Seanad Éireann - Volume 191 - 06 November, 2008
Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008: Committee Stage (Resumed).
Debate resumed on amendment No. 7:
In page 17, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
“‘public consultation’ means a publicly advertised invitation for submission from stakeholders and the general public;”.
—Senator Jerry Buttimer.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: We were discussing lack of consultation in the process. This is an Opposition amendment and I wish to express my disquiet regarding the lack of consultation. I cannot comment on behalf of Fenit, County Kerry, or other places but I can comment on behalf of Bantry, County Cork. The kernel of some of the amendments which I have proposed later in section 18 could be resolved if the issues regarding lack of consultation were resolved. I refer to a letter sent to the then chairman of the board of Bantry Harbour on 16 September 2004, signed by the then Minister of State with special responsibility for the marine, Deputy John Browne. The letter might elucidate in better terms the problem I have with the system of consultation. It was written by Vivian O’Callaghan, a former Member of this House. It states:
Dear Chairman, As agreed at our meeting on 6 September last, I am writing to set out my understanding of the outcome of the meeting and of how to ensure that the dialogue between the Department and Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners can be progressed in the future on a positive basis.
As stated at the meeting, the interruption of the dialogue with the Commissioners and the referral of the matter to the Attorney General was a direct consequence of the unilateral decision by the Commissioners to place a contract while discussions with the Department on the viability of the project were ongoing. Up to the point of interruption of the dialogue, the Department had been satisfied that a project was viable and would not have resulted in serious financial harm to the Commissioners. For this reason, Department officials were most surprised at the decision taken by the Commissioners at the time to enter into the contract in March 2002, [That is historic now. I am not saying the commissioners were wrong or right on that occasion, but I am talking about the area of consultation and dialogue.] given that there was not a shared understanding of the viability of the project, in respect of which the Department was asked to provide support.
I am keen that the Commissioners and the Department re-engage in a constructive and fruitful manner, having regard to previous expressions of support for the project. I can assure the Commissioners that the service of the Department and myself will be applied positively to this end.
From our discussions, I understand that the Commissioners believe that the business environment for the project has shifted from that originally envisaged. As you are aware, the project costs have escalated since the consideration of Exchequer support of €1.9 million by the former Minister. [That was announced in April 2002, but of course it was never spent.] Furthermore, no progress appears to have been made and the conditions contained in the former Minister’s letter of 15 May 2002 (copy attached) which letter expressly instructed the Commissioners not to enter into any contractual commitments, pending a report on progress in relation to the two stipulated conditions. (In the event, the contract had already been placed.) Accordingly, I would propose that the project be reviewed in terms of its viability, the financial implications for the Commissioners of increased borrowings for the project due to its escalated cost and the risks to the project posed by the dominant position of the terminal operator. To this end, I invite the Commissioners to submit for consideration a fully detailed updated proposal for the project, including a comprehensive business plan with financial projections. The Department is available to assist the Commissioners in elaborating its requirements in terms of the proposal.
I was a member of the board at the time, and much of what happened was due to the over-enthusiasm of the Bantry Harbour Commissioners to pursue this project. I am trying to convey to the Minister the importance of the consultation and dialogue and linking it to what is currently happening, which is a volte face.
The letter continues:
You will be aware that the Oireachtas decided in 1996, through the passage of the Harbours Act 1996, that the latter represented the best legislative model within which a commercial port should operate. It is thus a matter of long-standing policy that the Harbours Act 1946 is no longer regarded as a suitable instrument for the management of State harbours. Accordingly, it is proposed over time to effect the dissolution of all the harbour authorities currently operating under the Act, and where appropriate, to transfer responsibility for the control and management of each harbour to a local authority or to a port company.
I regard Bantry Harbour as a significant port in terms of business and location in the south west. It is therefore firm policy to maintain the harbour, and where possible and appropriate, to develop it. Consideration has been given to the best means of ensuring that Bantry harbour is positioned and equipped to fulfil its commercial port functions in a modern, professional way. It is essential, in that context, that Bantry has available to it the best marketing, project management and technical and general management skills as befits its importance and potential. [This will be very important when I get to my own amendments later.]
It is my view that the harbour should be operated within the provisions of the Harbours Act 1996. This Act, together with the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, will provide the necessary framework to ensure the effective corporate governance of the State body concerned. It is the Department’s view that the business associated with the harbour falls below the minimum level of activity necessary to justify the establishment of a new company when compared to the alternative available to the State and that the Port of Cork Company is ideally positioned to ensure that Bantry has access to the best regional port management expertise, marketing skills and strategic development planning.
I would urge the Commissioners to assess fully the pros and cons of the options mentioned above and to explore fully with the Port of Cork the conditions which might surround any amalgamation of Cork and Bantry, which would protect the interests of Bantry. I fully appreciate that the Commissioners will enter any discussions with the Port of Cork Company on a ‘without prejudice’ basis and I can assure the Commissioners that no final decision will be taken other than in full consultation with them.
Again we are hearing the word “consultation”. That consultation process consisted of very brief meetings with the Port of Cork Company in Bantry. We were told that when the due diligence report was done, that everybody would sit down together, including the Minister. That consultation has now been hijacked. We were told that the consultation would take place, but I am saying it has not taken place. The publication of this Bill clearly tells us that the Department is not interested in consultation, or if it is interested, it will shoot first and ask questions later. That is the perception of the general public in the area I represent and the perception of the 11 board members, who do no want a shot-gun marriage with the Port of Cork Company unless there is consultation.
The town commissioners sold off the railway pier for less than market value to the harbour commissioner, while the owner of the main pier, Cork County Council, has not been consulted. Last weekend I had an opportunity to meet with the manager for west Cork, who I shall not name. I met her about a different issue, but I brought up this matter and she was amazed at how this was proceeding. She said that the council own the pier and has a specific interest in the development of Bantry. She had set up a consultation process and a strategy whereby the town council, the county council and the harbour commissioners would work together with the Department in developing the inner harbour and the pier. If this Bill is enacted, we are in the lap of the gods as to when the Port of Cork Company will take us over.
I apologise to the Leas-Chathaoirleach for being leadránach, but this is a critical issue. I compliment Senator Donohoe from Fine Gael on raising the matter. He probably did so under a completely different context, but it acted as a catalyst for my grey matter.
The letter goes on to state:
As was agreed at our meeting, Mr Michael Guilfoyle, Assistant Secretary General, will work with the Commissioners in identifying the issues to be addressed in relation to the pier development and the future of the harbour. He would envisage, as agreed at our meeting, meeting the existing Board again (or a subgroup) on these issues at an early date.
What meetings have taken place since this letter was issued, either with a sub-committee of the Bantry board or otherwise? That is a critical matter. With all due respect, my view is that if such meetings took place they were on other issues, not on the critical issue of Bantry being nicely put into bed with Cork Port, for reasons of corporate governance or suitability. It does not suit those concerned.
The letter continues: “Prior to that meeting, it would be useful and productive if the Commissioners had progressed a project plan for the pier development and had some discussions with the Port of Cork.” Those discussions took place. In all the consultations with regard to the port of Cork, it amazed me that on the area of due diligence the port of Cork seemed to know what was going on daily and monthly. The harbour commissioners in Bantry were told nothing by the Department while, at the same time, this was what was happening in tentative meetings. The port of Cork could tell us what was happening, yet the Bantry harbour commissioners were in the dark. I attended a specific meeting to which certain Oireachtas Members were invited to state what was happening. That is another example of the lack of consultation involved.
The Minister of State must forgive me for saying that there was a premeditated decision based on bad reports of what was happening in Bantry in the 1980s and 1990s, when the port was a dead duck in the water. If this deal had been offered to us at that time we would probably have taken it, but from approximately 1994 onwards Bantry has emerged as a profit-making port of some significance. However, a premeditated decision has been taken by someone, either politically or otherwise, to get rid of Bantry Port for whatever reason. They want to move irrespective of consultation, but that sticks in my throat.
The letter goes on to discuss by-laws in Bantry, as follows:
As you are aware, the powers of harbour authorities to make bye-laws for the good rule and government of a harbour are set out in section 60 of the Harbours Act 1946. Specifically, in relation to pilotage bye-laws, the Attorney General advises my Department that no further bye-laws can be made under the Pilotage Act 1913 following its repeal.
Pilotage in Bantry is critical because large tankers are bringing crude oil, bunker oil and diesel into the bay. The knowledge of local pilots is therefore crucial. Apart from Whiddy Island, the pilotage situation is critical. I will refer in my subsequent amendments to a legal issue which has not been addressed. With reference to the costs arising from the Whiddy Island disaster, the area of pilotage and harbour safety is critical.
My forefathers sought to sell stone excavated from Hungry Hill and ship it abroad. The greatest exportation of stone from the Thirty-two Counties is from Bantry Bay. Pilotage is important in this respect because big ships take the crushed rock from the local mountain in Leighale, near Adrigole on the northern shore of Bantry Bay, to England and sometimes to mainland Europe for road building.
The letter continues:
In relation to past proposals of the harbour authority for bye-laws to be made under section 60 of the Harbours Act 1946, the Department’s file indicates that there has been ongoing correspondence between the harbour authority and the Coastal Zone Management Division of the Department. [I referred to them earlier, although I do not know where that division has gone in this debate]. Arising out of this process, the Commissioners were invited in August 2003 to submit redrafted bye-laws taking into account objections received and changes agreed with the Coastal Zone Management Division.
Has all that been sorted out? Have the coastal zone management and bye-laws for Bantry inner harbour or bay been resolved? Bye-laws are critical in respect of where boats can be moored, be they large yachts or small punts, in addition to tourism-related water sports such as water-skiing and surfing.
The letter from the former Minister of State, Deputy John Browne, to the then chairman of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, Mr. Vivian O’Callaghan, who is no longer on the board, continues:
I can assure you that we will deal expeditiously and constructively with any resubmitted bye-laws and will address concerns regarding pilotage in that context. [This is all to do with consultation on pilotage and bye-laws]. You should contact [a named person] Assistant Principal, at ...
