Concerns over European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, letter to Minister Simon Coveney

Dear Minister Coveney
I am writing to highlight to you issues raised at a meeting in Clonakilty earlier this month. As I understand it the issue detailed below, and in the attached letter, was raised at the meeting by both the EU Commission and our representatives on the Shadow Monitoring Committee for the Operational Programme (OP) of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, (EMFF).
The issue is in relation to the impact on the legally required assessment of the Draft OP by the EU Commission and the Public Consultation obligations, given the failure to provide concurrently with the Draft OP, a National Strategic Plan on Aquaculture (NSPA). As you know, the NSPA is required as part of the ex-ante conditionalities for the Draft OP. Consequently I urge you to extend the public consultation period your Department has launched for the programme until the entire programme can be properly reviewed by the public and other stakeholders. Currently the consultation is due to conclude this Friday, May 1st.
Given the concerns on how Union Priority 2 Aquaculture is being handled – you will be aware under the Common Provisions Regulation[1], Article 19, the EU Commission is entitled to suspend all or part of the payments.
I wish to also wish to highlight a number of legal obligations which in our opinion are compromised and the potential significant impacts on EMFF funding for Ireland.
These legal obligations include:
1. Requirements of the EMFF Regulation[2] and Common Fisheries Policy, (CFP) and Common Provision Regulation (CPR) for EU Structural Investment Funds;
2. Environmental Impact Assessment and Consultation Obligations arising from the SEA Directive[3] and the Aarhus Convention[4] in respect of the assessment of environmental effects, effectiveness of public consultation and trans-boundary impact assessment, where this latter also arises from our obligations under the Espoo Convention[5];
In our view, the approach Ireland is taking to the Draft OP through its failures to provide concurrently the draft NSPA – serve to compound Ireland’s ongoing failures to adequately resolve a number of specific failures highlighted in the Judgement of the Court of Justice of the EU against Ireland in c-418/04 back in 2007, and which remain un-resolved. That judgement highlighted inter alia a legacy of failure by Ireland in respect of the legal compliance of our Aquaculture with EU Environmental Law. The approach currently being pursued by Ireland remains of serious concern to a number of our member organisations involved with this area. The EMFF should provide for an opportunity to progress this if properly addressed, and we have no doubt this will be of concern to both DG Mare and DG Envi.
I therefore, as indicated earlier, wish to formally request that the deadline for Consultation responses to the Draft OP and Environmental Report produced as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment, SEA pursuant to the SEA Directive be extended beyond the 1st of May. This would be to allow for:
• a necessary re-launch of the Draft OP as outlined below; and
• to facilitate the legally required “effective” public consultation
in conjunction with the required NSPA, and the associated SEA reports to support Ireland’s adherence to its legal obligations;
This is essential in order to support the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the programmes and to facilitate Ireland’s optimal uptake of the 147 million Euro available from the EU EMFF.
Before I outline the issues involved in more detail below – I also wish to request copies by return of:
• The screening decisions on trans-boundary impacts made in respect of the Draft OP and the NSPA; and
• The Partnership Agreement signed by Ireland in the later part of last year in respect of the European Structural & Investment (ESI) Funds.
A more detailed overview of the legal requirements and the argument above are contained in the letter attached.
Thanking you for your urgent attention to these important matters,
Kind regards
Michael Ewing
The Environmental Pillar
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