Donegal TD Pearse Doherty has moved to explain a letter he wrote to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine in 2016 expressing concern about the delay in the assessment for aquaculture activities at Ballyness Bay in 2016.
The Sinn Fein TD, who has said he will appeal the granting of 14 licences for oyster farms in the bay, has denied that he had made representations on behalf of an applicant but said he had written to the minister concerning the process for assessment.
“I said I would elicit information in relation to the process. I got that information and gave it back to him,” Deputy Doherty said.
In a letter seen by the Donegal Democrat, Deputy Doherty wrote to Minister Michael Creed in June 2016 about the delay in the assessment process for aquaculture activities in the bay.
“As you’ll be aware, the formal assessment process has yet to be completed at the inlet meaning that those wishing to pursue such activities remain unable to do so as they cannot obtain the necessary licences required to carry out such activities at present”, the letter dated June 13, 2016 read.
“Understandably, it is widely felt that this delay in granting of access to the bay to interested parties is having an adverse impact on the site’s potential to become an important location for sustainable land and sea-based activities such as those permitted under existing licencing laws and, ultimately, that the area remains underutilised as a result,” Deputy Doherty wrote.
Update on the assessment process
The Sinn Féin TD requested an update on the assessment process and inquired “when it is expected that this process will be formally completed in order to initiate the possible conferral of licences as deemed appropriate”.
Deputy Doherty said today the applicant came to him after he had been asked to cease oyster farming in the bay by the department.
He said he told the applicant he would not make any representations on his behalf but he would inquire about the process. He passed the subsequent response from the department to the applicant.
“I wrote to the minister in relation to the process and I gave him (the applicant) his response. I made it clear I would not be making any representations on his behalf. I believe that aquaculture is important but has to be sited in the right place and in the right scale.”
Deputy Doherty said it became clear earlier this year that 18 applications had been made which cover 45 hectares of the bay.
“I am very clear I am opposed to that kind of development. I have asked the minister both privately and publicly from the floor of the Dáil to reject the licencing applications. I think they are flawed.”
He said the appropriate assessment makes clear that the licencing for oyster farming will impact on coastal erosion and the sands in the bay.
“I did not make representations in relation to any application for licences,” he said.
“I was not aware that he made an application for a licence at that stage and he made a number of applications in the subsequent year for licences after that letter was issued.”
'Release of letter deliberate'
Deputy Doherty said the release of the letter was a deliberate attempt to make him look hypocritical.
“This individual has put the letter in the public domain to try and create a bit of confusion. They are calling me hypocritical because they know that I along with Sinn Féin, our local councillors and the community group, are opposed to this and will fight.
“He is trying to suggest that I would make a representation on his behalf. If that is the case why was it that he went to another TD in 2017, 2018, 2019 and up until the last couple of months?
“The answer is he knows fine well that I would not support the type of application that he has put in and he knows fine well that I would not lobby the minister on his behalf. All of that is on the public record. I have no issues with that and I am not going to be distracted.”
Fourteen of 18 controversial applications for shellfish farming were granted this week by the minister.
More than 5,000 people signed a petition opposing the licencing and over 700 people attended a public meeting in Falcarragh in August demonstrating their opposition to the plans. Those opposed have expressed concerns about the potential impact of the oyster farms on the local environment and tourism.
The shellfish industry in the county says it is worth more than €12m a year to Donegal’s economy and supports over 100 full-time and 300 part-time jobs. They argue the industry is environmentally friendly and involves no artificial feeding or veterinary input.
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