Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 18 Nov 2009

Vol. 198 No. 5

Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill 2009: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill 2009 will transfer certain foreshore functions from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In addition, it will transfer responsibility for the Dumping at Sea Acts to the Environmental Protection Agency. Other than the transfer of functions and the modernisation of certain phrases and references, the Bill makes no significant amendments to these Acts.

When forming the Government in 2007, it was decided to transfer certain coastal functions from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The marine functions and staff of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources transferred directly to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. At the time the Attorney General advised that primary legislation would be required to effect the transfer of the foreshore functions. That is the basis on which the Bill is presented.

The foreshore consists of the land from the high water mark to the 12 nautical mile limit and comprises roughly 57% of the land area of the Twenty-six Counties. In recent years the size, scale and complexity of projects developed on the foreshore have changed considerably. At one time foreshore consents covered primarily small piers and jetties but more recently an increasing number concern major State and private sector infrastructural projects such as municipal wastewater treatment plants, large commercial harbour developments, gas pipelines and large-scale offshore wind, wave and tidal energy projects. In dealing with such scale and complexity it is vital that the development of these large projects accord with the development plans for the functional areas of the local authorities to which they are contiguous.

Land based and offshore developments in the coastal zone impact on each other in significant ways notwithstanding the different environmental conditions in each zone. Balancing the impact of a development on another zone is a major component of the impact assessment of such projects. At a higher level it is also essential to align and integrate the strategic development plans for both zones. The integration of developments in the coastal zone has been an issue throughout Europe, leading the European Commission to issue recommendations in this regard. In all countries the integration of the onshore and offshore development processes has proved difficult.

With the integration of onshore and offshore developments foremost in mind, the Government decided on the transfer of certain marine functions from my Department to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This will allow for the development of a framework approach to planning in the coastal zone which seeks to integrate and balance the various planning and development requirements on either side of the high water mark. In deciding the transfer of these functions the Government is guided by the primary function of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government which is pursuing sustainable development. The modernisation of the development consent process can best be served by aligning the onshore and offshore consent processes within a single Department, particularly given the nature and scale of recent infrastructural project applications.

At the same time, the support of aquaculture and sea fishing related projects needs to be secured, given the often isolated locations of the coastal communities which these industries support. The grant of a foreshore licence for an aquaculture project is currently an outcome of detailed consideration of the aquaculture licence application which must be accompanied by an environmental impact statement. It would be inappropriate and inefficient if two Departments were required to license the same aquaculture installation based on the same environmental impact statement. For this reason, the assessment of foreshore consents for projects which are for the support of sea fishing or aquaculture will remain in the fisheries division of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The transfer of the foreshore functions to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has been the subject of ongoing discussion and planning between officials from both Departments. The transfer of the relevant functions has been dealt with in two phases. The first phase did not require legislative change and took place in November 2008 when the shellfish waters directive and integrated coastal zone management functions transferred to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This Bill will complete the second — legislative — phase of the transfer process.

Certain sections of the Foreshore Act 1933 concern the overall management of the coastal zone rather than the licensing of developments on the foreshore. For example, section 6 of the Foreshore Act 1933 provides the means to prohibit the removal of beach material, while section 11 of that Act provides for the removal of dilapidated structures. In order to provide for the coherent management of the coastal zone under one administration, these and other coastal management functions are being transferred in full to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In addition to transferring the relevant functions, the Bill contains a number of necessary amendments to support and manage the transfer of functions between the Ministers. In drafting the Bill an opportunity was taken to update and modernise the terminology and references in the Foreshore Act 1933.

Section 4 provides the mechanism, whereby the functions transferred by the Bill may be recombined under a single Minister at any point in the future. This section provides for the functions to be recombined by means of an order under the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act 1939. This would obviate the need for primary legislation to recombine the functions. Section 5 of the Bill contains amendments and additions to the definitions in the Foreshore Act 1933. These are necessary to give clarity to the respective areas of responsibility of the Ministers concerned.

The primary mechanism in the Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill to give effect to the transfer of the functions concerned is contained in section 6. This section defines the type of foreshore consents to be considered by each Minister. Where a foreshore application concerns a development which is for the support or development of sea fishing, aquaculture or a development in a fishery harbour centre, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will consider it. In all other cases the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will consider applications. Throughout the Bill there are references to the "appropriate Minister". In each section the appropriate Minister is determined by reference to section 6.

Sections 7 and 8 provide for a consultation mechanism between the two Ministers. In addition, the annual payment limit at which each Minister may agree a licence or lease without reference to the Department of Finance has been increased from the £10 stated in the Foreshore Act 1933 to £50,000, or €63,250. This reflects the administrative arrangements in place between the Department of Finance and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Section 9 modernises the reference to the Judiciary in the Act. Section 10 is an amendment to the environmental impact assessment legislation, as a consequence of the meaning assigned to "appropriate Minister" in section 6. Section 11 deletes from the 1933 Act a reference to the Irish Land Commission as that body is no longer in existence.

Section 12 provides a mechanism for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to make regulations to specify bodies and timeframes for consultation where he or she is considering a foreshore consent. This reflects the existing practice in the foreshore application process, whereby a wide range of bodies are consulted before consent is granted or refused.

Sections 13 to 15, inclusive, are amendments to the foreshore public participation regulations. This is as a consequence of the meaning assigned to "appropriate Minister" in section 6. Section 16 updates the reference to local authority in the Act in line with recent legislation.

Sections 17 to 19, inclusive, give the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the ministerial role of applying to the courts for prohibitory orders for the protection of the foreshore and adjacent seashore and the prosecution of offences. Sections 20 and 21 are consequential amendments to the Fisheries Acts as a consequence of the meaning assigned to "appropriate Minister" in section 6. Sections 22 to 27, inclusive, are transitional measures to provide for the transfer of the ongoing work between the Departments which have been working together on the drafting of the Bill and the administrative arrangements necessary for the ongoing support of the functions transferring. Agreement has been reached between my Department and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the reallocation of the necessary staff and resources for the functions being transferred. The officials in each Department are committed to working together to ensure the continuity of service and to develop a modern framework for managing the foreshore functions. The two Departments will work together through an interdepartmental committee to ensure the effectiveness of the measures implemented in the Bill.

It is intended to develop a new framework for the management of the coastal zone which will provide a modern, effective and integrated legal framework for the management of the State's foreshore estate. Such a framework will take account, inter alia, of the public participation directive, the principles in the EU recommendation on integrated coastal zone management, the outcome of the EU maritime Green Paper, the marine strategy directive and the EU roadmap on maritime spatial planning. These matters are under active consideration by the marine co-ordination group.

At the request of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the administration of the Dumping at Sea Acts will transfer to the Environmental Protection Agency. Part 3 of the Bill provides for this transfer. The Dumping at Sea Acts ban incineration at sea, the dumping of radioactive waste and offshore installations and all toxic, harmful and noxious substances up to 350 miles offshore to coincide with Ireland's portion of the Continental Shelf. The Acts enable the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to grant permits for certain dumping, as specified in the permits and subject to such conditions as the Minister may specify. They also empower the courts to impose such monetary penalties and-or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years as they may decide on conviction on indictment of any person for illegal dumping as defined by the Acts.

All applications for dumping at sea permits are carefully considered by the Department with the assistance of specialist advisers from the marine licence vetting committee which meets frequently as business demands. Detailed guidelines have been published by the Department to assist applicants. Copies of the guidelines are available in the Oireachtas Library and on the Department's website. Applicants are obliged to consider thoroughly all non-dumping at sea options and, in particular, other beneficial uses such as beach nourishment and land reclamation. Non-dumping solutions have been successfully pursued in a number of cases and are addressed in the context of five year dredging plans by ports and other harbours in agreement with the Department. Material for dumping at sea is thoroughly assessed prior to dumping. Approximately 12 dumping at sea permits are granted each year.

