MINISTER FOR the Environment John Gormley will shortly make an order extending the Dublin Bay Special Protection Area, an EU designation intended to protect wild birds, by almost 30 per cent.
The extension, described by a spokesman for the Minister as "one of the biggest nature protection initiatives" in a decade, will almost certainly put an end to the Dublin Port Company's long-standing plans for a further infill of 52 acres to expand the port's capacity. The original Dublin Bay Special Protection Area was designated in 1999, but from the outset there have been complaints that the area it covered was too small and did not include key areas close to Dublin Port in the Tolka estuary - following representations from the port.
When the draft designation was first advertised by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the port company objected to the inclusion of the area it had earmarked for expansion.
A "mapping error" was admitted, and this area was not included in the final map.
The European Commission subsequently initiated legal action against Ireland and other EU member states in the European Court of Justice for allegedly not making sufficient progress in meeting the requirements of the EU Birds Directive.
The commission's case was based on a number of instances where Special Protection Area designations should have been put in place on the basis of the scientific evidence, but were not. One of these was the area proposed for development by the Dublin Port Company.
The judgment of the court, handed down last December, confirmed that Ireland was required to extend the earlier special area designation in Dublin Bay to include this area. Failure to do so could lead to a massive penalty and daily fines being imposed.
Since then, the Department of the Environment has undertaken a comprehensive review of the Dublin Bay special area and the Minister has approved a significant increase in the size of the area from 1,700 hectares to 2,190 hectares, including the area omitted in 1999.
Dublin Bay is of considerable ecological importance and is recognised as being so by the designation of substantial portions of its area under national and EU legislation and also under wider- ranging international agreements, such as the UN Biosphere Reserve on Bull Island.
In discussions with the European Commission, Ireland has already agreed to redesignate all previously designated special protection areas, ensuring that they are given full protection and formally notifying owners/users of specific "notifiable activities" that require Ministerial consent.
In the case of Dublin Bay, a process of consultation with interested bodies has commenced with a view to ensuring that all development proposals are properly assessed to avoid any adverse impact on the populations of protected bird species in the bay.