available to any committee that would like to engage with us.

On the marine protected areas, as the Deputy will know, there is a separate process under way. The public consultation is currently under way on a very thorough expert review report which is in the public domain and available on I invite all stakeholders and members to make their contributions to that consultation.

There will be legislation following on from that consultation and any review of same. I expect the legislation to be published in the next couple of years and to appear before this committee.

There are special areas of conservation, SACs, in maritime areas. It is not just about marine protected areas, MPAs. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has had input into many of the decisions made by An Bord Pleanála and so on. It is not as if they will be taken in isolation of environmental concerns. The NMPF is clear that there must be an ecosystem-based approach to areas' development. Environmental concerns are at the forefront. In fact, the largest elements of the NMPF are environmental concerns, which are up front and centre, and how we try to address those.

I will quickly ask a follow-on question. Does Mr. McCabe accept that the absence of MPAs being designated or the absence of sensitivity mapping telling us where they might be designated will make more difficult the job of planning officials who are making complex planning decisions? Would it not be better to have as much of the MPA designation or mapping done as early in the process as possible?

Mr. Conor McCabe

I will ask my colleague, Mr. Woolley, to reply in a moment. He wrote the environmental chapter alongside other colleagues who are working on MPAs.

Decision makers will not take decisions in isolation of environmental concerns in the broad scheme. It would be great to have everything done at once, but that is not the way the world works. MPAs will come at some point in the near future, as will extra SACs. We built environmental concerns into the plan and they have become a part of the statutory framework for all decision makers to follow. I have no concerns about that scheme.

I will turn to Mr. Woolley now. He worked closely with the marine environment team in developing the environmental chapter. He might have some comments to make on this matter, too.

I ask Mr. Woolley to be brief. We are running out of time in this slot, although it is an important matter.

Mr. Tom Woolley

We fully recognise the plan is entering the regulatory environment at a certain point in time and there are a number of matters under way that will strengthen Ireland's MPAs in terms of designations. That work is going ahead and we will work with colleagues in that regard.

We have tried our best to front-load anticipation of these matters entering the system. Marine protected sites policy No. 4 deals with measures that can be taken in lieu of a full network being in place and people looking to the best available information and seeking advice from relevant bodies concerning areas that are being considered for designation at the time the decision is made. It is about ensuring people are taking account of the best available evidence when decisions are being made. We are also putting in place a tool that will allow the mapping of conservation areas to be updated. While the policy will stay fixed in the plan in terms of marine protected sites, we will have the ability to update the mapping of sites as and when they become designated. We have tried our best to get ahead of that difficulty, knowing the plan has to be established this year but recognising the process of designation is ongoing.

I am in Leinster House. This is quite the document. I am struggling through it page by page with a dictionary and several online reference tools. The maritime spatial planning directive obliged us to have a plan in place by the end of March. Is this part of that? The obligation was mentioned in the document's FAQs.

How does this affect people on the ground, even all over Dublin, who are not out on the seafront? Where does Mr. McCabe see employment, the flow of skills and other accompanying strategies that need to take place fitting in? I ask Mr. McCabe for an idea of timelines in terms of when we will be up and running. This will be dominating our thinking and planning.

Dr. Conor McCabe

I thank Senator Seery Kearney for her questions. I will take the second question first and bring in others to answer that. There are a number of strands to how people on the ground will view these plans.

Our next step, apart from setting up the monitoring process Mr. Woolley mentioned earlier, will be to consider the process of regional plans and local marine plans. I see this as the intersection point of many strategies coming together in one episode, such as the recently released rural strategy, the future loading coastal erosion strategy, the localised elements of the national development plan, and other areas such as that which are all marine focused. At present, there is no local strategy that will take into account all the plans on the marine side of life and we will consider that next.

The second part is on how we will bring about strategies to implement it at a local level. We are considering a number of things, one among them being training. Last year, we organised a conference for local authority planners to introduce what marine planning will look like. We followed that with workshops and strands.

The Marine Institute is active in this area. Ms Nic Aonghusa might come in here to talk about initiatives the institute has introduced in terms of building awareness around maritime and marine spatial planning.

Ms Caitriona Nic Aonghusa

One of the roles of the Marine Institute is to build awareness and a knowledge base for marine spatial planning. We have programmes within the institute to develop that at a primary school and secondary school level in particular, to try to build marine into the national curriculum. For example, we have the explorers programme and we regularly run targeted campaigns to develop marine knowledge which is aligned with the national marine planning framework.

I ask Mr. Woolley to continue along Deputy Ó Broin's point and I will give the rest of my time for Mr. Woolley to develop that.

Mr. Tom Woolley

Which element was that?

What has just been said to me was about regional plans. Regional planning and the equipping of local authorities in approval, or otherwise, of plans requires all the information and legislation to be in place. Does Mr. Woolley believe that is being co-ordinated? It refers to my first question on timelines and having everything ready to go at the right time.

Mr. Tom Woolley

I thank the Senator for clarifying. We have been working with organisations such as the Irish Planning Institute, the Local Government Management Agency and others to run events. I spoke at one event last week in which approximately 200 people attended online. There was a big appetite among local authorities to understand what was going on, not just in terms of the plan but the legislation on which the committee has already heard evidence, as well as what has been mentioned on the marine protected areas. There is a substantial awareness in that community that significant changes are afoot and it needs to consider what is coming and be ready for it.

In my talk to the IPI, Irish Planning Institute, last week, for example, I emphasised that this is a plan and it should not see this as separate. Instead, wherever possible, it should seek to integrate it as a factor in its existing planning mechanisms. That will be a theme I will be looking at continuing as we engage with people implementing this plan. While the NMPF for various reasons has quite a different look and feel, both to local authority plans and to national policy, it fits and tries to deliver things from the international level all the way down to local level in one go. We must make people feel comfortable in that this is not entirely foreign to the systems they already have and can be bought into. For example, one can look at an existing assessment to see where bits of the NMPF can be bought into that. These are the kinds of approaches we are hoping to embed in people's minds.

