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A maritime revolution

Ireland has a lot of maritime territory, 880,000 square kilometres stretching out 200 nautical miles from the shoreline, ten times the size of the island we live on. Sounds a lot, but there’s intense spatial marine pressure growing on areas close to shore where wind energy developers are seeking sites for turbines to be driven into the seabed, with potential effects on prime fishing grounds. Wind farms also restrict other marine activities around them, including leisure. Marine spatial pressure is a major issue affecting our maritime future, but hasn’t been getting a lot of public attention, nor in political debate or the media. So it was good that the national seafarers’ conference in Limerick, with speakers involved from all sides, did highlight the issue. Two Chief Executives of major fishing organisations were there – John Lynch, CEO of the Irish South and East Fish Producers and Aodh O’Donnell of the Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation, who outlined their views from the fishing industry and the concerns about proposed wind farm developments being located on important, traditional fishing grounds. The conference was hosted by the National Maritime College and the main sponsor was the Simply Blue Group, one of the leading ‘blue economy’ developers, which is focused on replacing fossil fuels with clean energy. Former Naval Officer, Capt.Brian Fitzgerald, their Director of External Affairs and Stakeholder Liaison, acknowledged that there would be understandable fears about developments, but said he did not know of anyone in the offshore renewable energy sector who wanted to damage fishing and he described the opportunities for “this island nation as a positive maritime revolution” with huge benefits for Ireland.

All of this forms the concept of a vital issue for Ireland’s maritime offshore renewable energy development, which is called ORE. It is vital not only for future energy supplies for the nation, urban and rural, but for the coastal communities, the fishing industry, the seafood sector and marine leisure, which are all amongst concerned areas.

It has not got enough attention yet in national, public debate, nor from the politicians, nor indeed the national media, which does not give a lot of reportage to the maritime sphere. I didn’t not see any other journalist from the national media reporting the conference while I was there.

THE NATIONAL SEAFARERS’ CONFERENCE IN LIMERICK

Hopefully, for the national interest, there may be a better situation emerging, with more realistic discussion. John Lynch made the point that there had not been consideration shown towards the industry until it began strongly responding to development proposals.

From my own research it seems that what is known as Phase One developments, the first proposed ORE developments, were largely developer-led, with the State not being as pro-active as it now is becoming, with more consultation and discussion.

As I reported in last month’s Podcast, Government Ministers havve contradicted each other in other aspects of selecting maritime areas for protection and restricted access, with the question being raised, outside of pro-protection environmental groups – protection from whom or for what?

It was significant, in my view, that at the Seafarers’ Conference the Chief Executive of the new Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, Laura Brien, indicated that MARA doesn’t “know about a lot of the impacts of ORE” (offshore renewable energy).

John Lynch said that he believes there is now a change of attitude towards the concerns of the fishing industry. Aodh O’Donnell acknowledged more interest for the industry’s concerns from some Government Departments. And Capt.Fitzgerald said he was very hopeful that the issues would be resolved, as there was good contact and discussion at the Seafood/ORE Working Group, set up by Government.

I’ll be writing extensively about the marine spatial squeeze in the March edition of the MARINE TIMES newspaper. You can hear interviews from the Seafarers’ Conference in the march edition of my monthly Podcast.

Tom MacSweeney

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