Seanad Éireann - Volume 124 - 21 February, 1990

Dún Laoghaire Harbour Bill, 1989: Second Stage.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister of State at the Department of the Marine (Mr. Noonan, Limerick West): I would like, first of all, to explain to the House that as far as I am concerned there was no discourtesy intended.

Mr. Manning: That is accepted.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick West): I intend to have this matter checked.

Mr. Manning: We accept that the Minister of State was not at fault.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick West): I would like to thank the Senators for giving me the opportunity to appear here today to introduce the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Bill. It is a short Bill. The purpose of the Bill is solely to transfer to the Department of the Marine those responsibilities currently enjoyed by the Commissioners of Public Works in relation to Dún Laoghaire harbour. My Department was set up in relation to harbour development to bring harbours under the one administrative and planning umbrella. This Bill is intended to meet the Government's objectives in this regard.

In the course of its passage through the Dáil many amendments were tabled by Deputies. However, given the Bill's limited purpose these were not appropriate for inclusion in the Bill. The amendments centred principally on the formation of a harbour board at Dún Laoghaire. It is to be hoped that the recent announcement on the formation of an interim harbour board has assuaged the fears of those Deputies and, indeed, Senators regarding my Department's commitment to this area. This board will assist me in all [25] aspects of harbour management and development.

I will, of course, take full account of the views of the interim board, together with the report of the planning review group, the contributions made by Deputies in the course of the Bill's progress through the Dáil and to whatever views may be expressed here in this House during the passage of the Bill.

This Bill will in no way compromise this House's scope for considering at a further date any legislation which the Government may bring forward to set up permanent arrangements for Dún Laoghaire. My Department will work closely with the interim board with the objective of developing the magnificent harbour at Dún Laoghaire to its optimum potential for the benefit of the people of Dún Laoghaire and, indeed, for the country.

Mr. Cosgrave: Could we have a copy of the speech?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Noonan (Limerick West): As I stated at the beginning of my speech, the Bill is purely a technical one. It is a short Bill designed to transfer the responsibility for the harbour to my Department. I commend the Bill to this House.

Mr. Cosgrave: I would like to briefly refer to what happened earlier. It is regrettable that there was a breakdown. I fully accept that the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, as far as I am aware, was blameless in relation to the matter. I ask that the matter be referred either to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for a special investigation as to what procedures take place to ensure that Ministers are available in this House. We had a fairly long Order of Business today and nearly two hours after the commencement of business we had not got a Minister. We had decided the Order of Business last week and it is very discourteous to this House——

[26] An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I do not wish the Senator to develop that point further. It is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and he can have the matter taken up there.

Mr. Cosgrave: I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach in relation to that but it would be regrettable if what has happened today is Government thinking in relation to Dún Laoghaire harbour. It certainly has not received the full attention over the last couple of years that it deserves.

I welcome the opportunity of addressing the Bill in relation to Dún Laoghaire harbour. We are all aware of the great asset that is Dún Laoghaire harbour. The Bill only deals, regrettably, with one small technical matter. An opportunity has been missed. The Department at this stage could have, in the light of the planning review group's report, brought forward legislation.

All we have had from the Government over the last three years since the establishment of a harbour authority was announced in 1986 was an announcement on 2 January of the naming of an interim harbour authority. Since that date would Senators like to guess how many times they have met? They have not even met once. There are good individuals on the board, some colleagues of Senator Conroy and I on Dún Laoghaire Corporation and others who, if they are given the opportunity, may be able to do something. I would like to know why the authority have not met since 2 January? In the Dáil yesterday the Minister gave an indication that they may be meeting next week. I wonder if that is a hastily cobbled together idea to at least put some date on it.

The harbour authority which apparently, and according to the Minister yesterday in the Dáil, had many discussions with various groups which the Minister said to a deputation from Dún Laoghaire Corporation in September last would be named within a matter of days or weeks were eventually named on 2 January and to date have not even met once. They have not had even a preliminary meeting [27] to discuss their terms of reference or anything they intend to do. Until I see otherwise, I feel it is merely window dressing by the Minister to just name a board and that will keep people quiet.

This Government are not serious about how Dún Laoghaire harbour is to be developed. It is a disgrace that the harbour authority named almost two months ago has not even been able to meet once. I asked the Minister to say whether they have been given any back-up facilities, whether they have been given even the loan of a hotel room in which to meet. It is a disgrace that an interim harbour authority, upon which we are hoping the ordinary development of Dún Laoghaire harbour and many other issues relating to the Dún Laoghaire area is going to be based, is treated in this way. The fact is that the harbour authority, two months later, has not even had a meeting. There was a question yesterday on the matter in the Dáil and there was an indication that it may meet next week but it may not meet for the rest of the year. It was basically a bit of window dressing by the Department in early January.

