“We support the principles and ambition of the EU Biodiversity Strategy and will develop comprehensive legislation for the identification, designation, and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Irish territorial waters”

This is the Irish Government’s own commitment for MPAs, stated in its ‘Our Shared Future’ programme outlining its governmental priorities over the coming years. The EU Biodiversity Strategy referred to, is now a guiding document for not only Ireland but all European Union (EU) Member States in terms of what must be done to tackle the biodiversity crisis. 

As the Programme for Government alludes, MPAs are a big opportunity to address the biodiversity (and climate) crisis at a national level. In relation to MPAs, the EU Biodiversity Strategy calls for 30% of EU waters to be protected in a MPA by 2030, stating that;

“at least 30% of the land and 30% of the sea should be protected in the EU” and “at least one-third of protected areas – representing 10% of EU land and 10% of EU sea – should be strictly protected.”

This is an ambitious goal, especially so in Ireland when at the moment our network of MPAs (consisting mostly of Special Areas of Conservation – SACs, and Special Protection Areas – SPAs designated under EU law) covers 8.3% of our waters. 

Furthermore, we know that Ireland’s current MPA network is not only lacking in spatial coverage but is failing in terms of the implementation of adequate and effective management. A paradigm shift in how we designate, manage, monitor and enforce our network of MPAs, as well as any future marine protected sites, is long overdue and badly needed.

Can Ireland’s new MPA legislation be the transformational change needed to properly protect nature at sea?

Whether or not Ireland achieves its MPA targets, hinges squarely on the quality and effective implementation of new MPA legislation. This is why ensuring Ireland passes the strongest and most ambitious MPA legislation possible, is a top priority for the Fair Seas campaign. Strong legislation will ensure MPAs are implemented alongside proper community engagement and participative decision-making, while also ensuring the management and monitoring of conservation features are well-resourced and enforced.

Fortunately, the process of developing and drafting Ireland’s new MPA legislation is well underway and Fair Seas have had the opportunity to feed into this process by submitting our MPA White Paper to Government, and presenting written and oral evidence to the Joint Oireachtas Committee scrutinising the MPA Bill General Scheme.

Fair Seas Policy Officer Dr Donal Griffin presenting evidence on Marine Protected Areas to the Joint Oireachtas Committee during pre-legislative scrutiny.

The development of Ireland’s new MPA legislation

2020 Independent MPA Advisory Group published a report ‘Expanding Ireland’s Marine Protected Area Network’

2021 Public consultation on the report

2022Summary of responses published 

2022 –  General Scheme for proposed MPA bill published

2023 – Pre-Legislative Scrutiny in the HLGH Joint Oireachtas Committee of the MPA bill General Scheme (Session 1, 2 and 3).

2023 Pre-Legislative Scrutiny report and recommendations published by HLGH JOC.

  • Fair Seas call on all TDs and Senators to support the recommendations in the JOC report.

What happens next?

The Government has made a huge amount of progress in developing the MPA legislation in the past few months alone. We know that since the publishing of the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny report, the Bill is currently being drafted, and Fair Seas are hopeful that many of our recommendations to the Joint Oireachtas Committee to improve the quality of the Bill will be taken on board. 

In terms of next steps, Fair Seas will be looking out for the ‘First Stage’ of a Bill passing through the Oireachtas. This is the Initiation of the Bill in the Dáil, which when brought forward by a member of the Government is automatically moved to the ‘Second Stage’. This Bill initiation will officially commence the full legislative process within both the Dáil and Seanad which culminates in its signing into Irish law.

Marine Protected Area legislation timeline Ireland 2023

Steps of Legislative Process – more information on how laws are made in Ireland can be found here.

What can you do?

When the MPA Bill is initiated by the Government, hopefully in the coming months, Fair Seas will then assess its contents and if necessary, advocate for specific changes to make sure it delivers an ecologically coherent network of well-managed MPAs which allows nature to not only survive, but thrive. 

Keep up to date with Fairseas and MPA news and developments, by subscribing up to our newsletter here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

We also welcome you to join us in Cork on 8th June, where we are hosting our inaugural World Ocean Day conference. We are bringing ocean advocates, government, industry and key stakeholders together to map out the next steps for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Irish waters.

There is still a long path to travel with Ireland’s new MPA legislation, but I hope you agree, it will be worth the effort if in the end, nature at sea is protected and allowed to flourish, giving us healthy, happy and prosperous coastal communities and seas. 

This blog was written by Dr Donal Griffin, Policy Officer at Fair Seas. 

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