On 23 October 2019, at An Taisce’s Clean Coasts “Love Your Coast” Photography Awards in Dublin Minister Eoghan Murphy made two announcements. He announced the formation of an expert group to advise on the expansion of Ireland’s existing network of Marine Protected Areas and also, the European Commission’s clearance for the restrictions on microbeads contained in the Microbeads (Prohibition) Bill 2019.
Formation of an expert group to advise on the expansion of Ireland’s existing network of Marine Protected Areas
The awards night celebrated the 10th anniversary of the “Love Your Coast” photography competition. Minister Murphy stated that he intended to bring forward primary legislation to designate Marine Protected Areas in 2020 and that “this will be an important focus of my Department’s work in the coming months and years and is central to our implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the OSPAR Convention, our commitments under the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity”.
He remarked that “As I have previously stated, it is my intention that Ireland will significantly expand our network of marine protected areas (MPAs). This will enable us to meet the current internationally agreed target 10% protection and any future commitments”.
He said, “I am delighted to announce that Professor Tasman Crowe, Director of the Earth Institute and Associated Dean of Science in UCD has accepted my invitation to chair the group. The other members of the advisory group will be selected from across a range of sectors and will consist of members with appropriate national and international expertise”. The full group will be announced shortly.
“I am looking forward to working with Professor Crowe and the expert group on the development of a coherent, representative, connected and resilient network of Marine Protected Areas that is well managed and enables us to maintain or achieve good environmental status in our marine jurisdiction as required under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive”. He added that “Their work will include reviewing existing protection measures and advising me on the processes required for the creation of MPAs; it will also consider the gaps in existing legislation to underpin such a network. I expect this work will take place over a period of six months and I look forward to receiving the report from the Group with its recommendations which will feed into the development of this important new legislation”.
EU’s clearance for prohibition of microbeads
Regarding the announcement of the European Commission’s clearance for the restrictions on microbeads contained in the Microbeads (Prohibition) Bill 2019, the Minister welcomed the green light from the European Commission for his proposals. This will now facilitate further consideration of the Microbeads (Prohibition) Bill 2019 at Committee State in the Dáil.
The Microbeads (Prohibition) Bill will provide for a prohibition of the manufacture, import, export or sale of products containing intentionally added plastic microbeads, to include “rinse-off” personal care products, detergents, and domestic and industrial abrasive cleaning products and scouring agents.
As the Bill intends to restrict the import and sale of certain products containing intentionally added plastic microbeads, it could result in restricting the free movement of these goods within the Single market. The Minister submitted a derogation notification for the Bill to the European Commission on 19 July 2019, along with detailed technical documentation supporting the justification for the restriction on environment grounds. This notification carried with it a three month standstill period during which time the legislation could not be enacted in compliance with EU legislation. The three month standstill period concluded on 21 October.
The Minister said,
"Now that the standstill period has been concluded, I look forward to working with my Oireachtas colleagues at Committee Stage at the earliest opportunity so that we can have this Bill in force as soon as possible."
Minister Murphy went on to say that,
“While several States legislated to prohibit personal care products containing plastic microbeads Ireland will be the first EU Member State to extend such prohibition to detergents, abrasive scouring agents and other cleaning products."
Plastic microbeads represent only one element of the microplastics in our oceans. However, it is estimated that many billions are being washed down the drain and into the world’s rivers, lakes and seas each year. Once in our rivers and seas, they can last for centuries without breaking down. Aquatic animals may ingest them and they cannot be removed once they are in the marine environment.
The Minister said,
"I am increasingly concerned about the potential risk posed to our aquatic ecosystems by microplastic litter, including plastic microbeads. I know this concern is shared widely, across all parties in the Oireachtas and throughout broader society. While this is an important step, it is only one of many measures we will have to introduce over the coming years to reduce the level of litter and plastic pollution entering our seas and oceans.”
As well as introducing national legislation, the Government has been actively supporting the development of measures at EU-level to tackle plastic waste including through the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy adopted in January 2018.