I would hope for progressive development in the harbour. There is a proposed development of the pavilion site in Dún Laoghaire and the development of marina facilities but they all depend on an authority to come forward with a plan and to produce ideas. The terms of reference of the interim harbour authority are: (a) to have particular reference to the recommendations of the planning review group; (b) to take note of the views of harbour users and other interested parties; (c) to advise on the best management policy for the harbour to ensure the greatest benefit to harbour users; (d) to seek proposals from private investors and others for developments in the harbour area; (e) to advise the Minister on the establishment of marina facilities at the harbour and (f) to evaluate development proposals and place them on public display.

I am disappointed the Minister said they are not going to work towards any report or towards any deadline. We are [28] gong to keep going round with no beginning or no end. I ask the Minister to try to set some deadline for a report. I have been pursuing this in Dún Laoghaire. Senator Conroy and his colleagues are anxious that there is orderly development in the harbour. We want to see proper legislation brought in, an established harbour authority. We want to know how the harbour is going to be run, how it can be developed and where is the money going to come from so that Dún Laoghaire can be the pinnacle for sailing and yachting.

It is important that the Minister give some serious attention to this. He should call in the authority and perhaps the Minister could convene the first meeting. I do not know what has caused the delay. There have been various rumours but the reality is that two months have passed and nothing has been heard and, not one meeting has been held. I ask the Minister to see what he can do in relation to it. He may not have known until yesterday that the authority had not met but he now knows. He should convene a meeting if necessary.

We are all aware of the vast potential of Dún Laoghaire. We had a tag race there several years ago and you could not get into Dún Laoghaire because there were so many people there. We have many other facilities in the area. What we want to see is the authority established, a plan brought forward. Obviously, in relation to any future plan for Dún Laoghaire, there are many different ideas on how best to proceed and one can only give one's own ideas. There are four yacht clubs there: the Dún Laoghaire motor yacht club, the National Yacht Club, the Royal St. George and the Royal Irish. They have good ideas. They have proposals.

Hand-in-hand with Dún Laoghaire, goes the operation of the car ferry. The planning review group recommended that Sealink stay there and that the car ferry should continue to operate. It is important that that be adhered to. The idea of having just one car ferry and trying to get it into Dublin has been mooted. I think the case can easily be [29] made for having two car ferries. Peope do not necessarily want to arrive in town. They are quite happy with Dún Laoghaire's roll-on roll-off service. It is a gateway to the south. It has the DART service and various other train routes. We must ensure that the car ferry service is retained in Dún Laoghaire. It is clear that Sealink want to stay. Many people prefer the shorter route. It is one of the items that has got to be mentioned. The review group were in favour of it and I hope the authority will favour it.

It is also important that the traditional users who have used the harbour down the years are accommodated. We looked after the big man who maybe has a yacht and comes out a few times in the season and who belongs to the yacht club, but it is important that a person or a few people who share a small dinghy that has traditionally had some sort of a mooring be accommodated. Obviously, everything has its price and some charge will be necessary but provision must be made for traditional users who have used the harbour down the years. Some area should be reserved for them. The harbour is big enough. There are various proposals in regard to the Marina. There are proposals to reclaim some land at the west pier. There are proposals by the various yacht clubs. There was an earlier proposal which ran into trouble because there were allegations made that things were being done on a nod-and-wink basis. There may still be merit in the proposal. We want to look forward relation to Dún Laoghaire harbour and how matters are to proceed.

I hope the Minister will talk to the members of the authority and make sure that proper facilities are available to them. The proper development of Dún Laoghaire harbour should be a big tourist boost. It is important that the Minister gives an assurance that a certain amount of money will be made available. Private enterprise will be coming in but if a private person is coming in, he obviously wants a certain return on his capital injection. He wants, obviously, to see something back and he should be accommodated. The State will have an [30] overseeing role in all of this and when eventually a proper harbour authority is established the necessary legislation must be brought forward. It must be funded properly and have sufficient staff.

In relation to staff, it is important that we look at what is going to happen to the people who are at present in the Office of Public Works and the harbour works. It is important that we safeguard their interests. They have given long service to the development and the maintenance of facilities there and it is important that they are given assurances that their jobs will be safeguarded. They are the people on the ground. It is important that full consultation take place with them. They are to work under another Department. I think they should be given assurances and guarantees that not only will they be secure in their jobs, if they are to be transferred under this legislation to the Department of Marine but if in the future they are to work for some sort of semi-State type body, such as a harbour authority, those men who have given great service and have looked after Dún Laoghaire in the past will not be forgotten. It is very important that we fully discuss this. Some of them have approached me and other public representatives for the area wondering where exactly they are going to be, wondering are they going to lose their jobs or are they going to be shifted into some other jobs.