I do not want to go into that because it is just a contact number. The letter concludes by referring to the proposed sale of foreshore at the inner harbour. This again comes down to bye-laws. It states:
As the Commissioners are aware, under section 159 of the Harbours Act 1946, the sale of surplus land requires Ministerial consent. Also directly applicable is section 5 of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies which deals with disposal of assets and access to assets by third parties. Specifically, the Code states that it should be standard practice that the disposal of assets with an anticipated value at or above a threshold of €70,000 should be by auction or competitive tendering process, other than in exceptional circumstances. The Code provides guidance in relation to the determination of the anticipated value. A copy of section 5 of the Code is attached for ease of reference.
The letter also states that some other person in the Department, who shall remain nameless, can deal with any queries. It continues: “I wish the Commissioners well in their remaining endeavours; I assure them of my continuing support and thank them for their important contribution to making the Harbour a successful and strategic element in the State’s port infrastructure.” That letter was sent out on 16 September 2004, which is not 100 years ago, to the then chairman on certain issues. Perhaps the reason the letter was sent out is not the one I am discussing, but in most paragraphs it refers to the area of consultation. The final paragraph of the letter concerns consultation. I accept that some of the Bantry harbour commissioners are not professional, but they did not act maliciously. In one instance, which is referred to in the letter, they purchased a piece of foreshore, which was critical. The status of the foreshore of Bantry Bay is something which sticks in my craw because it should not be the case. The issue of who owned what rights also arose in the case of Lismore, County Waterford.
Senator John Paul Phelan Senator John Paul Phelan
Senator John Paul Phelan: It is like ground rent.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: Yes. The Earl of Bantry and Bantry House estate own all the foreshore, about 60 miles of it, from Sheep’s Head. The purchase of the foreshore was critical for any development in the inner harbour at Bantry. Currently, the council is taking sewerage one mile out of the town to be treated, which should have been done years ago. The council had to obtain foreshore rights for that because some of the pipes ran along the foreshore so the harbour board decided to buy foreshore rights. I think I am correct in saying that they went ahead and bought the foreshore rights innocently without prior consultation. They did so in good faith but they bought the rights for €170,000.
This all concerns negotiation and consultation. Two local developers were interested in the foreshore rights for their own purposes. A new hotel has been built and there are plans for a marina development. I attended a meeting and intervened in good faith, as a broker, with one of the developers. I said they were competing against the harbour commissioners to buy the foreshore rights. What they are doing is for the good of Bantry, including harbour development, dredging and extending the pier. We had a heated meeting with the then chairman, who shall remain nameless — he is no longer in the country — and a particular contractor-developer. They paid approximately €170,000 but if it went to a Dutch auction and they were outbidding each other, the harbour commissioners could very well have paid close to €1 million for those foreshore rights. They should have been given for nothing. In 1981, some of the foreshore was given over by the Bantry House estate for £1. The people running Bantry House are very decent people and I felt that should have been the same because the harbour commissioners were doing something good for the town and the surrounding area.
I may be deviating slightly from the issue but had the harbour commissioners gone about it the right way and sought permission from the Minister by way of the Department and under corporate governance and Part V, I am sure there would have been no lack of consent or co-operation by the Department at that stage. I stress the importance of local harbours and local knowledge. The harbour commissioners, the town council and the developer decided not to have a Dutch auction. That bit of ground was worth a lot of money and my worry is that Cork Port will have the benefit of it. The developer stood back and the harbour board bought the ground. If it had gone to a full auction involving auctioneers and bidders outbidding each other, it could have trebled or quadrupled the price that was paid. The harbour board in Bantry was given a slap on the wrist because it did things incorrectly and I accept that. Members of harbour boards are people of different professions and they are not familiar with all the rules, regulations and by-laws. They act in good faith on most occasions.
I have another three or four pages in that communication on the issue. I also wish to put on the record of the House a letter which was written about consultation. The writing is very small and I may need glasses.
Senator John Paul Phelan Senator John Paul Phelan
Senator John Paul Phelan: There is no fear of the Senator.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: The optics are confusing me a bit. This is a letter written to me in 2002 by the then Minister, Deputy Frank Fahey. It is a short letter dealing with consultation and what action can be taken about Bantry: “I am writing to inform you that I will approve Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners’ application for 33.3% grant aid for a new pier development.” The important fact is the figure of 33.3%. The letter goes on to say that negotiations were to take place to deal with the development of Bantry harbour. I will need to revisit many of those issues because I have a ream of paper to read into the record of the House when I come to speak on my own amendments. There are only seven or eight reports but I must do it because this is an issue that goes to the bottom of my heart and I wear my heart on my sleeve when I am talking about Bantry harbour.
I know the Minister of State may wish to reply but I may have to contribute again. If the consultation as promised in this letter, which was written in 2004, only three or four years’ ago, had taken place, if the commitment by Ministers and Ministers of State, who were probably my own people, in the past seven to eight years had been honoured, and if the consultation, with Cork Port especially, had taken place, and some individuals have said privately that they did not want to be the dominant partner and would rather work with Bantry, we might not be at this stage now. Consultation should have applied also to local Oireachtas Members because there are only four or five of us in Cork South West. Although some of us probably would have had a greater interest than others, that aside, they should all have been notified.
I will not name the individuals but a clear commitment was given to me by at least three Ministers or Ministers of State when they told me that not one thing could happen with Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. We all knew something was in the pipeline without the Minister of State, the harbour board, the town council or Cork County Council, who are all players in this situation, being consulted. It would be a funny set-up if Cork Port were to try to do something on Bantry pier which is owned by Cork County Council. The old railway pier from the time when we had a train going into Bantry was owned by the town council and it passed it on in good faith to the harbour commissioners saying it would be in a position to help them out if they wanted to do something with it.
That consultation and the commitments given to me were not politically honoured. I have great respect for the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, but he has inherited this particular situation. I am not saying that Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and the town council did not make mistakes. I was a member of the harbour board for many years and it was the unanimous agreement of the representatives of the town council, the county council, the trade unions and the chamber of commerce, and of the Minister’s appointees that whatever was to happen Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, they did not wish to entertain a scenario whereby Cork Port would be their governing body.
This is about consultation, which is dealt with in section 18. That consultation process, if it existed at all, was negligible and at the fringes, and that is wrong. If I understand it correctly, the 1996 Act or one of the Acts refers to the consent and imprimatur of the Minister and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I should not mention the Department because I must be careful in how I phrase this in case people say I am having a go at officials which is not my job and is not proper to do. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Transport can, under the existing legislation, with the stroke of a pen and without consulting any Oireachtas Members or the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, lump us in with Cork County Council and put it in charge. If the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Transport can do that, it is a unilateral, non-consultative process. This power is in the Act as I understand it. This has its merits and demerits.
On the question of consultation, in case it is thought that the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners sat back and decided to do nothing, it had difficult meetings with the then manager of west Cork whom I will not name but whom Senator McCarthy will know and who is a decent man. He attended some meetings and we looked at the options at my request when I was a member of the board. We asked what the consultation process would be if Cork County Council were to take over the board. The council was concerned not to take over a harbour board where many things remained to be done and where it and, ultimately, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, would end up spending money on extending the pier, dredging and other important infrastructural works in the inner harbour. This is all to do with consultation and the consultation process was engaged in.
To be fair to members of the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners or the Bantry board — whatever one wants to call them — following from the letter I read into the record, which was sent in September 2004, they met and had informal chats with Cork port as to how or if they could move on this process. They were cordial meetings and there was no abrasion. The Bantry representatives did not say, “Hands off. How dare you?” and, to the best of my knowledge, there was no attempt by the Cork port representatives to say, “We are here. We do not particularly want you but we are going to swallow you up. We will take what we can from Bantry Bay and we will invest little or nothing.”
I thought “due diligence” — that famous term — had been concluded. I was under the impression that this would proceed once the legal problems holding up the purchase of the foreshore rights were sorted out and the registration of the title was complete, which I believe it is. The Department, its officials and the Attorney General’s office, or perhaps the Chief State Solicitor’s office, were involved in trying to speed up that process. There were difficulties but these were legal and were not the fault of the Bantry harbour board or its solicitors.
I am worried with regard to consultation, on which Senator Donohoe put down an amendment. That process has failed the Bantry harbour board. As I said earlier in the debate, and not in a flippant manner because it is not comparing like with like, there were years of consultation and negotiation behind the scenes with regard to the situation in Northern Ireland. That did not happen in this case.
It galls me to note that this Bill is enabling legislation — Senator McCarthy may agree or disagree. Under the Bill, the Minister has another string to his bow so that, whether it is 2009, 2010, 2011 or another time, with the stroke of a pen he can decide to take over and manage Bantry harbour. This will include its assets and its not too great liabilities — Bantry Bay is valued nationally and billions of euro would not pay for it. If that bay were in the United States, South America or Saudi Arabia, a value could not be put on it. From an ecological perspective, Bantry Bay, which is 23 miles long and eight miles wide, is the second finest bay in the world.
If the Bill is passed, we are hostages to fortune and consultation will be gone out the window as far as Bantry is concerned. While the Minister of State may correct me on this, the position in the existing Act of 1996 is that if the Minister for Transport and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government come together, they can decide at the stroke of a pen that Cork County Council will take over Bantry. If this happens, we will be a lame duck. We will be like a dodo — we will not be able to fly and we will become extinct.
If the Bill is enacted and we do not want Cork County Council to take control, but it is decided that Cork port would take us over, where do we go? In May 2002, we came within hours of becoming a corporate identity — it may be phrased differently in the Bill — in order that we could manage our own affairs. All sorts of reports were drawn up by PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG, as well as private reports by Mr. Raymond Burke and two other reports, all explaining what is right and what is not right. When this arose, I said we should wait because if the port has a stand-alone corporate identity and does not make enough money — unfortunately, we are somewhat hamstrung in that the main funding source is the harbour dues paid by Conoco Phillips — we could not go begging to the Department because it would say, “Hold on, you went down that road, you can stand on your own and we will not give you a penny, one way or another”.
I referred on Second Stage to bodies such as Cork County Council, which owns the pier, and to the harbour commissioners. We all sometimes look down on local authorities, harbour boards and so on but they have a role and are a means of contact with the local people. We must not forget Bantry inner harbour is unique. Were the 20 or so Whiddy Island people still left on the island consulted, and if not, why not? They have rights and traditions. I am sure if a constitutional point were made, those people would ask whether they were consulted. Whether going to town to shop, to go to church or to go to national or secondary school, they must come to the mainland. Have they been consulted about what is happening? Unfortunately, they have not been, which is regrettable.