The type of material which may be disposed of at sea is governed by the international OSPAR agreement, titled "Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic done at Paris on the 22nd Day of September 1992". Dumping at sea permits are granted exclusively for the dumping of dredge spoil at a specified site. Generally, this is as a result of port and harbour dredging which is carried out for maintenance and development purposes. Details of the permits granted are published in Iris Oifigiúil on an annual basis and kept in a public register in the Department as required under the 1996 Act. Details of these permits are also published on the Department’s website on an ongoing basis.

The Environmental Protection Agency is the primary caretaker of the environment in the State. The key role for the agency in licensing the disposal of waste is managing the impact of the waste on the environment. Waste licensing involves the control of large-scale waste and industrial activities to ensure that they do not endanger human health or harm the environment. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency has the lead role in managing water quality in the State.

The EPA, in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, is responsible for the implementation of the European Union water framework directive. The directive is important EU environmental legislation which aims to improve our water environment. It requires governments to take a new holistic approach to managing their waters and applies to rivers, lakes, groundwater, estuaries and coastal waters.

The transfer of the administration of the Dumping at Sea Acts from the Department to the Environmental Protection Agency will provide the agency with the opportunity to integrate fully the disposal of dredge spoil at sea with its current waste management licensing system and will assist in the delivery of the water framework directive project. Part 3 provides for the transfer of the dumping at sea function from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Environmental Protection Agency. A number of minor consequential amendments are necessary because of the transfer of the functions to the agency. In addition the opportunity has been taken to revise the powers of authorised officers in line with the powers of authorised officers in other, more recent legislation.

Section 29 transfers responsibility for dumping at sea to the Environmental Protection Agency and vests the functions in the agency. Section 32 amends section 4 of the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 to provide that the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland rather than the Minister will prescribe radioactive substances or material as below low level. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland must consult the Environmental Protection Agency before so prescribing and the Environmental Protection Agency must give notice of the prescribing by having a notice published in the Iris Oifigiúil. As a transitional measure, the existing low level standing prescribed for radioactive substances or material will remain in force.

Section 33 provides for the substitution of the Environmental Protection Agency for the Minister, as appropriate, in various instances throughout section 5 of the Dumping at Sea Act 1996. It also provides for the addition of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the list of Ministers who must be consulted on an application for a permit to dump at sea.

Section 34 contains amendments to section 6 of the 1996 Act to update the powers of authorised officers to accord with current legislative best practice and take account of technological advances in methods of record keeping, for example, electronic data recorders, digital photographs and such like.

Section 35 enacts Schedule 2 of the Bill. Schedule 2 lists by section the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 where the Environmental Protection Agency is substituted for the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and a Minister of the Government are substituted as specified in that Schedule.

Section 36 contains an amendment to section 7 of the Dumping at Sea Act 1996 to enable the Environmental Protection Agency to bring summary proceedings in respect of offences under that Act. Section 37 repeals section 13 of the 1996 Act which provided for the payment to the Exchequer of fees collected under the Act. The effect of this repeal is that these fees may now be retained by the EPA.

Section 38 contains transitional measures for dumping at sea permit applications which have not been determined by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and for permits granted by that Minister and in force before the commencement of EPA involvement. Undetermined permit applications will be treated as applications to the agency and permits already granted and in force can be dealt with by the agency as if they had been issued by it. This section also provides for the continuance of existing authorised officers, post-enactment, and the substitution of the agency for the Minister in any pending legal proceedings.

The function of the Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Bill is to transfer specific foreshore functions from this Department to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and transfer the dumping at sea functions to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Bill will assign responsibility for foreshore licensing for commercial and infrastructural projects together with certain coastal zone management functions to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This will commence the process of aligning marine spatial planning with the onshore spatial planning system. In addition, responsibility for the Dumping at Sea Acts 1996 to 2006 is allocated to the Environmental Protection Agency which, in conjunction with measures implementing the water framework directive, will provide greater coherency in the sustainable management of water quality in the coastal zone.

The provisions of the Bill are intended solely to give effect to the allocation of specific foreshore functions to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the transfer of functions under the Dumping at Sea Acts to the Environmental Protection Agency. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State. In also welcoming the Bill, I express disappointment that it has taken many months to have the legislation prepared for debate in the House. I understand from the Minister of State's contribution that the Bill has its genesis in the negotiations to form a Government in 2007. While I appreciate a number of Departments and agencies were involved in producing the legislation, the inordinate time required to draft it is indicative of the bureaucratic obstacles at the core of our economic difficulties. The failure to have this Bill enacted sooner has cost jobs. If we are to learn a lesson from this failure, it is that we must prevent similar delays when enacting other necessary legislation in the pipeline.

Given that the political side of the equation appears to have been settled two years ago, it is disappointing that it has taken such a long time to bring the Bill before the House. There are indications that renewable energy projects, notably in wind and wave energy, have been delayed as a result of the failure to produce this legislation earlier. The Bill must be passed and sent to the other House for approval as quickly as possible. In the current economic climate we cannot afford to delay as to do so would cause further job losses.

I note from the Minister of State's contribution that the foreshore comprises 57% of the land area of the Twenty-six Counties. As such, the Bill may be light in terms of page numbers but it is significant in terms of impact. The Minister of State correctly noted that foreshore applications and arrangements were previously confined to minor projects such as small piers, jetties etc. Advances in project development and other areas mean foreshore projects now include wastewater treatment plants, commercial harbour developments, gas pipelines, wind, wave and tidal energy projects. For this reason, it is vital that we enact the legislation and send a strong signal that Ireland is open for business in terms of these types of projects.

I note the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, which is chaired by my party colleague in the other House, Deputy Seán Barrett, has presented legislation to the Government for consideration. This is the first time an Oireachtas committee has published legislation for consideration by Government. The proposed legislation focuses heavily on the desirability from an economic and environmental point of view and from the perspective of addressing climate change of making progress on renewable energy projects. One of the issues raised by the joint committee is the need to modernise our antiquated licensing system. The committee will no doubt welcome the passage of this legislation as it will allow some of the projects in the pipeline to be considered at an early date.

I ask the Minister of State to outline the reasons for the significant delay in bringing the legislation before the House. While I appreciate that widespread consultation is required when a number of Departments are involved, a delay of two and a half years is excessive. As I said earlier, it is the sort of delay we must try to remove because, as we often hear, red tape and bureaucracy are stifling enterprise, development and many projects. We should remove them from all layers of society, especially Departments. The pace of production for this Bill could have been significantly better.

One statistic which is presented to us as a possible cost in terms of financial delay and loss from investment in renewable projects over recent years is the creation of 10,000 jobs or €16 billion. It is to be hoped that when we look at the stark reality of that, we will recognise that we must try to get Bills such as this through the Houses and to the Departments as quickly as possible so these types of projects can come to fruition.

I have a number of questions for the Minister of State on the consultation periods which will be required under the new legislation. There is a suggestion that the involvement of the EPA in determining foreshore licensing applications may increase the time needed to process the licences. I am told the Minister or a Minister of State will have the right to stipulate a statutory period of time within which named organisations have to respond. I ask the Minister of State to advise on that point and try to ensure delays are kept to a minimum. I appreciate when one is dealing with licensing, environmental or sensitive marine issues we have to allow an opportunity for all concerns to be raised but there must be some limits put on delays and the windows of opportunity for objections and concerns to be communicated. There should not be an infinite period of time for consultation and delay. I ask the Minister of State to advise us on that issue.

Another matter has been brought to my attention, namely, that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will have the right to apply to the High Court to prevent breaches of the Act. Are there cases before the courts relating to the Act? How long have they been in train? Will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, inherit a large bill in the transfer of responsibility for foreshore licensing?

