Review of Harnessing our Ocean Wealth

Independent economic analysis and advice

KHSK Economic Consultants were commissioned by the Marine Institute to undertake a review of Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth: Ireland’s Integrated Marine Plan, which was published in 2012.

You can watch a short video description of the plan at this link.


Context of the Study

Ireland’s economic and social environment had changed a lot in the time between the Plan was developed and the review being undertaken. However, new challenges for the marine sector had appeared, in particular, Brexit and how the general economy would recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

It is also increasingly recognised that a much greater emphasis must now be placed on ecological issues, in particular, climate change and the role of the marine in this respect.

What has not changed is that Ireland still has enormous marine wealth and is far from fully realising its potential. Some emerging sectors have grown and matured since 2012 and technology has moved on, but the core industries of seafood, transport and tourism continue to account for the majority of marine-related activity and value added.

The role of the public sector in leading, guiding, and providing the stimulus for private operators to act has also not changed. Along with this, the need for a clear, integrated, comprehensive and progressive plan as a statement of the public sector’s commitment to the development of Ireland’s marine sector remains intact.

The timing of this study was important as it coincided with ongoing work to develop a successor plan. Consequently, as well as being a review of what has been achieved, the study also covered an assessment of the plan’s construct and additionality, and discussion of its suitability as a template for what might follow.

This means that the report is not just a look back at what has happened since 2012 but seeks to identify insights and learnings that may be considered in formulating a new strategy statement.


Structure of the Plan

Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth (HOOW) sets out a vision and goals to be achieved. It identifies actions categorised into 8 sets of enablers, along with relevant public sector agencies that were allocated responsibility under each action. This structure is captured in the diagram below.

Click to open larger image

However, policy initiatives cut across numerous broad areas that define a sizeable number of Government Departments, all of which have other areas of responsibility. The danger was that it was not a core operational plan or strategic statement of any Department.

This dispersion was addressed by designing an implementation oversight process that aimed to overcome the distances between policy actors through coordination and by fostering collaborative actions across traditional boundaries.

The Marine Coordination Group (MCG), which had been active in this arena in advance of the publication of HOOW, provided the administrative vehicle for this. In return, HOOW provided the MCG with a plan on which to act and clear statements of desired outcomes.


Main Findings of the Review

While HOOW is an innovative marine plan, it was a product of the particular circumstances that prevailed during its development. The most notable was the need to contribute to Ireland’s recovery from economic crisis.

HOOW sought to achieve its aims by implementing cross-departmental coordination and

had considerable success in this regard, such that a shared sense of ownership developed among stakeholders.

HOOW identifies 39 Actions and assigned responsibility and a timeline for implementation in respect of each Action. There has been considerable progress with implementing the Actions in HOOW and additional policy interventions have been developed. However, legislation to streamline licensing and consenting remains outstanding.

A step change in the quality of marine policy and its implementation, and greater visibility of the marine sector when national decisions are being considered, are important achievements. In this, the Marine Coordination Group (MCG) has played a key role.

Ireland's marine

Although the marine sector is now seen as an important and growing economic sector with a vital role in environmental protection, progress in respect of achieving targets and making progress towards the stated Goals is more difficult to assess.

The turnover target is likely to be reached, but there are issues around the GDP target and the lack of targets for Goals 2 and 3. Anecdotally, the appears to have been progress in relation to both these Goals.


Looking to the Future

This success provides a solid foundation on which a successor plan can be developed and successfully implemented. However, the context for this successor has changed and it must build on, rather than try to replicate, HOOW.

To this end, the study recommended that any successor plan is well aligned with important policy statements any national recovery plan following COVID-19. It should also continue to emphasise the economic potential of the marine while reflecting the importance of sustainable interaction with this resource and its non-use value.

The successor Plan needs to place more emphasis on balanced regional development. In these respects, a title that parallels Project Ireland 2040 would be useful. In dong this, the Plan should be designed as a marine counterpart to the National Development Plan by setting out interventions that will achieve the broad objectives within an overarching spatial framework.

Much of the structure of HOOW should be retained, including the three High-Level Goals but with a revised wording of Goals 2 and 3. However, different time horizons should be adopted for strategic and operational objectives. A period of 15 to 20 years should be retained for the former but that the latter should be no more than 5 years.

Additional consideration is required when identifying Actions to ensure that the Plan:

    • Identifies the specific constraints that each Action aims to address;
    • Sets specific objectives for each Action;
    • Ensures clear accountability for delivery at senior levels;
    • Harnesses opportunities presented by complementary external strategies to deliver added benefits;
    • Identifies value for money criteria or parameters;
    • Prioritises Actions;
    • Identifies milestones, interim targets and indicators; and
    • Identifies follow-on targets and objectives for subsequent interventions.

Importantly, the plan should outline how progress will be monitored and assessed through a much more extensive set of targets for each stated Goal. It should also include a review mechanism after 2 to 3 years to ensure the actions remain valid and appropriate to address evolving requirements.

At an institutional level, the plan will need to build on HOOW to improve structures to allow deeper engagement on issues across and within Departments. The Cabinet Committee and Senior Officials Group structures should be considered in terms of advancing policy coordination in the marine area. The Marine Attaché role should also be further developed to enhance information gathering and achieve deeper engagement on key strategic issues.