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Challenging the Oireachtas Committe

It is difficult to understand how the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage can exclude the fishing industry from its consideration of the Marine Protected Areas Bill. One of the key recommendations of a 2020 Government Advisory Group about MPAs was that “early and sustained stakeholder engagement should be integral to the selection and management processes for MPAs.

Engagement should be inclusive and equitable and the process should be designed to ensure that it is transparent, meaningful and facilitating.” The Committee has met with NGOs (non-government organisations) and environmental groups, but not with the fishing industry. All the major fishing and aquaculture organisations have protested that the Committee’s scrutiny of what is a very important Bill for the future of marine, is now “flawed.” The Committee should explain its attitude.

The national media, electronic and print, did not highlight the manner in which it ignored the fishing/seafood sector. The story is reported in the March edition of the MARINE TIMES. MPAs and offshore wind energy are vital areas to be correctly developed.

Why did the Government of an island nation hand decision-making on maritime matters – the MPAs and the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA), which will deal with planning applications for windfarms – to the Department of Housing? It has not resolved the housing crisis, as the Irish Islands Marine Resource Organisation (IIMRO) commented: “If they cannot do things on land, one cannot be too confident of their ability to do it at sea.”

This is puzzling, is it an indication of Government disregard for the Department of the Marine? I am puzzled at how a Department which has quite a lot on its agenda in relation to housing, a crisis which has not been resolved and shows little sign that it will be in the immediate future, should be given responsibility for making the decisions on what will be a major impact on the maritime sector and all engaged in the sphere. Is this an indication of land-bassed, inward-thinking, rather than outward towards the sea and its different situation, the need for thinking, for considerations, for planning, that is not secured on land-based administration?

These aspects have not been sufficiently explained and should be. There is a lot at stake for all maritime sectors, from commercial to leisure, to environmental.

Tom MacSweeney

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