I cannot say we have a fixed timeline in terms of implementation. Mr. Conor McCabe may want to come in on the timeline related to the Bill and the implementation of measures. We are looking to increasingly build on those relationships with existing bodies and their continuing professional development opportunities to make sure people build the skills, identify gaps that we address, make linkages between agencies, such as the Marine Institute which has some of the technical expertise, and build tools which can be used at national level to make sure it is a co-ordinated and consistent application of the NMPF in those processes. For example, I referred earlier to a digital tool. We have a phase 1 which will be out this year. We will be updating it with much more substantial tools in the next couple of years, based on projects we have in the works.

It is extraordinarily comprehensive from the thinking from primary school all the way through to those who have already implemented planning decisions, as well as educating, re-educating and upskilling everyone. It is an extraordinary piece of work across the board. I thank the witnesses.

To get it clear in my mind, I keep having to refer to the terrestrial planning system in order to get a handle on what we are trying to do with the marine area. It is the first time we have taken on developing marine planning. It has not been done in the past. We know that from the previous engagements with the Department on the marine area planning Bill.

The NMPF is not a delivery document. It is not a method for delivery whereby all developments and actions will be subjected to the usual planning process, the usual licensing agreements and the usual oversight in terms of environmental or other appropriate assessments. The process to deliver any development in the marine area will be subject to the marine planning Bill. The NMPF is an overall strategy document on how we bring all the users and agencies together, as well as how we consider the natural, amenity, social and commercial value of the sea.

On page 56 of the NMPF, it states fish populations are generally improving since reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Does that refer to fish populations in the Irish area or at EU level? If possible, we would like to get the supporting documentation for that statement.

Another area the NMPF covers is amenity use of the sea. In the past year, we have seen that sea swimming has become popular. For people who are lucky enough to live within 5 km of the sea or have a suitable bathing spot within a 5 km radius, we have seen a massive uptake in sea swimming. I have seen it in my area and all along the coast in Wicklow. We test bathing water only during the bathing season, however. Blue flags can be designated to, or scores given, to bathing areas based on these tests.

Regarding an overall strategy, I would suggest that sea swimming is an annual pastime and we should expand the testing regime to 12 months of the year to give people an indication of water quality. Dublin City Council is working on a proposal relating to that. What are the witnesses' views on that? Is this something that should fit into an overall marine framework?

Regarding the strategy on pollution control, habitat protection and water quality, does this framework provide further scope and resources and a bit more firepower to look at the terrestrial source of that pollution, because the sea is the ultimate sink? Anything that comes from the land eventually ends up in the sea. That is the end of the pipe. We know a lot of land-based activities such as agriculture, forestry and municipal wastewater discharges are the main contributors to poor water quality in our rivers and lakes, but this ultimately ends up in the sea. Will this framework give more scope to address those terrestrial-based pollution sources?

Mr. Conor McCabe

The Chairman's questions are very specific in one sense about the policy areas. Regarding what the NMPF does, the method we have used to bring things together involves existing policies being captured and brought up to date by Departments and agencies responsible for them and then placed within the framework. We have also highlighted certain policy gaps that have been or will be addressed.

In terms of applications, it fills a gap that has been in existence for some time in that decision makers looking at that land-sea interaction mentioned in the Chairman's third point will have the policy basis to make decisions taking everything into account from wastewater treatment through to the terrestrial harm engine.

I do not have any comment to make right now regarding the question about bathing water. It is certainly something the implementation of the NMPF can look at but that would be guided by the bodies responsible for that such as local authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and those responsible for the water framework directive. I will have to come back to the Chairman with a document with regard to the fish question that should go through the intricacies and specific nature of the question. I do not have that information to hand.

I might ask Mr. O'Meara to answer the question about sea swimming and water. He might have a few words to say on the promotion of a year-round sea swimming strategy.

Mr. Martin O'Meara

That did come up in some of the public submissions from the likes of Sea Safety Ireland. I do not have the submissions to hand. It is certainly something we would consider in the implementation phase.

Mr. O'Meara can come back to me on it. It is something I am aware of. I am sure anybody with coastal constituencies will be aware of the popularity of it. It is about having year-round testing of bathing water areas to move it along. The planning framework would support that because we try to address improvements in amenity, accessibility and overall use of the marine area for all communities.

Mr. Martin O'Meara

I fully agree with that. In the case of sea swimming, the reports produced are the responsibility of the EPA so it is something we would have to discuss with it to check its capabilities or whether it has the resources to carry out the testing referred to by the Chairman.

Especially in the context of the year we have just had, when these amenities were utilised more than they normally would be by citizens in coastal communities who live within 5 km of them, it is certainly something we should consider.

Mr. Conor McCabe

If I may come back in, I will refer back to a point I made about gaps that are surfacing and holes which the national maritime planning framework has found in policy. This is one such area but I would broaden it out to include sport, recreation and tourism in the maritime area. This is often considered something that just happens as part of local area planning but we would like to see that gap filled in the future by dedicated strategies and plans with regard to the topics the Chairman has brought up, such as the enhancement of sea swimming as a year-round event and maritime tourism, which is worth three times as much per individual as domestic tourism. Those gaps have been brought to the surface and the NMPF can only be good in that respect in that those who are responsible for those policy areas will now be looking to address those kinds of things in future. Once they are addressed, we will bring them into the fold as part of the statutory framework for decision makers.

I confirm that I am in the Leinster House complex. I thank the Department officials for coming in and for all their work on this issue. I agree with the Chair and other speakers that this is highly significant work. In that context, I agree with what Deputy Ó Broin said. We have a duty to ensure that, as a statutory plan, this framework receives a proper level of scrutiny from our end. We should do that at the committee level and produce a report and make recommendations with regard to this plan before full debates in the Dáil and Seanad. Anything less would not do the process justice with respect to a plan made by the Oireachtas.

I have two questions to ask. What are the key things that have changed in the plan and in the environmental assessments since they were put out for public consultation? What are the big changes that have been made since the public consultation? Will the witnesses specifically address the spatial and temporal dimension and compliance with Article 8(1) of the maritime spatial planning directive? Will they also address the issue of what has come out of the public consultation with regard to the inclusion of the marine protected areas and the treatment of aquaculture and fisheries?

I also want to ask about the overall compliance of the planning framework with the maritime spatial planning directive. Has there been any independent analysis of the framework to assess whether it is compliant with the directive? If so, will the Department officials direct us towards it?

