A number of principal legal instruments exist in Ireland for the purposes of conserving and protecting its natural heritage. The Wildlife (Amendment) Act 1976-2005 provides a wide-ranging basis for the protection of habitats and species throughout Ireland. The 1992 EU Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EC) was transposed into Irish law by the 1997 European Communities (Natural Habitats) Regulations (SI 94 of 1997). This legislation requires the establishment of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to conserve habitats and species listed on Annex I and II respectively of the Directive. To ensure effective conservation of protected habitats and species in SACs, all operations and activities in or adjacent to SACs likely to have a significant effect thereon require an appropriate assessment. The 1979 EC Birds Directive (codified 2009/147/EC) also makes legal provision for the designation of Special Protection Areas and for the protection of wild birds and their habitats through the European Union.
It is the responsibility of individual Regulatory Authorities in Ireland to ensure that the provisions of these legal requirements are adhered to in the delivery of their statutory functions. In practice, Regulatory Authorities circulate all relevant applications to a list of Statutory Consultees for observations to inform their decision concerning an application. The National Parks and Wildlife Service provides observations and advice concerning national and international nature conservation obligations to these Regulatory Authorities when so requested.
The Irish Foreshore is defined in the 1933 Foreshore Act as the area of seafloor below the high water line of a medium tide; currently, the foreshore extends out from shore to the 12 nautical mile zone. Many developments on the foreshore require a consent administered by the Foreshore Section of the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government and potentially interested parties should liaise with that Section. Activities on the foreshore relating to aquaculture and sea fisheries are administered by the Coastal Zone Management Division at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Dredging and dumping at sea licences are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Petroleum Affairs Division of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources regulates oil and gas related developments. Local Authorities exercise planning functions for themselves and others with respect to the shoreline immediately above that defined as foreshore in the 1933 Foreshore Act while Harbour Boards also have regulatory powers with respect to designated harbour areas. All the Regulatory Authorities concerned have a legal obligation to ensure that operations or activities that are likely to have a significant effect on the protected habitats and/or species in a Special Area of Conservation are subject to an appropriate assessment. However, it should also be noted that the National Parks and Wildlife Service is also a Regulatory Authority for specified activities not otherwise licensable by other bodies (i.e., for activities requiring consent as listed for each designated site). The legal obligations arising from nature conservation legislation must be applied by all such Authorities.
Article 12 of the Habitats Directive and Regulation 23 of S.I. 94 of 1997 further requires that the requisite measures are taken to establish a system of strict protection for the animal species listed in Annex IV (a) in their natural range, prohibiting
This applies to all life stages of these listed animals. In addition, the Wildlife (Amendment) Act, 1976-2005 confers specific protection on seals, whales, dolphins and porpoises. Under the Act, it is an offence to hunt (except in some instances under licence or Ministerial permit), injure (except when hunting under such licence) or wilfully interfere with or destroy the breeding place of a protected species. Whilst appropriate assessments are aimed at Annex II species for which a SAC has been designated and are not required to address these protection requirements, relevant parties are encouraged to undertake a risk assessment to ensure their proposed operations/activities are compliant with these legal obligations.
In 2010, the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government produced general guidance for planning authorities concerning the appropriate assessment process for plans and projects in Ireland. The principles and general approach to the appropriate assessment process outlined in that publication equally apply to Regulatory Authorities in the marine sector.
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This document has the status of a working document. It does not represent finalised departmental guidance.
It has been prepared by technical personnel within the Department who review and provide advice in relation to development applications within the statutory consultation process.
In releasing this document, the Department envisages that relevant stakeholders involved in the preparation of Natura Impact Statements would benefit from some insight into the likely considerations of the Department’s technical personnel for appropriate assessment purposes.
The Department would welcome any constructive technical feedback to email@example.com.