Dáil Éireann - Volume 377 - 02 February, 1988

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Merchant Fleet.

7. Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for the Marine the plans he has to provide greater State support to increase Ireland's merchant fleet.

Mr. P. Gallagher: During 1987 a package of incentives designed to increase Ireland's merchant fleet was put in place. The Shipping Investment Grants Act, 1987 provides for grants of up to 25 per cent towards the purchase of new or secondhand ships which are not more than seven years old; the Finance Act, 1987 provided for a reduction in corporation tax for shipping from 50 per cent to 10 per cent and enabled shipowners to benefit from the investment potential of [656] the Business Expansion Scheme. In addition, shipowners may now seek funding from the National Development Corporation.

Mrs. Doyle: Is anything else envisaged? I asked this question of the Minister following a report in The Irish Press of 18 January in which his colleague, Deputy Brendan Daly, is reported to have said that he is also geared towards providing greater State support to increase Ireland's merchant fleet.

An Ceann Comhairle: Quotations at Question Time are not in order.

Mr. P. Gallagher: The total available under the Shipping Investment Grants Act, 1987, is £7.5 million. That is a maximum over a number of years. If we consider that proposals are sufficiently meritorious we could go to Government for an addition to that £7.5 million. The Deputy will appreciate that it is important to put a ceiling on it and that this is normal practice.

Mrs. Doyle: Can the Deputy assure the House that if he receives application under the Shipping Investment Grants Act, 1987 that will go over the allocation already earmarked for 1988, he will endeavour to have funds to meet those applications this year?

Mr. P. Gallagher: At the moment we have applications which would necessitate somewhat more money than that envisaged over the next number of years. When I refer to applications, I am referring to basic applications. However, a lot of further information would be required. As I pointed out to the Deputy during the course of the debate, the question of employment is of vital importance.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Would the Minister elaborate on the number of applications he has received? It is certainly in line with the expectations I had as Minister that there would be a great response to the incentives scheme. Would the Minister [657] not agree that, effectively, the Department of Finance have strangled at birth the shipping incentives package introduced by me and continued by the Minister, Deputy Daly?

Mr. P. Gallagher: I have not the exact number of applications but have the deadweight tonnage vis-á-vis that available to the State at the moment. Many applications are very basic ones and much further information is required. I doubt very much that many of those applications could be brought to finality without a response to our request for further information.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Would the Minister not agree that this is a classical example of dragging of feet? Here is a shipping sector which has suffered a buffeting in the past few years because of the travails of Irish Shipping, and which offers an opportunity for development in a cost-effective way. Would the Minister tell the House that he will make every effort to get from the Department of Finance the necessary justified finance to give the go ahead to all those projects so as to create employment in the shipping sector again?

Mr. P. Gallagher: I could not and it would not be wise to give the assurance that we would make every effort to get sufficient money for all the projects which we have in hands. Certainly, for all the projects which we believe necessary to build up a fishing fleet, we would make every effort. To promise funding for all projects in hand would be irresponsible.

Mr. J. Mitchell: All worthy projects.

Mr. P. Gallagher: All worthy proposals, but it would be fair to say that this year there is £1.03 million in the Estimates. We all realise the serious financial difficulties. I cannot see much light at the end of the tunnel for this year. With regard to any worthy proposals, we shall certainly make every effort, in discussions with the Department of Finance.

[658] Mr. J. O'Keeffe: You would get rowing boats for £1 million.

Mr. Cullen: Does the Minister know how many projects were approved from last year's figures? Has he approved, as of now, any for the coming year? Thirdly, does he know how many jobs have been created out of those already approved from last year's figures?

An Ceann Comhairle: We are having an expansion of this question.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Last year £0.515 million was made available and for this year £1.03 million. To my recollection, that will result in the purchase of four vessels. The projection is 80 jobs.

Mr. Cullen: Over the full project?

Mr. P. Gallagher: Yes.

An Ceann Comhairle: This must be a final supplementary question.

Mr. J. Mitchell: Has the Minister put any estimate on the potential for job creation in the shipping sector? Has he put any proposals to the Government so as to maximise achievement in this area?

An Ceann Comhairle: We have had that question before.

Mr. P. Gallagher: I fully appreciate the potential that is there. I told the Deputy earlier that any worthy project will have my support. In fairness, by and large, the present legislation is the same as that previously proposed. We enacted the legislation this year with the co-operation of other parties in the House. We have made an effort and have taken the first step. I am confident that over the four to five years in which we shall be in Government we shall have created many additional jobs and made available further thousands of deadweight tonnage.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: The Government will not be in office over that four to five years.