They are a small island group I admire but who sometimes live in difficult circumstances. We have beauty in west Cork, with seven inhabited islands, as Senator McCarthy noted. Were the people of Whiddy Island consulted? Of course, they were not consulted the night of the famous explosion, when they ran, some of them in their underwear, and fled from the island fearing that the whole place was going to blow up around them. I would not blame them for that. They ran and sought shelter.
Have the shrimp, oyster and mussel fishermen in Bantry been consulted in this process? These are small operators — poor shadow lads. I accept the number of Cork port directors is being reduced from 11 to eight, with possibly one from Bantry. With all due respect, politicians, whether councillors or otherwise, will no longer have a say. Cork County Council will have two or three directors on the board and Cork City Council will have three or four. The board is gone but who in Cork port will come down and serve?
I do not know why we have all these overlapping Departments. What will we do with these fellows with their oyster beds? A group of islanders have aquaculture licences to fish for scallop and other species from most of the islands and Bantry is the capital of line-grown mussels. Have these fishermen been consulted? I have written to the two companies that export mussels and to some of the people harvesting them. This is all on my back although I do not know why I should be doing all this. I had a meeting with the Irish Shellfish Association, a national association which has a major interest in parts of Waterford and other counties, and covers all kinds of shellfish, not just mussels, but oysters, clams, periwinkles and other shellfish. It has not been consulted.
We are talking about a consultation process. If Cork port took us over, perhaps the Minister would tell me that has nothing to do with him. With all due respect, it has. One cannot take over Bantry Bay and then cherry pick and say Whiddy Island will make money for Cork port because it will give an annual income and that the chances are, with the uncertainty of the world oil markets, it will be increasingly used. We are told that in 50 years’ time oil will be replaced by some other means, whether nuclear power, wind power or another type of energy. Although I have no guarantee, I hope with the Lord’s help to fight two or three more elections and that I will get another 20 or 25 years out of it, if He spares me. In my lifetime, I hope I will see a use and a purpose for Whiddy Island. It is like contra proferentem regius in the days of Magna Carta. It is against the wishes of the people who make a living from or have a duty or responsibility to Bantry Bay if they are not consulted on this. Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners have had several run-ins with the local mussel, lobster and shrimp fishermen on where aquaculture licences and fishing lines should go to keep shipping lanes open. There is no provision in the Bill to ensure the Port of Cork Authority will do the same job. I do not think it will, and it would be a dereliction of my duty and responsibility as the area’s representative not to say so. These guys are the hewers of wood and drawers of water, serfs of the soil but decent people. I am here as their voice.
Has any thought being given to the Costello tribunal report on the Whiddy Island disaster in Bantry Bay in 1979? The report criticised the Department, the then Minister in a subtle way, and the lack of powers vested in the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. They subsequently received the powers but in the mid-1990s it was decided to get rid of them. There must be local control of Bantry Bay, whether it is Whiddy Island or Garinish Island. What if the Cork port authority decided to charge boat dues on tourists going to Garinish Island? I presume the Department with responsibility for the islands would get a few bob as well.
Unfortunately, there is a possibility that owing to interference by another State agency and to a toxin related issue, the mussel industry and other types of fish processing in Bantry Bay may collapse. The fish and shellfish harvested in Bantry Bay are the same as those from Chile, the Bay of Biscay and Holland. The threat of toxins in fisheries is the same the world over but because of over-diligence on our side in monitoring our own — we are great Europeans in that respect — if an incident occurred, who would pay the compensation? Due to the amount invested in Bantry Bay in mussel lines and onshore facilities, and with the decommissioning of fishing vessels, those who could be affected would want €50 million plus in compensation for the loss of their industry. Will the Cork port authority pay or will the Department of Transport?
Consultation is important. I will never buy into the notion that this is an enabling Act to give possible powers and, once enacted, there will be all manner of consultation. The passing of this Bill will sound the death knell for Bantry Bay.
I hope the Minister of State will respond to all the points I have made. I do not want to be putting the gun to his head because we have only another two hours for this debate. The Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners were castigated by the Department because they did not consult with it or made mistakes. They put their hands up but were told to stand outside the classroom like bold boys in school until they learned their lesson. Consultation with the commissioners did not occur. This legislation is proposing a shotgun marriage where Bantry Bay, lock stock and barrel, will be handed over to the Port of Cork Authority.
Was Conoco Phillips consulted? It is a major player which owns the terminal at Whiddy Island and built a replacement jetty that cost millions of euro. In the past eight years, it has spent over €50 million on upgrading and ensuring safety standards at the Whiddy Island facilities. Up to 40 people have been directly employed with another 20 as subcontractors. As it will have to pay harbour dues, has it been consulted on this legislation? I did not consult it but it is an important player.
There has always been a debate in Bantry as to what is the most important industry to the town. In the 1960s some felt the oil terminal was the only industry to sustain the town. Like other multinationals, however, the oil industry left, leaving a terrible legacy of 50 deaths on 8 January 1979. With the emergence of the mussel, crayfish, oyster, prawn and inshore fisheries, the fishing industry was then considered important. However, the tourism industry was also considered. I recall a Belgian businessman who wanted to build holiday homes on Whiddy Island but could not because the terminal did not make the spot attractive. I always believed, as a public representative, that each of the industries should live and let live and consult each other. There has to be respect for the ongoing maintenance and sustenance of fishing, whether it be fish farming, aquaculture, trawling, potting or whatever.
In addition, tourism is critical to the region. Leaving out Garnish Island, we have Sheep’s Head, the Beara Way and other attractions. Tourism, as my colleague Senator McCarthy will confirm, is a major issue for people in the area. We had to have consultation. With regard to the control and operation of the harbour in Bantry, people seem to forget that in the 1970s we had some major oil spills which were national and environmental disasters. This is why the harbour board was set up from day one. In addition to the tragedy in which the Betelgeuse blew up in Bantry Bay, there were major disasters including one in 1974 in which several million barrels of crude oil were spilled. If it happened nowadays, with Sky and CNN and the way in which stories are promulgated by the media internationally, there would be war. There would be multi-million euro claims from fishermen, salmon farmers, mussel line farmers and so on.
In those days nobody wanted to know Bantry. With due respect, the man responsible was from the other side of the House — the then Minister for Transport and Power, former Deputy Peter Barry. A song was made about it, although I had better not recite it. It was along the lines that Peter Barry would feel quite sorry he was Minister for power. Mr. Barry came down and intervened, stating that all the spillages could not go on. He was the catalyst for putting a harbour board in Bantry. When it was set up first it was a lame duck as it had no powers, and now that it has powers they are trying to trip us up again.
If consultation is taking place it is not transparent or open. This concerns the area of consultation. I compliment Senator Donohoe on raising this when he was last here because arising from the Betelgeuse tragedy in Bantry, which resulted in a public inquiry, came the Costello report. I urge any of my colleagues to read it, or at least read the conclusion and the synopsis. It was a damning indictment of lack of control in Bantry. There was a lack of response. It was lucky that more were not killed on the night of the disaster. Controls had to be brought in. What Peter Barry was doing at the time perhaps involved no consultation. The company involved was Gulf Oil, which was a big international company. Its operations were controlled in the United States but when it came to Bantry Bay its controls were on a “take it as it comes” basis. It made up the rules as it went along. That is why a board was set up in Bantry.
I have no doubt that Cork Port in many ways has expertise that we probably lack in Bantry. The reason, if I am to be frank, is that the Department, through the Minister, is saying for political reasons that it placed Bantry Port, without any consultation, under the remit of Cork County Council. That is stated in the 1996 Act as far as I know. The Minister might respond to that. However, if Cork Port has additional power and, perhaps, greater experience and professionalism with regard to issues such as pilotage, I can name 20 other areas of relevance to Bantry Bay in which it has no experience — perhaps it does not want it — and no professional expertise.
On the issue of consultation — this is something on which I will elaborate in detail later — has there been consultation about the pier extension? There were two announcements in this regard. On 14 June 2000 the then Minister, Deputy Frank Fahey, arrived in Bantry and we had a big night out. I was supposed to go to the Killarney races that evening and I cancelled everything. We were told we were getting £1.5 million, in punts. We went into a hostelry to celebrate and we thanked the Minister. We said before he left that maybe £1.5 million would not be enough and that we might need a bit more. This equated to €1.9 million. It could not be spent at the time because it was putting the cart before the horse. There was planning to be done, and then the harbour commissioners, against my better judgment, went in a different direction and planned something else. In the heel of the hunt, with all this consultation, we have no pier. In breach of the recommendations in the Costello report, we do not have a facility in Bantry to allow a fire brigade or ambulance to reach the site of an emergency if one were to occur at Whiddy. When one is dealing with combustibles such as bunker fuel, diesel oil and gasoline, fire is likely.
Let us be realistic. In half tides and low water — I am not talking about full tides — most decent vessels take 1 to 2 metres of water. These are small vessels. Some of the ocean-going tugboats that used to come in to the pier when I was a young fellow had a draft of 5 metres. With all that, we still have a situation in which, if a fisherman wants to go out at 8 o’clock in very low water he must go down at five minutes to eight to pull out the boat because if he goes down at eight he cannot go fishing. This still pertains in 2008. Where is the consultation?
There was a lovely gentleman who was Tánaiste back in 1989-90, although I do not have the precise dates. He is now gone to the terminal ward. I refer to former Deputy John Wilson, who was a great Member of the other House. He came down to see the harbour and he was appalled at the set-up. He saw it at low water when the islanders were coming in to go to mass, and they had to climb across other boats along a length similar to that between here and the monitor. People were being lifted up and down. He could not understand why we did not have a pier extension and why we had not carried out dredging. We did not have the basic facilities. I can never forget these visions when I take a walk down the harbour in Bantry at low water. I look out and the boats are all dry. I am a small man — about 172 cm.
Senator Michael McCarthy Senator Michael McCarthy
Senator Michael McCarthy: The Senator should not flatter himself.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: The Acting Chairman may be able to envisage a layer of silt and gravel two and a half times my height. That is what has to be dredged. Then we can bring in boats and make Bantry an operating facility.
