Dáil Éireann - Volume 412 - 06 November, 1991

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Ballycotton (Cork) Tribunal Inquiry.

12. Mr. G. O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Marine whether, arising out of the Ballycotton Tribunal inquiry whereby it was found that no meaningful additional resources in staff were provided to the regional fishery boards to carry out the strategies and expansion of duties, he will outline the steps he proposes to take to rectify the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

13. Mrs. Taylor-Quinn asked the Minister for the Marine the steps taken by his Department to implement the main recommendations of the Ballycotton investigation report published in July [419] 1991; and when legislation will be introduced to guarantee the security and protection of fisheries officers in the carrying out of their duties on behalf of the State.

20. Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for the Marine if he intends to change the law to provide the same protection for fishery officers as extended to members of the Garda; and his views on whether the same penalties should be open to the courts to impose on persons convicted of obstructing or assaulting fishery officers in the course of their duty as recommended by the Ballycotton Tribunal inquiry.

38. Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for the Marine the arrangements which exist for fishery patrols at sea, following the Ballycotton tragedy.

40. Mr. T. O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Marine the changes he envisages for the basic qualifications required to become a fishery officer; his views on whether formal training is required over a specified time with special emphasis on sea duty; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

41. Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for the Marine if he will outline the Government's response to the report of the Ballycotton inquiry; if he will list the recommendations made in the report which have been implemented so far; if any timetable has been set for the remaining recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Wilson: I propose to take Priority Questions Nos. 12 and 13 and Questions Nos. 20, 38, 40 and 41 together.

In replying to these questions I would categorise the recommendations and views expressed in the Ballycotton report under four headings: first, the overall level of service which should be provided by the fisheries boards; second, the equipping, training, operational criteria, and so on required to ensure the safe [420] operation of sea patrols; third, improvements in marine rescue co-ordination and so on required to improve communications and, fourth, changes in legislation

As regards the overall level of service to be provided by the fisheries boards, I must at the outset emphasise that I have made it clear to the boards that safety must come first and that if a service, be it protection at sea or otherwise, cannot be provided with proper regard to safety then it should not be provided at all.

I have noted the various views expressed in the Ballycotton report about the need to increase the level of the fishery service so as to provide better protection of salmon stocks in a more adequate fashion. I have much sympathy with these views but the funding of the fisheries boards cannot be looked at in isolation from the budgetary position generally and the reductions and tight controls which all agencies largely funded from the Exchequer have had to live with in recent years.

The fact remains that the cost to the Exchequer of running the inland fisheries function is high. The outturn for the current year will be in excess of £7,647,000. This does not take account of the costs incurred by the Naval Service in providing salmon patrols. In looking at these total costs to the Exchequer, it is worthy of note that the total contribution made by way of salmon licences will be only of the order of 5 per cent of the total allocation. Nevertheless, I shall continue to press the case for additional funding and staffing of the boards so as, in particular, to enable the posts of deputy managers to be filled, a protection coordinator to be appointed, additional boats to be purchased and adequate safety equipment, training and so on to be provided.

As regards the equipping, training, operational criteria and so on required to ensure the safe operation of sea patrols, I want to emphasise that I am very glad to inform the House that the main recommendations of the report have been implemented. Sea patrols are being operated in line with the operational criteria [421] recommended by the Tribunal and additional personal safety equipment and radio and electronic equipment has been procured which, with the provision of training on the lines recommended by the Tribunal, has cost a total of £450,000 to date.

The recommendations in the report on the training of fishery officers to be assigned to sea protection duties will be adhered to in all recruitment. I have asked the Central Fisheries Board for their views on whether there needs to be any change in the basic qualification required to become a fishery officer.

As regards marine rescue co-ordination, the director of my Department's new emergency service, SLANU, is following up as a matter of high priority, the specific recommendations made in the report regarding this co-ordination and the equipment of coastal radio stations.

Finally, as regards the various changes in legislation suggested in the report, I have already, in reply to an earlier question, dealt with the specific suggestion that section 8 (1) (e) (i) of the Fisheries Act, 1980, should be amended and expressed reservations about the change proposed.

The question of providing the same legal protection for fisheries officers as extends to members of the Garda Síochána is being examined. This would entail significant changes in the law and the issues involved must be carefully assessed. I have asked that this assessment be completed as a matter of urgency.

In conclusion, I should like to take this opportunity to once more put on the record of the House my appreciation of the work of the Tribunal. I should also like for the second time to put on the record — and I am sure all Deputies will join me in this — my own strong personal view that the four officers who met their death in the tragic accident at Ballycotton, Mr. Benno Haussman, Mr. Dominic Meehan, Mr. Barry O'Driscoll and Mr. Barra Ó Longaigh, were extremely courageous and conscientious officers and that they gave their lives in the service of the State and the public good.

[422] An Ceann Comhairle: I have to say that the time available to us for dealing with Priority Questions is well nigh exhausted. I will hear a very brief supplementary from Deputies Gerry O'Sullivan and Madeleine Taylor-Quinn. We shall then proceed to other business.

Mr. G. O'Sullivan: It is very unfair that because of time constraints I cannot follow through, by way of supplementaries, on one of the most important questions on today's Order Paper. Will the Minister agree that fisheries boards are in desperate financial straits at present? Will he further agree that the reduction in the workforce from approximately 400 in 1980 to 300 today with extra duties means that fisheries boards cannot keep within their budgets, taking into account the fact that they have not been reimbursed for the funding they gave on the recommendations of the Ballycotton Tribunal?

Mr. Wilson: The Deputy knows very well that if unlimited funds were available for this development I would make them available because I am convinced of the value of the service. I do not think I am being unfair or tendentious when I say that the provision out of taxpayers' money of £7.647 million for this service is very substantial. I agree totally with the Deputy that more people were employed in this service ten years ago than there are today. At present I am addressing the provision of training and expertise for the people who remain and requesting extra personnel for the various posts I mentioned in my reply.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: In view of the fact that the Ballycotton report, which is an indicting report, clearly stated that the officers in question had not got any specific guidelines or instructions and had not been properly trained on how to perform the duties with which they were entrusted, does the Minister not accept full responsibility for the tragic deaths of the men in question?

Mr. Wilson: I do not want to involve [423] myself in any kind of controversy with regard to the people who lost their lives in the service of this State. If the Deputy reads the report very carefully she will be able to come to solid conclusions as to why the accident took place. Consequently, I do not think, in all fairness, she should attribute any lack of duty to me.

Mr. Yates: On a point of order, may I ask that Questions Nos. 14, 15 and 26 in my name be withdrawn, instead of being answered as I wish to re-submit them?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy will be facilitated in that regard. That disposes of questions for today.