The Minister should give a categorical assurance to those people. If necessary he should meet a deputation from the workers to discuss their fears, to listen to what they have to say and to ensure that their views are represented in any future legislation. I do not know what discussions have taken place. The Minister may be able to throw some light on it, but certainly the people I have spoken to are in the dark about it. They have been told nothing, they hear rumours here and there. It is important that full discussions take place, that their views are taken into consideration and that they are fully involved in future plans.

We are all aware that Dún Laoghaire harbour should be and can be an even [31] greater tourist attraction. We have other exciting developments taking place in the borough of Dún Laoghaire and very near the harbour. It is important that consultations take place with the officials of Dún Laoghaire Corporation, even the members of Dún Laoghaire Corporation who may not be on the harbour authority and who may wish to consult and be consulted on how the authority are going to proceed. It is important that we get things right now. We must not get off to a wrong start. We certainly got off to a slow start in relation to the harbour. It is important the we improve communications. It is important when the interim authority meet that they discuss the review group's plan, that they discuss the setting up of a formal authority with legislation, that they discuss with local interests, including the Chamber of Commerce and the yacht clubs, how best to proceed. It will be difficult to come to a final decision because there are vested interests here and everyone is looking after himself. Eventually we will have to run with a certain type of authority, with a certain plan. We have to eventually make up our minds. It is going to cost quite an amount of money — we should not forget that — if we want to do the job properly but there will be the outside interests there, there will be other financial contributions to come in. The State will obviously have to come up with a certain amount of money.

Sealink have come forward with proposals. There are many people willing to work with plans to run developments in the area if we get the green light and if they know where they are going. There is great interest in the harbour. It has been a traditional place for many people, whether it is the people going for a walk along the piers, people using the yacht clubs, people using little dinghys or people using the car ferries. The first sight of Ireland for many people is Dún Laoghaire harbour. All this should be developed. I hope Bord Fáilte and the Eastern Regional Tourism Organisation will combine. They have ideas, Sealink have ideas, and they are willing to pump [32] money in there to improve the facilities. Some of the facilities there are quite primitive.

I welcome this Bill although it is only a technical measure. I would welcome it even more — and I am sure Senator Conroy and Senator Keogh would agree with me — if we had a stronger Bill. I hope that within months we will have legislation before the House for a proper harbour authority with full legal status, a harbour authority that will come forward with a full plan, will know where it is going and will have consulted the various interests and, when the plan is brought forward, that things will not be done behind people's backs.

Everyone wants to see something being done. There are various views as to how we should do it and there is no absolute way, but with the potential that is there in the orderly development of marina facilities, it can be a great landmark not only for Dún Laoghaire but for the country and even Europe. It could be a focus point perhaps for international races. We saw the success a few years ago of the tag race. The traffic in Dún Laoghaire was chock-a-block, so many people were interested in seeing it so many extra tourists were in the area. It was of tremendous benefit to the town. If they come back to Dún Laoghaire they will come back to other parts of the country as well. If we are hoping to go about planning properly we must bring forward legislation.

It is possible that on Committee Stage we will propose that this Bill should be in existence only for a certain length of time so that one way or the other we will have to get the Minister in here, whether to renew the legislation or to bring forward other legislation. We may consider proposing some such time scale in relation to the Bill if we do not hear from the Minister when he is replying that other things are to happen. A Dún Laoghaire Harbour Bill of a few pages will not keep Senator Conroy, Senator Keogh and myself happy for the next couple of years. That is not going to happen. I would ask the Minister to talk to his senior colleague about this matter. [33] We met him some time ago and he expressed concern. The fact that he has one problem less following recent developments in the west might mean that he can come east and give quite an amount of attention to Dún Laoghaire harbour.

Finally, I ask the Minister to see that the interim harbour authority meet. Perhaps he should meet them at an early date to see exactly where they are going. We have had too much delay in relation to the appointment of the board and the consultations that went on. If it works out in the long run, so be it. I will be glad to say it was all worthwhile, but the fact is that for far too long people have been talking about Dún Laoghaire harbour, we have been going around in circles and nothing has been happening.

I welcome the Bill. We may have some amendments on Committee Stage and we would certainly like a response from the Minister about further developments.

Professor Conroy: Dún Laoghaire is its harbour, the harbour is Dún Laoghaire. That was the reason for the existence of Dún Laoghaire, that was how it grew up and how, indeed, it still is. Dún Laoghaire harbour when it was first built was the largest man-made harbour in the entire world. It is still a magnificent feature and, in conjunction with the harbour, we have had tremendous developments in that entire area. We are on the verge of a renaissance in the general Dún Laoghaire area.

Senator Cosgrave has rightly covered a great deal of the ground in relation to the harbour and I would agree with virtually all of what he has said. We on Dún Laoghaire Corporation on both sides have been urging for many years that a proper authority should be established for the harbour, that this was absolutely essential for the future development of Dún Laoghaire, particularly with the various developments in relation to the car ferries and possible marina developments and many, other developments.

