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Co-operation and Respect Essential as Government Consultation Process Underway for Proposed Maritime Areas and Offshore Wind Farms

16th May 2024
“Ireland’s offshore wind programme is progressing to plan, meeting each of its three-phased objectives and timelines,” the Dept for Environment and Climate says. Now a Government Consultation process is underway for proposed Maritime Areas and Offshore Wind Farms
Ireland’s offshore wind programme is progressing to plan, meeting each of its three-phased objectives and timelines,” the Dept for Environment and Climate says. Now a Government Consultation process is underway for proposed Maritime Areas and Offshore Wind Farms

A series of Public Open Days, accompanied by meetings and panel discussions are underway in the Government’s consultation process about the four proposed Maritime Areas off the South Coast, within which fixed offshore wind farms may be located in the future. Analysis by Tom MacSweeney.

They began last night (Wednesday, May 17th) in Waterford. Today (Thurs), the venue is Cork County Hall on Carrigrohane Road, starting at 3 p.m. Next week, the consultation series moves to Wexford Town and then onto Rosslare Harbour, Kilmore Quay, Dunmore East, Ring, Tramore, Cobh and Ballycotton.

The decision of the Seafood Industry Representatives Forum (SIRF), a collective of eight Irish fishing and aquaculture industry representative organisations, to give a cautious welcome (they described it as ‘guarded’ in their official statement) to the Government’s ‘Future Framework Policy Statement for Offshore Renewable Energy’ is a significant development in the context of marine spatial planning.

This was followed by the transfer of responsibility for Ireland’s marine planning system to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

"Is there a change of attitude at Government level, with more appreciation of the importance of the marine sphere to an island nation?"

The framework statement aligns ORE policy, including marine spatial planning, industrial strategy, interconnection, renewable hydrogen development, private wires, storage, infrastructural alignment and technology innovation

Questions have been raised about why marine planning had been given to the land-bound Housing Department, which has an unresolved major task of its own—housing Ireland’s population—while the Department of the Marine was ignored.

Is there a change of attitude at Government level, with more appreciation of the importance of the marine sphere to an island nation?

Minister Ryan is to publish Ireland’s first statutory Marine Planning Policy Statement and a ‘cross-section Marine Spatial Planning Advisory Group is being reactivated, according to his Department. Membership of this group will be important. It should not be solely composed of Departmental officials. Wide marine stakeholder representation is needed, but it is still only an ‘Advisory’ Group.

However, is it some response to the Seafood Forum’s request for “a working group comprising seafood industry representatives and officials of his Department to ‘knock heads together’ and find solutions to the problems that currently threaten the orderly roll out of offshore renewables,” as proposed by the Forum? Wind farm developers had a lead role in Phase One of offshore development to make site choices. The fishing industry has claimed those made will impact on traditional fishing grounds.

“Rather than portray fishermen as bad guys trying to prevent ORE, proper consideration should be given to the wider socio-economic and environmental priorities for local communities. This is the best way to help facilitate a stable political consensus and drive investment,” according to SIRF, which acknowledged that fishing, aquaculture and processing had been recognised as vital socio-economic activities and sources of income and employment for coastal communities in the ORE ‘Future Framework Policy Statement.’

It also recognised the potential socio-economic impacts of ORE on those communities. Wind energy developers have had a stronger public voice on policy up to now.

Is the Government's attitude moving towards a better appreciation of the need for balance and agreement among all stakeholders in the sector on marine planning and development?

There are other issues to be resolved - Marine Protected Areas, Designated Maritime Area Plans and Special Areas of Conservation. What impact will they have on marine leisure activities – boating, angling, sailing and the growing public interest in the marine sphere for recreation? These sectors are also stakeholders with requirements to be met as are NGO environmental organisations which has a strong voice on marine planning. All will have to accept that the best way forward is through general agreement.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has said that the new Marine Spatial Planning Advisory Group will “provide for alignment of marine policies and State investment in the maritime sector, giving leadership and oversight on a whole of Government basis.”
It is to be hoped that this will be delivered upon.

The Chairman of SIRC, the CEO of the Irish South and East Fish Producers’ Organisation, John Lynch, put it succinctly: “Future generations will not thank us if we do not get this right.”

Tom MacSweeney

About The Author

Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a column for He is former RTE Marine Correspondent/Presenter of Seascapes and now has a monthly Podcast on the Community Radio Network and Podcast services

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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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