I cannot forget the Costello report. I will bring it in the next day and read a good part of the contents because it is a historic report. Legally, we cannot ignore it because somebody will be back before the courts again on the issue. It is appalling that in the event of an emergency we will not be able to bring out the required vehicles. People will come back to me and say they have a loan of a facility, a Mickey Mouse set-up whereby they can go down to the airstrip near Bantry and drive across the gravel. It will be like the last world war, during the final assault of the Allied forces against the Germans, when they had to go across beaches and half of them were shot. It will be something similar. They are building slipways now, but as it currently stands that is what we will have to do. I must refer to a person who broke her leg in Whiddy Island and had to go through a large amount of hassle and trouble. Perhaps in this day and age we could provide a helicopter and have her airlifted. Perhaps she would want that.
We talk about consultation and the lack of it, but there has been the greatest dearth of consultation with regard to Bantry over the years. I use the word “dearth” in capital letters. Some of it was the fault of the board. The oil spillages resulted in the setting up of the original harbour board by Peter Barry. He did that much, in fairness to him. It is fine to be critical but I will not be, because he is a gentleman. It had to be done. The Costello report found the harbour board had no controls. It could not send a pilot or tug boat to tell a tanker that it was unsafe to land and discharge its cargo. That was what happened in the Betelgeuse case. The boat should not have landed on the night in question. It was sent away from a Spanish port. They thought they could go to Bantry and if it blew up, only a few local people would be killed. They did not realise 44 Frenchmen would also be killed.
It is all to do with consultation. Mr. Peter Barry took one step. The Whiddy disaster followed and it was found the harbour board had no powers either to raise revenue or to impose controls, such as a harbour master. A harbour master could tell people they could not attach themselves to the single point mooring buoy because there was a five metre swell. That can be done now and as far as I am aware, the pilots still go out. That happened as a result of the Costello report. It found the set up in Bantry Bay was a disgrace. It may not have used the word “disgrace” but it gave the political system a rap on the knuckles.
The Costello report was efficient and cost the State £500,000. I wish modern tribunals would take note of it. One of its conclusions was that the harbour board should have powers so that it could be efficient and have controls. The harbour board had to have teeth to ensure another Betelgeuse disaster did not occur.
We all fell asleep, politically and otherwise, after the Betelgeuse disaster on 8 January 1979 in which 50 lives were lost. Now we are discussing again the lack of consultation in Bantry. Consultation is important, both in the Chamber and outside it.
Gulf Oil pulled out of Bantry when the Suez Canal opened and it found it did not have to build large tankers to go around the Cape of Good Hope because it could go through the Suez Canal instead. This meant Bantry was surplus to requirements. When the company pulled out, it compensated the State, not just once but twice. Millions of pounds were paid to the State. Was one million spent in Bantry? We begged for a handout and we were like the boy in the Dickens novel asking for more. We did not get a bob. A sum of £300,000 or £400,000 was supposed to have been set aside for a community centre in Bantry and extensions to the pier were promised which did not take place.
Now we are being asked to trust the same will not happen again. I have a lack of trust and confidence. Another disaster could happen and we are totally unprepared. There are emergency response services such as the fire brigade. Recently in the town there were squad cars, helicopters flying around, ambulances and fire brigades. The facilities are more appropriate to the Second World War when they landed on the beaches in France.
The Costello report has been ignored in this Bill. We took our eye off the ball. Gulf Oil pulled out of Whiddy and nothing happened for many years. The harbour board was there in name only. The island facilities were sold twice and Conoco Phillips came in. It was an Irish-American company and it did a lot of work in Whiddy, such as refurbishing tanks, some of which were built in the 1960s and were becoming rusty.
We fell asleep for years and no consultation was needed. Consultation and diligence in Bantry Bay are important because we now have a single point mooring buoy. I was out on a fishing boat when a rolling swell came and although there was no wind, it was so high we lost sight of a tanker anchored two miles away. As a result, we took for the shore at four in the morning. I have a fear that if a tanker had an emergency on a bad night and it was in a heavy swell, it might tie up to the single point mooring buoy. If it drifted to shore or damage was done to the ecology of Bantry Bay or Garinish Island, where would the Costello report fit in, as it were?
The Minister of State has copious notes for his response but I will be coming in again because I have covered only a small amount of what I want to say about consultation. The Minister of State might say that is another argument, but consultation has a central role. I was not consulted and the board was only consulted peripherally, if at all. There is a lot of anger, which has not yet been seen but might be when I, especially, as Government party member, and Senator McCarthy go knocking on doors in a few years in Bantry, Glengarriff, Beara, Durrus, Goats Path or Gerhies and people say to us that we are the men who oversaw the handover of control Bantry Bay and harbour to Cork.
There are different ports and scenarios. What if Waterford, Rosslare and New Ross were to marry and Rosslare were to object? New Ross and Waterford would be glad of the financial accounts we have. If they were making, pro rata, the tonnage per capita as Bantry is making they would be happy. I was asked by a senior figure in Cork County Council last week why the Bill does not propose that Baltimore and Kinsale be governed by Cork County Council. What is happening to Arklow? I do not like being singled out in Bantry as a maverick.
I cannot comment on the position in Fenit, I cannot comment on how it is run or its corporate governance but I put it to the Minister of State that as of now there has been little or no consultation, and this amendment is concerned with the consultation process. I put it to the Minister that the consultation process envisaged was not followed, particularly in the letter to which I refer. I have great respect for the then Minister of State, Deputy Browne. I am sure he wrote the letter in good faith in terms of prior consultation, due diligence and so on.
There was a time when we all believed that certain factions in Northern Ireland of different religious backgrounds and political persuasions could never sit down together and talk, but they did that eventually and, thankfully, a peace process is now in place. However, I envisage all hell breaking loose in Bantry Port. It would be very easy to blockade Bantry Port and stop a tanker attaching itself to the SPM. Fishermen do it. I am not advocating that but disbanding the Bantry Harbour Board is envisaged in the Bill, regardless of whether we like it. It is stated that it is an enabling measure and that it might not happen for a few years, but because of lack of consultation at council and local authority level I envisage resignations from the Bantry Harbour Board. I envisage major disruption taking place. One could argue that this could be for better or worse — perhaps in time to come it might be good — but we cannot put a gun to people’s heads and tell them that we are disbanding Bantry Harbour Board. The Bill may not state that, but that is what is envisaged, yet there has been no consultation whatsoever on this issue.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney Senator Cecilia Keaveney
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: The Senator should be wary of repetition in regard to that issue.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: As the Acting Chairman appears to be tuned in to me, I will try not to repeat myself.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: I understand this is an important issue to the Senator’s constituency but we are on Committee Stage, not Second Stage.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I accept the Acting Chairman’s point but I will return to this subject.
Barack Obama had a dream and his dream is fulfilled. People in Bantry had a dream also. I want to read into the record a press release that appeared in The Cork Examiner in January 1985. I was a mere garsún then. That was the year I first got elected to Cork County Council. It was written by an eminent reporter with The Cork Examiner who would have been familiar with Bantry for many years, the late Jim Cluskey, God be good to him. I want to quote the article because it is about the dream for Bantry and the fact that there has been no consultation. It states:
A Consultant engineer, who is one of the country’s top experts in marine construction, was yesterday enthusiastic about the results of initial tests that could lead to a major development in Bantry’s inner harbour.
Mr. Derry Nestor [whom I do not know] of Cork — who masterminded the Neptune Sports Centre — said that trial holes dug yesterday showed that rock would not be encountered.
This was to do with a proposal for which we got money for the pier and harbour but nothing happened. The article further states: “This meant, he said, that the shape of the inner pool could be moulded simply by removing material.” That is the dredging we spoke about, and again there has been no consultation because Cork Port will come in and dredge it overnight. It further states:
The situation would also facilitate the building of a sea wall, the length of which would be governed only by cost.
An ad hoc committee has been set up in Bantry with the aim of creating a yachting marina and creating a flood control system for Bantry town.
That has been sorted out because the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government did works there on the flood control system. It further states:
It would also, according to Committee Chairman, Mr. Bill O’Donnell——
God be good to him. He is still going strong. He is a great character who had a dream for Bantry. He was involved in the harbour area all his life and I hope he will live to see this project fulfilled.
——destroy the eyesore that has been around this community for 140 years — seven-and-a-half acres of grey slobland.
Speaking of the estimated cost of £1 1/4m for the project, Committee Press Secretary, Ms. Grainne O’Mahony, was confident that the money was available “and it was just a question of tapping it”.
Money was promised following the Betelgeuse disaster but one could say there was a lack of interest in Bantry. It further states:
There were, she said, categories of EEC funding for such projects and they would also be hoping for a share of the £1m which the Chevron Oil Co., which has taken over Gulf Oil [I forgot about Chevron; I spoke about Gulf earlier] had pledged to the Government for the development of Bantry Bay.
We are back to the question of there being no consultation. Where did that £1 million go? It would have done a great deal in 1985. Bantry did not benefit from any of it. I remind the House that a golf course was sorted out in Bandon, which is 40 miles away. They know nothing about it. A golf course was done in Castletownbere but not one cent was spent in Bantry Harbour. That is a disgrace, regardless of who was in charge of it. To be fair, they know nothing about consultation or a lack of it. We got kicked in the arse and kicked in the teeth all my lifetime. These were the issues that were relevant at the time. We come in here and talk about consultation. I am saying clearly there has not been consultation. I digress somewhat but——
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: The Senator should be careful about using unparliamentary language.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: The article further states:
She said the tests carried out yesterday would be used as a basis for making a submission to the EEC, and within 15 months, a scale model, costing about £20,000, would be submitted. It was hoped that the construction of the model would be carried out as a UCC post-graduate project.
“What is being done today will lead to an analysis and from there to proper costings”, she added. “After that the project will be put to the people of the town”.
This Bill is not being put to the people of the town or to the harbour board.
Ms. O’Mahony saw prospects of a marina establishing Bantry as an off-season resort. It’s bread and butter income would be from providing winter moorings for yachts of 40 ft. and over, and the cream would be the handling of ocean-going yachts.
Mr. O’Donnell visualised that if the project were supported it could earn Bantry “a very, very conservative” £90,000 a year, as well as creating temporary employment for young people.
