The third and final panel session of the Fair Seas World Ocean Day conference in Cork focused on giving voice to a range of stakeholders that will be involved in Ireland’s MPA journey in the years to come. 

The title of the panel was ‘Town Hall: harnessing stakeholder involvement for better MPA outcomes’ and three main questions were addressed, what are the potential positives of more and better MPAs in Irish waters, what are the potential negatives from your stakeholder perspective, and lastly, how would you like to be involved in the MPA process going forward. 

Attendees heard from Oonagh Duggan of BirdWatch Ireland and Bernadette Connolly from the Cork Environment Forum as well as being the regional Coastwatch coordinator, both representing an eNGO perspective, Niall MacAllister of West Cork Sailing of the marine eco-tourism industry, Niall McManus of EarthRoute Ltd with an offshore renewable energy perspective, and Kieran Healy, a fisherman and director on the recently established National Inshore Fisheries Association (NIFA)


Session Three. Left to right, MC Susan HayesCulleton, Oonagh Duggan of BirdWatch Ireland, Bernadette Connolly from the Cork Environment Forum, Niall MacAllister of West Cork Sailing, Niall McManus of EarthRoute Ltd, Kieran Healy of the National Inshore Fishermen’s Association.

The discussion between the different stakeholders was fascinating and while each had slightly different views on specific MPA and ocean management issues, the broad feeling was that MPAs can be a positive thing for coastal communities, but only if they are done in the right way. 

There was also broad agreement that Ireland’s current MPA network consisting mainly of SPAs and SACs (the marine Natura 2000 sites) have not been implemented well and that things need to be done better in the future.  Furthermore, the panel overwhelmingly agreed that proper stakeholder engagement through the entire process of site selection, designation and ongoing management is vital if MPAs are to be successful in the long term. 

Provoking the applause and approval of everyone in the room, Kieran Healy of the National Inshore Fishermen’s Association stated that if done properly ‘marine protected areas could be the saviour of the inshore fishing industry’ and held the view that if more fishermen were here to listen to the arguments and points of view brought forward by the likes of Professor Rashid and Dr. Valerie Hickey, then they would be more accepting of them. 


Session Three of the Fair Seas World Ocean Day Conference 2023. Left to right, Bernadette Connolly from the Cork Environment Forum, Niall MacAllister of West Cork Sailing, Niall McManus of EarthRoute Ltd, Kieran Healy of the National Inshore Fishermen’s Association.

Fair Seas invited and offered free tickets to over 14 different key fishing industry organisations and bodies to attend the conference. We were delighted that a number of those did participate in the conference either in-person or virtually. Fair Seas are committed to ensuring the widest possible range of views and perspectives are accommodated in our outreach and engagement events and will continue to engage with all industries in a positive and constructive manner on all things MPA and marine management.

Watch all of Session Three here. 

To end the day, friend and supporter of the Fair Seas campaign, Dr Micheál Ó Cinnéide, former director of the Marine Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency presented his final thoughts and reflections on the day, delightfully titled ‘Holding our Breath in Cork’. Highlighting the huge amount of work done by Fair Seas to organise the conference and to bring people together, as well as by many others in the room in progressing the MPA cause in Ireland, Dr O’Cinnéide highlighted how there is still a long road ahead and many stakeholders not heard from today (including the State Agencies), will be vital in the MPA process to come. Concluding his remarks, Dr. O’Cinnéide set out what he believes is called for in this new MPA conversation ‘Lá dár Saol – Dóchas is Ciall’ or in English ‘A balance of Hope and Realism today’.


Attendees of the Fair Seas World Ocean Day Conference 2023 aboard the LÉ Samuel Beckett for a drinks reception and 99 ice creams. 

We’ve uploaded all the amazing photographs from the conference on our Facebook page. Go check them out and feel free to tag yourself, share and download them.

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