Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Michelle Mulherin: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O’Dowd, to the Chamber and wish him well. I hope he will have a long and fruitful ministerial career.
There has been a delay of several years in the issuing of a foreshore licence for the Killala sewerage scheme. This scheme is much needed and the delay arises even though there is already an outfall pipe that was used by private industry and which it is proposed will be used for the outflow from the sewerage scheme. In the meantime raw sewage is going into Killala Bay which is designated a special area of conservation as well as a natural heritage area for wild birds. As well as being a tourist attraction because of its scenic quality, the bay also attracts tourists as a place for deep sea fishing and is at the head of the River Moy, the most prolific salmon fishing river in Europe. The water quality in the Moy Estuary, which is part of Killala Bay, has been classified as moderate in the water basin management plan prepared under the water framework directive. This body of water is to be targeted for improvement under the management plan.
Why has there been a delay of many years in issuing the foreshore licence in this case? As I understand it, there are three other foreshore licences which remain to be issued in Mayo after significant delay, relating to works on slipways and another sewerage scheme. Delays in the issue of foreshore licences in general are of concern to us in Mayo where we are trying to tap into the huge wave energy off our coast as part of the county’s renewable energy strategy which will also require a foreshore licence or licences in due course. The last foreshore licence issued in the county was to Shell in respect of the Corrib gasfield and it took only four months in that case. Clearly, where there is a will there is a way.
We have a new Government and a new Minister and I am hopeful there will be positive changes. In particular, I am hopeful that the bureaucracy surrounding the issue of foreshore licences can be tackled so that the delay in their issuing is no longer a stumbling block in the delivery of important infrastructure to regions, in particular the Killala sewerage scheme.
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Fergus O’Dowd): Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Mulherin as ucht an t-ábhar seo a chur romhainn anocht. Tá sé an-thábhacht go dtiocfadh toradh maith as. I thank Deputy Mulherin for raising this matter. What is important is that we have a follow-up to this debate. I assure her I will bring her comments to the attention of Department officials tomorrow. It is vital that there is continuity and resolution if possible.
Following the enactment of the Foreshore and Dumping at Sea (Amendment) Act 2009, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government assumed responsibility in January 2010 for a range of foreshore consent functions, including outfall pipes from waste water treatment plants. The proposal by Mayo County Council to construct an outfall pipe in Killala Bay from the Killala waste water treatment plant was one of a large number of projects for which foreshore applications had been submitted and on which decisions had not been finalised or conveyed to the project promoters prior to the transfer of foreshore functions. The application for the foreshore licence was originally made to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in August 2007 and is in respect of the proposed use of an existing outfall pipe which was the subject of a foreshore licence granted to another licensee in 1976.
The scientific and technical advisers to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food assessed the fresh application lodged in August 2007 and were satisfied, subject to specific conditions, to agree to the use of the existing outfall pipe as proposed by the council. However, the file did not proceed to the point where a formal submission was made to the Minister to grant the licence. Following the transfer of responsibility for the application to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the case was identified for attention as part of a comprehensive caseload analysis of all files, including those cases on which there were lengthy periods of inactivity prior to the transfer.
The reassignment of the licence from the existing licensee has raised complex legal issues regarding title requiring legal advice before a determination of the licence application can be safely made. Advice was sought from the Chief State Solicitor’s office in September 2010 and work is ongoing in that office to clarify the legal basis upon which the case can be carried forward. Accordingly, because of the nature of this case, it is not yet clear when the legal advices will be available to the Department to enable the application to be determined. I will be pleased to bring this issue to the attention of the Department tomorrow morning, together with the Deputy’s comments, with a view to advancing the matter, which has been ongoing since 2007.
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