Simon Coveney: Marine industry is vital to Ireland’s development

IRELAND is now firmly on what I believe is an unstoppable journey of marine expansion, writes, Simon Coveney.

The success of the recent SeaFest conference at Ringaskiddy, which included three days of marine related events including; a major international marine conference, the official opening by An Taoiseach of the €15m UCC Beaufort Marine Energy Research Building, and the associated ‘SeaFest maritime festival open day’ attended by thousands of families, has reaffirmed my view that we are now in a new era of significant re-engagement with the sea.

Recent research at NUI Galway indicates that Ireland’s blue economy has been growing nearly twice as fast as the general economy. The latest indicators show that Ireland’s maritime economy grew by 9.2% between 2010 & 2012 with a further impressive 8.2% growth for the period 2012to 2014. Also during this time employment has also increased from 17,425 to 18,480.

Simon Coveney: Marine industry is vital to Ireland’s development

This growth of the marine economy has occurred during a period of significant domestic and global economic challenges. Ireland’s recent blue growth shows the enormous potential of our incredible marine resources.

Governance of our oceans and enhancing Europe’s maritime competitiveness, whilst continuing to protect the environment will present significant challenges in the years ahead. Sustainability must be central to our thinking in terms of developing the blue economy.

The maritime research, ocean energy, shipping/transport and food production (both sea fisheries & aquaculture) sectors all have significant potential for future development provided that development potential is appropriately balanced with the need to protect the ocean environment.

This is underscored by the fact that Irish coastal communities are now benefiting from increased tourists along our Wild Atlantic Way and environmentally sustainable fisheries are also at the heart of radical and challenging reforms to the EUs Common Fisheries Policy, negotiated under Ireland’s EU presidency.

A €241m Seafood Development Programme up to 2020 will represent one of the largest ever single investments in the marine sector. The programme will provide the capital to assist seafood enterprises to sustainably grow their production and add value to our seafood exports.

Bord Bia in collaboration with BIM continues to broaden and tailor its seafood export programme to capitalise on the growing demand for premium; quality assured seafood in emerging seafood markets in the Asia Pacific and other non EU markets.

In 2014, Irish seafood exports delivered a solid performance reaching €533million.

Notable growth was seen in African markets, such as Nigeria, Cameroon and Egypt, as well as in Asia, particularly in China, Hong Kong and South Korea.

If we are to realise the potential that the Irish marine has to offer, we need to create more success stories.

The framework provided by the recently published task forces reports will help provide the sound administrative and economic basis upon which those future success stories may be built upon.

Introducing an agreed marine spatial planning process, strengthening established marine industries while simultaneously developing our untapped natural resources or the existing resources in new ways are all now part of the mainstream policy thinking in terms of the marine.

The recently announced review of taxation supports available to the marine sector is expected to deliver innovative strategic financial proposals for the marine in time for the next Budget.

The continuing importance which the European Commission attaches to the Atlantic Strategy and Action Plan is something that is also welcome. This new strategy will see the EU working closely with the US and Canada.

Simon Coveney: Marine industry is vital to Ireland’s development

Simon Coveney TD Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella at the Harnessing our Ocean Wealth conference taking place in Cork Harbour today. Pic Darragh Kane.

The Naval Services role in the successful Imerc marine cluster at Ringaskiddy is a sign of integration and innovation replacing stagnation and the end of limited thinking in terms of the potential for our marine is also to be welcomed as is the continued Naval Service Ships Replacement Programme which continues to move ahead In setting out our new vision for our marine resource in Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, we set ambitious targets to increase the turnover from our ocean economy to exceed €6.4billion by 2020 and to double the value of Our Ocean Wealth to 2.4% of GDP by the year 2030.

We now have solid and positive evidence from the NUI Galway report that our policies in terms of the marine are working.

The next question is what kind of growth we can project for the future. I believe that the outlook for the sector is really exciting and new possibilities are emerging all the time.

The challenge now for us is to make the marine sector a leading contributor to the future of the Irish economy and to then recognise the potential we have as an island nation to be a major player in the sector internationally.

Simon Coveney is Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine

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