On the part of the Bill concerning dumping at sea, I ask the Minister of State to advise me on how many prosecutions have been made under the various Dumping at Sea Acts in recent years. The EPA will have a new significant responsibility arising from the legislation. Is it adequately staffed to deal with its new responsibility? Dumping at sea is a sensitive environmental and marine issue so we must be assured the EPA will have the financial and staffing resources in place to deal with its new responsibilities

As I said, I welcome having the Bill before us for consideration. It would be surprising if it was not passed quickly through the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is to be hoped that once it is passed there will be much greater certainty and definition regarding the sort of renewable energy projects the country needs such as wave energy and wind farms. There is an aspiration at Government level and across the entire political establishment that 35%, 40% or 45% of our energy supplies in the future could be secured from renewable sources. Wave and wind energy would be two key targets for renewable energy. Therefore, we need to put a proper regulatory framework in place to allow such projects to come to fruition. This Bill will play a role in that regard. I welcome the Bill and ask the Minister of State to respond to the issues I raised at the end of the Second Stage debate.

I welcome the thrust of the Bill and wish to make a few points. The Bill concerns a provision for the transfer of functions which will help to expedite the issue of foreshore licences. The current system is antiquated and cumbersome. As a local authority member and a Deputy in the other House I have experienced severe delays in progressing sewage treatment plants. For example, in Bantry there was a delay of almost two years before a foreshore licence was issued which delayed the project. The same happened in Schull, Baltimore, Kinsale and Courtmacsherry, to name but a few cases. I am being parochial in this regard but those delays cost the State money because on one side a Department pulled back and on the other the Department which had finance wanted to drive the project forward. The sewage treatment plant in Bantry came 20 years too late. Raw sewage went into a bay which was the capital of the mussel industry. The matter has been resolved. The local authority and the county manager spoke about these schemes and were deeply concerned about the delay and the logistics of how the process operated in the past. It is to be hoped this might help to resolve the current situation.

On coastal zone management and the transfer of responsibility for dumping at sea to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, I do not want a situation like Lanigan's ball, where I step in, you step out and we all step in together and we are shifting the onus of blame from one person to another. I am concerned about this issue, which is an old chestnut of mine. The Minister of State might be able to give some answers before Committee Stage.

I am deeply concerned about the dumping and abandoning of vessels off the south-west coast, which is a serious issue and one which I am not sure is addressed in the Bill. Between Bere Island and Castletownbere a massive vessel called the Bardini Reefer lies in state with its mast sticking up. It is a danger to fishermen and the islands. The vessel was scuttled for an insurance scam but is still there. Who will remove that wreck?

The Kowloon Bridge, one of the largest freight vessels ever built in the history of the world and registered in eastern Europe to carry ore, was in Bantry Bay and we were afraid for our lives because it was a massive ship. The crew decided to take it 70 or 80 miles off Mizen Head in bad weather, called for help and abandoned the ship. The iron ore carrier sank to the bottom of the sea and ended up lying off the Stag’s Head in a beautiful part of Baltimore. The Tribulus was another large vessel, owned by Shell, and in connection with which a diver lost his life when he came into Bantry Bay for shelter. Another vessel, the Ranga, was washed ashore at Slea Head and left there as an eyesore for years. This Bill may not address these issues but the ugly, rotting heap of metal lying between the harbour in Bere Island and Castletownbere should be looked at and perhaps the Minister of State might return to me on this issue in the future.

I compliment the Minister of State in his capacity as chairman of the interdepartmental committee known as the marine co-ordination group. It is not before time and is something for which I have always argued. It brings together various Departments to address coastal matters. My home town of Bantry is a tourist hub and places such as Whiddy Island attract tourists. There is an oil industry there as well as a very viable fish farming industry. We have the beautiful island of Garinish. There are many different links. Such matters have always been the focus of a single Department that has not been interested in what other Departments are doing. I hope the new co-ordinating group will be of benefit to people living in rural Ireland, especially in coastal areas.

I would like to make a point about Bantry Bay, which is the second biggest and finest bay in the world, without in any way being pejorative or awkward. The bay is about 20 miles deep and some parts of it are eight or nine miles wide. As far as I am aware, all the foreshore rights in the bay are traditionally vested in Bantry House or Lord Bantry. If that is the case, it is wrong and legislation should be introduced to correct it. Perhaps the Minister of State will check in advance of Committee Stage whether it is the case. My colleague, Senator Keaveney, recently made a similar point about Lough Foyle. Our links with colonial Britain should be severed once and for all. If Bantry House has to get some quid pro quo, so be it. These rights are of importance in Bantry if one is extending the pier, for example. When a new sewerage pipe scheme was undertaken along the foreshore recently, permission had to be sought and the rights had to be bought out from Bantry House. Some of the rights are now vested in Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. If this is the case in Bantry, it may be replicated in Kenmare, with Lord Kenmare being involved, and in other areas. It is something we should look at because it may cause headaches down the road if wind farms or wave energy projects are being considered. These issues should be resolved sooner rather than later in case there is a big find of oil or gas off our south-west coast.

I agree we have to be careful to protect our environment from dumping at sea. The Minister of State will be aware of the difficulties that were encountered when a €40 million fisheries harbour and pier project, which was funded by the Government and its predecessor, was being developed in Castletownbere. A contaminant known as TBT was found when the inner harbour was being dredged in advance of the project. The poisonous and toxic substance in question was skimmed from the silt residue and rolled into big lumps of concrete. We have to export such toxic waste to a recognised dump in Germany which is the only place in Europe that can accept it. The exact same problem is developing in Bantry. Under this Bill, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will continue to be responsible for places like Castletownbere, Killybegs and Dunmore East. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will be responsible for ports that are not primarily associated with sea fishing, such as Bantry, Kinsale, Baltimore and Schull in west Cork. I do not have a problem with that.

The issue of contamination is an old chestnut of mine. I remember raising it with the then Minister for the Marine, John Wilson — God be good to him — when he visited Bantry in 1989. At the time, I was getting a few bob to do some hydrographic surveys, to see whether we could get our pier extended. Unfortunately, those tests indicated that this famous contaminant was present in Castletownbere. The tests also showed that mercury, which is a lethal contaminant, was present in the inner harbour. We have plans to dredge the inner harbour. I hope the necessary €3.5 million will be provided. The Minister of State might ask his colleagues whether that fund, which I fought for in the last Dáil, is still available. I am concerned about it. I accept it is expensive to skim off six or 12 inches of contaminated material, mothball it into a kind of concrete bollard and export it. The rest of the material can be dealt with easily. I hope a system of dealing with such issues can be put in place in the future.

I would like to be parochial for a moment by speaking about the issue of coastal zone management in south-west Cork and south Kerry. The Minister of State, who visited that area recently, will be aware of the huge potential for fish farming there. I was unable to be present on that occasion, unfortunately, because I had another commitment. I am sure the Minister of State had a wonderful visit to Cahermore, on the Beara Peninsula, which is the home of what is probably the biggest abalone farm in the northern hemisphere. I hope the farm can provide a few jobs in the area. We must not damage the potential for the aquaculture and mariculture industry to provide jobs, for example, in the farming of rope mussels, salmon, trout and abalone. I suggest that the industry is still in its infancy. It should not be sold out to the environmental lobby, for example, in the form of EU regulations or domestic guidelines relating to coastal zone management etc. If we are serious about trying to sustain jobs in remote parts of rural Ireland, we cannot allow a Department to cause problems by saying this and that cannot be done.

Similarly, at a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, a delegation made the point that there are astronomical delays of five, six or seven years in the issuing of aquaculture licences. Perhaps the Minister of State can clarify whether that is the case. I am not trying to be awkward. If there are underlying reasons such licences cannot be issued more quickly, we should know about them.

I attended a four-hour meeting with representatives of the fishing industry about the Common Fisheries Policy earlier today. Along with my colleague, Senator McCarthy, I supported the case that was made by the fishermen. There is huge potential in rural Ireland not only for the development of wind farms and wave energy, etc. but also for the development of fish farming. When I go to Schull or Skibbereen to buy sea bass for my dinner, I am surprised to learn it was farmed in Cyprus. It seems we are importing farmed fish from Indonesia, other parts of Asia and from South America. As an island community, we should be to the fore in this regard. Any regulations that are introduced should not cramp, stifle or put obstacles in the way of the development of the fish farming industry which has huge potential.