Mr. Conor McCabe

I will let Mr. Woolley or Mr. O'Meara answer the Deputy's questions with regard to environmental assessments and the changes made, if they would like to come in on those points. I will address the issues in respect of the maritime spatial planning directive but I will first thank the Deputy very much for his kind comments and his questions. We believe we are in full compliance with the directive. We do not have an independent assessment. We have been working with our appointed consultants, RPS Group, on the environmental aspects. I am sure Mr. Woolley or Mr. O'Meara will say more about that in a second. The consultants highlighted areas we needed to mitigate and work on and we have certainly done that over the past 12 months. That is as close to an independent assessment we have got. I have full confidence that we are in compliance with the maritime spatial planning directive. After this is approved by the Oireachtas, we will be sending this to our colleagues in the Commission.

They will be looking at all the various marine special plans in the round and reporting back to us in the next few months. I anticipate a positive report from them on our compliance levels but I suppose that is where it will surface if there is anything we need to work on in terms of implementation or anything we may have overlooked. It has been a thorough costs test involving many different parties and stakeholders across government and I am fairly confident we hit all the marks we needed to hit and more. My colleagues might want to come in on the environmental assessments specifically.

Mr. Tom Woolley

I thank the Deputy for his question, which brought in a few elements. In terms of the assessments, he will find both in the strategic environmental assessment, SEA, report and the Natura 2000 impact statement there are quite detailed tables setting out what was in the draft and subsequently what was changed as a result of discussions on the assessment side. What has been important to us as we have gone through the past two and a half years is we have worked very closely with the consultants and the relevant advisory bodies across government on the question of making sure the facts we consider through the SEA and LEA processes are built in to the plan and the documents as they evolve.

It was the case we had fairly constructive but challenging conversations with our contractors throughout to make sure we were compliant, accounting for best available information, considering the policies in the round, etc. Off the top of my head I cannot point to one big issue I can say was the big change as a result of the assessments, but the assessments probably touched on and resulted in influence over most policies in most of the chapters. There were what seemed like small changes to the wording, but that had quite a significant impact on the way they are read and the way they will end up being applied. In particular, it was about ensuring where the environment needs to be accounted for in a particular way is articulated in policies where that is relevant. The Deputy will see in the introduction we have also built into supporting text a large signpost to ensure the relevant environmental assessments are accounted for properly in decision-making. It was about making sure the NMPF reflects that.

That is a brief overview of the impact of the assessment process, but because it has been incremental throughout the process, it has had a significant influence. It is difficult to point to one element and say that is the big bang element that made a big change.

The Deputy also had a question related to Article 8(1) of the maritime spatial planning directive. Does Mr. McCabe want me to discuss that one or does he want to do it?

Mr. Conor McCabe

No. Go ahead.

Mr. Tom Woolley

Article 8(1) of the maritime special planning directive talks about the spatial extent and what is identified spatially within a plan. It sets out that in doing so, the relevant spatial articulation in the plan may account for interests, and there is a big list outlined. As set out in the note circulated to the committee ahead of the meeting, we have attempted, where possible, to provide spatial information related to activities in the plan. The Marine Institute, MI, has been instrumental in providing us with the best available information on that. There are a number of policies that apply just in specific areas and therefore they are considered spatial in that sense. What we have done is make sure, where we can, that we have tied policies to particular spatial areas. Ones I often cite in this are ports, harbours and shipping and the various marine side of things.

We have also been sensitive to understanding that stakeholders did not want us to go fully spatial across all plan areas. We have also taken a strategic approach across many of the policies.

The majority of them apply over the whole plan area. It is on a matter-specific basis as to which policies are most relevant in a particular case, be it a specific area or topic being considered. In terms of compliance, therefore, I believe we have spatially articulated the marine activities in Ireland's maritime area through the plan and, where possible, we have set out policy attached to said areas. If a person is coming to that, however, and looking at compliance as being that everything should be provided by the zone then that is not the way we have looked at complying with that article. We have not gone down that route. Coming back to what Mr. McCabe said earlier about the Bill, however, there will be a provision in there to look in more detail at zoning for particular activities and that will go further again to support response to Article 8. Does he want to add anything?

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank Mr. Woolley. I would like to make two more points, one of which is on the marine protected areas, as the Deputy mentioned again. It would probably be worthwhile for the committee to invite those in those responsible for marine protected areas to appear before it at some stage to get their take on it and finalise their plan. I really cannot speak on their behalf on this only to point to the ongoing public consultation.

The second point is to amplify what Mr. Woolley said about the spatial designation process. When I appeared before the committee prior to Christmas regarding what is now called the maritime area planning Bill, we discussed strategic marine activity zones. That has changed somewhat. We have reflected on what the committee had to say about issues like that. Our thinking in discussions across government is that those are now changing to designated maritime area plans, DMAP, and will be referred to when the Bill comes to the committee in the next few weeks. They will be more focused on the plan itself as opposed to the zone they are in. Our thinking was that a zone is not anything without a plan for that area. The plan itself then will have full public participation at every level, both at proposal level and ahead of any plan being finalised. The Oireachtas will be the proper body for approving those final plans each time.

The draft copy of this final version of the NMPF, which members have received, did not contain maps. Each chapter, however, has a number of detailed maps that are related to the activity that chapter is about, which display what is happening and where around the coast. We are also developing a tool that will be launched later in the summer, however, called the marine special planning digital tool. I am going to invite my colleague, Ms Fitzpatrick, to discuss that now. This will be a public-facing spatial tool in the format of but for the sea, which will allow users to see what is happening and where. That is something we are going to build on over the next decade to include as much, if not all, marine activities in order that all end users and the public can have a visual display of what is going on around the maritime area. Ms Fitzpatrick might want to talk us through that. I believe it might be of benefit to the members.

We might come back to that mapping aspect later. I need to move on to the next slot. Deputy Higgins or Senator Cummins will come in on this one.

I am happy to come in if that suits Senator Cummins. I am actually quite happy to hear a little bit more from Ms Fitzpatrick about that digital tool. Ultimately, there has been much information and detail here. We all agree that we want our spaces to be better planned and better managed. I love the idea that the zonings are just zones at this point and it will not be until the plan encompasses this that we will see the vision for what is entailed.

