Seanad Éireann - Volume 145 - 06 December, 1995

Harbours Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).

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

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I compliment Foynes Harbour on its submission. I support an enterprising organisation which is prepared to expand, to improve its facilities and to avail of opportunities in the 1990s as far as business is concerned. There was controversy in relation to the application for the extension and the Minister, in his wisdom, arranged for the appointment of a mediator. I am pleased he has accepted the recommendations of the mediator.

Enterprising people, like this local group which wants to expand, must be complimented. The Minister has responded in a positive way, which is to be commended. However, I worry that attempts might be made to prevent that expansion. The mediator consulted with the various interests, got advice from concerned parties and came up with a conclusion. The initial application was somewhat reduced. A mooring point near Aughinish Island was removed, but four further points towards Battery Point were left. This appears to be a reasonable recommendation with which I have no difficulty.

[976] I spoke to the pilots on the Shannon who have expressed concern about safety. I am familiar with the amount of traffic on the Shannon and I wish there were more boats and ships on the river. I sorry to say I have not seen congestion in the Shannon Estuary. I hope that with future development we may reach a point where there will be congestion and where aspects of safety would need to be addressed. However, with skilful management and co-operation, movement on the river can be easily managed to allow the extension to which the Minister has agreed. Although I am not an expert or a pilot, that is my view, given the level of traffic, and I would be interested to hear an opposing one. We want to see increased traffic and activity on the River Shannon because that will mean more business in the region, more money being generated and the possibility of greater development with more industrial companies establishing in the area because the facilities are already in place.

I welcome the points made on the powers and duties of the new port companies. The Minister outlined eight areas of responsibility. I am concerned about the power which gives a port company the authority to engage in any business activities, either alone or in conjunction with other persons, that it considers to be advantageous to the development of its harbour. I would like to put this in the context of what we witnessed in semi-State companies previously. For example, Aer Lingus engaged in activities not directly related to aviation, including the purchase of hotels. We subsequently saw the difficulties which arose in that company.

Mr. O'Toole: The taxpayer was £200 million better off and more of that would not go amiss.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: A semi-State company with specific responsibilities should confine its activities to them.

Mr. O'Toole: That is incorrect.

[977] Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: If a port company wishes to develop something, it should be specifically related to the port and the water rather than some side-track facility. There are a number of areas in which port companies can involve themselves.

Mr. O'Toole: What about floating hotels?

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: As this is Senator O'Toole's first appearance in the House today, he must make his presence felt.

Mr. O'Toole: It is my third appearance today and it considered bad practice to refer to a Senator's absence or otherwise from the House. I ask the Acting Chairman to bring that to Senator Taylor-Quinn's attention.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Mooney): Although Senator O'Toole is an expert on Standing Orders, the Chair is usually ahead of him. I anticipated this and I thank him for his help. Senator Taylor-Quinn should not encourage Senator O'Toole.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: We are anxious to hear what the Senator has to say.

Mr. Roche: If Senator Taylor-Quinn finished up, we would hear what he had to say.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: By giving ports this responsibility, we should not fall into the trap semi-State companies fell into in the past.

I welcome the Minister's wish that port companies should show concern for their immediate environment. It is important that the estuary or river concerned is protected to ensure that no environmental damage is done. This should be highlighted to port companies when established so that fish life and the natural fall of the river are protected and that every precaution is taken to prevent oil spillages.

The section dealing with pensions is very detailed and has been widely discussed [978] in both Houses. I welcome the protections put in place for employees of existing harbour authorities who will become employees of port companies. It is important that the necessary protections are included in the legislation so we do not have a repeat of previous incidents where employees were left in difficult situations.

Some 35 sections deal with pilotage, which is extremely important. Given that more traffic may be generated in the future — it is the responsibility of the port companies to market and promote their ports in that regard — it is important to ensure that the proper supervision of pilotage is also in place. The record of pilots in the rivers and estuaries throughout Ireland is outstanding and the level of accidents is very low. This is particularly true of the Shannon Estuary and it would be remiss not to acknowledge that point and compliment them on their efficient work over the years. It is equally important to ensure their current terms of employment are protected under the future structure. From my reading of the Bill, this aspect appears to be effectively covered.

Submissions were also made by New Ross in relation to the difficulties there. I have great sympathy with that area because one can imagine being up estuary and having to go through the waters of a different port before one reaches one's destination.

Mr. Neville: People down estuary must do so.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: The trouble is that Clare County Council has not yet received responsibility for waters for which it should have responsibility. We can debate that matter another day and I hope another piece of legislation will be before the House under which County Clare will get a fair crack of the whip regarding the Shannon. The people in Foynes are doing fine and if I was the Senator, I would not push my luck at this point.

