Fine Gael TD for Galway West & Mayo South

Speech at the Ocean Wealth Summit as part of SeaFest

Good afternoon,
First of all, let me extend a warm welcome to Galway. I can’t think of a better location for a conference on showcasing the wealth of Irelands Oceans. For generations, Galway has been a gateway to the Atlantic Ocean, whether it be fishing, tourism, recreation or for providing transport to our islands. With over 220 million acres of designated Continental Shelf and water depths of up to 5.5 kilometres, it’s safe to say that Ireland has a lot to showcase.

I would like to thank the Marine Coordination Group and the Marine Institute for organising today’s summit. Things don’t run smoothly like they have today by chance – it takes a lot of hard work and dedication. This is really appreciated.

 Departmental Cooperation

The development of a sustainable marine economy in practice requires a considerable amount of joined-up thinking across the various Departments’ within Government. I think the Ocean Wealth Summit & SeaFest is a prime example of how different Departments and state agencies can work together, enabling a holistic approach to our marine economy.

I would like to commend Minister Creed on launching the National Marine Research and Innovation Strategy this morning. My own Department is an active participant on the Marine Coordination Group and have inputted to the strategy. In fact, my Department contributes significantly to several areas of marine research. Over the period 2015 to 2017, the Department will provide in excess of €15m in funding for research in the marine environment.
As Minister of State with responsibility for Natural Resources, Community Affairs and Digital Development, I would like to update you on a number of areas.  

 

INFOMAR

Ireland has rightly become renowned for its seabed mapping programme INFOMAR, an initiative that is acknowledged through the now popular image of “The Real Map of Ireland”, displaying our potential offshore territory as ten times that of our onshore land. I am very proud today to acknowledge the work of the seabed mapping programme, as it works to complete the task of mapping Ireland “under the sea”, work that is providing the knowledge to unlock our ocean wealth. 

The INFOMAR project, funded by my Department, through the Geological Survey of Ireland, is tasked with the job of completion of mapping all of Ireland’s marine area. Phase 1 of this work, from 2006 to 2016, mapped the 26 priority bays and harbours of Ireland, as well as three priority offshore areas. The GSI project team carried out this work in partnership with the Marine Institute based here in Galway.

Importantly for Ireland we are mapping our seabed to support sound regulatory decisions, essential for all commercial activities, and equally for environmental protection. More specifically, to ensure sustainable development across all marine activities, including shipping and transport, tourism and leisure, fisheries, aquaculture, and energy. Our mapping is underpinning all of the activities and aspirations we are discussing in Galway this week and INFOMAR is a listed key enabler of our National Marine Plan, Harnessing our Ocean Wealth.

 

INFOMAR has evolved to become more than just a mapping programme. It is now an integral part of Marine Ireland;

• It is globally recognized as a best practice model in marine mapping and data management

• It has created a flagship brand to market our related expanding indigenous digital ocean technologies

• It provides operational and spatial data expertise to support critical initiatives, from emergency response through to marine spatial planning and development.

• On the particular point of emergency response, I want to add my voice to that of other speakers, in commending all those involved in the multiagency response to recent tragic accidents, off both Mayo and Skerries. I am proud that our INFOMAR team could also provide vital assistance in both cases.

  

Looking to the future, through INFOMAR associated national and international R&D activities and partnerships, we will;

• harness and expand our data resources to make better decisions

• build tools and technologies to improve cross sectoral efficiency and ensure sustainability, to underpin developing Marine Spatial Planning

• provide advice, services, and home grown technology to support both Ireland and the GLOBAL marine market.
The title of the last session was ‘our rapidly changing ocean’. Initiatives such as INFOMAR are crucial data gathering programmes to ensure our policies can be designed to deliver a sustainable marine economy.

 

Oil and Gas

Turning to energy matters, the Energy White Paper, published in 2015, sets out a roadmap for the transition of the energy sector. The White Paper acknowledges that oil and natural gas will remain significant elements of Ireland’s energy supply in the evolution to a low carbon energy system. This is particularly the case in the medium term where the mix of non-renewables will shift away from more carbon-intensive fuels, like peat and coal, to lower-carbon fuels like natural gas. In the longer term, the intention is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.

Successful exploration in Ireland’s Atlantic Margin has the potential to deliver significant and sustained benefits to Irish society and the economy, particularly in terms of enhanced security of supply and import substitution.

We have recently seen this by the impact of the Corrib gas field, where in the space of a year, Ireland went from importing 88% of our overall energy needs in 2015 to 70% of our energy needs in 2016, a significant improvement in our security of supply. Last year we imported less than half our natural gas – this is welcome, particularly given the decision of the UK to leave the European Union, meaning we will no longer be directly connected energy-wise to the EU.  

It is of utmost importance that any exploration is done in an environmentally responsible manner. To that end, my Department has rolled-out an environmental programme in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife Services called ObSERVE. 

ObSERVE is a significant environmental data acquisition programme, designed to acquire new baseline data, with the aim of filling existing data gaps with regard to protected marine species and sites in key offshore basins. The work is on-going, but it is already clear, however, that robust, high-quality data on sea-bird and cetacean distribution and abundance in the Irish offshore is being gathered.

The programme is also a great example of two Departments cooperating together to find answers to complex issues of mutual concern. These answers help us to craft policy that is built on strong foundations of data and analysis. Indeed, the work is perfectly in-line with the theme of today’s event “Rethinking boundaries and innovation for a sustainable marine economy”.

 

Offshore Renewables

In terms of offshore renewables, my Department is currently undertaking a review of the Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan. This plan sets out key principles, policy actions and enablers for delivery of Ireland’s significant potential in this area.

Ireland has one of the best offshore renewable energy resources in the world, with potential to provide 4,500 Mega Watts from offshore wind and 1,500 Mega Watts from wave and tidal devices without likely significant effects on the environment. To give you a sense of scale, that’s 6,000 Mega Watts of electricity capacity in total. That exceeds by 20% the highest ever electricity demand in Ireland of 5,090 Mega Watts. 

Other areas of focus in the offshore environment, include developing a world class suite of test site infrastructure for wave and tidal technology with small scale test facilities at the Lir facility in Cork, and a full scale test facility being developed near Belmullet in Co. Mayo. The Prototype Development Fund overseen by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland continues to work to support innovation by providing funding and support to offshore renewable energy development projects. 22 projects are currently being funded by the Prototype Development Fund. 

The Department is also actively exploring options for international collaboration, including with our near neighbours who share the Atlantic seaboard. It is recognised that a pooling of resources, knowledge and expertise will help de-risk the ocean energy sector and unlock its potential.  

 

Closing

In closing, I wish to congratulate all involved in today’s conference and Seafest. In the space of four short years it has become the highlight of the year for all matters marine. I would like to reiterate my Departments commitment to unlock the opportunities in our offshore. We are doing this through sustained investment and support of key initiatives in relation to our offshore oil and gas potential and the marine mapping programme: INFOMAR and our wider activities in the area of climate action, renewable energy and environment.

We will continue to cooperate with other Departments and indeed the wider marine community. We look forward to playing our part in this exciting journey.

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