That it is so rooted in public consultation gives us all a little comfort. I would love to hear more about the marine spatial planning digital tool.

Ms Juliet Fitzpatrick

I will speak on the digital tool. There are two stages to this digital tool. The initial one will, as Mr. McCabe and Mr. Woolley have mentioned, be based on the maps that are in the national marine planning framework. The maps are physical items in the NMPF, which are static and will not change. As the maps are updated, we will update them on the digital tool, so that the public can access it and see anything that has changed. One will be able to use the digital tool, draw a polygon shape over whatever area one is interested in, and it will identify what maps and layers in the policies are relevant to that area. Planners will also be able to look at that.

We plan to develop the tool, as Mr. McCabe mentioned, from what it will be this summer to what it will be in a year or two. It will be integrated across the board and it will be open to all Departments and all local authorities. We will eventually use one centralised application so that it reduces duplication across the board. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked about the maps on it. Some of the changes relate to ports, harbours and shipping, as Mr. Woolley mentioned. It was suggested to us that we might look to put that in. The public feedback has been good, as has the feedback from our stakeholders' advisory group.

We asked the Marine Institute to read the legislation about ports and harbour districts, come up with some grid reference points for those, go to the various ports and ensure that what it had was accurate. We now have a new map which will show those limitations. We are also open to any other sectors that have maps of interest that want to come to us and tell us what they are. Once they are verified, we can put them on the tool. It is all open data, so it is open to anyone who has a system to download this data, very much like one currently can on the Department's open data website. It covers sectoral interests and hobby interests, so if someone wants to go surfing and wants to know where the best place to do it is, he or she will be able to use this tool.

We want all of Ireland to use our tool as the first place for this. It is not just governmental institutions that should be doing this, but everybody, which is what we want here. If one wants to see all the shipwrecks around Ireland, it is really interesting to look at, and one will be able to see all of those shipwrecks. As marine protected areas come on stream, we will be able to update this map. It will be up to date. Once the plan is printed, it does not change, but the idea with the digital tool is that it will be innovative and will be there for the public, developers and planners to use. We hope that it will be simple, intuitive and easy for people to use. At the next consultation, we will look for more input about what else we can put into the tool. Development will go on further. We will have the Twitter feed and email address on it so that people can contact us with anything that they feel would be relevant. We are happy to look at anything like that.

I thank Ms Fitzpatrick. It sounds exciting and innovative.

Ms Juliet Fitzpatrick


I thank the team from the Department for the detailed answers. It is helpful for us to navigate through this. I will pick up on an answer that Mr. Woolley gave to Deputy Cian O'Callaghan about changes. One of the submissions to the consultation was from the Environmental Protection Agency. It had some quite strong concerns about the weakness of the existing environmental baseline. There was some uncertainty around measures to provide mitigation for activities that might have negative environmental impacts and also concerns about monitoring or enforcement. Mr. Woolley might address this verbally if possible, or if it is not possible, then write to us at a later stage, and state to what extent he thinks the final draft has addressed those kinds of concerns. I am keen to further interrogate the interaction between the marine plan and the retitled marine area planning Bill.

It would be good to get an update from the Department on when it expects to publish that Bill and bring it back to the House. How do the strategic marine activity zones, SMAZs, in particular, interact with the provisions of the planning framework? I know I sound like a broken record but in the absence of a marine protected area designation, would it not be sensible to insist on sensitivity mapping in advance, and as part, of the ministerial decision on the SMAZ process?

I want to pick up again on Senator Seery Kearney's question on upskilling. There is a big job of work for our planning authorities, both the local authority and the board, if we take it that the marine is ten times the size of our terrestrial landmass. Can the Department give us more information on the plan for training and staff recruitment, particularly in those areas where we expect, for example, significant wind farm projects to be progressed at the early stages? How will all of that be dealt with? Will the Department give us more detail on how this plan will interact with, and the time scales for, both the regional and local plans? It seems some of the details certain coastal communities and inshore fisher associations have are concerned with the implications of this plan for the development of their more local plans.

I have a few more questions which I will put in either this round or the next round, depending on whether I have more time.

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank the Deputy for those questions and I will answer them along with my colleagues. I will give an update on the Bill. As the Deputy knows, I am responsible for the Bill. I do not have a firm or fixed date for when the Bill will come to the committee. We will be looking to publish it in the coming weeks and I hope it will not be too long after that when it gets to Committee Stage. We are looking at a matter of weeks and not months. As the Deputy knows, we received the report from the committee in mid-February. We have gone through that and I am happy to say we have been able to incorporate in the Bill a lot of the committee's recommendations. Hopefully the committee will be surprised by that. It is a more robust Bill as a result, and as a result of discussions we have had with other stakeholders. All I can say at this stage is that we will be looking to publish it in the coming weeks.

SMAZs have been removed from the Bill. There will no reference to SMAZ and we have replaced that with designated maritime area plans, DMAPs. The Minister is the competent authority for construction and marine spatial plans in the maritime area. Under the Bill, which is subject to change as it goes through the Oireachtas process, the Minister will be able to designate another competent authority to create a DMAP. That could be a local authority creating a forward plan within its nearshore area, for instance, or it could be for another Minister to create an offshore spatial plan anywhere in the maritime area. We are building the process for the creation of those DMAPs and trying to set it in legislation. Broadly speaking, it will take the form of public consultation and public participation on the proposal ahead of finalisation. As part of that finalisation process, those maritime area DMAPs will come before the Oireachtas for comments and approval, presumably before this committee, in the same way this spatial plan is coming before this committee and the Oireachtas.

We have reflected on the recommendations of the committee and one of its recommendations was the importance of public participation in all elements. We have taken that, reflected on it and created a more robust process that with which I hope members will be happy. I think they will be because more public participation is better in this regard.

That will be enhanced by environmental assessments on those plans. We will do sensitivity mapping as part of the DMAP process.

Mr. Woolley has a comment to make on the EPA and its comments on the baseline report. I will come back in on coastal partnerships and coastal local area input into more regionalised plans.

