Thursday, 13 December 2012

Questions (113, 114)

Mary Mitchell O'Connor

Question:

113. Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the area of 27,000 hectares from Dalkey Island northwards across Dublin Bay to north of Swords which he is proposing to designate as a special area of conservation is subject to a exploration licence agreement for gas and oil; his views on whether it is appropriate to designate such lands in this manner under the circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56124/12]

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Mary Mitchell O'Connor

Question:

114. Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he is seeking to have the exploration licence revoked for the of 27,000 hectares from Dalkey Island northwards across Dublin Bay to north of Swords which he is proposing to designate as a special area of conservation [56125/12]

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Written answers (Question to Arts)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 113 and 114 together.

As part of its obligations under the Habitats Directive, Ireland must designate Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for the protection of endangered habitats and species. The European Commission oversees the fulfilment of these obligations through a series of biogeographic seminars, which compare the effort of Member States within a biogeographic region. Such a seminar in 2009 found that certain habitats and species were insufficiently represented in the list of marine candidate SACs proposed for designation by Ireland. The designation of marine SACs is scheduled for completion for the entire EU in 2012. The site referred to by the Deputy is one of six additional sites proposed that will constitute Ireland’s contribution to that process. The harbour porpoise is the principal conservation interest of the site in question, while areas of reefs are also afforded protection.

Sites proposed for designation invariably have existing consents which allow certain activities or developments within them. The legal implications of the proposed designation apply certain obligations relating to consents granted after the date of the notification. I understand that the consent referred to was granted by the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government before the date of notification.

Like all species of cetacean, harbour porpoise, for which the site in question is to be designated, also enjoys strict protection under the Habitats Directive wherever it occurs. Potential impacts arising from interventions in the marine environment must be assessed for impacts upon these species.

My Department was consulted in advance of the issuing of the consent and provided advice to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government on the protection of marine mammals, including the harbour porpoise, and on appropriate mitigation measures that should be employed during the seismic survey to be carried out. It is understood that reefs within the proposed SAC will not be affected by the activities allowable under the consent that issued.

Any future consent for exploration, extraction or any other activity within or in the vicinity of the SAC will need to be examined for potential impacts upon it. Consent authorities will need to satisfy themselves that applications do not pose a risk to the site before issuing such consents.