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Call for Appeals Board Transparency

Lucy Towers
03 October 2012, at 1:00am

IRELAND - An environmental group has called on Simon Coveney, the marine minister, to provide information of the Aquaculture Licensing Appeals Boards activities on their website.

In a letter to the Minister, the group claims that Modern EU legislation requires active and systematic dissemination of environmental information held by public bodies, in particular by means of computer telecommunication and/or electronic technology [Access to Information on the Environment, Article 7].

It was announced last week that an appeal under sections 40 and 41 of the Fisheries Act by Friends of the Irish Environment, along with local residents, fishermen and marine associations, had successfully overturned the Ministers December 2011 decision to grant permission to a 2005 Dunmanus Bay Mussels development application.

FIE said that the organization believed the decision, which cited the poor flushing rate and the large amount of organic and inorganic waste material meant that the decision on the proposed Bantry Bay expansion of fishing farming by Marine Harvest must also now be refused on the same grounds.

Director Caroline Lewis said the quashing of the license supported its own organizations arguments word for word. The ruling said that the development could have a significant impact on other users including wild fisheries, natural habitat, and flora and fauna populations while the marine habitat could potentially be degraded.

The Board also noted the applicants failure to respond to a request for further information.

However, the Director said FIE had been unable to see the Inspectors Report on this case. "The Boards telephone appears to be on permanent answering machine, messages are left unanswered and our emails ignored," Ms Lewis said.

"We have now found that the Boards website has ceased functional operation in 2006 with the list of Board Members out of date, decisions and inspectors Reports not posted to the site, and the last determinations and annual report available from 2006. An Bord Pleanala, who rule on projects on the land, provide a full and transparent website to assist individuals and groups by publicizing every decision and Report and providing a search engine to facilitate public participation."

"The proposed Galway Bay fish farm the first of three planned will in itself alone exceed the current national production. It has as its applicant the Ministers own Agency, BIM. There is no doubt that the Minister in these circumstances will give permission and the only place for meaningful intervention will be at the appeal level," she said.

"These are big infrastructure projects that can not be dealt with unless there is full transparency at every stage. Based on the budget for Galway Bay, the three proposed units under the Ministers plan will cost over 200m." The state has already supported Galway Bay salmon farm application by its agency BIM through grant aid of more than 2m.

In its appeal against the Dunmanus Bay decision, the group wrote that "By licensing significant areas to private businesses/industries common access rights will be denied to the wider community against their wishes and only the most rigorously justified developments should be permitted and only after the public has been given the fullest opportunity to protect their rights."

FIE has now written to the Minister requesting that he update the website to provide the same service as the planning authority appeals process before he grants any further aquaculture licenses, including the proposed Bantry Bay and Galway Bay salmon farms.