Mr. Tom Woolley

It is true to say there have been consultations throughout the process. One was on our baseline report and that informed and provided the information for the draft NMPF. We then publicly consulted on the draft NMPF and that has resulted in the version before members. In several responses, people referred to the absence of environmental information they saw in the baseline report. We have fully addressed that in the draft by incorporating a quite substantial new environmental section. Between the draft and the version members have now, we have substantially improved our approach to environmental policy. We worked closely with our marine environment colleagues in the Department to ensure we have an MSFD-led approach, focusing on how the NMPF can ensure the good environmental status targets that have been established under the marine statutory framework directive, MSFD, steer the environment policy that sits in the plan.

To do that, we have had to look at some hefty technical material to ensure it is carried over appropriately. We do not want to over-regulate by saying things that are already in place and including measures that are already under way. We looked quite closely at the marine statutory framework directive Article 17 update Ireland's marine strategy part 1 report published last June. In terms of timing, this plan has had to react in quite an agile way to many things that have been happening, this latest on the MSFD being one. The level of detail can be seen, as can also how we have been able to integrate with the MSFD process, which has been quite a substantial change between the draft and the current version. We hope that alignment will both update significantly the information we are able to provide for people and ensure it is aligned to initiatives already under way in the marine environment side. Also, we hope that by doing that, the role of the NMPF in the marine environment is clear. As a result of the process of updating the marine environment side of things, we have looked to bodies such as the EPA to ensure we are pulling in evidence where we can. The Marine Institute has also helped us to do that and spot things that perhaps we ought to bring in and so on.

I hope the marine environment side is based on the best available information and we are providing it in the plan. As with other areas, it is a continually evolving field. We will have to keep an eye on it and ensure that continues to be the case in future iterations.

I thank everyone for the work that has been put into this. The phrase "landmark document" is sometimes overused, but this certainly puts a shape and plan on both the nearshore and the foreshore for many decades to come. It is very significant legislation. We should not underestimate the amount of consultation that has been done on this, which is worth repeating.

I have spoken to councillors throughout the country who are familiar with consultations that have taken place, but sometimes they become important only when there is heat in the argument.

Inevitably, planning applications or proposals will come before communities. What opportunity is there for continuous engagement on this issue? I refer, in particular, to those areas where there will be disagreement but also to communicating with people about their rights. Equally, local authorities have a responsibility to communicate with councillors about how they engage in the obligations placed on the local authorities.

Mr. Conor McCabe

Once we have finalised this plan we will not walk away from it. There will be a lot of implementation and ongoing consultation on this plan into the future. There should not be any kind of end point. Sub-national planning is where local authorities and people living at local level will see the intersection of how this plan affects their lives or how they can reflect future plans. Our plan would be for two phases of sub-national planning. Again, there is no end point for these as they are recurring things. We will have regional plans which, from what we have heard from the public consultations, is what people want. Maybe that is because that is what they are familiar with but that is what we will be looking at. There will probably be three regional plans with one for each of the sea areas, that is, the east coast, the south coast and the Atlantic-facing coast. When we get down to the nitty-gritty it will be at local area level. The legislation is broad enough that we can create plans that might cover a few local authorities, or a smaller plan could cover one local authority.

Something we also want to roll out over the next year is pilot coastal partnerships. Deputy Ó Broin was asking about this as well and about how locals can influence marine planning. I will just speak about one of those coastal partnerships. I would hope to take a bay area such as Clew Bay or Bantry Bay, where there is a lot of good work happening already, and create local advisory groups that would take ownership of the marine planning process, feed into it and, in some ways, direct it. That should be carried out through the local authority and elected members should have a lot of influence over those groups. That would really put shape on what type of forward plan those areas will have over the next ten to 20 years. We will take that back up and do our best to implement it in that manner. A lot of this will be new. Some of these pilot projects will not work and will fail but I am hoping one or two will work and will find a successful model that we can push out, inasmuch as we can, right around the country. That will take a few years but-----

I will make a final comment because I am sure I am running out of time. We will have to make sure that process is tailored for different locations. A small coastal community is very different to the city of Dublin, for example, and the impact on the bay there. There will be a range of different views. I look forward to the opportunity to participate at that stage. This is not something the Department should walk away from. Working with the local authorities in a similar manner to the sports partnerships is probably a good model.

It is my turn to come back in again. To go back to the mapping tool that was discussed, could that be live updated, or updated as progress is made? I am looking at the map for the waste water treatment plants, where there is untreated disposal going on at the moment. A number of those plants are in an advanced stage of planning, funding and construction. Will those maps be updated as those plants improve over the next two to three years? Is there potential within that mapping system?

Dublin City Council is looking at the possibility of live monitoring bathing water quality. As such, is there potential in that mapping system for someone to consult and look at live updates on water quality in an area before considering going there to swim? The witnesses might briefly respond to that.

Mr. Conor McCabe

Ms Fitzpatrick or Ms Nic Aonghusa may wish to take that question, in terms of ongoing updating of data and information.

Ms Juliet Fitzpatrick

I will jump in to say we are open to anything of that nature. I will let Ms Fitzpatrick, who is from the Marine Institute, discuss how such data would actually be brought in. The institute is going to feed in the data to us and do the data cleansing etc. which will need to be done before we could integrate it.

Ms Caitriona Nic Aonghusa

We are planning for the update of the data on a regular basis. Some datasets will need more regular updates than others. We have gone through a process of identifying the various datasets that will be in the tool and identifying how often they will need to be updated. From the institute's perspective, data quality is fundamental and we have been developing processes to ensure that the data are robust and reliable, that we can stand over them and that they can be used for evidence like that. There are some data that will not need to be updated too often but there are others, like those the Chairman referred to, which are to be provided to the Department and which will need more regular updates. We have those systems in place.

Live monitoring is something the institution already does more broadly, for example for wave conditions and water quality. We get data from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and we put its data online. The EPA also has an online system, I think it is, where it makes the data on water quality available in close to real time. That is something that can be done if it is seen as needed down the road. It will not be part of the first phase of the development of any tools or anything like that but it is something we could look at.

That is very positive. It will be really important for swimmers and for people with a general interest in coastal water quality.

