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Water Safety Ireland and Failte Ireland Concerned about Proposed Beach Bye-Laws

29th November 2022
Galway Bay- new bye-laws proposed by Galway County Council have been widely criticised by watersports enthusiasts
Galway Bay- new bye-laws proposed by Galway County Council have been widely criticised by watersports enthusiasts Credit: via Google Earth

Water Safety Ireland and Fáilte Ireland were not consulted in advance of controversial draft bye-laws banning all watersports except for swimming off 24 Connemara beaches.

The new bye-laws proposed by Galway County Council have been widely criticised by watersports enthusiasts, including swimmers who point out that safety craft will even be breaking the law if the regulations are passed.

Water Safety Ireland (WSI), the State’s agency for training lifeguards, has offered to conduct risk assessments on all beaches in question.

Roger Sweeney of WSI said these risk assessments would “ensure that each of those locations is safe for all users, swimmers and others alike”.

Fáilte Ireland has expressed concern about the impact on a growing market for outdoor water-based activities, particularly along the Wild Atlantic Way.

It has said that “zoning” for different beach activities should be considered as an alternative.

The tourism body has also described some of the proposed wording as “ambiguous”.

Galway sailor and yacht chandler Pierce Purcell said that lack of access was the single biggest obstacle to the development of water sportGalway sailor and yacht chandler Pierce Purcell has said that lack of access was the single biggest obstacle to the development of water sport

The draft bye-laws state that “no person shall windsurf on sailboards or kite-surf on kiteboards or surf on a surfboard or use a canoe, kayak, dinghy, stand-up paddle board or water bike in close proximity to bathers” off any of the 24 named beaches.

The draft bye-laws also state that the council “ may at its discretion designate areas of any beach in and at which the use of surfboards and/or kiteboards and/or sailboards and/or canoes and kayaks and/or dinghies and/or stand-up paddle boards and/or water bikes is restricted or prohibited”.

Under the wording, the council may be empowered to issue on-the-spot fines of €75 euro to anyone in breach of conditions and, if found guilty in court, a fine of up to €1,904.60.

Earlier this month, Galway County Council director of services told a council meeting that there had been a “misinterpretation”, but this was challenged by Independent councillor Noel Thomas who said the wording was there in “black and white” and needed to be revised.

Watersport representative organisations have pointed out that consultation should have taken place before any draft legislation was published.

Blue Flag criteria stipulate that beaches must be accessible to all and that there must be management and zoning for different users to prevent conflicts and accidents.

Critics say that Galway County Council risks jeopardising Blue Flag status for the affected beaches if the bye-laws are passed without amendment.

Fáilte Ireland head of product development – activities Fiona Monaghan outlines the State agency’s “concerns” in a submission to Galway Council Council in which she proposes zoning to ensure safe areas for bathers.

She says that its research shows that “a growing number of both domestic and international visitors are engaging in outdoor water-based activities in recent years, and this is a trend that will continue to grow year upon year, and not just during the summer months”.

“It is well recognised that the pandemic has accelerated people’s appreciation and engagement with the outdoors, and we are fortunate that Galway has some of the most natural and unspoilt coastline along the Wild Atlantic Way,”she says, referring to six Blue Flag and six Green Coast awarded beaches in the county this year.

“Fáilte Ireland has made a significant investment in developing water-based activity tourism around Ireland in partnership with local authorities, with €19million allocated in April 2021 for the development of 20 world-class water sport facilities centres to support water sports activity providers and significantly enhance the visitor experience,” Monaghan says.

She says draft beach bye-laws should give “due regard” to watersport users and operators during the bathing season, and “greater clarity” is required in the wording on “prohibited acts” and on how both bathers and other beach users can access and enjoy the amenity.

“It is also important that the draft bye-laws recognise the requirement for small craft to provide support and safety to bathers at busy times and during open water swim events and tuition,” she says.

“For too long, there was very little appreciation of our coastline and pristine waters as a recreational amenity," she says, stating that it is "imperative that the draft beach bye-laws for Galway County support the use of our beaches and waters for recreation and tourism giving due regard to all users".

Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) - FAQS

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are geographically defined maritime areas where human activities are managed to protect important natural or cultural resources. In addition to conserving marine species and habitats, MPAs can support maritime economic activity and reduce the effects of climate change and ocean acidification.

MPAs can be found across a range of marine habitats, from the open ocean to coastal areas, intertidal zones, bays and estuaries. Marine protected areas are defined areas where human activities are managed to protect important natural or cultural resources.

