Good afternoon, I welcome everybody. The committee is meeting to discuss the draft river basin management plan for Ireland 2022-2027. The public consideration period on that has just finished. It is the third river basin management plan to be produced for Ireland. We are joined in the room by Dr. Matt Crowe, chairperson, Mr. Dónal Purcell, senior executive officer, and Dr. Triona McGrath, research lead, the Water Forum; and Professor Frank O'Mara, Mr. Noel Meehan and Mr. Eddie Burgess, Teagasc. Online, we are joined over Teams by Dr. Elaine McGoff, natural environment officer, and Ms Phoebe Duvall, planning and environmental policy officer, An Taisce; and Mr. Mark Boyden, cathaoirleach, and Ms Sinéad O'Brien, co-ordinator, Sustainable Water Network, SWAN. Members have been circulated with the opening statements and briefings from our expert witnesses.
I will read a note on privilege. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of Leinster House in order to participate in public meetings. Those attending remotely from within the Leinster House complex are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their contributions to today's meeting. This means they have an absolute defence against any defamation action for anything they say at the meeting. For witnesses attending remotely from outside the Leinster House complex, there are some limitations on parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a person physically present in the complex. Members and witnesses are expected not to abuse the privilege they enjoy and it is my duty as Chair to ensure it is not abused. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction.
Members and witnesses 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 House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
We also invited the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to the meeting but its representatives were unable to attend at this time. I hoped they would be able to frame or outline the river basin management plans. I will read my outline. I put this together quite quickly so if there are mistakes in it, please feel free to correct me.
The river basin management plans are a key component of how we implement the water framework directive, which was adopted by member states across the EU in 2000. It requires that all waters, rivers, lakes, groundwaters, estuaries, coastal waters, canals and reservoirs are protected and measures put in place to ensure the quality of these waters is restored to "good" status by 2027 at the latest, with some exceptions.
The directive governs all activities that may impact this objective or the quality or quantity of water. The directive requires an integrated approach across all sectors, including agriculture, industry, the spatial planning policy, sustainable management and protection of water resources. It impacts on and is equally impacted by a diverse range of environmental plans and regulations. The river basin management plan sets out the measures necessary to protect and improve the quality of our waters. These plans are prepared in six-year cycles, during which a programme of measures must be implemented to achieve water quality objectives. The objective is linked to and reinforces other EU environmental directives, including directives relating to the protection of diversity, the specific uses of water, such as the drinking water, bathing water and urban wastewater directives, and directives concerned with the regulation of activities to protect the environment. The nitrates directive also forms an integral part of the water framework directive and is key for the protection of water against agricultural pressures. The committee recently received the statutory instrument regulation relating to the nitrates directive.
River basin management plans work on a catchment basis. In Ireland, the development and implementation of the river basin management plan is achieved through an integrated catchment management approach and uses the catchments, sub-catchments and water bodies as the functional areas and units of the plan. Using catchments, sub-catchments and water bodies to examine the pressures on our water resources at an appropriate scale allows us to effectively manage our waters. It is also used as a means to bring together all public bodies, communities and businesses that have a connection to these catchments. The process involves gathering the best available information and data to understand the catchment, looking at all the uses of water, whether drinking, agricultural, industrial or recreational, and the ecosystems that depend on that water to survive. It also involves engaging local communities and involving them in the management of the catchment and adopting appropriate measures to ensure activities that represent a significant threat to water resources are effectively managed.
Ireland prepares a river basin management plan every six years, which sets targets to address water quality issues, including the protection, improvement and sustainable management of the water environment. This is the third plan. Further cycles every six years will involve ongoing protection of water bodies. The public participation process is an integral part of the river basin management planning process. In accordance with the requirements of the directive, the Department has engaged in public consultation at three critical stages in the river basin management plan. These include outlining the draft timetable, consultation for development of the river basin management plans, and identification of significant water management issues to be addressed in the plans. Today, our committee is meeting to consider how we can participate and contribute to that consultation. I thank the expert witnesses who have joined us today to assist us with our scrutiny of the draft river basin management plan. Some of the witnesses might recognise some of that text, because it was extracted from the draft plan as produced. I wanted to put it on the record.
I invite Dr. Crowe to make the opening statement on behalf of the Water Forum.