I was delighted to launch the National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF) and the Bill that goes along with it alongside the Taoiseach, Ministers Darragh O’Brien TD, and Peter Burke TD this morning. Along with the Climate Bill, and the Affordable Housing Bill, this is one of the most critical pieces of legislation we will introduce as a government.
Ireland’s ocean area is home to an amazing array of marine life. Our offshore wind resources are a wonderful opportunity for us to break free from fossil fuels and reach our ambitious climate goals. The National Marine Planning Framework will change how we manage the sustainable and holistic development of Ireland’s maritime area, while ensuring protection of biodiversity and the environment.
The Department of the Environment Climate and Communications has responsibility for a wide range of policy areas which fall under the Framework including offshore renewable energy and climate action, gas transmission, and telecommunications. My Department has been closely involved in the development of this framework and the related legislation, which will create a streamlined planning and consent regime.
The NMPF will be a key enabler in delivering a reliable supply of safe, secure and clean energy and assist in phasing out fossil fuels. It will also contribute positively toward ensuring existing and future international telecommunications subsea connectivity for Ireland.
Early enactment of the Bill is critical to the successful delivery of a number of Programme for Government commitments, supporting the decarbonisation of our economy and the delivery of a reliable supply of safe, secure and clean energy. It will also provide the legislative underpinning and flexibility to allow Ireland to move from the current regime towards a more centralised, plan-led regime for offshore renewable energy
Our offshore renewable energy targets can only be achieved if we have the foundation of a robust, fit-for-purpose licensing and regulatory regime which this piece of legislation will achieve. I welcome the establishment of MARA – the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority who will oversee this regime.
Timely progression of a pipeline of offshore renewable energy projects is essential to enable our 2030 climate and energy targets to be met. Provision has been made in the Bill to allow our Department to invite MAC applications relating to offshore renewable energy from projects which satisfy the criteria established under the Transition Protocol, during a specified period in advance of the establishment of MARA.
My Department is also progressing work in the areas of grid development, policy development and route to market. The offshore renewable energy sector is vital for the achievement of the 2050 climate neutrality target and will generate significant investment in Ireland, resulting in long-term, high-value jobs. We are committed to engaging with all stakeholders and ensuring the fullest public participation as we move to develop our offshore renewable energy sector and achieve our climate goals.
Petroleum exploration and production are excluded from the scope of the Bill, which is fully consistent both with the commitment contained in the Programme for Government, and with the statutory effect we are giving to that commitment through the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021.
And we’re not stopping here. Additional legislation to follow on Marine Protected Areas will be crucial in ensuring that as we develop, we protect our marine areas and their biodiversity. There is also the ObSERVE programme, which helps us to plan marine activities and development, without threatening sensitive marine ecosystems. The Programme is jointly funded by my Department, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; and Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland (SEAI). An Irish-led international consortium last month began extensive aerial surveys of almost 500,000km2 of Ireland’s maritime area. The ObSERVE 2 Aerial survey will help build a greater understanding of Ireland’s marine species and the habitats they need to survive and to thrive.
I’d like to thank our officials, as well our colleagues in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, for their cooperation on this very important piece of work.
As an island nation we are very blessed. Our oceans area is about to help us deliver on our climate goals and to prosper as a nation and we must ensure that as we do that we protect our marine areas for future generations.