Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today is a very big day for the marine sector in Ireland and I am delighted to see so many people in Dublin Castle to celebrate it by attending the country’s first marine conference.
I want to thank Minister Coveney and his team for organising the conference and I know they were ably supported by the Marine Institute and its Chief Executive, Peter Heffernan.
Everybody knows that Ireland has a huge sea area and everybody also knows that we neglected it for years. When we came into Government in 2011, I was determined to change that.
I appointed Simon Coveney as Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and we changed the name of the Department to Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Minister Coveney began to chair the Marine Coordination Group and we came up with a new plan to drive positive change in our maritime sector.
In February 2012 we launched the first ever public consultation about Ireland and the sea.
The feedback helped produce the plan called Harnessing our Ocean Wealth: An Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland. It sets out a Programme of Actions that the public sector will take to enable the sustainable development of Ireland’s marine sector and that will contribute to that development.
There has been a lot of progress on these Actions, and one of the purposes of today’s conference is to tell you how far we’ve got, and what we’re going to do this year.
So you will hear a lot today about actions initiated or completed, legislation being drafted, research programmes, training courses, marine energy, marine innovation, EU developments and so on from my colleague Ministers and from the other speakers and panel members at this conference.
Minister Coveney will provide an overview and deal with his own Department’s area, while other Ministers will tell you about what their Departments and agencies have been doing and what they will be doing next. Minister of State Sean Sherlock will talk about promoting innovation to drive a thriving marine sector.
Minister Pat Rabbitte will talk about the energy perspective, and later in the day Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd will be talking about offshore hydrocarbons.
Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan is also here today, and I am happy to announce that following yesterday’s Government meeting she will, in addition to her responsibilities for housing and planning, have responsibility for marine spatial planning.
Marine spatial planning involves allocating space at sea to marine activities in a plan-led way so as to maximise economic and social benefits in a sustainable way. It is a key enabler of sustainable growth in the marine area. Initiating a marine spatial planning system for Ireland will help guide future investment and development decisions.
I also want to offer a warm Irish welcome to Susan Sullivan, Minister for Innovation, Business and Rural Development in Newfoundland, who is here today. She and her party are in Dublin to mark the inaugural Westjet flight from Newfoundland to Dublin last Monday and she was eager to attend this Conference. She is very welcome indeed.
Government has made a lot of progress since we launched the plan. One such area is in aquaculture licensing.
We are involved in data collection activities, the setting of Conservation Objectives for 75 Natura sites and the carrying out of Appropriate Assessments, which have been completed in respect of Castlemaine Harbour, Dundalk Bay, Roaringwater Bay, Lough Swilly, Donegal Bay and Dungarvan Harbour and are underway in a further six important aquaculture bays.
This has begun to achieve meaningful results in relation to the licensing of aquaculture. 137 aquaculture licence determinations were made in 2013, of which 120 were in respect of sites in ‘Natura’ areas.
It is great to see such progress in respect of aquaculture licensing, especially given its relevance for the west of Ireland. Speaking of the West I also have to mention The Wild Atlantic Way, which will develop a long-distance driving route that will enchant visitors as they take in all the West has to offer.
Continuing to look west, last year a high-level event took place at the Marine Institute in Galway, when European Commissioners Geoghegan-Quinn and Damanaki on behalf of the EU, Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones of the U.S. Department of State, and Senator Mark Wells from Canada, signed the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation, launching the Canada – EU – U.S. Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance.
The Agreement aims to connect the ocean observation efforts of the three partners. The work will also study the interplay of the Atlantic Ocean with the Arctic Ocean, particularly in relation to climate change.
There was another important development when, last October, Minister Phil Hogan published the General Scheme of the Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill. The Bill aims to align the foreshore consent system with the planning system, and to provide a process to facilitate and manage development activity in the State’s Exclusive Economic Zone beyond the territorial waters and on the continental shelf.
As I am also Minister for Defence, of course, I needn’t look outside my own area for evidence of achievements and progress.
During 2013, the Naval Service upgraded its maritime technology at the Naval Base Operations Centre and this software is currently being installed on the Naval vessels.
As part of a project being developed through the European Defence Agency, the Naval Service has also installed software that will enable it to share information electronically.
This will enable the Naval Service to develop a comprehensive picture of all activities in Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and through this, target operations to ensure the safety and security of our maritime domain.
The Naval Service is also working with start-up companies in the IMERC campus to develop solutions for maritime surveillance through the use of wireless technology.
A few weeks ago I commissioned a new ship for the Naval Service, An Long Éireannach Samuel Beckett. That was a proud moment for the Naval Service and for Ireland, and there will be another proud moment soon, when L.E. James Joyce is also commissioned.
And earlier this month I was happy to announce that an order has been placed for a third Offshore Patrol Vessel for the Naval Service.
A vessel replacement strategy for the Naval Service has been in progress since 2007 to provide for the replacement of existing vessels, some of which are over 30 years old.
Our new ships are very impressive and they offer excellent value for money.
This is the right time to maintain the momentum with the replacement strategy and move forward with a placing of a contract for the third Patrol Vessel. The Naval Service’s operational capacity in a highly demanding environment will be enhanced with the coming into service of three new vessels.
As you can see there is a wide range of participants in our plan for the development of our maritime resources.
Our plan had three objectives.
First, of course, was to get the various Departments and public sector agencies working together on the various actions set out in the Plan. This is being achieved, as you’ll hear during the day.
The second objective was to ensure that the public is aware of how seriously the Government takes the marine sector. This Conference is partly for that purpose. We want the Irish people to see the sea, and to see what the Government is doing about it – so that the people too will start looking at the sea as a big natural resource which we can benefit from in a sustainable way.
The third objective is the most important one. It’s about growing sustainable investment, development and jobs. This country desperately needs jobs. Far too many of our people are unemployed. The marine sector has potential for creating jobs and we want to see that potential used. Today’s Conference is a way of showing that the Government is serious about the potential of this sector and we are taking real action. We are steadily creating the conditions that will enable and foster sustainable development to take place.
And we’re saying to people who are thinking about investment: look at our Plan, and look at our progress. You can see our commitment. Now is the time for you to get serious. We are removing obstacles and opening the way for investment in sustainable development of the marine sector in Ireland. It’s time to get involved. It’s time to get committed.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to open Ireland’s first Annual Marine Conference, to congratulate the organisers and to wish you all a very enjoyable and a very interesting day.