Marine Policy & Planning

European Union

Human uses of Ireland’s seas and coastal areas are expanding at a rate that challenges our ability to plan and manage them under the current sector by sector approach. Most maritime countries are experiencing similar pressures and there is international recognition that marine planning, akin to planning on land, is necessary to balance competing uses of our seas and manage our marine resources in a sustainable manner.


  • Aquaculture
  • Commerce and Transportation (e.g. cargo and cruise ships tankers and ferries)
  • Commercial Fishing
  • Environmental Conservation
  • Maritime Heritage and Archaeology
  • Mining (sand and gravel)
  • Oil and Gas Exploration and Development
  • Ports and Harbours
  • Recreational Fishing
  • Renewable Energy (wind, wave and tidal)
  • Recreation (e.g. beach visits, boating, swimming, surfing, nature and whale watching, diving etc.)
  • Scientific research and exploration
  • Tourism

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is strategic, forward-looking planning for regulating, managing and protecting the marine environment that addresses the multiple, cumulative and potentially conflicting uses of the sea. It is seen as a way of improving decision making, involving a wide range of stakeholders and delivering a more eco-system based approach to managing marine activities. In essence it is a planning tool that enables integrated, forward-looking and consistent decision-making on the use of the sea. It provides the context in which to make decisions about the use of resources, conservation, development and the management of activities in the marine environment. The Irish government has recently begun the process of developing a Marine Spatial Plan for Ireland. A document entitled Towards a Marine Spatial Plan for Ireland was launched in December 2017, by Department of Housing Planning and Local Government and the Department published their National Marine Planning Framework Baseline Report in October 2018. This document is designed to help identify what is happening in our seas; where, when and why it is happening and what challenges are faced, both at an individual sector level and collectively.

Ireland's first National Marine Planning Framework (NMPF) was published in draft form on 12 November 2019 and was open for Public Consultation until 30 April 2020 . A comprehensive Strategic Environmental Assessment of the NMPF was undertaken and the Environmental Reports were published alongside the Plan.


Marine spatial planning is gaining considerable importance all around the world. Various countries are now using marine spatial management to balance development and conservation interests in their seas and coastal areas. The second UNESCO International Conference on Marine/Maritime Spatial Planning (2017) recommended the adoption of joint roadmap to accelerate MSP processes worldwide. With reference to Europe they stated:

'In Europe, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive requires the Good Environmental Status of marine environments in Europe's regional seas. The MSP Directive requires the use of an ecosystem based approach, which should ensure that the collective pressure of maritime activities is kept within levels compatible with the achievement of good environmental status.

Yet, maritime activities, including sources of marine degradation, are diversifying and intensifying worldwide. By resolving conflicts and regulating maritime activities, MSP can make a significant contribution to achieving Good Environmental Status.'

Joint Roadmap to accelerate Marine/Maritime Spatial Planning processes worldwide, Paris 2017

The importance of developing an integrated approach to maritime affairs is underlined in the EU’s Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union. This was first published in 2007, as a result of a year- long consultation exercise following the launch of the discussion document "Towards a Future Maritime Policy for the European Union. A Progress Report was published in 2012. The objective of the Integrated Maritime Policy to coordinate all EU policies with a maritime dimension in order to safeguard environmental sustainability and quality of life in coastal regions while promoting the growth potential of maritime industries.

A common approach to Marine Spatial Planning is a cornerstone of this policy. The EU Commission produced a Communication Roadmap on Maritime Spatial Planning (2008). The roadmap is intended to facilitate the development of spatial planning for both maritime and coastal spaces in order to realise the growth potential of EU maritime sectors in a sustainable way. MSP can also help coastal areas prepare for climate change impacts such as rising sea levels, floods, altered marine ecosystems and investments in coastal protection.

Launching the roadmap, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Joe Borg commented: "Maritime spatial planning is a key tool for a more rational use of sea areas and for the sustainable development of the maritime economy. It is the only way in which we can provide a predictable framework for economic investments in offshore areas and is a precondition for striking a balance between the vested interests of different maritime activities while preserving the marine environment".

The fast growth in maritime activities such as maritime transport, port development, aquaculture, offshore drilling and tourism, combined with emerging and potentially new uses of the sea such as underwater technologies, offshore renewable energy and blue biotech is increasing the pressure on already limited marine space.

An increasing number of EU Member States are now developing maritime spatial planning in order to manage activities at sea and in the coastal zone. By developing a common approach, EU members can deal in a more effective way with maritime matters which often are interlinked and transcend national borders. e.g. the management of maritime activities in line with ecosystem requirements.

For further information:

Roadmap for Maritime Spatial Planning: Achieving Common Principles in the EU, Brussels, 2008.

An Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union, Update 2012.


Ireland has no high level strategic policy for our seas and coastal areas within which marine spatial planning can be developed and a direction set for marine licensing. In the UK, a Marine Policy Statement, developed following extensive public consultation, provides this high level strategic policy.

The weaknesses in Ireland’s marine governance have long been acknowledged by government officials, politicians and environmental NGOs. Ireland’s Marine Institute, the national agency responsible for marine research, technology development and innovation, has consistently underlined the need for an integrated marine policy in line with EU recommendations.