Yesterday was marked by two gestures of goodwill for the venture — O’Sullivan’s plant hire dug the test holes free of charge, and the work was supervised, also voluntarily, by Quantity Surveyor Mr. Andrew Moore, of the contracting firm of Murnane and O’Shea.
I place this information on record because it is evidence of what certain people envisioned in 1985.
If I was on the other side of the House, I would have a rip-roaring go in respect of this matter, particularly as it relates to the lack of consultation. When Gulf Oil moved out and Chevron came in, the State benefited on both occasions. There was a clear political commitment to spend money in Bantry. At the time the project cost £250,000 and the then Government made a commitment that money would be spent. That commitment was never honoured, which is a disgrace.
More than 20 years later it has been decided to transfer control to the Cork Port Company, which I do not trust. It does not matter what any Minister in the Government states, I am of the view that Cork Port Company will not honour the commitments that were given by different Departments. I am seriously concerned because such commitments to the people of Bantry, whom I represent, have not been honoured by successive Governments.
Progress and money have been made during the past ten years and there has been extremely good co-operation at Department level. Now that we are on our feet, however, the rug is being pulled from under us.
I will be obliged to speak further on this issue when the Minister of State has replied. In the interim, however, I must locate extremely important information from a number of consultants. There are six or seven reports available, all of which I could read into the record of the House. However, I will not be able to do so in the time remaining today. This is my final bite at the cherry on behalf of Bantry harbour. If I lose on this one, I will be obliged to tell the people of Bantry that I was on watch when their harbour was sold off. That is a matter about which I am concerned.
Senator Michael McCarthy Senator Michael McCarthy
Senator Michael McCarthy: People may be of the view that there is nothing much left to be said following Senator O’Donovan’s contribution. However, I wish to place this matter in context. Amendments Nos. 7 and 10 to 12, inclusive, are grouped for the purposes of discussion. My name, along with that of Senator O’Donovan, is appended to some of those amendments. I will certainly not repeat the extremely salient points made by the Senator.
In respect of section 18, the explanatory memorandum to the Bill states:
Under the Harbours Act 1996, provision is made for the transfer of harbour authorities to local authority control by Ministerial order in cases where there is little or no commercial traffic.
The Ports Policy Statement provides that in cases where there is significant commercial traffic, consideration will be given to bringing the relevant harbours under the control of a port company. This is relevant to two harbour authorities: Bantry Bay and Tralee and Fenit.
The amendment I have tabled proposes the deletion of the new subsection (2)(a), which states:
The Minister may by order appoint a day as the transfer day for the purposes of this section in respect of Bantry Bay Harbour and, with effect from that day, the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners are dissolved.
In fairness, Senator O’Donovan has been championing the cause in respect of this issue since long before the legislation was initiated. He tried to encourage some element of consultation between the Minister, the Department and Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. I have in my possession a letter addressed to and received by the chairman of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners on 9 September 2008. It states:
I refer to your letter dated 21 August 2008 requesting a meeting with members of Bantry Bay Harbour Commission. [That is not an unrealistic request on the part of any group.]
As you are aware, Bantry Bay Harbour Commission operates under the Harbours Act 1946. Policy in relation to such harbour authorities is as set out in the Ports Policy Statement published in 2005. [That was the policy statement in respect of which no one, not least local authorities or Bantry Bay harbour commissioners, was consulted.] This indicates that the continued operation of the harbour authorities, under the outdated provisions of the Harbour Act 1946, is unsustainable on the grounds of good corporate governance.
I do not believe anyone disagrees with the notion of good corporate governance. If, however, the dismantling of local government is a direct implication of good corporate governance, then we should consider what is meant by the latter. In order to be good corporate governors, must we abolish local authorities? The letter to which I refer also states:
You are also aware that my Department is of the view that the best way forward for Bantry Bay Harbour is amalgamation with the Port of Cork Company. This would help the future development of the harbour by giving it access to the best regional port management expertise and marketing skills. The Port of Cork Company is waiting to finalise a due diligence process into an amalgamation with Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. I understand that a land registry issue that has delayed completion of the due diligence report is close to resolution.
Once the due diligence report has been completed, officials from my Department will arrange a meeting with representatives of the harbour commission as soon as is convenient.
The latter statement represents the crux of the letter.
As already stated, the letter in question was received by Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners on 9 September. We are engaged in a debate on Committee Stage of the legislation but there still has not been any contact. Various commitments were given to the people of Bantry that such contact would occur. This is all relevant to Senator O’Donovan’s amendment, which makes specific reference to consultation.
Far be it from me to lecture anyone in the Bill’s Office, but I am of the view that the amendment I am discussing should also have been grouped with Nos. 8, 9 and 13 to 17, inclusive, which all refer to Bantry Bay. It is my intention, therefore, to take this opportunity to say as much as possible in respect of the latter amendments. It might be time efficient if I were to do so.
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: The Senator should confine his remarks to the amendments in this group and no others.
Senator Michael McCarthy Senator Michael McCarthy
Senator Michael McCarthy: My point is that the amendments are similar. I will speak only in respect of the amendments currently under discussion. However, when the others arise for discussion, I will already have my contribution made because the points relating to both groups are the same.
The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, is present. However, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, should be here to answer questions in respect of consultation and the commitments given to people in Bantry. Has the Department engaged in consultation with or received correspondence from the Association of Municipal Authorities in Ireland, AMAI, or the Association of County and City Councils, ACCC, in respect of the Bill this week?
If we are intent on passing legislation that is good for the country, the least we should do is to consult people. This matter is critically important and it could prove to be of major economic and social benefit to Bantry and the least the Minister should offer to do is meet the Bantry Bay harbour commissioners to discuss it. Most people are reasonable. If everyone sat down around a table and discussed the circumstances and issues at hand, a consensus might be reached. At the very least, however, such a meeting would involve consultation. The Minister could indicate to the people of Bantry what it is intended to do and ask if they have any recommendations.
I am not happy with what has happened to date. I am most disappointed that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, gave commitments to Bantry Bay harbour commissioners and did not follow through on them. The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, did not introduce the legislation or provide commitments. However, he is obliged to deal with this part of the Committee Stage debate. I will be interested to discover whether correspondence has been received from the AMAI or the ACCC.
Senator Maurice Cummins Senator Maurice Cummins
Senator Maurice Cummins: This amendment was tabled in order that we might deal with the lack of consultation that has been associated with the Bill from the outset. This is a cause of great concern not only to the people of Bantry and Fenit but also to local representatives and Oireachtas Members. Two Members of the Dáil, Deputy P. J. Sheehan and Deputy Jim O’Keeffe, are champing at the bit to deal with this legislation when it goes to the Dáil. I respect the bona fides of the sentiments expressed by Senator O’Donovan in this regard and on the issue of lack of consultation. For goodness sake, if a Minister introduces a Bill without consultation with the parties involved, he should know he will run into trouble with this attitude. I am not referring to the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern. The senior Minister has not lived up to his responsibilities where consultation is concerned. This appears to be an operation by diktat rather than through consultation.
Senator McCarthy referred to correspondence from the Association of County and City Councils. I received correspondence yesterday relating to the issue I addressed in depth last week, that is, the proposal to reduce the number of local authority members from three to a possibility of one and possibly abolish local authority membership, as a result of the report of some experts in this area. Again, consultation is the key word and there was no consultation with anybody in that regard, be it the Association of County and City Councils or the other association representing local authority members.
I commend Senator Donohoe on putting forward this amendment. Even if it is not accepted by the Minister, it is important that the issue of lack of consultation about this Bill is discussed. Certainly, Senator O’Donovan has given the matter a good airing over the past hour or so and I am sure he has more to say. I now know more about Bantry Bay and harbour than about all the bays and inlets around the coastline. I thank Senator O’Donovan for that information and his expertise on the subject.
This amendment was put down to highlight the lack of consultation by the Minister. The Minister is including flexibility in the legislation to provide for the transfer of small harbours to the control of either the local authority or the local port companies. One cannot impose flexibility; it is earned after consultation. The Minister is remiss in this area and the lack of consultation will get a considerably greater airing. However, he should be afforded the opportunity of replying to the amendment and the many points raised in the past hour or so on this matter.
Deputy Noel Ahern Deputy Noel Ahern
Deputy Noel Ahern: Section 18 provides an enabling power for a ministerial order to be made which could permit the transfer of responsibility for Bantry Bay to the port of Cork and the transfer of responsibility for Tralee and Fenit harbours to the Shannon Foynes company. The amendment seeks to insert a provision to ensure that any ministerial order relating to Bantry or Tralee must be subject to public consultation and would have regard to that consultation.
The proposal is to include an enabling provision. The proposal to do that has been the subject of extensive and lengthy consultation over almost ten years. As I mentioned on the last occasion, a review of the State’s regional harbours in 1999 proposed, with regard to Bantry and Tralee, that a merger with a relevant port company should be explored to maximise the commercial potential at each harbour. The 1999 report was the subject of an extensive local, regional and national consultative process. Following that there was a high level review of the State’s commercial ports which was published in 2003. That also proposed that a merger between these two harbours and a relevant port company would best suit their continued development. The high level review was also subject to an extensive and wide ranging consultative process. All this fed into the development of the Government’s ports policy statement which was published in 2005.
It is clear that the proposals in regard to Bantry and Tralee have already been subject to consultation at all levels. Their inclusion in the Bill is not an attempt to force any type of shotgun wedding on the two harbours. It is the logical conclusion to a consultative process which has taken place over eight or ten years. That has been recognised by people on the ground. In the 2006 annual report of Bantry Harbour commissioners the chairman said that once the due diligence report was completed the commissioners should take the opportunity to discuss the matter of amalgamation further. That is the current position. Nobody has back-tracked on any commitment given in a letter. The situation is clear.
This is an enabling provision, although Members seem to avoid this issue almost immediately. It deals with something that could happen. Obviously, prior to such an order being made it would be common sense that further consultation with local interest groups would take place. That could include the various bodies that were mentioned during the debate, such as the county council, town council, inland fisheries, islanders, fishermen and everybody up to Uncle Tom Cobley. The question is about the consultation that was always promised. I am saying it is common sense that it would take place. I fully accept that it would be very foolish to do something without consultation. The question is whether Members accept that guarantee or wish to see it formalised in some way or other.
