I propose to take Questions Nos. 206 and 207 together.
Details of foreshore licence applications for site investigation activities that have commenced the statutory assessment process following validation by my Department and details of applications determined during the period referred to in the Question are available to view on my Department's website at www.housing.gov.ie.
The expected time for processing and determining these applications can vary considerably and is influenced by the quality of the application and supporting documents received, the nature and complexity of the application, the level of public engagement during the consultation process and up until recently, impacts from restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19, among other matters.
Each application must be assessed appropriately in accordance with the applicable requirements of domestic and EU law including the EIA Directive, Birds and Habitats Regulations and the Foreshore Act. Several of the foreshore licences issued over the past 24 months linked to the proposed development of offshore renewable energy projects have been the subject of judicial review proceedings and the process for assessing such applications has been amended as a result, taking into account legal advices received. Over the last eighteen months, my Department has more than doubled the staffing resources available within the Foreshore Section to address this increasing workload. This should reduce the average time taken to assess an application. In addition, a panel of external specialist environmental consultants is in operation to assist in the technical assessment of applications. Recognising the increasing complexity and volume of applications being received; the importance of expediting the advancement of activities to assist in achieving our Climate Action Plan targets, as well as the competition for what is a limited pool of technical expertise in this area, my Department is exploring how it can further expand the technical expertise available to it to meet these demands. I believe that these changes will combine to make the assessment process more robust, will reduce the number of stages required as part of the assessment process and as a result should reduce the time required to assess an application, while noting the variables which can influence the time taken to assess and determine a foreshore licence application.
In relation to the validation process and tendering for independent consultants referred to in the Question, both are part of the internal administrative procedures operated by my Department as part of the preparation for the various statutory assessments that must be conducted in accordance with the range of relevant legislation. The Foreshore Section of my Department will continue to engage with applicants on an individual basis in respect of progress with their own applications and the timing of the commencement of the statutory assessment process in each case.
I am satisfied that my Department is taking a proportionate and responsible approach to processing foreshore licence applications for site investigation licences linked to the proposed development of offshore renewable energy projects pending the update to policy in relation to the management of the Phase 2 for offshore renewable energy as well as progress with the establishment of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority. I will continue to keep the situation under review.