A former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director has urged Ireland to follow Scotland's example in designing the State's first plan for its marine territory.
Scotland has prepared itself for aspects of Brexit in setting up a "one-stop" shop for managing its offshore territory, Dr Micheál Ó Cinnéide told a marine economy seminar in Galway on Thursday.
Dr Ó Cinnéide, a former diplomat and former Marine Institute official who recently completed a ten-year term as EPA director, said the potential of Ireland's offshore territory was such that implementing the new EU marine spatial directive "creates a strong opportunity for change".
Ireland’s marine area is ten times its land mass, while Scotland’s is six times – or 62 per cent of Britain’s sea area, he noted.
Public consultations are currently being held by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on Ireland’s first such offshore management plan, which must be implemented by 2021.
It aims to mirror land-based planning in prioritising activities extending from the mean high water mark to 200 nautical miles out.
Two economic targets have already been identified in the State’s Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth strategy – doubling the value of our ocean wealth, and increasing the turnover of the ocean economy to exceed €6.4 billion by 2030.
However, Dr Ó Cinnéide outlined the “dysfunctional incrementalism” which had plagued marine governance to date, where a plethora of departments and agencies were involved , and he said outdated systems governing activities such as aquaculture and ocean energy “lacked credibility”.
Dr Ó Cinnéide cited the advantages of a “network” rather than “centralised” model and pointed to examples in other EU member states, such as Marine Scotland which was established in 2009 as a single licensing point for all marine activity in Scottish waters.
It has over 700 staff, three research vessels, two patrol vessels and two surveillance aircraft.
Dr Ó Cinnéide said Ireland’s marine spatial planning group needed to “benchmark its structure and strengthen its resource base” if it is to be successful in its first cycle from 2020 to 2026, when the plan will be reviewed.
The marine spatial-planning group currently has 20 staff, compared to over 650 staff in land-based planning, he noted.
He questioned whether this was sufficient to meet the challenges of sustainable management of Ireland’s 490,000 square kilometres offshore.
Responding for the department, marine spatial planning official Padraic Dempsey said it had already learned the value of early public engagement.
He also said his department had an advantage in having “no vested interested” in any marine sector, and forecast more staff would be hired.
The EU’s Marine Spatial Planning directive requires member states to implement a marine plan by 2021 that focuses on how best to “harness” ocean wealth without conflict. Its Marine Strategy Framework directive imposes a duty on member states to achieve good environmental status by 2020.
Public consultation on the first draft marine spatial plan closes on December 14th, and there will be further consultation next year.
The marine economy conference was hosted by the NUI Galway Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit and the Marine Institute.