I would love to say much more about these matters. I might propose a couple of amendments on Committee Stage, which I normally would not do, to tease out issues like the foreshore rights in Bantry. Beidh lá eile againn.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, to the House. The previous speaker referred to aquaculture licences. I intended to raise the same issue on the Adjournment last week, but I withdrew the matter when the debate on the National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009 continued into the early hours of the morning. I decided that the presence in the Chamber of those of us who had to be here was sufficient without bringing other people in unnecessarily. I thank the Minister of State and his officials for compiling and making available to me the text of the reply that would have been read into the record of the House last week.

I thank the staff of the Oireachtas research and library service for providing Senators with an extensive and informative debate pack on this legislation which deals with quite a technical area. While it might seem like an innocuous and straightforward Bill, I have a number of concerns that I would like to scrutinise in greater detail at the various legislative stages.

I refer to a 1997 document, Coastal Zone Management — A Draft Policy for Ireland, in the context of what has been said about foreshore issues. It is significant that the document was issued by the then Departments of the Marine and Natural Resources and Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. Page 12 of the document, which relates to the development of the foreshore, states that some of the legislative framework is out of date and inadequate to the task at hand. It refers to the Foreshore Acts as an example of legislation that requires review and suggests that a major review of the Acts is planned. The document argues that the system illustrates the difficulty of administering the coastal zone and highlights the need for a more integrated approach. In my view, not much progress has been made since that document was published in 1997, despite the long series of publications and debates in the meantime. It is like Seanad reform. It has been the elephant in the room for too long without any action being taken for whatever reason.

I note that some sections of the Bill allow for the transfer of certain responsibilities from the Department to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This chips away at responsibility. We do not have a department of the marine and therefore do not have an integrated co-ordinated strategy on marine issues. I have made this point consistently. Many different aspects of marine are being dealt with by separate Departments, including the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, and Transport. The Ministers in all those Departments have introduced legislation into this House or have made statements on those areas. It is not good not to have a joined-up and cohesive strategy on the marine. Some time ago when the Tánaiste, Deputy Coughlan, was asked a question on the marine, she turned around and did not know which Minister had responsibility for that issue. Invariably the marine will suffer from the lack of joined-up thinking and a cohesive co-ordinated integrated approach to the marine.

Senator O'Donovan mentioned that the Federation of Irish Fishermen and the Irish Fishermen's Organisation attended this morning's meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It was startling to listen to the very immediate issues that challenge not just the industry but also coastal communities across the country. It is inappropriate not to have a single Minister with Ministers of State in a dedicated Department. I am obviously very cognisant of the economic difficulties we face and the different recommendations for cuts in various services. Proposing the creation of a new Department is probably not as worthwhile as it might have been a year or two ago. Nonetheless expanding the role of quangos and organisations that are not inherently accountable is not appropriate.

This is an elected Assembly, albeit with 11 lucky people, one of whom will be making a contribution shortly and another of whom is chairing proceedings. The other House is an elected forum. All our local authorities are elected by the people. We have a public duty responsibility to represent issues brought to our attention and raise issues of concern to our sectoral interests, communities and society as a whole. That is a fundamental part of our democracy and something we cherish and value. We built a modern democracy, opposing the alternative to what we have now. In many ways adding to the role of bodies such as the EPA chips away at the responsibility of the democratic system. It also takes from the full impact of our democratic roles.

Most Members of this House will have had experience of trying to deal with the NRA or HSE. In my case I ask colleagues in the Dáil to table parliamentary questions on issues affecting people in my area. I will give one example. While it is not marine-related, it emphasises the point I am making about the deliberate strategy of quangos and organisations taking from our role as public representatives. Applications for medical cards for the over 70s are now being dealt with by the HSE in Finglas. A person in Skibbereen supplied information last June and as recently as last month got a letter from the HSE stating the information was never passed on. Previously such applications were handled by a local democratic body by the superintendent of community welfare, who was based in the town, knew the applicant and the system, and could deal in a very effective and efficient manner. The superintendent could deal with my representation and I would get a response within two, three or four days. However, we are now dealing with faceless bureaucracy based as far away from west Cork as it is possible to get. That breaks the connection between elected representatives and people on the ground.

This Bill is another example and in many ways mirrors some of the aspects of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill that was passed during the last session in this House. It creates a body or adds to the role of a body that is not accountable and is not as accessible to the ordinary people as we are or as ordinary Departments are.

While wind energy is a great notion and there is considerable debate on the issue, there are many other issues in that regard which require as much forensic examination as other issues that are more widely known about. We need the statutory involvement of local authorities. With normal planning applications there is an opportunity for ordinary members of the public to make their observations on the planning application known. They can approach public representatives who have an involvement — albeit a limited reserved involvement — in the planning process with local authorities. None the less it keeps open that connection between the ordinary individual and the statutory body. When that decision is made there is an opportunity to make another observation to An Bord Pleanála, which may go against the point I have been making for the past four or five minutes. Nonetheless there are processes, including the statutory involvement of local authorities that ensure and guarantee the rights of the individual that the points of view people need to raise on planning applications can be recorded and can be made known. Another issue is the public right of appeal, which exists through An Bord Pleanála and serves a very useful purpose.

Marine spatial planning based on the ecosystem approach is another very significant issue as are coastal landscape safeguards. How many of the coastal zone management committees of our local authorities were consulted in advance of publishing the Bill? How many of the stakeholders had an input into the Bill? The Government's promised national landscape strategy must expressly include seascapes, included in the European Landscape Convention definition of landscape. Many such issues require forensic examination.

I will be tabling amendments to this legislation as I see fit. I have a major issue with removing our role as public representatives and expanding the role of quangos, particularly at a time when politicians are being questioned over value for money. The effects and the roles we have in the political process are equally important. I have an issue with expanding roles. The absence of a department of the marine is another issue. We will see other Ministers on other occasions pushing through legislation on different aspects of the marine issue.

At this morning's meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food I made the point that we now have an opportunity with the appointment of the former Minister for Justice, Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, as our European Commissioner. I believe we should seek the fisheries portfolio for her. It would say much about Government strategy in this area. However, it is an area around which we do not have a bureaucratic structure in terms of a single department of the marine. If there was a department of the marine perhaps the ban on public sector promotions might not apply to the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, and he might find himself in Cabinet.

I do not agree with Senator McCarthy's assertion that there should be political interference——

I did not say "political interference". I spoke about a role.

That could be interpreted as interference. It is our duty to try to get the best legislation that makes——

The Senator needs to have faith that the services and the institutions we establish are sufficiently robust. It is our function to ensure that shortcomings we might perceive in the legislation are ironed out here so that the services can be provided. The necessity for a public representative to work on behalf of the citizen in interfacing with Departments should be cut to a minimum.

To a large extent I welcome the Bill and I welcome the Minister of State to the House. However, I believe it represents a missed opportunity. While I welcome Senator Bradford's enthusiasm for the Bill, I do not share his level of belief in it. I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, to which he referred. We have spent considerable time dealing with the question of offshore licences, on which I wish to focus. In the two years since its establishment, it has taken up a considerable amount of our time. We have repeatedly heard from witnesses telling us about missed opportunities because it is impossible to get a quick answer from the Department. I welcome the Bill because it makes more sense to transfer the responsibilities to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I hope to God it will mean we will get a quicker response. Given that Ireland is well placed for this type of investment, it has been deeply frustrating for the committee members to deal with people repeatedly telling us that we are about to lose this enormous investment to Scotland or some other area because there is a lack of enthusiasm or interest on the part of Government to smooth the path and make it easier.

