A MAJOR stumbling block could be put in the way of proposals to drill for oil in Dublin Bay.
An Bord Pleanala has been asked to rule on whether the project should be subject to the local authority planning process.
Campaign group Dublin Bay Concern has referred the "very important" issue to the board, saying the outcome could have far-reaching effects.
The referral relates to a plan by oil and gas exploration company Providence Resources to drill an exploration well at an area of the Kish Bank Basin, near Dalkey, in Dublin Bay.
Providence had secured a foreshore licence for the project through the Department of Environment, entitling it to proceed.
But Dublin Bay Concern wants An Bord Pleanala to declare that developments on the foreshore would also need permission from the adjacent local authority, in this case Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council.
The group says section 225 of the Planning and Development Act covers developments on the foreshore.
"There is a very important question whether or not developments such as this (drilling) do or do not require planning permission.
"There are indications under the planning act that it might," said architect Bill Hastings, of Arc Consultants, which put together the referral on behalf of Dublin Bay Concern.
If An Bord Pleanala agrees with the group, all projects within Ireland's territorial limit may in future have to go through the local authority planning process.
It would enable residents and interest groups to object to applications and to appeal decisions.
Mr Hastings, whose daughter Amy, prepared the referral, said: "The decision of An Bord Pleanala will be very important. It will have an effect on what may or may not be permitted in Dublin Bay. There is a concern about the right of the public to be consulted. There is an important legal issue there."
Providence did not comment when contacted by the Herald.
"That would be a matter for the relevant authorities and in this case it is An Bord Pleanala and Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council. It's not for us to comment," a spokesman said.
Dublin Bay Concern's Sharon Fitter said they believe "anything temporary or permanent in Dublin Bay should require planning permission".
She added: "We want best practice. We don't want oil drilling willy-nilly in our bay."
While Providence was granted a foreshore licence by the department, it subsequently voluntarily surrendered it.
The company said a lack of clarity on the legal situation meant the company could have been subjected to ongoing challenges and undue delays.
Certain elements of the EU's Environmental Impact Assessment Directive were not transposed correctly in 1999 by the Irish Government, it emerged.
The licence had allowed the company to carry out a 2D seismic study, a well site survey and drill an exploration well.