Seanad Éireann - Volume 155 - 10 June, 1998

Merchant Shipping (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1997: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Sections 1 and 2, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 3.

Question proposed: “That section 3 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Bonner: The Minister mentioned the necessity of passing this Bill because of the EU requirement regarding the seafarers' allowance. Does the Minister have any leverage regarding extending the seafarers' allowance to crew fishermen? I raised this matter with the Department of Finance during the debate on the Finance Bill and it is very contentious. Can anything be done about this?

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods): I appreciate that sea fishing is a tough job and should be recognised. We had great difficulty getting this measure through, and one problem relates to the potential for its being extended subsequently. We will look at it again for the future. One obvious short term situation is that of servicing offshore rigs, where vessels are at sea long for continuous periods. The Bill refers to those at sea for 169 days, including continuous periods of 14 days. Those rules apply generally in Europe and we are in compliance with them, though they would not generally apply to the fishing situation. We will look at this matter as we go forward.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 4.

Question proposed: “That section 4 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. Caffrey: Should the criteria for the determination of a licence be based on the number of cash paying passengers as distinct from the condition [1256] of a boat? I raised this matter on Second Stage as well because there is an ambiguity here that should be cleared up.

Dr. Woods: In effect it depends on both. First, a boat must be licensed and passed by the surveyors. It then depends on the number of passengers beyond that. However, the regulations the Minister is now empowered to make refer only to specific and limited exemptions, such as the practical ones which were raised when the Bill was published and people saw what its effects would be for islanders, pilot boats and so on. There need not be any fear about that.

I hope to have time during the Dáil recess to work comprehensively on the whole question of surveying and licensing. We want to extend and simplify surveying. For example, if Harland and Wolff survey a fishing vessel we must survey it again when it comes to the South. We should agree to have one technology and sort out any lack of conformity. We should not have to survey vessels twice. If we can rationalise these matters we can free up resources to do a more comprehensive job, especially on ports around the country. I am very anxious to address any gaps in our port services.

Mr. Burke: The Minister stated on Second Stage that the regulations for sea angling charter fleet are with the Attorney General. The guidelines are only in draft form. Therefore, it is up to surveyors to interpret draft regulations in regard to the type of equipment which goes on to boats. As we know, different surveyors will have different interpretations for similar boats. If the new regulations are with the Attorney General for his advice, will the Minister give an undertaking that he will bring them before the House as a matter of urgency so that they can be implemented? As I pointed out, the Central Fisheries Board has called on numerous occasions for new regulations to be put in place so that surveyors will not have to rely on draft regulations.

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: There is, in my opinion, a shortage of surveyors because there are delays in the examining of boats, particularly ferries and passenger boats. Will the Department appoint extra surveyors, which would make everyone's job much easier?

Mr. Bonner: I was surprised recently to be told by the Minister's Department that a boat owner does not need a licence to carry passengers for angling purposes as long as he does not go outside the three mile limit. Will the Minister confirm that?

Having listened to Senator Fitzgerald, I am glad I was not standing on the pier in Dingle with no ferry available to me because I would never have got to one of the offshore islands. The Minister stated that unlicensed boats could be used for such purposes, but how many passengers could they take? For example, sometimes when we [1257] want to go to cumann meetings on Aranmore island the ferry is not in operation at that stage of the evening and we must use a local boatman to take two or three of us across.

Mr. Burke: Would a dinghy do?

Mr. Bonner: Naturally we had to recompense him with some reward. Is there a limit to the number of passengers below 12? Will the regulations be adhered to stringently?

The Minister stated this relates to transport to inhabited islands. However, the boatman to whom I referred takes numerous people to a variety of islands in Burtonport bay, involving very little danger.

Dr. Woods: We took a decision not to cover people going to uninhabited islands. The exemption is essentially for islanders. We are making arrangements with the Minister of State with responsibility for the islands to ensure facilities are provided and that we can tighten up that situation.

In regard to the shortage of surveyors, there are two ways to approach such a problem — one either sorts out the work or takes on more people. If a boat is purchased in Scotland, for example, one receives a surveyor's report from reputable people in Scotland who have been in the business for a long time and one then gets a report from Harland and Wolff. Harland and Wolff have been in existence for a long time and were at the centre of the international merchant shipping business at one time. We must then certify the ship for a third time. That is unnecessary duplication of work. We must ensure things are equal and that everything is right in that regard.