Given the economic turmoil in which we find ourselves, the Government certainly would not wish to be an obstacle to progress and investment. As I said, it has been deeply frustrating for members of the committee and for lobbyists outside the Oireachtas that so much of our focus has had to be on removing this obstacle so that we can secure those types of investments. One of the briefing documents relating to this legislation notes the comment by the director of Sustainable Energy Ireland that we do no not want to be the ones sending out the sandwiches and watching what others are doing because we have not legislatively equipped the State to exploit the opportunities that exist.

We must take whatever action is necessary to expedite licensing and to ensure there is opportunity to exploit our resources, whether wind, wave, mineral or whatever. I hope this legislation will be the vehicle to expedite licensing arrangements. If there is an impediment in this regard I am interested to hear what it is. Through the course of Committee and Report Stages, I hope we end up with legislation that will facilitate people who want to invest in a substantial way — we are talking about billions of euro — in our smart economy. It is an area in which Ireland can move to the fore. There are opportunities not only in terms of our ability to export to other countries but also in terms of reducing our dependency on oil and gas and the major impact that will have in respect of our carbon footprint.

In his contribution, the Acting Chairman, Senator McCarthy, spoke about how long we have been waiting for this legislation. My focus is very much on the energy side, whereas the Acting Chairman is particularly interested in fisheries. It is deeply frustrating from the energy perspective. We are all grateful that the legislation is finally before us but we must be sure to take the opportunity — I do not mean any disrespect in saying this — to make it as good as we can. It is generally the case that legislation deals with issues that we can see or can expect. In this case, however, we need to expect the unexpected, that is, we must think outside the box. The legislation must accommodate, in so far as possible, issues that may not be relevant today.

For example, when the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 was being debated in the Dáil, I remember thinking it should include something about offshore wind generation and so on because that is where the future lies. Although something may not be economical today, it certainly could be in the longer term. Our responsibility is to frame legislation for a 30-year window. Proposals regarding offshore wind generation were not taken seriously in 2006 because they were considered uneconomical at the time. The view in that regard has changed in the meantime and although it is not nearly as economical as onshore wind generation, that is not a good enough reason not to legislate. We had the opportunity in that instance to make legislation that will stand the test of time, but we did not take it.

That is why I hope this Bill will take on board the work of the Oireachtas committee. Senator Bradford spoke about how it is one of the first times that a committee of the Houses has put forward legislation. We were adamant that we would do worthwhile work on this important issue, but it apparently fell on deaf ears. I am a great fan of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, and have every faith in his commitment to this area. I am confident that the shortcomings in this Bill are not a result of his unwillingness or reluctance to accept our proposals. Nonetheless, I do not see a great deal of them in the Bill, which is unfortunate. I expect the Minister of State will reassure me that there will be time to include such provisions at a later date. That frustrates me because they are needed now; we cannot afford to let any more investments stall. However, I welcome the fact that progress is finally being made on the transfer of certain functions to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the updating of the provisions regarding dumping at sea. I am pleased to support the Bill but would be even more pleased to make it a far more robust and rigorous proposal.

I am not often in agreement with Senator O'Malley but I agree with most of what she said today. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, and his officials for this debate. I welcome the broad thrust of the Bill but, like Senator O'Malley, I am not sure that it goes far enough. It is an attempt to address very outdated legislation, going as far back as the Foreshore Act 1933. It is not before time, therefore, that these provisions were updated.

As a member of Waterford County Council for seven years, I found that the issue of foreshore licences tied up the business of many council meetings. The background was that the council had submitted an application to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for a sewage treatment scheme covering seven villages. The council was encouraged by the Department to band the seven villages together in order to make the scheme more efficient. Unfortunately, it was not foreseen when the application was made that the foreshore licensing issue would hold up the entire process not only for the two or three villages that required those licences but in respect of all seven villages. I joined the council in 1999 and some of those sewerage schemes have still not been delivered mainly because of the bureaucracy surrounding the processing of foreshore licences. Council officials were tearing their hair out and councillors could not understand why there was such toing and froing between the various Departments without any progress being made. That is very frustrating when one is trying to deliver essential infrastructure that will also improve the environment.

Will the Minister of State consider, by amendment or otherwise, imposing some type of timeframe on the issuing of foreshore licences? This might be similar to a planning process whereby there would be time limits not only for applicants but also for those who are vetting the applications within Departments such that they must get back to local authorities with a definitive response within a reasonable timeframe. Such a requirement would alleviate much of the excessive delays and frustration in the issuing of licences. It is illogical and nonsensical that entire projects have been held up in this manner. Along with a timeframe provision, will the Minister of State also consider an accountability measure that would allow applicants and any interested bodies or stakeholders to track the licensing process in order to ascertain exactly where they stand?

Like Senator O'Malley, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. I have learned much from the delegates who have attended meetings of that committee who are genuinely interested in investing in renewable technologies. They are tearing their hair out in seeking to progress their initiatives because of the lack of clarity around the licensing issue. The bottom line is that unless there is clarity and defined direction from Government, investors will not commit to renewable projects. As an island nation with huge submarine landbanks under our jurisdiction, we have substantial natural resources to exploit. I agree with Senator O'Malley that those resources must be exploited now and not in ten years' time. We must be ahead of the curve in getting entrepreneurs and investors in the area of renewable energy into the Irish market so that they will create jobs and establish energy channels that are sustainable and renewable. Unfortunately, our bureaucratic system does not allow for that to happen in an efficient and clear manner. I am hopeful the Bill will go some distance in addressing these frustrations but I am not sure it will go the entire way. As Senator O'Malley said, this was one of the first occasions on which a joint committee presented a Bill relating to these issues as it sought to clarify the foreshore licensing regime and provide a more efficient model to process applications.

I fully accept environmental impact assessments should be conducted and every stakeholder should have a say but applications should not be held up because civil servants do not understand who is responsible for what or they are left sitting in Departments for years. This was a huge missed opportunity for investment in the State and the development of foreshore licensing. It is the job of government to manage our coastal zones and the foreshore. Surely an efficient and effective system can be put in place in order that when people make applications, they can receive prompt responses, whether they are positive or negative. At least the applicants and other investors would then know where they stood. It is important that the Minister of State and his officials listen to Senators who are making this case. That is what we heard from industry representatives at committee hearings. Will the Minister of State contemplate tabling amendments to make the foreshore licensing application process more efficient and accountable and to provide for definitive timeframes?

It would be remiss of me not to mention our visit to the Marine Institute in Oranmore, County Galway. This State agency does tremendous work in the field of marine research. It is available to the Minister to deal with coastal management, marine planning and foreshore licensing. Institutions such as this should be exploited to the full to promote Government initiatives to assist the private sector and investors in this area.

It is essential that all legislation in this area is modernised. It is a pity that more provisions in the joint committee's Bill are not included in this legislation. Perhaps there will be further opportunities for this to happen in the near future. I appeal to the Minister of State to ask his ministerial colleagues to listen to the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. It is a cross-party committee with genuine concerns and is trying to proactively engage with State agencies and the Government to encourage investment in this area and improve the lot of the State.

I call on the Minister of State to introduce deadlines for the processing of licence applications in order that applicants, industry representatives and local authorities know where they stand. The current regime is open-ended. Applicants have no idea when projects will be delivered. That is not good for the delivery of vital infrastructure such as wastewater treatment systems which are vital to every town and village or for investors, given that investment is badly needed in the renewable energy sector to fully exploit and capture the potential of our natural marine resources.

I welcome the introduction of the Bill and hope it is implemented as early as possible. It is important in a number of respects. It provides for rationalisation in that it makes sense of the question of how the foreshore can be used sustainably and who is responsible for making sure it is used sustainably. There has been a great deal of confusion and, as a result, unnecessary delays in dealing with the question of how applications can be made for the use and protection of the foreshore through a licensing process.

