I recently raised in the Seanad the need for Inter Departmental collaboration between Departments of Climate, Marine & The Gaeltacht

I thank the Cathaoirleach’s office for selecting this Commencement debate and I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I had a choice of which Minister to put this matter to. I could have put it to the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, Údarás na Gaeltachta and Gaeltacht regions, which includes Ros an Mhíl, or to the Minister of State’s own Department, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. That shows the cross-departmental role this development has.

I acknowledge the visit by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, to Ros an Mhíl last Friday. He launched a report that recognises the suitability of Ros an Mhíl in the Galway or Connemara Gaeltacht as a prime location for the development of a strategic hub to support the floating offshore wind sector, with the potential to create 900 jobs. Having 900 potential jobs in a region such as Ros an Mhíl, sa cheantar sin, would be huge. The report by Dublin Offshore Consultants, DOC, was launched by the Minister last Friday. Planning permission was granted to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in 2018 for a 200 m deepwater quay to provide an opportunity to develop the necessary onshore infrastructure at Ros an Mhíl. The port currently supports ferry, fishing and leisure activities within the existing harbour. I acknowledge the support of the Department in the development of the marina at Ros an Mhíl and the pontoon development for the Aran Islands ferries as well.

Rinne Údarás na Gaeltachta cur i láthair don Aire, an Teachta McConalogue, an tseachtain seo caite maidir le calafort Ros an Mhíl, agus sheol an tAire tuarascáil faoi na deiseanna atá i Ros an Mhíl maidir le fuinneamh in-athnuaite. Tá Údarás na Gaeltachta ag tacú le Coiste Tacaíochta Chalafort Ros an Mhíl chun an togra seo a bhrú chun cinn. Teastaíonn ó na Ranna seo, sé sin, an Roinn Talmhaíochta, Bia agus Mara, an Roinn Comhshaoil, Aeráide agus Cumarsáide, agus an Roinn Turasóireachta, Cultúir, Ealaíon, Gaeltachta, Spóirt agus Meán, teacht le chéile chun an togra seo a bhrú chun cinn agus a chur i bhfeidhm, ar mhaithe leis an gceantar agus don earnáil fuinnimh agus mara.

Three Departments are involved in this project, namely, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media – which has a particular relevance to Údarás na Gaeltachta – and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. We need officials in all three Departments to come together, sit around a table and thrash this out. I do not believe that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, on its own, wants to push this project forward for fisheries purposes. However, there is more to it than that; we are talking about a broad approach here, including, in particular, the potential for offshore renewable energy. There is a need for a whole-of-government approach.

Development of the fisheries harbours is included in the national development plan, as it was in previous plans, and the relevant planning permission is in place for Ros an Mhíl. It is important now for all stakeholders to come together and I am asking the Minister of State to spearhead that. As I said, the Minister was very gracious in coming down to launch the report and hear the presentation from the group. We need him to sit down at the table with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Deputy Jack Chambers, and push forward this project with the support of the Government.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Senator Pippa Hackett)

I thank Senator Kyne for the opportunity to speak on this matter. The Department owns, operates and maintains, under statute, six designated State-owned fishery harbour centres. These are located at Ros an Mhíl, Castletownbere, Dingle, Dunmore East, Howth and Killybegs. As the Senator stated, the Minister visited Ros an Mhíl fishery harbour centre last week and had the opportunity to meet with key stakeholders and see for himself the location of the proposed deepwater berthing project.

I understand from the Minister that the possibility of developing this project at Ros an Mhíl has been under consideration for some time. The Department currently has planning permission for that purpose, which runs until April 2023. A phased programme for the infrastructural development of Ros an Mhíl has been progressed in recent years, which has seen investment of approximately €31.6 million from 2010 to 2020. Earlier this year, the Minister allocated €1.09 million for capital works in Ros an Mhíl. Of this, €100,000 is to fund two studies concerning the deepwater project. One is a review of the wave-modelling studies previously carried out in 2002 to ensure the analysis takes account of both the revised quay development layout and the influence of climate change on wave models affecting the harbour. Separately, the Department has commissioned a review of the cost-benefit analysis report previously carried out by DKM Economic Consultants Limited in 2017, again incorporating the revised quay development layout. Both studies are interlinked in that the wave-modelling outcome will likely influence the cost-benefit analysis. The final reports are expected in November or December.

The influence of climate change, particularly sea level rises and changes in storm intensity and duration, has always been an important consideration in marine infrastructure projects. More recently, this has been formalised via the agriculture, forest and seafood climate change sectoral adaptation plan, which is part of the suite of measures being implemented under the Government’s climate action plan. It is important that the current studies should be concluded and can contribute to any future decisions on funding such projects.

During his visit to Ros an Mhíl, the Minister received a copy of a report commissioned by Údarás Na Gaeltachta that identifies Ros an Mhíl as a prime location for the development of a strategic hub to support the floating offshore wind sector on the west coast. There is a broad context here of cross-cutting Government policies, as the Senator highlighted. I understand Údarás na Gaeltachta will be taking this report forward with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, to ensure there is a rounded consideration of the policy issues and investment needs raised.

Last week, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, received the report of the seafood sector task force, which firmly places an emphasis on creating opportunities for Ireland’s fishing communities to offset the impact of the loss of access to UK waters through the trade and co-operation agreement between the UK and the European Union.

That said, the primary role and function of the fishery harbour centres is to support the seafood industry, and the provision of any other services or facilities in the centres must be considered in that context. This is a legal obligation set out in the Fishery Harbour Centres Acts. Any future decision formally to initiate the deepwater quay project in Ros an Mhíl will have to reflect available Exchequer funding and competing national priorities.

Senator Seán Kyne

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. The last part of it, where she said that the function of fishery harbour centres is to support the seafood industry, cuts to the core of this issue. The fact, however, is that we need to look at this in a broader way. We must be ambitious for Ros an Mhíl and for this project. That is why we need a cross-departmental approach to develop and push it forward. My view is that officials in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine do not want to progress it. I have sufficient evidence over a long period that they will try not to support it. They are quite happy with Castletownbere and Killybegs and are not interested in progressing the project in Ros an Mhíl.

The potential is there for offshore development. I ask that the Minister of State engage with the Ministers, Deputies Eamon Ryan, McConalogue and Humphreys, the Minister of State, Deputy Jack Chambers, and all the local representatives in the area to push forward this project. I appreciate her response and support and I look forward to further engagement on this matter.

Senator Pippa Hackett

The cross-departmental nature of this project requires that there be cohesion between Departments in how we address it. Clearly, offshore wind generation is a priority for our country in meeting our renewable and decarbonisation targets. That must be kept front and centre in all decisions that are made. I am not aware of the specific details of the project but I will engage with the Minister with a view to progressing it. I do not know whether the officials are supportive of it, but I certainly will look into that, even for my own knowledge. The possibilities are good and it is always important to support job creation in areas like Ros an Mhíl and elsewhere in the west of Ireland. I am happy to engage further with the Senator if I get any more information.