I propose to take Questions Nos. 136 and 142 together.
The Aarhus Convention, which is implemented through the Public Participation Directive, obliges the State to adopt all measures necessary to ensure that, before consent is given, projects likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue, inter alia, of their nature, size or location are made subject to an assessment with regard to their effects and that such assessment be subject to public participation in the decision-making. This has already been the practice in Ireland in the case of exploration for oil and gas.
Prior to the launch of Licensing Rounds for the award of exploration authorisations offshore Ireland, a Strategic Environmental Assessment or SEA, has been undertaken. An SEA of the Celtic and Irish Seas was also undertaken prior to the award of the exploration licence in the Kish Bank Basin. An SEA, which includes both public consultation and consultation with prescribed bodies, is the process by which environmental considerations are required to be fully integrated into the preparation of Plans and Programmes and prior to their final adoption. The objectives of the SEA process are to provide for a high level of protection of the environment and to promote sustainable development by contributing to the integration of environmental considerations into the preparation and adoption of specified Plans and Programmes.
In the event that an exploration company applies to progress a project to production, an application for approval of a Plan of Development pursuant to a Petroleum Lease would be subject to a full Environmental Impact Assessment or EIA. The EIA Directive ensures that the environmental implications of projects are taken into account in the permitting process, before the final decisions are made and it involves the public in the decision–making process making it more transparent. The specific requirements of the Directive entail consideration of the potential impacts of the project on population, fauna, flora, soil, water, air, climatic factors, material assets, including the architectural and archaeological heritage, landscape and the inter-relationship between the above factors.
Under the Directive it should be noted that it is not possible to permit a project unless it can be determined following assessment that it would not have an unacceptable environmental or social impact.