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Government 'out of step' with public's wish to see coastlines protected

The Government is "out of step" with the public's desire to see Ireland's seas and coastlines protected, environmental groups have claimed.

The Fair Seas coalition has presented a petition to Nature and Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan with almost 12,000 signatures urging the Government to publish the long-mooted Marine Protected Areas Bill, which has been going through the legislative process for months.

The marine bill currently going through the Oireachtas aims to cement the country's ambition to protect 30% of its maritime area by the end of the decade. It was due to be published before the Oireachtas summer recess but as yet, there is still no definitive sign of it.

The EU's Marine Strategy Framework Directive legally compels member states to establish marine protected areas (MPAs).

Fair Seas, which is made up of groups such as the Irish Wildlife Trust, Birdwatch Ireland, Coastwatch, and Friends of the Irish Environment, pointed to its recent survey that found 75% of people believe that a lack of political will is the main obstacle to the introduction of legislation that would protect Irish oceans and its rich marine life.

'Strongest possible legislation'

Fair Seas campaign manager Aoife O’Mahony said, “The petition and survey results are further evidence that the Government is out of step with the importance that the public attach to protecting the ocean. 

"Not only do people want legislation, they want legislation that will be capable of doing the job it sets out to do. We have been very clear with the Government as to what needs to be included in the Bill if it is to be effective."

She said that the Government "now needs to move quickly to bring forward the strongest possible legislation before the end of this year" with a view to having the bill enacted early in 2024.

Fair Seas went to Leinster House with environmental experts for a presentation on Ireland’s MPAs, as well as presenting the petition with 11,758 signatures calling for action.

Head of advocacy at BirdWatch Ireland, Oonagh Duggan, said: "The bill has already been through a rigorous process of pre-legislative scrutiny in the Oireachtas committee.

"This is not a bill that can be delayed any further. We need to see action now.”

In June, 193 UN members adopted the first treaty to protect marine life in the high seas, with UN secretary general Antonio Guterres saying the landmark agreement gives the oceans a "fighting chance" in the biodiversity crisis.