This dual purpose Bill also has another important role which has not been referred to in the debate to date and which was not mentioned in the press release that accompanied its publication. It relates to a commitment in the 2007 programme for Government which was reiterated in the revised programme recently agreed. Ireland is the last country in Europe to sign the Aarhus declaration on freedom of information on environmental matters. This cannot evoke a great deal of pride for an island nation that presents itself as a green country in appearance, if nothing else. In passing the Bill we will overcome an important obstacle and will at last ratify a declaration signed several years ago and which we have been too slow to implement. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of the ratification of the Aarhus declaration because it will change the nature of environmental law in the State and offer a different perspective for citizens who campaign on environmental grounds for the sustainable protection of our environment. We will witness the fruits of this within a short period.

As previous speakers correctly said, unnecessary delays were caused by the confusion about which Department was responsible for foreshore licensing. Up to five Departments had responsibility for such licensing at different times. The rationalisation of the licensing process to be overseen by two Departments and ensuring one State agency has responsibility for monitoring dumping at sea makes eminent sense not only in the context of environmental protection but also in that it provides for the proper sustainable use of the foreshore for economic purposes. Several Senators referred to the potential of renewable energy projects and how they have been stymied by this confusion. I refer to the delay in the Oriel offshore wind farm project, the backers of which are waiting for the confusion to be dispelled and for this legislation to be passed. I encourage Members of both Houses when examining this legislation to ensure it ultimately is passed to allow important economic and energy projects to develop.

This Bill is linked with the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009. There has been a question about how to link the need to control and protect the environment with the need to develop economically. I am not sure whether other Senators made their contributions from a proper perspective. I represent the Green Party which has an environmental perspective. Historically, we have got that perspective wrong. We need an appropriate rebalancing of our legislation. We need Departments and State agencies to properly reflect the need to strike the correct balance about what is seen to be an economic need to achieve economic development, environmental sustainability and protection of our environment.

It is especially important at this time in our history as we go through such a serious economic adjustment that we do not make decisions which are panic reactions to our economic circumstances to achieve a short-term economic gain by promoting projects that will result in long-term environmental damage. We have a responsibility, as legislators, to make sure our legislation is framed in such a way that this temptation is avoided and to make sure not only that the wording of legislation is clear in order that those who must implement it know what needs to be done but also that the legislation itself informs the culture needed to sustain national environmental assets in the long term. We want to benefit many generations to come.

These simple principles should inform legislation such as this. As Senator Bradford said, it has been delayed for too long. I am frustrated that it has taken two years to present such a simple, short Bill to the House but I am glad it has finally been introduced. I am especially pleased about the doors it will open by setting down new markers for legislation and the cultural standards we want to apply to the protection and sustainability of our environment.

The Minister of State is very welcome. I read this Bill, not knowing exactly what it contained. It makes considerable sense to transfer the powers from where they reside. I was delighted to hear the Minister of State speak about aquaculture and the shellfish sector. I had experience of this industry years ago when Bord Iascaigh Mhara asked me to be one of three judges in a competition to find the best oyster in Ireland. There were 24 oysters to be opened, tested for cleanliness and so on and eaten. There were three judges and we each ate 24 oysters. Unfortunately, there was a tie and we then had to eat six more to decide which was best. When I got home for dinner that evening, I was fortunate that my wife did not give me something similar to eat. I mention this because of the importance of the foreshore, from the point of view of exports. Almost all of the oysters from the oyster farms in that competition were exported the following day, mainly to France.

One of the main benefits of the Bill is that it will help to boost the wind power industry, of which Senator Dan Boyle has just spoken. It will move responsibility for both planning permission and the foreshore licence to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which Department is said to be in a position to streamline and quicken the Government's renewable and wind energy policies.

The European Investment Bank announced on Monday that it would provide up to £700 million for new loans to eligible onshore wind farms in the United Kingdom. The remainder will be matched by a number of banks: RBS, Lloyds Banking Group and BNP Paribas Fortis. The scheme is supported by the UK Treasury and UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. This project could enable approximately £1.4 billion of onshore wind energy projects to move to construction in the next three years. Are similar negotiations being undertaken to receive similar loans for Ireland from the European Investment Bank?

Earlier this year the Royal Dutch Shell, rated the largest corporation in the world by Fortune magazine in 2009, announced that it would no longer invest in renewable energy projects such as wind, solar and hydro power projects because they were not economic. Three years ago I was asked what business I would go into if I were starting out now. I replied that I would become involved in the renewable energy sector. I now find that the biggest companies in the world are stating it is not economic. Does the Minister think this is a strong indication that investment in wind energy projects is futile, especially in the short term? I do not believe it is but it appears that a number of wind energy projects, in Ireland and elsewhere, are no longer going ahead. I, therefore, have a concern. From where I live in Howth I can see the seven wind turbines off the coast of County Wicklow. They seem to be working all the time. However, it appears we have not moved in the direction we should have for renewable energy projects. Is this a planning matter? Is it something we can do something about? If renewable energy technologies are not economical, can we do something to enable us to make them so?

On the wider issue of planning, we all know how planning applications for large projects can be held up by an individual objector. In a number of cases the individual holding up the construction of, say, a wind farm does not even live in the area in question. This is one of the major reasons incinerators have never been introduced, even though many experts say they are much needed.

I was very impressed when I learned that a new body had been set up in the United Kingdom last month called the Infrastructure Planning Commission, IPC. It is an independent body which will assume responsibility for planning nationally important projects from March 2010. It is hoped decisions which used to take years will take just months or even weeks. It also means that inputs from the public will be more limited. That may sound undemocratic but perhaps we have gone too far the other way and too many objections are causing delays in pursuing worthy projects. It is hoped the new planning system will help to build much needed projects such as new airports, roads, incinerators and sewage plants. A planned high speed rail line connecting London with Scotland could also be initiated. The United Kingdom is also pressing ahead with numerous proposals focused on energy, including schemes for wind farms, power lines, gas pipelines and clean coal projects, thanks to the new planning system.

What is most interesting is the plan to replace many of the United Kingdom's old nuclear power plants with new ones in order to help cut the country's emissions of greenhouse gases. The companies which will be contracted to build these new nuclear power plants have made it clear they will not tolerate delays in planning. It is a real worry that the power plants will not be completed on time, as it is estimated that electricity supply in the United Kingdom could begin to fall short of demand as soon as 2015 and the new nuclear plants will not be in operation until 2017. This idea was summed up by the UK Secretary of State, Mr. Ed Milliband, when he said, "We are not going to be able to deliver a 21st century energy system with a 20th century planning system".

It is time we looked at our own planning system in this regard and had a real debate on nuclear power. I have tabled a motion on the subject and hope the Seanad will have a discussion on it. I am not sure it is right but the refusal even to discuss the subject is dangerous. Professor Colm Kenny of Dublin City University said during the week, "The Republic of Ireland already buys nuclear and other energy from Britain via the underwater Moyle interconnector to Scotland”. The new connector to Wales is expected to begin operation by 2012. There is no way of knowing exactly how much of the electricity from Britain which Ireland already uses is generated at nuclear power plants. With Ireland buying electricity from Britain, as we are at present, it is not easy for Government Ministers to raise strong objections to Britain’s new nuclear power plant expansion.

James Lovelock, former chief scientist for NASA and the person who discovered the hole in the ozone layer, believes that in the short term, "Only nuclear power can now halt global warming". He argues that we "should regard nuclear energy as something that could be available from new power stations in five years and could see us through the troubled times ahead when the climate changes and there are shortages of food and fuel and major demographic changes". That is not to mention the fact that nuclear energy would free Ireland and Europe from dependence on middle eastern or Russian oil.

I am using this debate as an opportunity to make sure we give consideration at least to debating the subject of nuclear power. Last year a number of senior Green Party members in Britain changed their attitude to nuclear power. They now believe it is not only safe but also environmentally acceptable because no fossil fuels are used in its production and it is the only way to achieve greenhouse gas emissions targets in the years ahead. We need to move into the 21st century and have a proper debate on nuclear power and the issue of planning major projects in this country. This legislation will help us to move in that direction. Therefore, I encourage its passage. The Minister of State has taken the right step, although we have a long way to go to achieve what we must achieve.

