Pearse Doherty, TD.
Pearse Doherty, Sinn Féin TD, has criticised the government over delays in controversial aquaculture licence applications and appeals for oyster farm developments proposed at a number of scenic Donegal beaches and strands.
Deputy Doherty, speaking during a Dáil debate that he secured with the Minister for the Marine, Michael Creed, TD, on Wednesday evening, also questioned whether the minister had visited sites where the oyster farms are proposed before waiving the requirement for an environmental impact statement with the application.
During the exchange, Deputy Doherty highlighted what he described as mounting fears and distress of marine communities throughout west Donegal in relation to pending decisions on a number of planned oyster farms.
“Minister, I raise this matter with you here in the Dáil chamber this afternoon whilst countless coastal communities are living in a state of constant dread and unease as their coasts face an uncertain future," Deputy Doherty said. He said the prospect of trestles and other cultivation equipment on beaches and scenic coastal locations for proposed oyster farms has created much anxiety in areas "where it’s felt that, should such developments get the go ahead, then much harm will be done to the local marine environment, its lure as a natural amenity, and its potential consequence for tourism, recreation and the local economy".
He said Donegal communities "have been left in limbo for months" while decisions in relation to controversial licence applications are still pending and decisions on appeals for others have yet to be reached.
“Minister, you mentioned that an Environmental Impact Statement is required if an application relates to fin fish, while for shellfish the department can carry out a screening, but yet the department waived the requirement for an EIS for the application at Cruit Strand which some 3,200 people in the community lodged a submission against," Deputy Doherty said.
“I’m not sure if the Minister, before issuing the ministerial direction which waived the requirement for an EIS to be carried out on that large scale development, has ever even set foot on this part of our country," he said. “If he stood on the bridge at Cruit and looked out at where the trestles would be located then he wouldn’t have put pen to paper."
“Minister, if you stood at Rann na Feirste, in Rann na Mónadh, in Anagaire or in Carrickfinn and looked out at the bay and envisaged the 99 acres of aquaculture planned for these locations, and the impact this would have on tourism and culture here on the Wild Atlantic Way and the beauty of that area, which has inspired many artists over the years, then you never would have waived that requirement," the Gaoth Dobhair-based deputy said.
He said the recent report from the Independent Review Group showed that the licencing process is flawed, saying it was found that it is taking too long to make determinations in respect of applications for these developments. Deputy Doherty and local Sinn Féin councillors, Marie Therese Gallagher and John Sheamais Ó Fearraigh, made a submission as part of the review, he said.
“We are now calling for you to do two things. We want you to fix the licencing process and speed up determinations but, ultimately, we want you to ensure that those communities will not be living in fear indefinitely as a result of aquaculture licences which are too large in size and scale," Deputy Doherty said.
He said he supports many small entrepreneurs in communities involved in aquaculture and has helped individuals secure licences.
“I believe that oyster farms and aquaculture can be a positive for a local community overall but only when they are the right size and scale," Deputy Doherty said. “This is indeed not the case in the applications which I’ve mentioned here tonight, and I’m calling on you to refuse them.”