I have a couple of questions on the document. Environmental targets on beach litter are mentioned in it but fishing litter is not. When one goes along any of our beaches, one often sees nets, floats, pots, ropes and all kinds of stuff. According to the Natura impact study accompanying the document, approximately 20% of beach litter is lost fishing gear. I wonder why that is not included in it. I do not know who that question would be for.

Mr. Tom Woolley

There are two sides to this. I believe that in the fisheries chapter, the programmes the fishing industry has engaged in to reduce its contribution to litter are cited. More importantly, the marine litter policy within the NMPF recognises such sources, but in a way the approach that has been taken in the plan is to be "source neutral", if I can put it that way. It is also in line with the policy approach taken in the NMPF. The supporting material makes reference to a number of ongoing initiatives in the context of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, MSFD, but also within Ireland to look at the issue of different litter sources. However the principle remains the same, in that we should apply a waste hierarchy approach no matter what industry is involved or what the source of litter might be. That is the approach that is being taken. I do not think it is a deliberate attempt to obfuscate contributions by any particular interest, rather that the plan takes the view that everyone should be working to reduce litter.

I thank Mr. Woolley. In the section on underwater noise, the policy is updated. It is quite a stringent policy that takes account of the impacts of underwater noise on biodiversity and on certain mammals in the water.

While it covers drilling, pile driving and various aspects that could contribute to underwater noise, there does not seem to be any mention of vessel speeds. The speed of vessels can have a big impact on how noisy they are and, effectively, how much this noise impacts collectively on marine life. Could we have a comment on whether underwater noise and the speed of vessels was looked at in the strategy?

Mr. Conor McCabe

We will be covering that. I should have mentioned that as part of our implementation and as part of the Bill, our team will be looking at statutory marine planning guidelines. Those issues will be covered in detail in those guidelines, on which we will start work very shortly. We will get into the specificity of those issues.

I thank Mr. McCabe. In the Natura impact statement and the strategic environmental assessment document, in blue text are the additions or changes that have been made to the text. Those changes to the text resulted from the consultation period or the consultation period the statutory body had put into it. Where did the blue text come from?

Mr. Tom Woolley

The way we have integrated the recommendations of the assessments is to amend the document with those recommendations at the same time as integrating stakeholder input through the consultation. It reflects both. Essentially, the assessments record changes overall, whether or not that responds to the recommendations. There are two separate tables. One reflects changes from the draft of this current version and another sets out responses in particular to recommendations set out in the assessments that were released with the draft. As the Chairman has mentioned, the assessments are very long documents, but they include both ways of reading it, if that makes sense. I believe that the blue text is all the changes, no matter where they came from. I hope this provides an answer.

It is good to have it in the document because one can see where the consultation or the feedback has been listened to and where those changes have been made. It is very helpful for someone who is reading the document to see not just a finished document but to also see the process that has been gone through to deliver that document.

On a small piece of housekeeping, the 3.5 GW is still mentioned in certain parts of that Natura impact statement. I am aware that the up-to-date version is 5 GW for offshore renewable. I am not sure what page it is on.

We shall move on now to Senator Cummins.

I am not in Leinster House so I cannot contribute to the meeting.

I thank Senator Cummins. I will move on to the third slot for Fianna Fáil, shared by Senator Mary Fitzpatrick and Deputy Paul McAuliffe.

I am not sure if Deputy McAuliffe is on the line but I just have one question to ask.

I am happy for Senator Fitzpatrick to have it.

I thank Deputy McAuliffe. I thank Mr. McCabe and all the representatives for their presentations. Can the witnesses give us some background on how the previous Oireachtas committee dealt with the proposal for this framework? I ask this question specifically because of the proposal that will be made by Deputies Ó Broin and Cian O'Callaghan to have the committee engage in pre-legislative scrutiny before the framework would proceed to the Dáil or the Seanad. Has this suggestion ever come up previously? Was there ever a request for it previously? Either way, what will be the impact of that, if any, with regard to progressing the framework? I would appreciate the witnesses' feedback and advice on that.

Mr. Conor McCabe

To be honest, I have never heard of pre-legislative scrutiny of a plan. It is generally done on legislation and it would have occurred on the Act we are working from, the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018. I understand that the previous committee carried out pre-legislative scrutiny of that legislation and considered it as it went through the Houses as part of Committee Stage. I have never heard of pre-legislative scrutiny of a plan, and while I may stand corrected on that, even its name suggests it is done to legislation. This framework is not legislation, however, but rather a plan that has been legislated for through that Act.

As for the timeline that will affect, there are two aspects. We will miss our deadline but we missed our deadline of 31 March last week. Nevertheless, we are locked - I use that word in the best possible way - into a parliamentary process that is right and appropriate and that, as officials of the State, we are here to support. I do not think the Commission will have any issue with us missing our deadline because each member state has its own parliamentary process that it has to go through. We do not want to be seen to be circumventing anything. Having said that, the pre-legislative scrutiny, waiting for reports from the committee and so on will no doubt delay, unnecessarily in my view, the publication and finalisation of the framework. In any event, I am a servant of the State and will react accordingly to the wishes of the committee and the Oireachtas.

I appreciate that background. I thank Mr. McCabe.

I might make a couple of comments before returning to questions. To be clear, my proposition at the start was for something similar to pre-legislative scrutiny. While it is the case that pre-legislative scrutiny is carried out on Bills, section 73 of the Planning and Development Act, the relevant section for dealing with this plan, provides that Oireachtas committees can compile reports and the Minister has to have regard to those reports. My idea was that we might hold a second hearing, at which we invite in some other stakeholders to give their views, and we may or may not as a committee want to give our views to the Minister in the form of a report.

The more I listen, the more some of the concerns I had at the outset are coming back. They are similar concerns to those I had when we were dealing with the marine planning and development management Bill. This is not in any way to question either the large volume of work or effort of the officials but rather to tease out some of these matters. Part of my concern is that on the one hand, we have an urgent need for large-scale offshore wind energy production and a range of a products that are champing at the bit and ready to go. We all want those projects to be up and running and we all want that renewable energy. The fact that we are so far behind on the marine protected areas, however, that our environmental baseline information is still not where we would like it to be in terms of impacts and state of play for various marine species, and even the fact we are talking about coastal partnerships but they are small or limited in number, suggests we could end up in a position in which none of us wishes to be, where we end up having a conflict between large-scale industrial development of offshore wind, on the one hand, and the protection of our marine environment and smaller scale coastal communities, on the other. The attempt to avoid that is what many of us are raising here.

