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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 970 No. 7

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins] This means that the harvesting of Bantry Bay could well be an experiment that could have devastating consequences for tourism, for the livelihood of 50 inshore fishermen and our environment. It could also have a very negative impact on the habitat for sea life in the waters of the world famous Bantry Bay. This will not just affect Bantry Bay. It will have a knock-on effect on the Beara Peninsula as well as the Sheepshead Peninsula.

  An advertisement for a licence was first seen in the local Southern Star and on a note at the local Garda station on 12 December 2009, stating the intention to occupy an area of the foreshore to harvest specific seaweed types. No one really understood what it meant. No information of it being a huge area of 1,860 acres was on the advertisement and there was no offer of meetings or information sessions on such an important issue for the public who live and work at Bantry Bay. There was no explanation either on how this could be mechanically harvested in the existing special protected area of the bay. The little advertising it got then did not raise any concerns in 2009. Now, almost ten years on, west Cork is very aware of what is going on and its potential outcome. The experts have requested the Minister and everyone involved to carry out a risk assessment prior to the commencement of works of the likelihood of kelp ever regrowing having been cut at 25 cm. The impact of climate change and the lack of a full risk assessment may leave Bantry Bay the worst example of experimental marine destruction in the whole of Ireland, the UK and Europe, as the mechanical harvesting of kelp is now banned in Nordic countries because of the devastation caused to the marine ecosystem, the wipe-out of shellfish and white fish stocks and the rapid growth of invasive species. I ask the Taoiseach to intervene immediately and call for all parties to step back until a full environmental impact study takes place.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue which I know is of grave interest to people living in Bantry and the Bantry Bay area. It is an area I know well. I have had the pleasure of visiting Bantry House and the chamber music festival and I know the harbour very well from my time as transport Minister, although I do have to admit to not being fully briefed on this particular matter and I apologise for that. If the Deputy can give us a heads up a few hours in advance in future I will make sure I am briefed in time for the question. I am, however, advised by my Ministers that a court case is under way on this particular matter. A judicial review has been sought and given the fact it is a court or legal process I certainly cannot intervene in it. The Deputy will understand why I am not in a position to intervene if a judicial review is sought or under way. I am advised an environmental impact statement or assessment has been done, which I imagine should have answered some of the questions the Deputy has raised.

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins I thank the Taoiseach. I appreciate he may not be fully aware of this circumstance, but I saw the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, giving him plenty of prompts when I was speaking earlier. I wish he gave him plenty of prompts over the past 12 months because that is what was needed but, unfortunately, that is not the case. The Taoiseach said a legal case is being brought but I ask the Taoiseach to remember this is overshadowed by the company stating it is going ahead in spite of any legal case being brought against it.

For over a year the Government stood idly by when all experts were raising alarm bells. We are not talking about an acre of sea water, we are talking about 1,860 acres of potential destruction of the most stunning waters in the country in Bantry Bay. This is where the Taoiseach can intervene. Article 12.2 of the licence granted states that without prejudice to clause 12.1 the licence may be determined at any time by the Minister giving three months notice in writing, where the licence shall be deemed revoked and withdrawn without payment of any compensation or refund by the Minister to the licensee. This could have been stopped and it still can be. I ask all to come clean and give us the reason it has not been stopped to date. The 13,000 people cannot be wrong. Saving Bantry Bay now lies in the hands of the Government to make a decision before next Wednesday, 4 July. I sincerely hope it will not abandon the people of west Cork on this issue.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar With a court process under way I am loath to comment in much detail and it is not possible for me to intervene in the actions of a court. What we have to do when it comes to all of these issues is to balance on the one hand the need to protect our environment and on the other ensuring we promote marine rural employment and marine rural industries.

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