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Marine Planning Responsibility Transfers to Department of Environment

14th May 2024
Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan - delighted to welcome Marine Planning Responsibility into his department
Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan - delighted to welcome Marine Planning Responsibility into his department

Responsibility for Ireland’s marine planning system has been formally transferred to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC).

The transfer from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage follows recommendations made by the former Attorney General Paul Gallagher SC.

Gallagher had identified an “urgent need to consolidate and rationalise the regulation of marine development and activity to build on the National Marine Planning Framework and Maritime Area Planning Act” (MAP).

This would “give practical effect to Ireland’s ambition to have a modern, fit for purpose, world-leading marine planning system”, the Department of Environment says.

The specific functions transferred are:

  • Policy and legislative responsibilities in relation to marine forward planning and enforcement (under the MAP Act);
  • Governance and oversight of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA);
  • Regulation of activity on the foreshore (under the Foreshore Acts 1933) as part of the migration to the new system operated by MARA under the MAP Act.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications says it “has been preparing for this for some time now” and intends to “provide the resources and focus that will allow immediate changes and accelerate activity”.

It says it has “secured significant additional technical resources that allows it to establish a dedicated marine forward-planning team”.

“This multi-disciplinary team will include marine planners, geographic information systems expertise, marine ecologists, marine mammal and birds experts,”it says.

“One of the core functions of this new team will be to bring forward future Designated Maritime Area Plans (DMAPs) to build on the recently-published South Coast DMAP,”it says.

“ The additional technical resources will also enable DECC to accelerate other critical components of the marine planning system such as statutory marine planning guidelines, full implementation of the National Marine Planning Framework and designing the future marine data repository Ireland urgently needs for informed and joined up marine planning,”it says.

It said that Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan will “soon be publishing Ireland’s first statutory Marine Planning Policy Statement”.

The department said this statutory statement will:

  • outline the existing components of Ireland’s marine planning system and the hierarchy of marine policies;
  • set out the strategic principles of marine planning policy that the Government expects marine planning bodies to observe;
  • outline Ireland’s key marine planning priorities for the management of activities in the maritime space during the lifetime of this MPPS, and;
  • detail how marine policy will be monitored and reviewed.

“This Marine Planning Policy Statement will serve as a parallel to the 2015 Planning Policy Statement which underpins the operation of the entire land-planning system in Ireland,”it said.

“The minister also intends to accelerate the transition from foreshore to the new system and it is our objective to work towards achieving substantive phase out of the foreshore function across 2024,”it said.

“This will simplify the regulatory landscape, bring consistency and ensure that the processes set out under the MAP Act are at the centre of the new regime,”it said.

The department also said that a cross sectoral Marine Spatial Planning Advisory Group is being reactivated and will meet next month.

“It will return to meeting on a regular basis, providing an important vehicle for overseeing implementation of the existing NMPF and informing the development of the next NMPF,” it said.

“The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is also leading out on the establishment of a cross-Government structure to bring together all departments and agencies with a marine remit,” it said.

“This new group will provide for alignment of marine policies and of State investment in the maritime sector, giving leadership and oversight on a whole of Government basis,” it said.

Welcoming today’s formal transfer, Minister Ryan said: “I’m delighted to welcome these critical new functions into my department”.

“As a nation, we are increasingly turning ourselves towards our seas as we seek sustainable solutions to the challenges we face. I want to ensure that we have a modern marine planning system that delivers for all stakeholders and which supports the sustainable uses of our seas across the broadest remit of activities set out in the National Marine Planning Framework,” he said.

“My aim and the aim of my department, building on the work of our colleagues in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and on the commitment and effort of Minister Darragh O’Brien, is to create a marine planning system that has the confidence of all stakeholders and that delivers for all marine interests in a fair and impartial way,” Ryan said.

“ As the Government department that has more marine policy areas than any other within our remit, we are uniquely placed to deliver on this,” he said.

Published in Marine Planning
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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