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.