I would beg to differ slightly with my esteemed colleague in relation to the [34] actual setting up of the authority. Many Governments, including regrettably Governments on my own side, have been very dilatory in doing anything about Dún Laoghaire and its harbour. I am delighted that this Government have, however belatedly, established a harbour authority for Dún Laoghaire and have put on it an excellent chairman and very good representations, again from both sides of the House and other representatives of the community in Dún Laoghaire. I am sure that harbour authority will have teeth, will have funding and staff and will carry out its brief very efficiently and effectively. One looks forward very much to that.

In relation to what happened a little earlier in the House, it is evident from this Government that we have set up this harbour authority Bill and the slight delay we had here a little earlier is properly going to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. To me it seems much more associated with the relationship between the two Houses of this Oireachtas, and even there we have the situation somewhat improved at least as regards votes.

I support this Bill. It is very necessary, it is brief and essential and it lays the foundations of the further development of Dún Laoghaire and its harbour.

Miss Keogh: This is a technical Bill which provides for the very important step of transferring the powers from the Commissioners of Public Works to the Department of the Marine. I hope it will be the key to the future development of Dún Laoghaire harbour and, indeed, to the economy and infrastructure of the whole area. I am glad that at long last the interim harbour authority is in place and I look forward to their recommendations. The function of this board is advisory, but I feel that the balance of interests on the board will ensure fair and considered recommendations on proposals laid before its members.

Unfortunately, the recent history in relation to the proposed development of the harbour led to a great deal of contention and dissent. I do not want to [35] resurrect any of the old problems in relation to those proposals but rather to highlight the opportunity we have to proceed speedily towards the much needed development of an area which has what I consider to be unrivalled potential. The fact has been alluded to by my colleague that concern over the development of the harbour sparked off such considerable public interest, that it should be an indicator to the Minister as to how important this development is and to remind him to take this into consideration when considering the interim authority's recommendations.

Dún Laoghaire harbour is the key to the development of the entire area. The ferry service provides a vehicle for tourist trade and, indeed, other passenger services and the retention of that ferry service is vital to the future development of Dún Laoghaire. The planning review group established by former Minister Daly and Chaired by Professor McAleese, recommended its retention and that review group also wished to see a balance maintained between the commercial and public service activities and the recreational activities in the harbour.

Marina-related leisure activities were particularly highlighted as suitable. Even though I mentioned misgivings before because of the previous proposals for a marina, that is not to say I would not support the development of a marina per se because the provision of a marina would enormously benefit the whole area, would give tremendous tourist potential and, indeed, would augment the leisure activities of everybody living in the environs of Dún Laoghaire. It would provide jobs from service companies to manufacturing industry, to say nothing of the benefits of the actual building and the initial investment in such a venture.

Just this week we have seen that there has been an £18 million plan for the development of the pavilion leisure complex in Dún Laoghaire and this will provide leisure facilities, including a cinema, bowling alley, skating rink and hotel, bars, restaurants and so on. It has already [36] been agreed that the pavilion site on Marine Road in Dún Laoghaire will be put at the disposal of the prospective developers. These kinds of facilities highlight the potential for suitable development in the Dún Laoghaire area and point to the urgency for the recommendations of the interim harbour authority to be received. I would like to inform Senator Cosgrave that the board is meeting for the first time next Tuesday and I am afraid that it does not lead me to believe that the Department of the Marine have give this the priority it rightly deserves.

That being said, I recognise that this Bill is a necessary first step towards the long-awaited development of Dún Laoghaire harbour. Once the Minister has effectively resumed responsibility for the harbour, may I make a plea that he will ensure that the Sealink car ferry's future is secured. I would like to know what the Minister's own intention are in relation to the development of the harbour and I hope there is a genuine commitment to the development. We do not want a downgrading of facilities. The ferry service must be maintained, passenger facilities are inadequate and must be updated, but piecemeal development is all that we have ever seen in Dún Laoghaire and there is a danger of this continuing. We look forward to an overall integrated plan as a result of the recommendations of the interim authority.

I regret that time has been truncated this afternoon for various reasons and I must add my voice to the protests that have already been raised in this regard.

Mr. McMahon: Is the debate to conclude at 5 p.m.?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Harte): No. The agreement on the Order of Business this morning was that we would finish the debate on Second Stage at 5 p.m. and that we would take other business at that time.

Mr. McMahon: I can have possession then?

[37] Acting Chairman: You can move the Adjournment now.

Mr. McMahon: I move the adjournment of the debate.

Acting Chairman: You will be in possession when the debate resumes. I am sorry, Minister, but that is the agreement.

Debate adjourned.