No matter how the Minister of State says it, the Government published the amendments on Friday, so this is the first time we are seeing these proposals in writing. Someone simply saying that he or she aspires to do something in the future is not the same as tabling something. That this is now a maritime Bill as well is just the latest example of that.
Amendments Nos. 14 to 21, inclusive, seek the deletion of the proposed new subsections to section 3 of the Maritime Area Planning Act 2021, or the MAP Act. These Government amendments purport to define more precisely the application of the MAP Act in respect of a public body. My proposed amendment will ensure that there is consistency between that Act and the Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2021. The Minister of State is introducing these changes. Under our amendment, and with the exception of the one subsection that is mentioned, the public body would not be able to perform in respect of any other matter one or more of its public functions by virtue of a matter relating to, whether in whole or in part, the continental shelf. By virtue of this subsection, the public body might perform the public function relating to the matter as if the continental shelf, or the part thereof concerned, was a part of the State, where the public body might perform such a function. The other provisions of the Bill or any other enactment should be construed accordingly.
Our amendment would provide that the holder of a MAC in carrying out maritime uses authorised under this Bill would have to act in accordance with certain matters. My amendment would provide that the holder of a MAC should not accrue a financial benefit or any other benefit or interest from the development of seagrass or seagrass meadows in respect of an area that the holder holds and for which a MAC has been authorised under this Bill. Notwithstanding anything else in the Bill, such benefits and interests would remain the State’s exclusively. In light of the sustainable development goal, SDG, on life below water and so on, it is important that we have a very thoughtful approach to the State’s maritime resources. It is also important that we make it clear that a MAC should in no way concede financial or proprietary benefits or interests to other parties. The State must remain the exclusive holder of benefits and interests where consents have been given.
My amendment provides that, "For the purposes of this section, ‘foreshore’ means the bed and shore, below the line of high water of ordinary or medium tides, of the sea and of every tidal river and tidal estuary and of every channel, creek, and bay of the sea or of any such river or estuary" seawards out to the outer limit of the continental shelf.
Amendment No. 15 seeks to amend subsection (5) of the proposed section 33A by changing the timeframe for which an application for leave to apply for judicial review under order 84 is made. Extending the period is important. It is becoming much more difficult to be clear about exactly what is being applied for and there are requirements relating to administrative engagement and so forth. Amendment No. 15 would extend the period for applying for a judicial review under order 84 from eight weeks to three months. This would be appropriate and would indicate some good faith and a desire to ensure that the public have a suitable window of time in which to exercise their rights under judicial review.
Amendment No. 16 seeks the deletion of section 33B(3)(b), which has to do with appealing the granting of leave under section 33A where the court is satisfied that "the decision or act concerned relates to a development identified in or under regulations".
My amendment replaces the changes put forward by the Minister in section 33B with a provision that a court would not grant leave under section 33A unless it is satisfied that "where the decision or act concerned relates to a development which may have significant effects on the environment, the applicant is a body or organisation (other than a State authority, a public authority or governmental body or agency) the aims or objectives of which relate to the promotion of environmental protection". There are certain areas where permissions may be allowed in the context of the goal of environmental protection and it is appropriate that a different standard would apply in that circumstance, but that should not be extended to all circumstances in the context of leave under section 33A.
Amendment No. 17 seeks the deletion of section 49. The Minister has described it as a technical amendment but it raises concerns.
Amendment No. 18 inserts a new section 8A into the proposed section 143 of the Maritime Area Planning Act to provide that, "[i]n circumstances where the MARA has determined that swifter action is needed to either avoid or limit environmental damage related to the matter the subject of the enforcement notice", the timeframe may be reduced. This recognises that there are situations where environmental protection and urgent environmental action might be needed.
On the issue of the environment, we have heard about the windmills and that this is the big justification in that regard. I am worried, however, about these big changes being made. This is not strictly related to the amendments but it does relate to the environmental argument in respect of these changes to the planning process. Let us be clear that when the planning and judicial review processes are changed in the way that is happening in the legislation, as well as in respect of issue such as substitute consent and that general thrust of the legislation, there may be windmills out front but sitting right behind them are the big data centres, the big Glanbia proposals and all the others. When the rules and goalposts are changed, they are changed for everyone. If the desire was to specifically address areas of particular climate urgency, more specific and tailored legislation would have been brought forward. That is the case in the maritime area in terms of offshore energy, but also in terms of provisions relating to planning more widely. It is a fact that flexibility is also being given to hotels and everybody else, rather than solely to areas of technological complexity.
Amendment No. 19 seeks the deletion of the proposed section 166A(2) of the Maritime Area Planning Act. That section relates to the persons and organisations exempt from rights of action by an estate in respect of a maritime area. It extends the list of those who have that protection from rights of action.
Amendment No. 21 seeks the deletion of section 73 of this legislation. Section 73(a) inserts section 279A into the Planning and Development Act 2000 to make clear that MARA should be recognised as a prescribed body for maritime development applications. That is important. In effect, what are being referred to are design envelope changes in the planning Bill being brought across the board in all these different areas, including the maritime area. They are substantial changes with significant effects. We talk about the MAC and those maritime processes but one must bear in mind that we are in a dangerous time, environmentally. Marine development is also being affected by that flexibility. I have spoken on the issue of wind energy. Let us be clear and honest that members of Government parties, including the Commissioner, Mairead McGuinness, are in Europe arguing for gas to be defined in the taxonomy, absurdly, as green development. I have concerns in respect of the offshore space and the dangers of potential expansion. Provisions have been made but those that were made in the climate development Act were not narrow or constrained enough. They allow for situations relating to where, for example, exploration, or even discussions about exploration, had happened in the past. That is why I am concerned in respect of our maritime area. I wish that we had marine protected areas, MPAs, in place. It would be better if we had them. A significant number of changes are being made in the Bill but it seems there is a rush to do everything except for moving forward with MPAs.
That is important because it comes back to the core issue in respect of planning that feeds into judicial reviews. Some judicial reviews are taken for other reasons, such as people wanting to have a liveable city, town or society. They want cities, towns and communities in which they can live - where they have sunlight, with people of different ages, access to green spaces and all those important things that make life worth living. Other judicial reviews are taken on environmental grounds and in terms of that wider piece of trying to protect, mind and nourish the part of the planet that our country covers and, more widely, to which our continental shelf extends. That is incredibly important. It is a motivation for many of those involved. That is why, when I speak about marine protection, I am speaking about these environmental ideas.
I am conscious this is the final grouping so it will be my last chance to come in on the matter. We need to start doing things properly. When people and groups who want planning permissions for windmills and all the rest came before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action, they said they did not need a truncated planning process, but more resources to be allocated by the State to do planning better. I do not wish to be inaccurate. I think that only two of the An Bord Pleanála inspectors have expertise in the environmental area and can address those issues. We need more officials and inspectors to be in a position to do so. We need massive resourcing of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. We need NGOs to be resourced so that we can have better EIAs earlier in the process and better planning decisions can be made from the beginning. If that is done, there will be no need for judicial reviews. It is at the beginning of the process that more investment is needed, rather than it being done in this way of limiting those who try to apply a safety net after all suitable other precautions have not been taken. It is not about cutting holes in the safety net.