The crucial issue is that this is enabling legislation. At present, there are a couple of options that can be taken with regard to the harbour commissioners. The legislation is just broadening the options. Only one option would be taken. One could establish a private company in respect of any of these harbours or transfer control of them to the relevant port company or local authority. The ports policy statement indicated that the continued operation of the country’s regional harbours, under the 1946 Act, is not really sustainable into the future and it is a case of trying to handle that.
The 1996 Act provides for the transfer of regional harbours to local authority control by means of a ministerial order. In response to a question from Senator O’Donovan, that could have been done at any time since 1996. However, it would not have been done on the stroke of a pen. The enabling power has been there to transfer any of the harbours to a local authority or to set up a private company, as has been done in several cases. In any of the cases where it has been done, however, it was not done at the stroke of a pen. While the legislation may allow it to be done at the stroke of a pen, one has ample consultation with all relevant parties before it is done. Just because one has the power does not mean one exercises that power willy nilly. Common sense comes into it, apart from what is contained in the legislation.
The Harbours Act 1996 was subject to a wide-ranging and extensive consultation process. It is important to note that any transfer made under that Act has been subject to wide-ranging consultation with all the relevant parties and different models have emerged. Among the harbours that have been transferred, Sligo Harbour is one of those located in a large population centre. In that case, the commissioners who were in place prior to transfer and a committee of interested parties is still liaising with the county council and has an input on relevant issues. It was not a case of abolishing a board and not taking its views into account on an ongoing basis. Different models can emerge from the consultation process whereby local interest groups can agree to have an input, not under the original legislation but as part of whatever is agreed. That is what the consultation process is all about. One cannot provide for all that in legislation because different models emerge in different places based on specific circumstances and needs. The 1996 Act also provides for the establishment of a private company in respect of the regional harbours, although that clause has never been utilised anywhere.
It is true that the Department previously indicated to Bantry Bay commissioners that further consultation would take place between all sides upon completion of the due diligence process by the harbour commissioners. I listened with interest to the commitments referred to by the Senator and the letters he read out, but it was widely known that all the consultations were due to take place after the due diligence process had been completed. That process has not been completed yet, although all parties are doing their best in that regard. The foreshore issue has been successfully addressed and the due diligence report will be completed very soon.
The Senator may argue that the consultation process to which I referred was high level stuff related to overall policy, but it was always intended that the specific issues relating to the Bantry transfer, how it would be handled and managed and the processes and procedures that would be adopted to implement the dream into the future, would have to be agreed between the parties. That is common sense and that remains the position. All the necessary consultation will take place.
This Bill simply includes an additional enabling provision to add to the other enabling provision in the 1996 Act that could have been used any time in the past 12 years. Bantry Bay could have been transferred to the local authority, although not at the stroke of a pen, as Senator O’Donovan suggested. Some harbours have been transferred to local authority control under the 1996 Act.
The position is that when the due diligence report is completed the consultation process will begin. It is wrong to suggest that there has been no contact between the Bantry Bay Harbour commissioners and the Department. Meetings take place on an ongoing basis to deal with various matters, including day-to-day issues such as the remedial works and so forth. Formal discussion and consultation has not taken place because the due diligence report has not been finalised. However, all the consultation required is bound to take place.
To return to the amendment, it is a case of Senators either accepting that this is the way things are and that common sense dictates that consultation will take place or formalising it in the Bill. If the Senators wish to formalise the process in the Bill, I am prepared to consider that. I would have to examine the wording and speak to the Parliamentary Counsel on the issue, but if Senators want the process to be formalised, we can consider that. Consultations were always going to happen. I have not been there for the history of 50 years of trust or mistrust and must accept what others say in that regard. However, if Senators want the process to be formalised, I am prepared to look at that in principle. The amendment proposes to lay down in legislation that there be a formal consultation process prior to any transfer, whether it be to the local authority or the port of Cork. In such a formal process, everybody can have their say, including Whiddy Islanders, fishermen, inland fisheries representatives, town commissioners, county councillors and so forth. Everyone can have an input, whether through formal submissions or round table discussions. I am prepared to accept the principle of the amendment tabled and to revert to Senators at a later date on the matter.
I stress again that the necessary consultation would always have taken place. Senators O’Donovan and McCarthy spoke about the hopes, aspirations and dreams of the people of the Bantry Bay area. We would all like to see those dreams materialise but it is a question of how we help areas such as Bantry to realise their full potential. We must determine how best to give a small harbour board, like the one in Bantry, the management expertise to develop the facility.
There has been no back-tracking and no withdrawal of a commitment given. Senators referred to other harbours in the same area, including Baltimore and Kinsale. It is proposed that they too will eventually be transferred to the local authority after local consultations. A number of other harbours will also be transferred. I signed an order a number of weeks ago for Moy Harbour near Ballina to be transferred to the control of the local authority. There was ample consultation involving different interest groups, some of which are bigger than others. This happened with several groups and the transfer process is ongoing. It applies whether harbours deal with a level of commercial freight such as the harbours at Bantry and Fenit. The suggestion in the policy document was to transfer control of the harbours to a port company. Another suggestion was to put them under the aegis of the local authority. There will be no lack of consultation. All commitments given relating to consultation would have been realised after due diligence was carried out. This legislation serves to add another option or enabling provision, which is merely another choice. The proposed change could happen subject to other types of consultation, but it adds to the option that has been in place since 1996. There is nothing bigger or stronger than that and all consultation would take place anyway.
I revert to the amendment under discussion. I accept the principle that the consultation process should be specified in legislation and am prepared to return next time with an amendment to take account of it. However, consultation would always have taken place and would always have been sufficient. No one can foresee how many different groups will have an interest in a given matter. I have heard it suggested that different groups may seek the option to make a submission, but I cannot force people to do so or to raise the matter. I am aware of the suggestions made and it seems right and proper that the opportunity is provided to any of those local groups who seek to make a submission, which would have happened. It happened in cases where other harbours transferred to the local authority without consultation having a statutory basis. The amendment specifies a statutory basis for consultation and I am prepared to examine this and revert to the House. I am not against the idea in principle.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I understand the comments of the Minister of State, Deputy Ahern, and I am glad of his response. However, it is like the tale, The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Eventually people are asleep when the wolf comes and then the sheep are gone. The Minister of State referred in his response to the 1999 report, A Review of State Regional Ports and Harbours, also known as the KPMG report. There was another report, namely, the Baxter Eadie study, which specifically mentions the harbours at Cork and Bantry. I do not doubt these reports were produced. The Minister of State maintains these reports refer to maximising the potential of Bantry. I do not doubt the veracity of his comments on consultation.
I do not mean to be jocose but let us consider a sporting phenomenon, for example, the County Carlow hurling team. It aspires to win the All-Ireland hurling final, but the reality is different. This is why I refer to the matter of consultation. This has been ongoing for 40 years and nothing has happened. I do not care who was in Government, whether it was Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party or whoever.
Before his assassination, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his dream. Perhaps, the President-elect of the USA will now realise that dream. There has been a dream in Bantry for 40 years. We suffered devastating commercial, financial and human loss following the disaster in 1979. Everyone came together and agreed what would be done. Two changes were requested ad nauseam in Bantry, namely, the extension of the pier and dredging, neither of which happened. The Minister of State asks us to accept another layer of enabling bureaucracy. I do not trust any enabling legislation, and I have historical reasons for this position. When the Whiddy Island disaster occurred, a first cousin of mine and two of my school classmates died in the tragedy. Two family members were working that night and I went in the middle of the night to see if they were okay. We can never forget those events. People fled from the island. The commercial devastation, the loss of jobs and the pall that hung over Bantry and the surrounding area for days, weeks and months afterward was appalling.
There followed the famous package, which is the reason I refer to the matter of consultation. The former Tánaiste, Mr. Dick Spring, and several others arrived in the West Lodge Hotel, Bantry, in 1985, or perhaps 1986. The Bantry package, including money provided to Bantry, was announced. Some of it was allocated to sports and other matters that had nothing to do with the people in Bantry, especially those who lost their jobs such as the tug men, the fishermen, and the local 70 or 80 men with families to support. What did they get from the package? This is why I refer to the lack of consultation. Earlier, I referred to commitments to spend €1 million or €2 million. Two simple measures were promised for Bantry — I attended the press conference in 1986 — and I am not having a cut at Mr. Dick Spring as that was the political decision on the matter and he was in Government at the time. I praised the former Deputy, Mr. Peter Barry, for his efforts. However, those commitments were not honoured.
There may be a consultation process, but Cork County Council wants nothing to do with us because there is a plan to extend the pier, so that a person from Whiddy Island with access rights to access the town can travel in all tides. There have been several tragedies in the inner harbour. People close to my heart were lost there. We set up an inshore rescue boat with local fund-raising and with little help from the Government or other sources. One man’s boat capsized, he swam many hours and, unfortunately, could not climb the wall. I could name 20 young men who were lost at Whiddy Island. These were tragedies. However, I can see those remaining on the island still go to mass on Sunday morning or come and go from the town. I know of one man born there and he was so in love with the island that he returned there with his young children. They are great little hurlers. Mr. Mark Foley trains the young lads in Bantry. They play sports and must come and go several times each week. However, at certain times, depending on the tides, they cannot land at the pier. I will read the whole report from Mr. Justice Declan Costello, maybe not today put perhaps the next time. This paper in my hands is only an extract from it. The report runs to 400 pages with comments on Bantry, Whiddy Island and so on.
I do not trust the assertion that this is enabling legislation and that there will be consultation after the event. I maintain consultation should take place now. Why was there not consultation previously? If the messages and the yearnings of the people of Bantry and the surrounding area was listened to back in the 1980s, the pier could have been upgraded and the dredging carried out for possibly less than £1 million.
I arranged for Ministers to visit the area and examine the situation, including the former Tánaiste, Mr. John Wilson, God be good to him. Hydrographic surveys were carried out. We have so many reports and surveys at this stage that I could fill a double axle wheelbarrow with them all and not be able to get into the House. I have in my hands only a synopsis of one but I have several with me. It might be only a small one but wait until I start reading it into the record. These are all related to the Bill and the report. I do not doubt the veracity of the Minister of State but this matter must be revisited apart from any commitment to consultation.