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: The Titanic sank.

Dr. Woods: There were all sorts of reasons for that. Some of the best oil vessels in the world are being produced by Harland and Wolff — for example, the Schiehallion, which is an FPSO, a floating, production, storage and offloading vessel. It can take the oil on board, sort it and then offload it. Harland and Wolff is way ahead in terms of new developments. However, I know this area needs attention.

In regard to angling, the regulations made under the 1992 Act must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas as soon as possible after they are made. If a resolution annulling the regulations is passed by either House within the next 21 days, they must be debated. It is a question of changing existing guidelines into statutory regulations which will be laid before the House. That is what the Act will provide.

Mr. Burke: Is the Minister saying that the draft regulations which are currently with the Attorney General are covered by this legislation and that after the passing of the Bill they will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas?

[1258] Dr. Woods: Yes, they will be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Mr. Burke: Therefore, the legislation covers it?

Dr. Woods: Yes, they then become statutory. One then moves to the new situation of statutory provisions. There are situations in any legislation where a great deal of detail must be gone into before regulations are ready. Therefore, regulations may be introduced initially as guidelines. With their having operated as guidelines for some time, what should be included in statute becomes obvious. There is no need to deal with an issue by means of new legislation because any problems will have been resolved in the interim.

The Dáil and the Seanad inform Ministers that they want them to take a particular course of action in addition to what is being done elsewhere and develop the regulations into statutory form. There is no need to ask the Houses if this should be done because they have already indicated their wishes. The statutory regulations are laid before the Houses and Members who do not agree with them have 21 days to indicate their opposition. On the other hand, if they require modification at a later stage, draft legislation or proposals for change can be introduced.

The regulations become a statutory instrument at the stage to which the Senator referred. Once the Attorney General has given his advice, a set of final statutory regulations will be prepared.

Mr. Burke: The surveyors will be obliged to use those regulations?

Dr. Woods: Yes, because they will be statutory regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

SECTION 5.

Question proposed: “That section 5 stand part of the Bill.”

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: Is there a need for subsection (5) given that the euro will be our legal currency? Will the Minister be borrowing money from outside the EU?

Dr. Woods: Subsection (5) states:

For the purposes of this section moneys raised or borrowed in a currency other than the currency of the State shall not be deemed to be the equivalent in the currency of the State of the actual moneys raised or borrowed, such equivalent being calculated according to the rate of exchange at the time of the raising or borrowing for that currency and the currency of the State.

As stated on Second Stage, we will be borrowing this money in sterling. Subsection (5) provides a technical definition of how this will be achieved because both the Irish and UK areas are [1259] involved. The UK will be paying two-thirds of the cost.

Mr. T. Fitzgerald: That is not too bad.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 6 agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Dr. Woods): I thank Senators for their contributions. We have noted the points they raised and we will follow up on them where possible. I thank the Members of the Opposition for agreeing to take all Stages because it is imperative that the Bill be enacted. We will now be in a position to implement a number of its provisions immediately which, in terms of the new £5,000 personal income tax allowance, will be beneficial to merchant seamen in particular. Those provisions will also allow the repayment of PRSI contributions to shipowners in the near future. The Bill also makes provision for the registration of vessels by EU nationals and corporate bodies.

In addition to updating the law, the Bill will allow progress to be made. I thank my officials for their efforts in helping to bring forward this legislation. One of their best attributes is to listen and note what has been said. I listen but I do not always have the opportunity to note everything that has been said. However, I note most things and the Official Report contains a full record of what has been said. If we listen and discuss these issues we will continue to perfect and advance our legislation which is the objective of Members on all sides of the House.

Mr. Bonner: I thank the Minister for the detailed information he provided on Second Stage and in clarifying any questions which arose on Committee Stage. He stated that we are good listeners but I am impressed by the fact that he referred to the concerns expressed by Senator

Quinn and me on the last occasion he visited the House. That proves the Minister is on the ball.

I thank the Opposition for taking all Stages of the Bill today. I particularly thank Senator Caffrey for his fine contribution, during which he referred to a number of pertinent facts.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 4.55 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.