The world's first MPA is said to have been the Fort Jefferson National Monument in Florida, North America, which covered 18,850 hectares of sea and 35 hectares of coastal land. This location was designated in 1935, but the main drive for MPAs came much later. The current global movement can be traced to the first World Congress on National Parks in 1962, and initiation in 1976 of a process to deliver exclusive rights to sovereign states over waters up to 200 nautical miles out then began to provide new focus

The Rio ‘Earth Summit’ on climate change in 1992 saw a global MPA area target of 10% by the 2010 deadline. When this was not met, an “Aichi target 11” was set requiring 10% coverage by 2020. There has been repeated efforts since then to tighten up MPA requirements.

Marae Moana is a multiple-use marine protected area created on July 13th 2017 by the government of the Cook islands in the south Pacific, north- east of New Zealand. The area extends across over 1.9 million square kilometres. However, In September 2019, Jacqueline Evans, a prominent marine biologist and Goldman environmental award winner who was openly critical of the government's plans for seabed mining, was replaced as director of the park by the Cook Islands prime minister’s office. The move attracted local media criticism, as Evans was responsible for developing the Marae Moana policy and the Marae Moana Act, She had worked on raising funding for the park, expanding policy and regulations and developing a plan that designates permitted areas for industrial activities.

Criteria for identifying and selecting MPAs depends on the overall objective or direction of the programme identified by the coastal state. For example, if the objective is to safeguard ecological habitats, the criteria will emphasise habitat diversity and the unique nature of the particular area.

Permanence of MPAs can vary internationally. Some are established under legislative action or under a different regulatory mechanism to exist permanently into the future. Others are intended to last only a few months or years.

Yes, Ireland has MPA cover in about 2.13 per cent of our waters. Although much of Ireland’s marine environment is regarded as in “generally good condition”, according to an expert group report for Government published in January 2021, it says that biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation are of “wide concern due to increasing pressures such as overexploitation, habitat loss, pollution, and climate change”.

The Government has set a target of 30 per cent MPA coverage by 2030, and moves are already being made in that direction. However, environmentalists are dubious, pointing out that a previous target of ten per cent by 2020 was not met.

Conservation and sustainable management of the marine environment has been mandated by a number of international agreements and legal obligations, as an expert group report to government has pointed out. There are specific requirements for area-based protection in the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), the OSPAR Convention, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

Yes, the Marine Strategy Framework directive (2008/56/EC) required member states to put measures in place to achieve or maintain good environmental status in their waters by 2020. Under the directive a coherent and representative network of MPAs had to be created by 2016.

Ireland was about halfway up the EU table in designating protected areas under existing habitats and bird directives in a comparison published by the European Commission in 2009. However, the Fair Seas campaign, an environmental coalition formed in 2022, points out that Ireland is “lagging behind “ even our closest neighbours, such as Scotland which has 37 per cent. The Fair Seas campaign wants at least 10 per cent of Irish waters to be designated as “fully protected” by 2025, and “at least” 30 per cent by 2030.

Nearly a quarter of Britain’s territorial waters are covered by MPAs, set up to protect vital ecosystems and species. However, a conservation NGO, Oceana, said that analysis of fishing vessel tracking data published in The Guardian in October 2020 found that more than 97% of British MPAs created to safeguard ocean habitats, are being dredged and bottom trawled. 

There’s the rub. Currently, there is no definition of an MPA in Irish law, and environment protections under the Wildlife Acts only apply to the foreshore.

Current protection in marine areas beyond 12 nautical miles is limited to measures taken under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives or the OSPAR Convention. This means that habitats and species that are not listed in the EU Directives, but which may be locally, nationally or internationally important, cannot currently be afforded the necessary protection

Yes. In late March 2022, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said that the Government had begun developing “stand-alone legislation” to enable identification, designation and management of MPAs to meet Ireland’s national and international commitments.

Yes. Environmental groups are not happy, as they have pointed out that legislation on marine planning took precedence over legislation on MPAs, due to the push to develop offshore renewable energy.

No, but some activities may be banned or restricted. Extraction is the main activity affected as in oil and gas activities; mining; dumping; and bottom trawling

The Government’s expert group report noted that MPA designations are likely to have the greatest influence on the “capture fisheries, marine tourism and aquaculture sectors”. It said research suggests that the net impacts on fisheries could ultimately be either positive or negative and will depend on the type of fishery involved and a wide array of other factors.

The same report noted that marine tourism and recreation sector can substantially benefit from MPA designation. However, it said that the “magnitude of the benefits” will depend to a large extent on the location of the MPA sites within the network and the management measures put in place.

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