Why must we go down this road? Why not leave well enough alone? What is happening at departmental and governmental level with regard to Bantry is such that for the first time in my political and actual lifetime, we are making progress. We have plans that can be realised. If the situation is not broken, then why fix it? No one on Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners or the town council is asking the Minister for Transport to proceed with the enabling legislation. When the enabling legislation is in force, we will consult. Let us say that the consultations with the fishermen——
Deputy Noel Ahern Deputy Noel Ahern
Deputy Noel Ahern: The Senator is going back over the whole thing. We cannot go around in circles.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I am not. With all due respect, I am responding——
Deputy Noel Ahern Deputy Noel Ahern
Deputy Noel Ahern: Does the Senator want me to withdraw the offer on that specific amendment?
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
 Senator Denis O’Donovan: I am speaking on amendment No. 7, which deals with consultation.
Deputy Noel Ahern Deputy Noel Ahern
Deputy Noel Ahern: If the offer is no good, I should withdraw it.
Senator John Paul Phelan Senator John Paul Phelan
Senator John Paul Phelan: The offer is acceptable to the Opposition.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: If that is the pressure being put on me, I have another way out of it by calling a vote and then taking a stance. However, I gave a commitment yesterday that I would not do that today. The Minister of State should not tempt fate because I feel very strongly about this. I will not be silenced, a Chathaoirligh, with all due respect. I am responding to the points made by the Minister of State, with which I do not agree. I do not doubt his sincerity.
Why did the Government not wait to publish this Bill until the due diligence report was complete? I believe the report has virtually been completed anyway. Part of the delay in the report was due to work done in good faith. If the Bantry Harbour commissioners wanted to be flippant and refuse to get involved, they could have done so, but they still got involved. The situation regarding the foreshore rights was held up due to legal reasons. That registration of title is now complete and has been communicated to the Department. The Port of Cork Company is aware of this. We are now discussing the issue of due diligence, whereas I had only spoken of the consultation issue, so I am not repeating myself. The due diligence report was raised by the Minister of State. If due diligence is pivotal to section 7 of the Bill and to the purpose of forcing Bantry into a marriage of convenience with the Port of Cork Company, let us talk about it now.
We are being blamed for the delay of due diligence, but why should we not let the process take place? If we are that close to its completion, we should look at what it will deliver. The due diligence report is an engagement between the Port of Cork Company and Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners to find some common ground on certain issues. We are not at war with the Port of Cork Company. We do not want to go to war with the Minister of State or the Department. I can quote monetary commitments that were given to Bantry that were not honoured, for whatever reason. I have no problem with due diligence, but this Bill should not take priority before the due diligence report is complete. That is wrong. Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners were asked three years ago to go ahead with due diligence, and that is more or less complete.
Senator McCarthy read out a letter of 9 May 2007. The final paragraph states: “An early meeting between the Commissioners and the Department would facilitate the process, and we would be happy to arrange such a meeting.” However, I have been told that such a meeting did not take place. Yet we are being asked to trust a Department when in my lifetime we have only seen neglect in the inner harbour of Bantry. The dredging of the inner harbour and the extension of the pier are very important. Bantry has no potential without either of those developments, even though the Minister of State spoke about maximising the harbour’s potential. Neither of these developments has been dealt with in the past 30 or 40 years.
The letter I read out referred to Mr. Bill O’Donnell and his dream, but sometimes dreams must become a reality. We have been fobbed off too many times about commitments and reports. Some of the reports date from the 1980s or early 1990s, when the board in Bantry had no teeth. If the board in Bantry can be taken over by the stroke of a pen, I must speak on this issue. The Minister of State spoke about consultation after the Bill is passed and said that he might give a commitment that something will happen. What if the consultation is not to the liking of one party or the other? It is incumbent on the Minister to make a decision, whether we like it.
If due diligence was that important, why is section 18 of the Bill not excluded? It could be brought in again. The positions of the commissioners in Bantry are up for review in October 2009. The next review will be five years later. Why do we not let things stand until 2014 and let us work through what has started in Bantry? I know the public is sceptical about the whole thing.
I would like to read into the record a couple of paragraphs of the Costello report. Judge Costello was an eminent judge who compiled a report of the Whiddy Island disaster in 1979. In his report, he referred to what went on at the harbour board. To ignore the Costello report would be to ignore one of the finest reports arising from a tribunal set up by the Oireachtas. There were two tribunals of inquiry that justified their status. One of them was the report on the Whiddy disaster, while the other was the report on the Stardust tragedy, in which there was major loss of life. The introduction to the Costello report states:
The Resolutions passed by the two Houses of the Oireachtas directed this tribunal to make “such recommendations (if any) as the Tribunal, having regard to its findings, thinks proper”.
The Tribunal is conscious that a number of the recommendations which follow are not within the competence of the Irish Government or Parliament to implement. Their implementation would depend on action taken by authorities in other states. There are, however, a number of international organisations which are concerned specifically with tanker safety and safety at oil terminals, such as IMCO, the International Chamber of Shipping, the Oil Companies International Marine Forum and the International Association of Classification Societies. It is recommended that, if these recommendations are found to be acceptable by the Government, it should invite the appropriate international organisation to consider them with a view to assisting in their implementation. [That is because 50 lives were lost.]
Assistance might also be sought from the appropriate institutions of the European Economic Community. Some of the recommendations which follow, if found to be acceptable, can be implemented by means of regulations under the Dangerous Substances Act 1972.
It was submitted by counsel instructed on behalf of the Attorney General [on behalf of this State at that time] that the adequacy or otherwise of the Dangerous Substances (Oil Jetties) Regulations 1979, did not form part of the considerations of the inquiry being undertaken by the tribunal because the resolutions passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas referred to the establishment of a tribunal which would inquire, inter alia, into “measures, and their adequacy, taken on or before the 8th January, 1979”. As the 1979 regulations came into force after that date it was submitted that their “adequacy” could not be considered by the tribunal.
The tribunal considers that as it can make any recommendations which it thinks fit having regard to its findings, it has power to make recommendations on means of strengthening the statutory control and supervision of oil terminals, even if such recommendations will involve the amendment and extension of the 1979 regulations. The tribunal did not understand counsel for the Attorney General to submit otherwise.
That is just the preamble, but there is a lot more. The Costello report compelled the then Government to act on Bantry Harbour because before that it was a free for all. They set up the original harbour which is now subject to being disbanded. I referred earlier to access to Whiddy Island in the event of a fire. It is currently under the control of the harbour board in Bantry.
Sub-paragraph 37 of chapter 23 of the Costello report states: “For the purposes of fighting fire, Whiddy Island when, or if, re-opened [it has reopened, but was closed for many years after the disaster] as an oil terminal [which it is] should be completely self-sufficient, with a back-up from the mainland only for medical treatment of injuries.” The phrase “with a back-up from the mainland” is not adequate because of the onshore facilities. Sub-paragraph 43 states:
Regular inspections of oil terminals, at least on an annual basis, should be carried out by the responsible State authority. [I am not sure if that is the Department]. Inspectors and surveyors should be properly experienced and trained. As appears in the next paragraph they should be supplemented by outside expert consultants.
This is critical, as the most important facility in Bantry Bay is the oil terminal. This is a report by an eminent judge of a tribunal established by the Oireachtas in 1979.
Sub-paragraph 44 states:
The present situation in law is that responsibility for supervising and inspecting different aspects of the safety of oil jetties is vested in different State authorities, namely, harbour authorities, fire brigade authorities, planning authorities and Government Departments. [It was all over the shop]. This division of responsibility can easily lead to confusion — a point that was alluded to in a closing submission made to the tribunal. The present situation is an undesirable one and could lead to inadequate standards of inspection. The tribunal considers that a single State authority should be responsible for licensing oil jetties throughout the country, and that this single authority should likewise be responsible for the regular inspection of all oil jetties. It is recommended that the single State authority be a Government Department.
I accept that much progress has been made since then, but it is still a foundation stone. The Costello report on the disaster of 8 January 1979 continues, in sub-paragraph 44, as follows:
This recommendation is made not merely to avoid the possible confusion that can arise under a system of divided responsibility. [I am worried that the responsibilities are still somewhat divided]. To ensure that proper standards of safety are maintained, experts in different specialties (such as explosive substances, electrical engineering, and tanker operations) must be employed to carry out regular inspections. Harbour authorities and other local authorities would not have such experts in their regular employment and would have to employ outside consultants if they had legal responsibility for regular surveys of jetties in their functional areas. This could result in different standards being employed in different parts of the country — an eventuality which could be avoided if a single Government Department was responsible for inspecting all aspects of all jetties throughout the country. A centralised system would have the further advantage in that it would, in time, build up a body of expertise, a development which would undoubtedly help in maintaining high standards of inspection. It should be recognised that highly specialist knowledge and experience is required to ensure the maintenance of proper standards of safety, and outside consultants should be employed by the responsible Government Department both in the preparation and up-dating of statutory regulations and in specialist aspects of the Department’s supervisory functions.
The Minister of State might confirm that in his reply, although I acknowledge that a lot has happened since then. Sub-paragraph 45 of the Costello report states: “Legislation should be enacted to change the present anomalous situation under which planning authorities and fire brigade authorities have no jurisdiction over oil jetties if they are situated in the sea beyond the low water mark.” There is a lot more in the Costello report, but I do not have time to go into it today. In essence, however, Judge Costello said one of the main reasons for the 1979 disaster was a lack of coherence and responsibility as regards what happened in Bantry.
Arising from that report, the Bantry Harbour Board was set up under the old 1946 Act, but what has moved on since then? The 30th anniversary of the tragedy will be marked on 8 January 2009. We may talk about due diligence and consultation but, as of today, the onshore facilities at Bantry Harbour have not moved on. People may criticise me on that, but as somebody who lives there, I am afraid that if there were another such disaster, while we may be more professional and advanced in technology, the necessary infrastructure to take a fire tender or ambulance there is still lacking. The Act states that such facilities should be on the island, but there is more to Whiddy Island than the terminal.