I am pleased to debate any issues connected with marine matters. I welcome the Minister of State to the Seanad. He has adopted a hands-on approach to marine matters and is not afraid to travel long distances to meet fishermen in any port.

On Monday last I was in Brussels meeting two of the directors general which deal with marine and rural development. We were looking at how EU funding would be distributed after 2013. The Baltic states have united on a number of projects which do not necessarily involve new funding but which co-ordinate existing structures to maximise their potential and draw down new funding, should it become available. The question with which we are trying to grapple is, with an expanded Europe, if European Union funding will be given out on the basis of people working in co-operation with each other. If so, where do our natural bonds lie? To which countries should we look? Marine was very much at the centre of that debate. Maritime issues were also very much part of it. Our question was whether the new British Irish Council would be able to form an entity which would be able to draw down enough support at EU level. The answer we received was that more than two states would need to work together and that it should be three or four states. The question then was whether we should work on an Atlantic axis — north-western Europe — and with which states we should work.

It is very easy to talk about France and agriculture and the mutual issues on which we fight together. However, if we look at the marine sector and our shared space, much of that shared space is water. We have shared opportunities but we also have shared issues, including marine security, the peddling of drugs and human trafficking. Wales and Ireland have interconnectors to ensure the supply of gas. However, we do not have a wind farm which would lay cables and ensure a supply to these interconnectors.

A number of issues were raised at that meeting and one might ask what they have to do with the Foreshore and Dumping at Sea Bill. The fundamental message with which we came home was from one of the directorates which threw its hands in the air and asked us how we could start to deal with other countries in regard to the marine if we did not have a Department of the marine. While I very much welcome the idea of a cross-departmental body announced earlier this year — I know the Minister of State was driving the concept — the marine area is diverse. The concept of working interdepartmentally is the way things need to go. If we talk about energy supply, we are talking about the environment and if we talk about fishing, we are talking about the marine. Smuggling and justice issues concern the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In some respects, we are wrong not to have a Department of the marine but we are right to work interdepartmentally.

This needs to be driven by one core ministry. I know it is not within the Minister of State's gift to rejig current Departments but the value and opportunities in the marine sector need to be re-evaluated and reprioritised at Government level. This is an island and our potential is in our island status. There is an element of the marine attached to many of our current difficulties and to the challenges we face in terms of the economy, climate change, security of energy supply etc.

Many Members spoke about the co-ordination and co-operation necessary at that level but I wish to return to the Bill and the issue of the foreshore. In the Foyle, a third party is claiming the foreshore, namely, the Crown Estate. The Crown Estate was like a tax collection agency for the Queen. Now it is more like a private industry which, to all intents and purposes, lifts money on behalf of a private company. When I receive information from the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Minister for Finance, I am told they are working with the British Government and that it concerns the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

My difficulty in regard to the foreshore and who owns and operates it is in the context of the Foyle and its tributaries. A Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should speak to his or her counterpart in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in the North and not to the Crown Estate.

I started my contribution by talking about many countries with a shared space working together. There are two jurisdictions in the Foyle and its tributaries operating a shared space. We also have the Loughs Agency. Let the Crown Estate prove its entitlement to the foreshore of the Foyle. I do not believe it would be able to do so. In 1920 Ireland was given back its islands, coast, rivers and tributaries but the Six Counties were taken out. The Crown Estate or anyone else has very shaky legs on which to stand when claiming the foreshore. I have received very unsatisfactory answers in this regard.

For some years the economy of the north west has been bleak. We have a great opportunity with the Foyle and its tributaries to develop in a co-ordinated and clear fashion many marine-related, although not marine specific, opportunities. I would like one agency to look after the air above the Foyle, the water of the Foyle and the seabed beneath the Foyle. I would like the Loughs Agency to be expanded and to have a role in regard to the marine, jet skiing, justice, planning and environmental matters. In other words, it should have full responsibility for the Foyle.

When I challenged the Crown Estate as to its entitlement in regard to the Foyle, I was told it would make no claims on the Foyle until such time as the two Governments made a decision on the jurisdictional issue. Let us not make a decision on the jurisdictional issue. Let the joint body which exists have total responsibility for the Foyle. We must not let any other body, whether the Duke of Abercorn, the Honourable the Irish Society or the Crown Estate, claim the foreshore unless they can prove their claim beyond doubt but I do not believe any of them could do so.

While it might not seem relevant to this Bill, we have a significant foreshore problem in the Foyle. It is leading to people who have fished on the Foyle and its tributaries being alienated. I would like the Minister of State and the other Departments which have some responsibility in this regard to intervene because I cannot get answers. Each time I ask a question, I am told another Minister is responsible. I wish the Bill well and hope it has positive implications for me in the foreshore difficulties I have in my area.

I welcome the Minister of State and the opportunity to speak on this very important legislation. My party fully supports the Bill. In fact, Fine Gael published plans in its New ERA document which would create 100,000 jobs in this country. From research done, I was amazed to see that the foreshore covers 49,000 sq. km. or the equivalent of 57% of the landmass of the Republic of Ireland. That is a huge area. I wish the Minister of State well with the Bill.

Wind and wave energy will be very important for the economic development of this country. This country could export wind and wave energy. My county has the highest wind speeds in Europe, wind speeds that are far in excess of those in any other county, even though County Donegal is a little further ahead than County Mayo in developing wind energy projects. However, those involved in wind energy projects have problems connecting to the grid. I hope the Government will put energy into sorting out these problems as quickly as possible. As an island nation we should be exporting wind energy. We have a golden opportunity to develop wind energy projects. Various Ministers have commented in recent years on the potential for the development of wind and wave energy projects. A pilot scheme is being run in County Mayo off the coast of Belmullet. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, approved grant aid for it and visited the project recently, having previously visited it on a number of occasions.

A basic element of this legislation will be the granting of foreshore licences and charting a way to provide quicker access for projects to come on stream. If that transpires to be the case, this legislation will be welcome.

My Fine Gael colleague, Deputy Coveney, has produced a policy document which proposes the creation of 100,000 jobs in the development of wave and wind energy. It is a sector where there is massive potential for growth, job creation and energy exports. Every effort should be made to fast-forward wind and wave energy projects that are in the pipeline, of which there are quite a number along our coastline. We should be a world leader in such development given our geographical position. It is suggested that one project off the coast of Galway could generate enough electricity to power half the country. That is only one of several such projects that could be developed off our coastline.

I welcome the Bill and what the Minister of State had to say. I have no doubt that the many concerns raised by various Senators will be taken into account and that will give us a clearer definition of how we should progress in this area. Senator O'Toole raised the issue of difficulties in regard to the granting of foreshore licences encountered by various county managers in bringing forward wind and wave energy projects within their counties along our coast. I hope this legislation will help to address that issue.

I wish the Minister of State well with the Bill. I hope it becomes law as quickly as possible and will help to bring to fruition the many wind and wave energy projects that are in the pipeline throughout the country.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Members of the Seanad for facilitating the introduction of this Bill at this stage because, as a number of speakers said, there is some urgency attached to dealing with the matter. I am delighted to have this opportunity to introduce the Bill and I thank the Senators who contributed to the debate.

Senator Bradford asked about the reason for the delay in introducing it. It is important to point out that the transfer of responsibility has been done in two phases. The first phase occurred just over a year ago when a number of areas of responsibility were transferred to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the remaining phase is provided for in this legislation. However, it is important to stress that in the intervening period and prior to the 2008 transfer there has been very close co-operation between the two Departments and a number of officials in both have been working together to ensure the transfer goes smoothly and that people are aware of all the issues that arise.

