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 Header Item National Marine Planning Framework: Motion (Continued)
 Header Item Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1006 No. 3

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  3 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Peter Burke: Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke] These assessments have been undertaken to evaluate the high-level impacts of the NMPF on the environment and to inform the direction of the NMPF. This is to ensure that the national objectives and outcomes respond to the sensitivities and requirements of the wider natural environment, the likely environmental consequences of decisions regarding the future accommodation of development and how negative effects can be reduced, offset or avoided. The NMPF is in full compliance with relevant legal environmental requirements.

As I previously mentioned, the MSP advisory group was established to facilitate participation in the marine spatial planning process by all relevant stakeholders from the economic, environmental and social pillars. The intended purpose of the advisory group was to harness the potential and capacity of a broad range of sectors, including representation from the public sector, business, environmental, social and knowledge based sectors to guide strategic thinking and decision-making in the preparation of marine spatial plans. I am pleased to say that the work of the advisory group throughout this process was of an exceptional standard, having provided expert reports, recommendations or updates when required, thus informing the work of the interdepartmental group and strongly influencing the final NMPF.

The NMPF contains a commitment to regional or sub-national plans in future planning cycles. These will be more localised and will potentially be more empowering for coastal communities throughout Ireland. At least three regional plans will be developed, specifically based on the locations of Ireland’s regional assemblies, which have an existing range of powers in regard to spatial planning and economic development.

All public bodies that have a role in making policies, plans or programmes relevant to the maritime area, or have a role in regulating activity or development in the maritime area, are statutorily obliged to support and implement the objectives and policies of the NMPF when it is adopted. This means, in practice, that in assessing and deciding on an application for a lease, license or consent, a public body must ensure consistency with the NMPF’s objectives. It also means that where a public body is introducing a new policy proposal or plan, such as, for example, a sectoral marine action plan, that policy document must also contribute to the achievement of the NMPF’s objectives and policies.

Chapter 2 of the framework sets out how the NMPF will interact with terrestrial forward plans at national, regional and county level. The chapters on overarching marine planning policies and sectoral marine planning policies contain extensive referencing and signposting on how the NMPF can be implemented, who will implement it and how it interacts with other strategic plans, policies and development management processes.

I will now outline some of the further implementation initiatives of the NMPF that will be rolled out over the coming months. The programme for Government committed to the establishment of Project Ireland Marine 2040 and this marine governance group, working under the broader Project Ireland delivery board, will provide leadership and oversight during the implementation of the NMPF. A central and successful underpinning of Project Ireland 2040 and the national development plan, NDP, has been the alignment of spatial and investment plans and we intend to align the NMPF with the NDP. Together, the NPF and NMPF will form the statutorily based spatial planning framework. The NDP is the key investment plan, covering all sectors, irrespective of whether the investment is on land or sea.

As part of the roll out of the NMPF, my Department proposes to examine options for maximising stakeholder engagement and buy-in to the concept of marine planning at a local level through coastal partnership arrangements. This will serve as an important part of the implementation and monitoring arrangements for the first cycle of marine planning from 2021 onwards and a learning opportunity for future cycles of marine planning and the extent to which specific forward marine planning functions should be devolved to regional, local or national level. Coastal partnerships will bring together an area's coastal community to address issues of concern, share best practice and resources and facilitate communication, and I expect that the selected pilot partnerships for coastal areas will be rolled out by my Department over the next 12 months.

I thank all Members for taking the time to make their contributions. I have heard the issues causing frustration, but I wish to put on the record the robust process this went through over a number of years. Everyone had an opportunity to engage, including those who did so successfully, with the Department and our expert advisory group.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Is the motion agreed?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett It is not agreed.

  Question put.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the next weekly division time.

Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

  Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Is this Minister of State taking this debate?

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock There is a Minister of State here.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly You can all chair if you like. I am simply asking if the Minister of State is here for this topic.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Ossian Smyth): Information on Ossian Smyth Zoom on Ossian Smyth I do not think I am answering questions on this topic.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly You are not answering, but you are here for this topic.

Deputy Ossian Smyth: Information on Ossian Smyth Zoom on Ossian Smyth I am here for this topic.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Deputy Sean Sherlock is clearly in possession and ready to go.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock I thank the Minister of State for his presence.

Forestry will play a key role in climate change mitigation. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release pure oxygen. Forestry filters and cleans the air we breathe. Young commercial plantations along with sequestering carbon quickly over their lifetime, will, when harvested, lock carbon away in wood products and when replanted will begin another cycle of carbon storage. The end use for the timber will offer alternatives to fossil fuels and a possible replacement for cement and steel in the construction industry. Other countries are already leading the way in replacing steel with cross-laminated timber in high-rise buildings.

Ireland has less than 11% forestry cover, which is way below the European average of 35%. Past Governments have, over 30 years, invested over €3 billion in the industry. Climate action afforestation targets were set each year, but were never achieved. That failure was never questioned. If the current target is 8,000 ha of new woodland each year, why are we planting so little? Only 3,000 ha were planted in 2019. Just over 2,000 ha in 2020 and 2021 will be a repeat of that, with only 900 ha planted this year to date.

We have an abundance of land available. We have a damp climate and the best weather conditions in which to grow trees. There has always been plenty of interest from landowners in Ireland in planting their land, yet the Department is failing to capitalise on this interest and convert it into planted hectares. Why is that happening? It is because we have a licensing system which is simply not fit for purpose and cannot produce enough licences for the sector to operate. Therefore, the current administrative process is completely compromising Government planting targets and the national interest.

While I welcome the recent initiative of Project Woodland, which is examining the licensing process in its entirety - I believe great work has already commenced through the four working groups - the deliverables are for the future and remain to be seen. Climate change will not wait while delays in processing afforestation licences are sorted out. Time will not allow it. Failure by the Department to achieve afforestation targets in recent years already makes for very grim reading on what carbon we have failed to capture due to reduced afforestation. Indeed, my party colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, last week requested this information in a parliamentary question and received a reply from the Department, stating that over the last five years there has been a shortfall in meeting targets of 15,365 ha. Was this area to be afforested with 70% conifer and 30% broadleaf, these forests would have the potential to remove 5.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over their lifetime, taking into account the fact forests are felled and replanted.

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