The Minister of State may say that has nothing to do with this section of the Bill, but he referred to the potential of Bantry. That has been talked about for 40 years, yet I am not satisfied that this Bill will advance that potential in any way. I respect the Minister of State’s view that we will examine the area of consultation, but I may have to revert to this matter again. My simple argument is that the consultation should have occurred by now. There have been numerous reports in the past ten years, but more could have been achieved by proper consultation between Bantry Harbour Board, Cork County Council and the Cork Port Authority. Such a meeting could have thrashed out matters and subsequently set down due diligence prior to the introduction of this Bill. We could then see some realism in it, but as of now it is like saying a novena to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases. We might get there some day, but I will probably be in my grave.
Senator John Paul Phelan Senator John Paul Phelan
Senator John Paul Phelan: I compliment Senator O’Donovan on his contributions to date, which reveal his obvious passion for this subject. I would like to explore further what the Minister of State said in his response. I agree with Senator O’Donovan with regard to due diligence, to which the Minister of State referred. It seems the section, if not the entire Bill, could have been postponed for a brief period if the completion of due diligence between Cork Port and the Bantry Harbour Commissioners is so near to completion. I do not see why it could not have been accommodated. Be that as it may, the Minister of State in his reply said he was prepared to insert the consultation process formally into the text of the Bill. I ask for a direct answer from him to know if I am correct in this assumption and that he intends submitting amendments on Report Stage to that effect. If this is the case, I would be more than happy to withdraw the amendment at this stage if he proposes to bring forward alternative Government amendments on Report Stage.
Deputy Noel Ahern Deputy Noel Ahern
Deputy Noel Ahern: I reiterate there was always going to be consultation, as has been the case with other harbours which have transferred to local authorities. Any of the commitments given previously would have been confirmed but in line with the idea behind the amendment, I hope to table amendments on Report Stage. I will need to consult the Parliamentary Counsel but it is my intention to table an amendment which will give legislative back-up to a consultation process. I accept the principle of the Senator’s suggestion.
I do not believe we should be too prescriptive about these matters after that. There has been ample consultation in the case of the other harbours which have transferred to local authorities and everybody with a view has had ample opportunity to express those views and to come to some agreement. For instance, Sligo has an advisory group in place which is more or less the old harbour commissioners and that role is still being fulfilled in a different way. I will bring forward an amendment which accepts that principle and which formalises or gives legislative weight to a consultation process.
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I will take what the Minister of State says in good faith. We are talking about a horse of a different colour. The Department’s ports policy statement was published in 2005. The harbours listed are: Annagassan Harbour, Arklow Harbour, Baltimore and Skibbereen Harbour, Kinsale Harbour, the River Moy Harbour, to which the Minister of State referred and which is under way, Sligo Harbour, Westport Harbour, Wexford Harbour, Youghal, Kilrush, Tralee and Fenit and Bantry. I cannot say for definite that all of these harbours are in the same situation but subject to correction, I believe that the Kinsale Harbour Commissioners — perhaps not all the members — and Baltimore are, by and large, accepting their fate that they will be taken over by Cork County Council. They are not being totally isolated because they will have representation. The Kinsale area is represented by a number of councillors from all parties, as are the Skibbereen and Baltimore areas.
However, Bantry is different in many respects because Bantry Harbour is unique. I may have been wrong at the time but a vote was taken a few years ago and I was one of three who suggested that we should consider exploring the possibilities with Cork County Council. I cannot speak for Fenit in that regard but I know there were historic issues with Sligo to do with relocation and there was a lot of consultation. I do not see any other Member from Sligo or from other areas coming in to this House with the same agenda that I have with regard to consultation because Bantry is unique.
With all due respect to the Minister of State, we are putting the cart before the horse. I am fairly satisfied that with regard to the harbours I listed, there is probably a desire on the part of the local ports to say they are currently in limbo. I know there is frustration in Baltimore and some frustration in Kinsale and, therefore, under Cork County Council they would find a home where they could move forward together because sometimes these ports are somewhat isolated. Bantry is unique because of its set-up and because of the business we transact. Bantry Harbour and Bantry Bay cannot be compared with any other location in Ireland. We are the second finest bay — not fjord — in the world. The other one is in South America. One cannot put the River Moy Harbour and Baltimore in the same category.
I again implore the Minister of State to stand back from this precipice. He is talking about consultation but I would prefer to have the consultation first and postpone the legislation or this aspect of the legislation affecting Bantry. I am not speaking for the other ports. I am making a specific case for Bantry. I have grave reservations and doubts that consultation, which I consider to be after the event, will be effective.
Nobody knows more than me the intricacies within Bantry. Whoever is responsible in future will encounter it. When proposals were put forward to extend Bantry pier and to carry out dredging, there were issues concerning inshore fishermen. They have traditional historic rights going back for 300 years to mend their nets on certain parts of the quays and these were respected by the courts. These rights cannot be ignored. All we need is one guy to come along and say he mends his nets at a certain place once a year. These rights are unique to Bantry.
I may not have made this point earlier about the complexities of the inner harbour in Bantry where many of the moorings are controlled by the harbour master and these are for small yachts and pleasure boats. He will probably kill me for saying this but it is controlled in a higgedly piggedly fashion because one just puts down an anchor to moor. There are so many wheels within wheels in regard to Bantry and the inner harbour that, with all due respect, it cannot be compared with places like the River Moy Harbour and other harbours. I am subject to correction but in many of these cases they are so isolated that they would probably be glad to come under the umbrella of the local authority. Bantry should be given unique attention because it is unique. It has its difficulties as well as its salient features. It has its adversities as well as its assets of geographic location and other tangible assets. When we come back on Report Stage, the Minister of State might, subject to consultation with the draftsmen, consider what will become, in the short to medium term, of the railway pier, the dredging, the extension to the existing pier owned by Cork County Council, support for the mussel industry and the ongoing support for Whiddy Island?
I will not list the other harbours on the list but Bantry Bay is in many ways unique and, while it is beautiful, its situation is complex. I am seriously concerned. When will due diligence be complete? I thought it was complete and would like to know from the Minister of State whether it will be complete before January. I would have been happier if this had been done first and if the consultation with the various groups had happened before now. Certainty should be given so we know if the date for the hand-over to Cork Port or Cork County Council is 2010, 2015 or 2017, if it is to occur. There is much uncertainty. I am speaking for the people I represent, who are deeply concerned that I make my viewpoint known.
There are a number of issues I still want to address in detail. I compliment the Minister and the Department. The slipway on Whiddy Island has been completed, which should have been done years ago and was one of the recommendations in the Costello report. This might be hard on the Minister but I compliment him on that completion. If I am correct — the Minister of State might address this point — the contract for the corresponding slipway on the mainland at the abbey is due to be signed shortly. This would ease my mind greatly with regard to access to and from Whiddy in the event of an oil industry disaster and it would also allow a farmer to take off a lorry load of sheep or cattle, which would be another important feature. The Department has been working closely with the harbour board in progressing these issues, which is a step in the right direction.
Reference is made to the future of Bantry, on which there is an issue I cannot ignore. When the debate resumes the Minister of State might confirm where is the €1.9 million which was committed in 2000 and recommitted in May 2002. I do not want to blame the Minister of State and I want to be fair in my comments. The funding was committed in good faith at that time and this commitment was received with great aplomb. However, the necessary planning was apparently not in place and the harbour board, against my judgment at the time, went off on a different tangent and decided to build another pier out from the railway pier, which has since been abandoned.
These moneys have been discussed. Perhaps we could get commitments that the pier extension and the dredging will be progressed one way or other. While I do not want an answer today, perhaps the Minister of State will confirm that the €3 million allocated by the then Minister for Finance in May 2002 is in place and is being progressed. Will he explain in whose control is the foreshore on Whiddy Island? What will become of the railway pier? Will it be used as part of the process of dredging whereby it and its surrounding area will be affected? I am deeply concerned about these issues.
My colleague, Senator Ned O’Sullivan, wishes to address this amendment and, as the adjournment of the debate is drawing nigh, I will allow him in. However, with all due respect, this issue needs more than revisiting. I want it put back until due diligence is complete. Let those aspects be dealt with first and this area could possibly then be revisited.
The burnt child dreads the fire and the people of Bantry have been burned so many times, although I am not suggesting it is the Minister of State’s fault. I could write a book. I am passionate about this because my father and forefathers fished in Bantry Bay going back to the times before the Famine. Close associates of mine were lost in the bay, whether fishing or in other ways. For 40 years others in different parties, and I in my 25 years in public life, have failed, so it is difficult to say “Live horse and you will get grass” because the horse will be a bag of bones by the time we get the grass.
Senator Ned O’Sullivan Senator Ned O’Sullivan
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: I am slow to intervene because it is clear Senator O’Donovan will have a great deal more to say on this in the coming days and possibly weeks. I want to refer to the situation in Fenit for fear that our silence in that respect indicates that we are happy in Kerry. I share the views of Senator O’Donovan in all he has said in regard to Bantry, particularly with regard to prior consultation. Neither of the two ports that it is envisaged will merge, Fenit Port and Shannon-Foynes Port, the board of which I was director for 16 years, asked for this marriage and neither welcomes it. I was contacted as late as two hours ago by the chairman and directors of the board of Fenit Port, whom we will meet very soon in Leinster House.
I can speak authoritatively about Shannon-Foynes because I was a director when this proposal was first put to us. Struggling as we were with very serious difficulties on that port, with which I am sure the Minister of State and his Department will be aware — matters of a legal and human resources nature — and at the same time trying to focus on being one of the biggest bulk handling ports in Europe with all the attendant problems, we were aghast to be asked to consider running a port which was entirely different from our operation.
Shannon-Foynes Port and Fenit Port are in no way homogenous. The Fenit operation is almost entirely based on fishing or leisure craft. There is one niche industrial client, Liebherr Container Cranes of Killarney, which has a long association with Fenit and has a rapport with the directors of the board. It is more than business, it is personal and almost family. The Liebherr family have been exceptionally good to Kerry down through the years. Were the future of the management of Fenit to be brought into question, I would be very surprised if the Liebherr concern did not look to alternative methods of port use, and the business would not fall to Shannon-Foynes.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Will the Senator report progress?
Senator Ned O’Sullivan Senator Ned O’Sullivan
Senator Ned O’Sullivan: Yes. I thank Senator O’Donovan for allowing me time.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Senator Denis O’Donovan Senator Denis O’Donovan
Senator Denis O’Donovan: At 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 November.
Seanad Éireann 191 Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008: Committee Stage (Resumed).