One of the questions I asked earlier related to monitoring and enforcement, as one of the other criticisms or concerns the EPA had raised. Given that fisheries and aquaculture are still dealt with by a separate Department, albeit in the context of this plan, we could again have those inevitable tensions between larger scale industrial fishing and aquaculture and smaller inshore fishing communities and their economic viability. That is something we need to avoid.

I am still concerned that the three legs of this stool, namely, the marine protected area legislation, the marine planning and development management Bill and the marine planning framework, are not all visible to us at the same time, although, obviously, they all sit within the architecture of the relevant EU directives.

For those of us who are not experts in this area or do not have the long experience of the departmental officials, it is difficult trying to read where the document before us sits alongside one Bill that has been substantially revised and we have not seen, and another Bill that we do not know when we will get to see, particularly given that we are meant to have an ecosystems-led approach to this spatially and temporally. For non-experts, putting all of that together is tough.

I am concerned by the issue of mapping and the information we are getting on same. The suggestion seems to be that it is a lagging indicator responding to developments rather than what many of us understand mapping to be in the context of county development plans, where we would set out clearly in mapping what was open for consideration in any part of the terrestrial space and planning authorities would then make decisions on whether space was mixed use, residential or commercial. I find it difficult to understand how a competent planning authority could make informed decisions, in particular about the impact of certain kinds of industrial activity on precarious marine ecosystems, without the necessary information. I appreciate that some of these issues are not the responsibility or fault of the people from the Department who are giving us this briefing, but we must take them into account. I am still minded that we need further committee scrutiny or whatever we call it, although I hear the point clearly that this process cannot drag on and must be time limited.

Could we have more information on the point about monitoring enforcement that the EPA raised? I am interested in the timeline for the upskilling of our planning authorities, given the complexity of the decisions that they will be making. I am intrigued by how the planning framework interacts with the licensing of aquaculture and fisheries. I am sure that the Department would informally prefer all of these matters to be dealt with by a single lead Department, but will the witnesses talk us through how the framework interacts with the current division of responsibilities between their Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine?

We have been discussing the plan's spatial nature a great deal, but it must also be a temporal plan that considers future uses. Given the negative impacts of some activities on our marine ecosystems, will one of the witnesses talk through in the simplest terms possible for us lay people the plan's key temporal aspects and how they interact with the spatial aspects?

I did not catch the section of the Act to which the Deputy referred.

Section 73(2) of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018.

Mr. Conor McCabe

I thank the Deputy for his comments and questions. We could probably have a separate two-hour session just to reply to the amount he covered, but I will do my best and bring other colleagues in to try to answer everything.

The committee has heard about parts of our implementation plan already, but there are other elements that we have not covered today. We have many irons in the fire in terms of how we will roll out marine spatial planning, one of which is an offshore renewable energy and seafood working group, which we hope to get off the ground in the next few weeks. It will bring together representatives from the offshore wind energy industry as well representatives from the aquaculture and sea-fishing industries to create a communications protocol that we are planning will serve as a template for how those groups will communicate with one another in future so that fishers are not left out of the decision-making process and they know exactly what is happening with development plans in their areas or their areas of work.

The second leg of this four-legged stool is the maritime jurisdiction Bill, which will be before the Oireachtas in a couple of weeks. It will pave the way by setting out the territorial boundaries of the maritime area, which is seven times our land area.

That is the other leg of the stool which I would be examining.

I am sure it is frustrating for the Deputy but it is equally frustrating for me that I cannot give an answer on the marine protected areas, MPAs. I recommend that the committee brings in those responsible for them to discuss their plans. There is an ongoing public consultation. I know that is not what the Deputy wants to hear but it is all I have for him.

I will ask Ms Anne-Marie Clancy to discuss the offshore renewable energy development plan, the second version of which will be coming out in the next 12 to 24 months. It will inform the decision-making process to which the Deputy referred.

An Bord Pleanála has a submission in with the Department on what it will need to resource and properly address this new work coming its way. We are considering this in the context of new industry, the national development plan and so forth. We are on top of that side of things in terms of local authorities. We will be consulting local authorities on an ongoing basis on the resources they may need to implement this framework in all its guises.

Ms Anne-Marie Clancy

As the Chair mentioned, we have significant targets for offshore renewable energy for 2030. We are looking at a target of 5 GW for offshore wind energy development off the east and south coasts by 2030. To make this happen, we need certainty and stability which will be essential for triggering investments in wind energy projects. The NMPF, together with the maritime area planning Bill, are going to be key to enabling the achievement of these goals. The enactment of the legislation will allow us to move from the current decentralised, developer-led regime towards a much more plan-led regime.

On the process for the designation of MPAs, given our 2030 targets for offshore renewable energy and the long lead-in times for developing offshore wind projects, we are in a situation where the MPAs will not be designated in time for development of these projects. We are liaising closely with the relevant officials in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, as well as with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to ensure decisions made over the coming years can be taken in the context of the best available data.

We have one offshore renewable energy development plan in place now. It was published in 2014. It assessed the capability of various zones around the entire coast to support the development of offshore renewable energy. The strategic environmental assessment, SEA, that underpinned it found that 4.5 GW of offshore wind and 1.5 GW of wave and tidal energy generation could be developed in Irish waters in the period to 2030. Since 2014, however, there have been significant developments in technologies. We also have available to us now much richer data sets. Accordingly, the Department is undertaking a complete review of the offshore renewable energy development plan. To do this, we are carrying out an assessment of what data are out there and what gaps exist. Once we identify these, we will start modelling to identify areas suitable for future offshore renewable energy development plans. This will feed into the transition towards a much more plan-led approach to development in the marine space.

Mr. Conor McCabe

If I can address the temporal question Deputy Ó Broin raised.

If you could do so briefly, Mr. McCabe, as I have two more questions to get back in but we only have 14 minutes left.

Mr. Conor McCabe

There is so much happening in the maritime area in terms of policies and plans. We are looking at a situation where things are happening over the next six to 12 months that we are going to be behind. We will review the NMPF in the first two years of its life because there will be many strategies ranging from MPAs right across the circular economy and the national waste strategy which will need to be included.

