Like most counties, Galway is coastal, and beyond it stretches a large swathe of sea that forms part of Ireland’s maritime area. The coast and seas possess environmental and social treasures: a diverse ecosystem, a range of recreational opportunities such as swimming, fishing and sailing, important parts of the tourist mix offered by the county.
The maritime area of Galway and beyond also holds great economic value. Last year, Ireland’s ocean economy provided employment for over 34,000 full-time equivalents, a 13% rise on the 2016 figure. It had a turnover of €6.2 billion through activities such as seafood and tourism. Huge economic opportunities in areas such as renewable energy - critical to Ireland’s clean, decarbonised future – remain untapped in our waters.
Yet our seas are getting busier. Our climate is changing and need greater protection. We need to plan how the various economic and social activities in our maritime area interact, where they happen and how they will co-exist whilst protecting our marine environment.
That is why the Government has drafted a first ever national marine plan. The draft National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF ) outlines our proposed approach to managing Ireland’s marine activities and ensuring sustainable use of marine resources up to 2040. This single framework, bringing together all marine-based human activities, presents our vision, objectives and planning policies for each activity.
Key decision-making tool
The NMPF, when finalised, will be the key decision-making tool for Government departments, State agencies, regulatory authorities and policy makers for decisions on marine activities. Decisions will include planning applications, policies, projects and strategies.
The draft Framework sets out the Government’s plans for stronger marine planning and a single State consent system for the entire maritime area (replacing foreshore leases and licenses ). A single development management process for activities and developments is also envisaged, eliminating unnecessary duplication whereby they are currently assessed under both foreshore and planning regimes.
The objective? By reducing the regulatory burden, marine users (regulators, applicants for consents and others ) should have greater certainty regarding what can happen and where. They should feel more confident that decisions made on applications for projects will be robust in the face of challenge, provided they are made in accordance with the policy framework. Policy certainty attracts investment. The licensing process should be quicker
Among the 16 sectors and activities covered in the draft NMPF are aquaculture, offshore renewable energy; fisheries; ports, harbours and shipping; safety at sea; sport and recreation and tourism – all important activities and issues for Galway.
Input is vital
A large number of people are involved or are interested in at least one of these areas. It’s important, therefore, that the national plan is national in every sense - valued, owned and supported by all. Without it, implementation will be limited. That’s why the input of the public and interested organisations now, before the Framework is finalised, is critical.
In producing this document, the Government has had two years of dialogue, engagement and feedback from the Public, different sectors and State bodies. Getting the same kind of interaction now, through attendance at public meetings or submissions to my department, will make this a truly national plan.
One of the Framework’s sections is on aquaculture. The industry is an integral part of our coastal economy, with a Bord Iascaigh Mhara report showing farm-gate aquacultural produce worth €176 million last year. About 1,900 people were employed directly across 288 primary production units. At a European level, it’s generally expected that production will increase to meet growing demand for seafood. The draft NMPF outlines the planning policies to support the Government’s objective of a sector that produces high quality food; protects and enhances the social and economic fabric of our rural coastal and island communities; and conserves coastal biodiversity.
Along with providing an opportunity to discuss and debate the draft NMPF and related issues, Galway’s two public meetings on 02 December will discuss aquaculture. Representatives of the Irish Farmers’ Association Aquaculture and The Irish Environmental Network are due to address the meeting. The meetings will discuss marine planning’s role in strategically developing the industry. It will discuss topics like the aquaculture licensing system and the interaction between aquaculture and activities like inshore fisheries, recreation and tourism.
You might work by the sea or enjoy the coast for pleasure. You might be passionate about protecting our marine environment. Or you might live in a coastal community and are concerned about your area’s future. Whatever your interest, get involved. Learn more at our public meetings in Galway and contribute to the national plan by having your say before 28 February. It is in all our interests to protect and enhance this social, economic and environmental asset.
Damien English T.D. is Minister for Housing and Urban Development.
The draft NMPF and associated environmental reports can be found at www.marineplan.gov.ie Submissions should be sent to: [email protected] Two public meetings on the draft NMPF will take place at The Connacht Hotel, Galway this Monday December 2 at 2-4pm and 6-8pm.