[979] A particular position applies to New Ross and Waterford. In discussing legislation, Members must ensure that everybody gets a fair crack of the whip and that natural justice is seen to be done. It would be most serious and unfair if New Ross was put at a commercial disadvantage and had to pay extra. If the net cost of entering New Ross is higher than the net cost of entering Waterford, shipping companies operating on a commercial basis will opt for Waterford over New Ross. We must not do anything which would discourage ships from entering New Ross. I am delighted the Minister established a small review group and I hope it will come up with useful suggestions. Perhaps by Committee Stage the Minister will be in a position to tell the House of a resolution to that issue. It is important at all times to ensure no financial advantage is given to one port over another. In effect, that would work against the spirit of the Bill which strongly encourages regional development. It is important to promote the regions and encourage the development of small towns such as New Ross.

The Bill is most welcome and moves in the right direction. However, the aspect of ship agents, chandlery and chandlers is not covered. This is viewed as a quiet operation behind the scenes in which nobody gets involved. However, people do get involved in this area. The harbour authorities also get involved, directly or indirectly. They may say they have nothing to do with it but the opposite is the case. There is a lot of money involved and much consideration is given to how things are managed and done. The Minister should closely examine this aspect of harbour operations in terms of the new port companies.

For example, in Moneypoint a chandler is nominated to a ship and he arranges the necessary chandlery. However, most of the materials come down in vans from Dublin. The chandler can be from a number of places, such as Foynes or Limerick. Substantial amounts of money and questionable [980] activity are involved. The Minister and his Department should take specific note of this and ensure, when the port companies are being established, that this area is also closely examined. The Bill does not specifically covers ship agents, chandlers and the delivery of chandlery. Nevertheless, it is a huge spin off and involves substantial amounts of money. I am not happy with the current activity and practices on the Shannon Estuary, particularly in relation to Moneypoint. I hope the people involved are listening to my views and heeding them and I hope they will change their ways.

I could mention many other aspects of the Bill, which is very detailed. The House will consider it section by section on Committee Stage and I hope the Minister will be in a position to bring forward amendments in relation to a number of matters to make the Bill even better. I compliment the Minister and the Department on their work to date. The House should recognise that the Bill is a hugely important landmark in the future development of the economy.

Mr. O'Toole: How much time do I have, Sir?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Mooney): The Senator has three minutes now and 27 minutes later.

Mr. O'Toole: I may use some of the three minutes to put the Senator right on a few issues.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I am a good pupil; I am listening.

Mr. O'Toole: The semi-State companies did not do anything they were not allowed to do under their remits granted by legislation.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: We are aware of that.

Mr. O'Toole: There were occasions when that did not work. For example, the [981] ESB ran into difficulty with its remit because the traders around Moneypoint did not want the ESB to sell coal at reasonably competitive prices. These were the same people who, 50 years earlier, objected to Ardnacrusha. Members, particularly the Senator, are aware of this. It was necessary to change legislation so that groups such as the ESB could work abroad on projects, although perhaps not on harbour development.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Lesson taken, Sir.

Mr. O'Toole: I wish to make a number of general points before the debate adjourns. I do not wish to be patronising but I compliment the different groups who carried out a most thorough, comprehensive and effective briefing of Members of the Oireachtas in recent weeks. It is a good example of democracy in action. I met a number of groups and contacted others whose demands were clear and who argued their cases. It is a model of how good briefing should be done. Many other pressure groups in Ireland, some of which I am close to, could learn much from it.

I intend to play a major part on Committee Stage but I will raise some general points now. I am most upset by the Title of the Bill. I checked with the translation section and I was informed that correctly it is the new caighdeán. However, I would prefer it to be An Bille na gCuan, rather than An Bille Cuanta which does not make any sense to my understanding of the language. Another point which greatly upsets me about the Bill is the use of the macho word “master” all the way through. We have almost removed it in teaching and it is time to remove it from ships and harbours also.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: It is about time the Senator realised it.

Mr. O'Toole: I spent much time and energy considering what term could replace it.

Mr. Roche: Posts of responsibility.

[982] Mr. O'Toole: I reached the conclusion that I will not put forward amendments in that regard. I hope another aspect will be eliminated by the Bill, which is the dastardly, unacceptable and desperate practice engaged in by mayors of Limerick. Each year they sail down the river and throw a dart into the estuary around Kerry Head, thereby claiming rights over the water and land. A former Member of this House, Tony Brommell, who was Mayor of Limerick revived that practice which is upsetting to those of us from the hinterland.

I have not heard much of the debate, but on the general principles of transparency, etc., which others find a lot more important than I do, whatever the people of Foynes and Dingle feel is correct for their area is what I will support on Committee Stage. Judging from what they have said to me and what I know about their commitment to their areas, I operate on the principle that they tend to be right and I will be on their side.

Acting Chairman: I wish to welcome some of our council colleagues, Councillors John Griffin, Jimmy Curtis and David Naughten, who have been following the debate.

Debate adjourned.