We will do an early review of the national marine planning framework to capture those. As the Senator knows, there is provision in the maritime area planning Bill for the establishment of an enforcement agency. I will have more information on that ahead of the publication of the Bill but we are addressing enforcement of An Bord Pleanála decisions, licensing decisions and commissions, and monitoring of those through the creation of a new agency.

Mr. McCabe can see cross-party desire in this committee to ensure we meet the 30% target of marine protected areas. As Mr. McCabe has said, public consultation is under way which will lead to legislation to designate those areas. As Mr. McCabe has said, it will be a legislative process to scrutinise the legislation. I am delighted the committee has taken such a keen interest and I look forward to scrutinising the legislation.

Ensuring our marine area is protected is a priority, not just for the committee, but for all coastal communities. The benefits the marine brings to the economy, its recreation and amenity value and the benefits the ocean area brings in terms of its contribution to carbon sequestration and the balance of the marine ecosystem need to be protected. It has been neglected for far too long, so I look forward to us dealing with that. I am confident because the marine area planning Bill and the national marine planning framework are going through and we are at the start of the process of developing marine protected areas.

At present, we have 2.1% of the total designated as a marine protected area. Is the majority of that area made up of special areas of conservation, SACs, special protection areas, SPAs, and Ramsar and UNESCO sites? Do we have anywhere called a "marine protected area"?

Dr. Conor McCabe

I cannot respond to that question. I believe the coverage is under the special areas of conservation. Perhaps one of my colleagues has the answer to hand.

Mr. Tom Woolley

My understanding from my discussions with the marine environment section in our Department is the term "marine planning areas", MPAs, does not have specific statutory or legislative standing yet. The term will be codified under the incoming legislation. We have not used the term MPAs in the national marine planning framework for that reason and instead we have chosen the term "protected marine sites" to capture the designations the Chairman mentioned and to bring them together under the plan. The Chairman will see they are referenced both in the text and on the map.

That is my understanding. As Mr. McCabe has suggested, it would be worthwhile having our marine environment colleagues give more information on the question.

It is complex and difficult to achieve because statutory processes are already in place for how one can develop, or not, in a special area of conservation or tourist site and guidance for Ramsar sites and natural protected heritage areas, so we will have to develop what one can or cannot do in a marine protected area.

I asked Dr. Tasman Crowe about that when he was here for the pre-legislative scrutiny of the marine planning development management Bill. The designation of a marine protected area does not mean one cannot do anything in the area and there will be graduated approaches and time and activity constraints. It is not straightforward to achieve and to achieve at the 30% scale considering we have none covered at the present, except by EU designation.

When does Mr. McCabe think we will see the statutory marine planning guidelines?

Mr. Conor McCabe

We will scope those out over the next couple of months. There will be a project approach to it. We will form a working group. That will go to public consultation too. We will work on two types of guidelines initially. Since it is the big ticket item at the moment, we will fast-track the offshore renewable energy development guidelines and follow that up with general development management guidelines, all applicable to the marine area. They will be subject to strategic environmental assessment, SEA, and appropriate assessment, AA, so there will be a strong element of public participation. I expect we will make serious headway on those in the next 18 months.

This detailed discussion shows we need to play a role in scrutiny. Legally, this is an Oireachtas-made plan so we have a responsibility as Members of the Oireachtas. I appreciate the significant work done by the Department on it.

I appreciate there are two sides to this, the temporal and the spatial elements. On the spatial side, does the plan include mapping out of the areas that need to be protected for whales so that we can sustain and indeed increase our whale population, which has a key role in environmental sustainability and carbon dioxide capture? Does the plan include mapping for dolphins or migratory bird paths, which are incredibly important as part of biodiversity?

Mr. Tom Woolley

I thank the Deputy for the question. A number of areas of the plan deal with this, chiefly the biodiversity and protected marine areas parts. There is mapping of species, habitats and designated areas. One would have to look at the specific purposes of particular designated sites to understand exactly whether it is designated for a particular bird species or habitat type. Each type of designation is focused on a particular thing. We have provided the information on especially important species, including cetaceans, which are whales and dolphins. We have provided the same for habitats. We have drawn on the most up-to-date data, working with other parts of government to make sure we have included that in the plan so people can get a snapshot of what is there. As the Deputy will appreciate from this discussion, that is quite a detailed area in its own right.

It is hard, at a national scale, to say at a detailed level where all the habitats are. They blend at the edges and overlap in places. We have done our best in the published map the committee has seen in the document to provide a broad pointer to the sort of data that are available and to provide information on the coastal habitats around Ireland, which are many and varied. We have only included a sample of those habitat types because there are so many levels of information that could be included. We have been sure to include links to the relevant detailed documents so that people can find the most up-to-date information available, from whatever source that might be.

As Ms Fitzpatrick has pointed out, with the digital tool we will be able to include more along those lines over time because we will not be constrained by the printed format and the national scale we are trying to articulate in the plan. We will be able to include the full gamut of information available on habitats because it will be possible to zoom in and look at that in the proper resolution available. We have a good opportunity with the digital tool to expand on the resolution of data available.

As information, on whales for example, grows and becomes available, we will seek to include that as and where possible.

Does Deputy O'Callaghan have a question?

I wish to second the proposal from Deputy Ó Broin to undertake additional and wider scrutiny on this. It has been really useful to hear from the Department but we also need to hear from a wider group of people.

That concludes all the questions. We have a private meeting now and I suggest we discuss that matter.

Deputy Ó Broin referred to section 73. My planning and development Act copy is clearly out of date because the section I am looking up refers to protected structures. It is obviously not the section to which the Deputy was referring. Could he send that section on to the committee?

Absolutely, Chairman. I will email it now.

I thank the Deputy. We will discuss this as part of our correspondence meeting. I thank the Department and all the officials, not just for their attendance this morning and the briefing last week but for all the work over the past couple of years, which is evident from this document. I will now adjourn the meeting for fifteen minutes and we will meet in private session.

The joint committee suspended at 2.26 p.m., resumed in private session at 2.47 p.m. and adjourned at 4.07 p.m. until 6.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 20 April 2021.