Marine Energy policy in Ireland

Clare PPN Public Participation Network received the following invite on January 17th:

Please see attached invitation to participate in an up-coming workshop “Wave Energy in Ireland: Considering the future – Perspectives on Policy”. This event which is being co-ordinated by SmartBay Ireland and the MaREI Centre, UCC will take place on the 26th January 2017 at the Marine Institute in Galway.  

You have been selected as a key stakeholder in this area and we would welcome your participation at the event and contribution to these discussions.

The specifics are here:

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We received the invite 7 days after the cut off date on the invite leading me to believe we were considered at the last minute. We thought that we had been invited because we had previously engaged with the Marine Institute over their energy plans in Galway Bay. Report from that here. We assumed that the workshop was relevant because we had “been selected as a key stakeholder in this area” so we sought willing participants and the 2 environmental reps on the secretariat attended.

It turned out to be a national gathering to discuss Wave Energy policy in Ireland and not specific to the project in Galway Bay. As usual “consultation” was a hot topic on everybodys agenda. One of the presenters did address the consultation versus public participation models and it was pretty clear that consultation is no longer sufficient. Of course that led to the question on all of the energy sectors lips of the past 5 years – how do we carry out public participation? This was then discussed at the “Mobilisation and Mutual Learning” workshop sessions, which felt too complex for the task in hand.

Here are some photos of the slides:

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Surprisingly Galway PPN were not there. Nor were any of the locals who had entered submissions to the SmartBay consultation. If I remember correctly, over 500 submissions were received and only 3 were in favour. So they chose to invite Clare PPN?

I had some interesting conversations and imparted the same insight I always do.

There was one guy who effectively believed that an anti renewable energy mob spreads themselves around and lobbies against all projects. He reminded me of the similarly deluded guy over 2 years ago in NESC National Economic and Social Council, who believed it was really austerity that caused the anti wind protests! Report here.

I couldn’t help but feel we had been invited in order to tick a box. Likewise there was someone from Birdwatch Ireland who probably made up the environmental representation quota. If these people were sincere about public participation and getting to the heart of engaging the citizens they would meet the citizens head on instead of pontificating in a hotel meeting room. Public participation is messy. It takes longer at the start to get everyone settled into participating but the end result is worth it.

We were told that the outcomes would be sent to DCCAE, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in order to shape policy so I am glad I attended because I did push the need for comprehensive public participation in a national energy transition plan. I did highlight the lack of communities and regular people in the room. Most attending engaged with what I had to say during the workshops and definitely learned a lot about PPNs, the Aarhus convention and public participation in general. So it’s on paper and should go in the report. Feedback and workshop input will be made available in time.

Theresa O’Donohoe

January 28th 2017


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