In December 2017 Government launched a process to develop Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) in Ireland in order to conform with the EU MSP Directive. In broad terms the Directive obliges Member States to pursue economic, social and environmental objectives in marine spatial planning and plans. A document 'Towards a Marine Spatial Plan for Ireland' describes the proposed process. The National Marine Planning Framework Baseline Report, published in September 2018, described 'what is happening in our seas; where, when and why it is happening, and what challenges are faced, both at an individual sector level and collectively'. Public Consultation is open until December 14th 2018.

For the past twelve years, CCA have been advocating for the reform of the Foreshore Act, 1933 governing construction at sea and the introduction of a system of Maritime Spatial Planning to conserve marine wildlife, habitats and landscapes. We welcome the current progress towards the drafting of Ireland’s first marine spatial plan which is described as “about planning when and where human activities take place at sea”. Unfortunately, due to the delay in introducing modern legislation to govern the awarding of foreshore leases, some of the largest offshore wind farms in the world have already been permitted and progressed close to the coasts of Louth, Dublin and Wicklow under legislation acknowledged to be undemocratic, outdated and 'not fit for purpose'.

The inappropriate manner in which foreshore leases were awarded to private developers for massive offshore wind energy development on shallow sandbanks (Annex 1 Habitat) in full view of the East coast during the Celtic Tiger era is well documented on this web site. Under the undemocratic Foreshore Act 1933, leases were awarded on the sole authority of the Minister for the Marine. There was no statutory involvement of local authorities and no public right of appeal against the Minister’s decision. Contrary to good practice throughout Northern Europe, there was no prior selection of potential sites by Government and no public tender. Once leases were awarded they could be sold on before construction at a price based on size of development permitted, netting significant profit for the original Irish promoters. In short, the manner in which the leases were granted was contrary to all principles of proper planning and sustainable development and, therefore, failed to protect the common good.

MSP as it pertains to the East coast, is now being introduced in a situation where large tracts of the sensitive, near shore coastal zone have already been leased for 99 years to private OWE developers in a planning vacuum under outdated legislation.

The 10 Key principles of MSP, as set out in the EU Commission’s Roadmap for Maritime Spatial Planning 2008, include the following:

1. Eco-system approach – the overarching principle

2. Developing MSP in a transparent manner

3. Stakeholder participation

4. Achieving coherence between terrestrial and maritime planning

5. Strong data and knowledge base.

Regulation of OWE in Irish waters has, to date, contravened these Key Principles of MSP.

1. Ecosystem based approach has been ignored with developer-led site selection. Sites were picked out by developers on a “first come first served” basis. Shallow, near-shore sandbanks (Annexe 1 Habitats) as the cheapest option, were systematically targeted.

2. No transparency. The public are completely unaware of the large scale OWE development permitted and proposed off the east coast.

3. Stakeholder participation was demonstrably inadequate e.g. permission was granted for the biggest offshore wind farm in the world (200 large turbines on the Codling Bank off Bray Head) without a single submission from the public.

4. Coherence between terrestrial and maritime planning was noticeably absent e.g. there was: - no statutory involvement of local authorities whose authority was deemed to end at the shore line; - no independent professional assessment of visual impact of near shore development on adjoining high amenity coastlines designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and - no assessment of impact on” views and prospects” listed for strict protection in local county development plans.

5. Data and knowledge base were deficient in many areas. This deficiency was officially acknowledged in the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan.

These weaknesses in Ireland’s coastal management regime were officially acknowledged by The Marine Institute in April 2007 at a conference entitled “Towards the Sustainable Development of Ireland’s Coast.

The Weaknesses in Ireland’s Coastal Management Regime (Marine Institute, 2007)

No integrated regulatory framework for Coastal Management

De facto Policy is “1st come, 1st served”

Until now, no integrated national plan in operation for Marine Monitoring

No sense of local Ownership / input to Coastal Management

Perceived “complexity” of Coastal Zone Management

Fragmented & Ad hoc decision making by advisory groups, reporting to DCMNR

Staff turnover & weakness in key Administrative structures.

(Slide from Marine Institute Presentation)

It is worth noting that by the time this conference took place in 2007, 1620MW of offshore wind had been permitted on shallow sandbanks (Annex 1- listed habitats) close to the high amenity Wicklow coast (520MW Arklow Wind Park and 1100MW Codling Wind Park) This was double the amount of offshore wind then installed worldwide. Foreshore Licences for initial investigation had been granted for 330MW Oriel Wind farm in Dundalk Bay and 360MW Dublin Array on Kish and Bray Banks. These massive developments were in the near shore zone, 10-15km off high amenity coastlines and situated on shallow sandbanks listed for protection under EU Habitats Directive.

It is important to emphasise that to date just seven turbines have been erected, out of a total of up to 820 which have been permitted and progressed close to Ireland’s east coast.

If the MSP process fails to query this developer-led targeting of in-shore sandbanks, then it will have failed to protect the marine environment and the public interest. Sectoral development interests will continue to dominate and shape our east coast waters and Ireland's First Marine Spatial Plan will be no more than another rubber-stamping exercise designed to facilitate development at the cost of environmental degradation.


The widely acknowledged inadequacies in Ireland’s marine governance and the lack of marine and coastal planning to balance competing interest in our seas, should have been addressed before successive Ministers for the Marine:

  • Awarded foreshore leases for two of the biggest offshore wind farms in the world in Ireland’s near shore waters
  • Facilitated progression of a number of other Foreshore Leases and Licences under a consenting regime long acknowledged to be non-compliant with EU legislation and grossly unfit for purpose
  • Offered generous price supports for offshore renewable energy development (2008) leading to a rush of applications which an inadequate system was unable to process