Offshore wind has the potential to provide significant and high-quality job creation opportunities in coastal communities. However, we need to plan now, to unlock this potential. The question – “Our Offshore Renewable Energy Opportunity – Is Ireland Ready?” was the focus of a conference held on Friday 4th March 2022, in the National Maritime College of Ireland (NMCI). The Conference aimed to improve understanding of requirements for maritime qualifications and seafarer certification, as climate targets and energy security drive the need for offshore development. The conference was opened by Minister McConalogue, who spoke of the importance of dialogue between offshore wind developers, fishers, environmentalists, and regulators.
The contribution of the participants enlivened the event, which identified many of the issues that needed to be tackled. The voices of Ireland’s fishing and coastal communities were very well represented by John Lynch (CEO IS&EFPO), Caitlín Uí hAodha, Stephanie Hyde-McIntyre, Garvan Meehan (BIM), and Mark de Faoite (Údarás), amongst others. These voices provided first-hand detail of the challenges faced by our fishing and coastal communities, the talent that exists there, and how important it will be for Ireland’s maritime journey to be undertaken with the interests of these communities to the fore.
The conference also brought informative perspectives surrounding Ireland’s future skills needs, including mariner training and education; offshore renewable energy developments in Ireland and Europe; Ireland’s regulatory environment; the central role of our ports; and the importance of biodiversity and environmental considerations in the context of developments at sea. In the final panel discussion, the conference explored what success would look like in 2030. This turned out to be a lively exchange of views that reflected what had been heard during the day while setting the scene for next steps.
What was obvious throughout was that Ireland is currently lacking greatly in the seafarer skills needed to fully exploit the opportunities presented by our new, emerging offshore wind industry. Concerns were expressed about Ireland’s fishing community being unnecessarily constrained from having the flexibility to work between the fishing and the offshore renewable energy sectors. Also, many participants remarked that Ireland has missed opportunities in the past to harness a successful marine sector and should not do so again. Therefore, to avoid such a prospect, in this article I aim to capture the key recommendations and actions arising from the conference that should guide the work of key stakeholders and decision-makers.
Recommendation 1: Ireland must build and sustain an agile maritime workforce to meet the skills needs for a zero-carbon economy.
Action 1: As a minimum, Ireland must deliver a successful ‘Skipper 500’ programme and ensure that the STCW (F) (Fisher’s Certification) is comprehensively enabling.
Recommendation 2: The offshore renewable energy industry and Ireland’s fishing Industry must work together.
Action 2: The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) ‘Seafood-Offshore Renewable Energy Working Group’ must be established without delay.
Recommendation 3: The offshore renewable energy industry, Ireland’s environmental network and relevant national institutions must work towards solving the biodiversity crisis in concert with the climate and energy security crises.
Action 3: Ireland should establish a coherent network of MPAs which will take account of co-location with offshore renewable energy projects as opportunities to enhance offshore biodiversity and meet climate targets.
Recommendation 4: Ensure that Ireland’s fishing industry is enabled to thrive sustainably as a key element of our food security.
Action 4: Advocate for a healthy fishing industry in coexistence with Ireland’s offshore industry and marine protection.
Recommendation 5: A cross-Government approach to this maritime based economic opportunity is essential.
Action 5: Government must put more resources and a coordination plan in place to ensure the efficiency of key departments and agencies, especially the Maritime Area and Regulatory Agency (MARA); An Bord Pleanála (ABP); National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS); the enterprise development bodies; the Marine Survey Office (MSO); the Irish Maritime Development Organisation (IMDO); and other Statutory Consultees.
Recommendation 6: In particular, Ireland should prioritise investment in building a supply chain.
Action 6: Advocate for a national Supply Chain study and the implementation of our Port’s Policy to harness Ireland’s maritime strengths and ensure that port enterprise zones and industrial hinterlands are created to optimize results for our maritime and coastal communities.
Recommendation 7: Ensure that Ireland’s fishing industry is enabled to thrive sustainably as a key element of our food security.
Action 7: Advocate for a healthy fishing industry in coexistence with Ireland’s offshore industry and marine protection.
This, the first ‘Seafarer Conference’, helped to focus the attention of Ireland’s mariners and coastal communities, on emerging skills and job creation opportunities, whilst emphasizing the importance of co-existence between fishing, offshore wind, and conservation interests. The conference participants have a shared interest in seeing progress on the recommendations and actions listed above. It is also essential that that the voice of those that know Ireland’s seas best, our seafaring, fishing, and coastal communities, are heard.
As project sponsors, we aspire to facilitating a follow-on event next year to enable interested parties to take stock of developments. There can be no doubt that with the pace of change brought upon us by the need for energy security because of the war in Ukraine, it will be important to do so. Hopefully, this year’s event has been a milestone in the sustainable development of Ireland’s blue economy.