The Irish Times view on the new national park: marine in name only

The question of how to comply with EU legislation on protecting Ireland’s waters remains to be answered

The designation of Ireland’s eighth national park as a marine park is something of a triumph of style over substance. The main elements of Páirc Náisiúnta na Mara, Ciarraí, are a mountain, a peninsula, a mountain pass, five islands, some fossilised dinosaur footprints and the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell, all of which can at best be described as marine-adjacent.

The only true marine elements of the park are the waters around the Blasket Islands and the shoals off Kerry Head, both of which are existing Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) under the EU Habitats Directive.

There is a certain logic, from a tourism and marketing perspective, to grouping these existing SACs together with other state-owned cultural and heritage assets and calling them a marine park.

Doing so, however, will make little contribution to meeting Ireland’s commitment to designate 30 per cent of its waters as Marine Protected Areas (MPA) by the end of the decade, in keeping with the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. MPAs are geographically distinct zones for which protection objectives have been set, including marine reserves where fishing and windfarms are banned.


The Government says there will be no additional regulatory burden or restriction on activities resulting from the creation of the park. This is an oblique reference to the difficulties it faces in meeting its commitment on MPAs. The first being the lack of any legal definition in Irish law.

The Marine Protected Areas Bill is intended to address this issue as well as coming up with a framework to square the circle between various interested parties, including the fishing and offshore wind industries, the environmental lobby and local communities. It contains proposals for objections, consultation, and an expert body.

If and when the bill becomes law – it has yet to come before the Dáil – the prospect of a true marine park in Irish waters will move closer to being a reality.