A critical point is that 57% of the land area of the country is the foreshore. Relative to other countries in Europe and internationally our foreshore constitutes a very high proportion of the land area of the State. In terms of correlation with the population and resources of the country, it poses a daunting challenge, having regard to all the European legislation and directives that have to be taken into account, to try to move to where every Senator who spoke would want us to be at, which would be to have at least an adequate, and perhaps the most modern possible, regime for the foreshore. It is also important to remember that in other countries, not only in Europe but elsewhere, this is a challenge that has been faced with considerable difficulty. It is no harm to learn from other people's mistakes and also to learn from best practice in other jurisdictions.

A number of Senators referred to the work that is being done by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security across a range of areas but especially on the proposed Bill. I am sure that is something the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will examine when he moves to the next phase.

Senator Bradford asked about consultation periods. The fact that there was not a defined period has caused frustration for Senators, Deputies and local authority members throughout the country. Section 12 of this Bill provides for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to introduce regulations to specify the period within which the statutory consultees must respond. If one were to ask me how this would make things happen more quickly, this would be an important element in delivering in that respect.

Senator Bradford also asked a number of questions about proceedings before the courts. I do not have the detailed answers to those but I will try to get them for him. A considerable number of cases are before the courts. He also asked about the transfer of responsibility to the EPA and whether the resources of the authority will be sufficient to take on that challenge. In the first instance, the Vote for the EPA comes under Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, but there is a provision in the Bill specifying that the charges go directly to the EPA rather than the Exchequer. I hope that will be of some assistance.

Senator O'Donovan asked if the legislation would help to expedite licences. The provisions in section 12 will be a move in the right direction in that respect. He also asked if this legislation is an exercise in transferring the blame. It is important to remember that it tries to align the responsibilities for spatial planning on land with the responsibilities for spatial planning in the sea. The local authorities have responsibility for their own county development plans and the Department to which they respond, in the main, is the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. That is the appropriate place to have most of the responsibilities, apart from the ones that are directly concerned with sea fishing, aquaculture licensing and the six designated fishery harbour ports. That is what is being done in this case.

On the issue of wrecks, which Senator O'Donovan raised, it is a matter for the receiver of wrecks, which comes under the Department of Transport. The Senator also raised a question about foreshore licences held by private individuals. I will get the answer to that question for the Senator because I do not know about that matter.

Senator O'Donovan raised the issue of the dumping of noxious materials, which is an important issue. The dumping at sea functions, which are technical in any event, are transferred, properly in my view, to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Senator made the important point that we must not sell out the potential of aquaculture. I think he was blaming the environmental lobby, in my view somewhat unfairly, because we must be cognisant of the fact that we have a European Court of Justice judgment of December 2007 on our record in matters of this nature. We must take account of that and deal with it. We are trying to advance that and I am happy with the level of co-operation I am getting from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. It is a complex challenge.

I thank Senator McCarthy for not forcing me to get up at 2 a.m. to take the Adjournment debate last week. I was more than happy to provide the answer. I do not mind going to bed at 2 a.m. but I am not too happy about getting up at that time.

The Senator quoted the 1998 report which stated that fundamental change was needed in this area. That is the case but we are trying to learn from experiences elsewhere, and other countries are having as much difficulty as ourselves. The marine co-ordinating group, with which I work closely and which is chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach but which I co-ordinate, has brought together sometimes as many as 12 Departments which have responsibility in the marine area. We are beginning to develop a framework that will enable us to have a much more coherent all of Government approach in this area. It will take some time but we are moving in that direction.

Senator McCarthy made a comment about the diminution of democracy in extending the role of the EPA. It is important to distinguish pretty technical areas such as those dealt with by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland and the EPA and some of the other areas where lay people such as ourselves might have a positive input. In this instance, the EPA is the appropriate authority. Under the OSPAR Convention we have obligations in that regard. I wish it were correct for the Senator to state that the Irish EU Commissioner had responsibility for fisheries. It would certainly make my job a good deal easier.

Senator O'Malley referred to the issue of offshore licences, which has been discussed at considerable length at the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. Some very interesting submissions have been made. Some people refer to missed opportunities in the area of offshore wind. It is worth remembering that offshore licences have been granted and approved for 420 turbines but only seven have been built. Some of the licences date back a considerable period. There are issues related to grid connectivity and other issues which might not spring to mind immediately, including the availability of highly developed engineering works and a sufficient level of port accessibility and suitability for some of the very large work involved in the offshore area. This has been one of the relevant factors in the debate. Ultimately, the important point is that the Bill will align marine spatial planning with onshore planning.

Senator Coffey argued that the legislation does not go far enough. It is important to draw a distinction between what is intended, that is, the alignment of the functions, and what will take place when the determination is made in respect of the way with which the entire offshore area will be dealt. That will take place some time in the future. The Senator called on me to ask my Cabinet colleagues to listen to the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. Since I am not in Cabinet, they are not my colleagues in that sense but I would be pleased to pass on the message.

Senator Boyle referred to the Aarhus Convention. I am unsure but my understanding is that Ireland has already signed the declaration and that it applies to foreshore issues already, although it may need to be ratified and implemented in other areas.

Several Senators pointed out there has been confusion in respect of the responsibility of various Departments up to now. However, the matter is somewhat more deep-seated. An amount of work remains to be done to bring us to the stage where we can deal with applications that relate to foreshore matters in the same manner as those on land. As I mentioned, there are grid connectivity, engineering and port resources issues that must be dealt with.

Senator Quinn mentioned the potential of aquaculture, which I welcome because we are somewhat in danger of being adherents to the attractions of technologies that in some cases have not produced one watt of electricity yet, while perhaps overlooking those nearer to us which have tremendous potential. For example, let us consider the salmon farming industry. At present, Ireland produces almost 10,000 tonnes, most of which is produced to a very high standard and which yields a premium price because it meets the standard. We began the enterprise at the same time as Scotland, which currently produces approximately 140,000 tonnes, some 14 times our production and at the same time as Norway, which produces 750,000 tonnes. A great deal of potential has not been realised and it would be a great pity were we to overlook our potential in the offshore area.

Senator Quinn also referred to the fact that the European Investment Bank and others are prepared to support wind projects in the UK. He asked if the same could be done here and I believe many players are considering this. Let us bear in mind that the price of electricity from renewable energy is supported by Government guarantee. This may not always be in place. The question of viability was raised, a difficult question to address. It is dependent on the price of and access to fossil fuels. This is one of the determinants in respect of whether wind energy and other renewable energy sources are as viable as they appear to be in the long term. My strong view is they are the way to go and that we must proceed with as much enthusiasm as we can muster and ensure the interests of the taxpayer are looked after simultaneously. The Senator referred to delays caused by planning objections. The section 12 provisions will address this matter in respect of the foreshore. He also raised an important issue in respect of generating capacity in the UK and there is a similar potential problem here in that regard.

Senator Keaveney referred to the funding post 2013 and the fact that some of the Baltic nations have come together to bring forward proposals for their foreshore and offshore resources, an issue the marine co-ordination group has been examining. I commend the Dublin local authorities because they have done some very positive work in this regard and the matter is worth examining.

I refer to the vexed question of Lough Foyle, the Loughs Agency and the Crown Estate. This matter is being dealt with by the Department of Foreign Affairs and other Departments. Some progress is being made, although I understand it is not at the negotiating phase at present. Senator Burke mentioned the size of the foreshore and its potential but he also referred to the challenge in terms of resources. He referred to grid connection, a particular difficulty in Mayo, and the potential to export energy ultimately. This will determine whether the area is as viable as it is represented as being.

I thank all Senators for their contributions. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce the Bill in the Seanad. Clearly, people have given considerable thought to the issues. It will be the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to bring forward the next tranche of legislation. I will try to ensure the marine co-ordination interdepartmental group does everything possible to facilitate this and to provide whatever information may be needed.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

On Tuesday, 24 November 2009.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 24 November 2009.
Sitting suspended at 4.45 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.