Following a Government decision in December 2023, responsibility for Ireland’s marine planning system formally transferred today to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

The transfer is based on recommendations made by the former Attorney General Paul Gallagher SC, in which he identified an urgent need to consolidate and rationalise the regulation of marine development and activity to build on the National Marine Planning Framework and Maritime Area Planning Act and give practical effect to Ireland’s ambition to have a modern, fit for purpose, world-leading marine planning system.

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The specific functions transferring to DECC are:

  • Policy and legislative responsibilities in relation to marine forward planning and enforcement (under the MAP Act)
  • Governance and oversight of the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA)
  • Regulation of activity on the foreshore (under the Foreshore Acts 1933) as part of the migration to the new system operated by MARA under the MAP Act.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has been preparing for this for some time now. It intends to provide the resources and focus that will allow immediate changes and accelerate activity. The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has secured significant additional technical resources that allows it to establish a dedicated marine forward-planning team. This multi-disciplinary team will include marine planners, Geographic Information Systems expertise, marine ecologists, marine mammal and birds experts.

One of the core functions of this new team will be to bring forward future DMAPs to build on the recently-published South Coast DMAP. The additional technical resources will also enable DECC to accelerate other critical components of the marine planning system such as statutory marine planning guidelines, full implementation of the National Marine Planning Framework and designing the future marine data repository Ireland urgently needs for informed and joined up marine planning.

Minister Ryan will soon be publishing Ireland’s first statutory Marine Planning Policy Statement.

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This statutory Marine Planning Policy Statement will:

  • outline the existing components of Ireland’s marine planning system and the hierarchy of marine polices
  • set out the strategic principles of marine planning policy that the Government expects marine planning bodies to observe
  • outline Ireland’s key marine planning priorities for the management of activities in the maritime space during the lifetime of this MPPS, and
  • detail how marine policy will be monitored and reviewed

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This Marine Planning Policy Statement will serve as a parallel to the 2015 Planning Policy Statement which underpins the operation of the entire land-planning system in Ireland.

The Minister also intends to accelerate the transition from foreshore to the new system and it is our objective to work towards achieving substantive phase out of the foreshore function across 2024. This will simplify the regulatory landscape, bring consistency and ensure that the processes set out under the MAP Act are at the centre of the new regime.

The cross sectoral Marine Spatial Planning Advisory Group is being reactivated and will meet next month and will return to meeting on a regular basis, providing an important vehicle for overseeing implementation of the existing NMPF and informing the development of the next NMPF.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications is also leading out on the establishment of a cross-Government structure to bring together all Departments and Agencies with a marine remit.

This new group will provide for alignment of marine policies and of State investment in the maritime sector, giving leadership and oversight on a whole of Government basis.

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Welcoming the formal transfer, Minister Ryan said:

I’m delighted to welcome these critical new functions into my Department.

As a nation, we are increasingly turning ourselves towards our seas as we seek sustainable solutions to the challenges we face.

I want to ensure that we have a modern marine planning system that delivers for all stakeholders and which supports the sustainable uses of our seas across the broadest remit of activities set out in the National Marine Planning Framework.

My aim and the aim of my Department, building on the work of our colleagues in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and on the commitment and effort of Minister Darragh O’Brien, is to create a marine planning system that has the confidence of all stakeholders and that delivers for all marine interests in a fair and impartial way. As the Government Department that has more marine policy areas than any other within our remit, we are uniquely placed to deliver on this.

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