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Public meeting on Ireland’s marine plan

Comment & Opinion

YOUR VIEWS MATTERCitizens are being asked to give their opinion on the National Marine Plan Framework at meetings in Westport today (Tuesday), or by email before February 28.

Damien English

Minister for Housing and Urban Development

Like most counties, Mayo 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 fishing, sailing and surfing, important parts of the tourist mix offered by the county.  
The maritime area of Mayo and beyond also holds great economic value. Last year, Ireland’s ocean economy provided employment for over 34,000 full-time equivalents, a 13 percent rise on the 2016 figure. It had a turnover of €6.2 billion through such activities as seafood and tourism. Huge economic opportunities in such areas 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 needs 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.
The NMPF, when finalised, will be the key decision-making tool for Government departments, State agencies, regulatory authorities and policymakers 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 […].
Among the 16 sectors and activities covered in the draft NMPF are offshore renewable energy; fisheries; ports, harbours and shipping; safety at sea; sport and recreation; tourism; and waste water treatment and disposal – all important activities and issues for Mayo.
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 waste water treatment and disposal. Adequate waste water treatment is vital to protecting public health and the environment. The document outlines the planning policies that will help bring and maintain public wastewater services to acceptable international standards through increased wastewater treatment.
Along with providing an opportunity to discuss and debate the draft NMPF and related issues, Mayo’s two public meetings [both taking place in Westport today (Tuesday), see below] will discuss issues concerning waste water treatment and disposal. Representatives of Irish Water, Mayo County Council and The Irish Environmental Network are due to address the meetings. The meetings will discuss the importance of this service and its infrastructure for communities and businesses and the protection of our environment.
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 Mayo, and contribute to the national plan by having your say before February 28. It is in all our interests to protect and enhance this social, economic and environmental asset.  

The draft NMPF and associated environmental reports can be found at www.marineplan.gov.ie. Submissions should be sent to msp@housing.gov.ie. The two public meetings on the draft NMPF will take place at Westport Town Hall on today (Tuesday), November 26 from 2pm to 4pm and from 6pm to 8pm.