I propose to take Questions Nos. 260 and 261 together.
Ireland is bound by the EU Habitats and Birds Directives, as transposed into National law by the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats Regulations) 2011. As such, Ireland has designated 439 sites as special areas of conservation (SACs) under the Habitats Directive and classified 154 sites as special protection areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive. Under national legislation, SACs and SPAs are collectively termed ‘European sites’.
To protect the habitats and species in the European sites for which they are designated, and to avoid accidental or deliberate damage in these sites, it is necessary to have in place a system by which potentially damaging activities require consent before they can be carried out.
‘Activities Requiring Consent’ are specific activities which must not be carried out on a European site unless prior consent is given by me, as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, or by another relevant public authority. This safeguard ensures that the potential effects of the activity on the European site are assessed before works are carried out. Also that consent is granted only after having determined that the activity will not adversely affect the integrity of the European Site.
The Salmon Conservation Fund is an initiative of Inland Fisheries Ireland, launched in 2007, in order to fund rehabilitation, protection and conservation projects, all of which must focus on salmon. The fund was expanded in 2019 to include sea trout.
If a project under this fund (or indeed any other project) is to take place within a European Site and includes activities which are listed as Activities Requiring Consent for that European Site, then my prior consent, or that of another relevant authority, is required before the activity is carried out.
In some cases, planning permission may be required for activities that are listed as ‘exempted development’ under the Planning and Development Regulations. This occurs in cases where I have received an application to carry out an activity requiring consent on a European Site but, following screening for appropriate assessment of the activity by officials of my Department, it is determined that the activity is likely to have a significant effect on a European Site and therefore requires a full appropriate assessment. In such cases the ‘exempted development’ status of the activity is dis-applied and planning permission under the Planning and Development Acts is required.
With regard to the specific cases referred to by the Deputy, the staff of my Department considered an application for an Activity Requiring Consent for one of these cases, and following consideration of the potential implications for the Special Area of Conservation in which the project was located, my staff recommended that the local group involved should contact the County Council Planning Department in order to determine if Planning Permission was required.