I propose to take Questions Nos. 205 to 207, inclusive, together.
The principal statutory function of Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) is the protection, management and conservation of the inland fisheries resource.
Similarly to all bodies and individuals, IFI has an obligation to abide by statutory and EU requirements and consults appropriately with the Planning Authorities when necessary. There is a requirement that sponsors of fisheries development projects, to whom planning exemptions are not available, simply ascertain whether proposals, involving the expending of public funds, might require planning permission.
Specifically, IFI has obligations under national and EU legislation to ensure that projects that it oversees and licences that it grants, have due regard for the environment and environmental legislation. IFI introduced its Environmental Assessment Process (EAP) on foot of recent environmental legislation relating to the EU Habitats Directive (2011). The primary legislation related to the EAP pertains to Appropriate Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment, guidance on which is provided respectively by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
IFI’s has set out a guidance document describing the EAP and procedures in place within IFI to facilitate fisheries development and conservation works in inland and coastal waters. This is available publically on IFI’s website: www.fisheriesireland.ie. It also outlines the internal and external review/screening processes for environmental assessment of plans and projects, and details the procedures that are in place to ensure that these works are carried out in compliance with the relevant EU and national legislation.
It should be noted that the vast majority of Ireland’s inland fishery waters are included in, hydrologically connected to, or adjacent to Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). Development in, connected to, or within 15 kilometres of, an SAC requires screening for Appropriate Assessment (AA) under the EU Habitats Directive and this necessitates consultation by the project promoter with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the NPWS.
The Deputy may also be aware that since the European Court of Justice, ruling in the “People over Wind” case, in April 2018, screenings for AA can no longer include mitigation. This means that, since 2018, many more AAs have had to proceed to Natura Impact Statement (NIS) stage than was previously the case. When a project includes an NIS, it has to have the consent of the Planning Authority. Consequently, the number of fisheries development projects that require consultation with Planning Authorities has increased since 2018.
IFI provides grant aid for fisheries related work which may or may not be in OPW drained channels. The funding is available to angling clubs, community groups and Local Authorities and is subject, like all public funding schemes, to all statutory conditions being met and relevant statutory permissions/consents obtained. Grantees wishing to avail of such public funding are requested to provide confirmation of planning status (as opposed to obtaining planning permission), in many cases planning may not be required and a preplanning meeting with the relevant local authority will easily confirm same.
As outlined in the response to Question No. 499 of 21 May last, the potential exemptions available to IFI, under the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 (Statutory Instrument 600 of 2001) are very narrowly constrained. There are a very limited number of potential exemptions available directly to IFI and these are tightly restricted to a small range of project types.
Such projects are usually undertaken by IFI or under IFI supervision in view of its statutory role. It is long standing IFI policy and practice, as a responsible public body, to consult with the relevant Local Authority and other statutory bodies in relation to projects it is undertaking, notwithstanding potential exemptions in domestic law. I would also emphasise that the application of such exemptions is ultimately a matter for the Planning Authority who, consequently, must be consulted.
IFI and my Department have consistently briefed stakeholders who have raised this issue and, despite this, some persist in the mistaken view that a broad range of exemptions is available under the Planning Regulations referred to and do not consider that EU environmental requirements have moved on in the 18 years since the 2001 Planning Regulations were enacted.
The environmental demands placed on IFI and others engaged in development work has become increasingly complex and, I therefore offer the Deputy a comprehensive briefing with IFI.