Ireland’s ability to meet climate targets being undermined by ‘inexcusable delays’ to marine legislation

Risk Government will not enact MPA Bill, impairing identification of sites for offshore wind development

The Government’s commitment to providing key environmental legislation is wearing thin, with another deadline passed on publishing a Bill introducing protected marine areas, according to the Fair Seas environmental coalition.

The Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) Bill, promised since last July, was due to be published before the Oireachtas went on its Easter recess. However, that deadline has passed and Fair Seas fears time is running out for it to be introduced, debated, amended and enacted before the end of the Government’s term.

The group warned on Tuesday that delays in introducing the Bill “have real consequences for the State’s ability to reach important international environmental and climate targets”.

The Bill aims to facilitate the designation of MPAs, with Ireland having committed to protecting 30 per cent of its marine area by 2030. It will in effect dictate where offshore wind farms are located in future.

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Dr Donal Griffin, Fair Seas campaign coordinator, said even if the Government runs to full term as promised by the presumptive taoiseach Simon Harris, it will be a challenge to get it over the line before the next general election.

“The legislation is our best hope of protecting and conserving Ireland’s marine biodiversity and is too important to be forced quickly through the Oireachtas,” Dr Griffin said.

“Every delay makes it harder for the Government to achieve its target of designating 30 per cent of Irish seas as MPAs...This has knock-on consequences for Ireland’s ability to meet its offshore renewable energy targets, as the offshore energy sector requires MPA legislation to help identify potential offshore development sites.”

Rebecca Dudley, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s science officer, said the Government had time to publish the Bill and to move it quickly to committee stage, where amendments could be debated to further strengthen the legislation.

“All this is possible, but only if the Government moves quickly once the Dáil resumes after Easter. A legacy of having failed to deliver this important biodiversity and climate related legislation – one that commands so much public support – will not go down well with voters who have consistently said that they want to see strong MPA legislation introduced urgently,” Ms Dudley said.

Fair Seas has been campaigning for strong and ambitious legislation committing to effectively protecting 30 per cent of the seas around Ireland by 2030, with 10 per cent to be strictly protected.

The group is calling for “stakeholder engagement at every stage; clear delivery time frames and a robust management framework, with targeted, site-specific measures to ensure MPAs deliver for nature”.

The Department of Housing, which is processing the legislation, said drafting of the proposed MPA legislation is at advanced stage. “Once finalised, it is intended to bring the Bill to Government for approval to publish as soon as possible,” it added.

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