Thursday, 11 June 1987
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Birmingham: When progress was reported last night we were discussing an amendment in my name which contemplated that before exemptions would be granted the Minister would consult with the relevant trade unions. I indicated then that I would think about this overnight. Having slept soundly on the matter, I am more than ever convinced of the correctness of my position. There are those who will always be of the view that there is somehow or other a tension between the desire to pursue profits and a desire to adhere to the highest possible standards of safety. In general terms that is an erroneous view. From the studies conducted by the Barrington Commission it emerges very clearly that it is an erroneous view. That commission made the point that a progressive employer who is genuinely interested in profits is genuinely interested in adhering to the highest possible safety standards. There are people who see that potential conflict in positions of authority in other jurisdictions and it is not inconceivable that at some stage those may obtain positions of influence in this jurisdiction.
In giving a Second Reading to this Bill the House indicated its belief that the inherently hazardous activity of offshore exploration should be subject to statutory control. What the Minister believes — and I share this belief — is that there is a need for some form of an exemption procedure. We seek a procedure whereby the Minister and future Ministers should  consult the relevant trade unions before exercising that power. In his contribution last night the Minister for Labour said I had spoken in terms of the need to clear things with the trade unions. If he was suggesting that I was contemplating that the unions should have any kind of veto, I most certainly was not: no more than operators should have an automatic right to exemption, the unions should have no possibility whatsoever of being in a position to exercise veto. All I seek is that they should be consulted and their views heard. As people who clearly have a material interest in whether their place of work will be either within the Statute or excluded from the provisions of the Statute by reason of an exemption order, they have something to say. The purpose of my amendment is to give them that opportunity to be heard.
In arguing against the amendment the Minister indicated that there could be occasions where a very urgent request for an exemption would be submitted and that the obligation to consult would make it difficult to respond. I do not know what those circumstances would be. On thinking about it I find it hard to imagine what they might be. In so far as that possibility exists I am perfectly happy that the legislation should cover that and would allow that the Minister in emergency cases would not be obliged to consult.
On a number of occasions last night I asked if the Minister would indicate the nature of the procedure he sees being followed. He did not respond in any detail to this request. If the Minister could indicate the various steps — beginning with the decision taken by an operator somewhere off, say, the Cork coast that he is going to acquire an exemption from some or all of the provisions of the legislation — on how applications will be processed we would be in a position to make progress. There is not a great deal between the Minister and myself in relation to this. We both accept that there is a need for flexibility in an area like this and that certainly there should be no undue bureaucracy. We both accept also that unions have a material interest in  this and, if possible, that is an interest which should be recognised. I repeat my request to the Minister to bring us through the procedures. For example, to whom will the application be made in the first instance? Will it be made to the inspectorate? Is it contemplated that the inspectors would then inspect or would they be able to make a decision from Mespil Road? Will it be made by an individual inspector and passed up the line? Will it in practice, as distinct from a matter of form, be a question of specific ministerial decision? It would be worth knowing how this procedure will be handled.
Mr. P. O'Malley: I should like to reiterate some of the points made by the previous speaker in relation to exemptions. It is important that the procedures whereby exemptions would be granted should be spelt out. There could be some concern on the part of the industry that this might be a bureaucratic and time consuming procedure. It might be very inappropriate that such a procedure should exist when it might be possible within the scope of this Bill to list installations that would be permanently exempted. In this regard I am thinking of offshore installations such as unmanned installations or rigs that have been mothballed or a pipeline. There is a requirement in the Bill that if such an installation is capable of being manned it should in theory have an installation manager assigned to it. Would it be possible to list specific installations that would not have to go through the procedure of seeking exemption because this could be very cumbersome and time consuming? The industry would welcome such an exemption.
Mr. O'Sullivan: I welcome the provision being made for the consultative process. Like Deputy Birmingham, I see the need for consultation. Without repeating what I said on Second Stage I feel that unless there is some means of implementing standards and ensuring that those standards are maintained the purpose of the Bill will be defeated. We  are essentially talking about the safety, health and welfare of workers. While I understand Deputy O'Malley's concern lest the bureaucracy should take over and that this would be a deterrent or an obstacle in the way of the company, the primary function of the legislation is to ensure the safety of the workforce. For that reason consultation alone is not enough. If the unions are not happy with the consultative process and there is conflict, who will arbitrate on the outcome of the negotiations? If consultations break down between the unions and a company who will have to give a decision as to whether an exemption should be granted? My primary concern is that there are operators who would take short cuts in the interests of profit and thereby put their lives at risk.
Minister for Labour (Mr. B. Ahern): Like Deputy Birmingham I have been examining what was said during the course of our discussions yesterday. One point I made yesterday has been brought up again today in the contributions of various Deputies that is, that while we want to make sure that the principle of the Bill — the safety, welfare and health of the workforce — is maintained — we must be realistic. In other words, we must not get into any position of bureaucracy that creates long delays either within the Department, so far as the inspectorate or the Minister are concerned or with the other side, the employers and trade unions. For this reason I argued yesterday that we should have an informal consultative process if the need arises.
The procedure will be that an application in writing for an exemption is sent by the owner to the Department and then passed to the inspectorate for detailed examination. I want to assure the Deputies that an exemption will be granted so that we do not cause undue delay and unfairness and at the same time allow flexibility. The inspectorate will not recommend an exemption if they are not absolutely happy that the safety, health and welfare of the workforce are  ensured. Exemptions will be granted only in cases where the inspectorate are totally happy that there is no alternative but to give an exemption. They should be involved in whatever informal discussions are necessary, whether it be with the owners or with representatives of the workers. The inspectorate, we would all agree, do an excellent job under all the legislation to ensure that the interests of workers are protected. There is no vagueness. I do not think it would be possible, even if the Minister wanted to, to overrule the inspectorate. It would be the recommendation of the inspectorate. If the Minister wished he could perhaps further consider that recommendation but this would be a highly technical area and the power to overrule would not be open to the Minister to use or abuse. I cannot accept Deputy Birmingham's amendment. The process of consultation can be informal to ensure that what Deputy Birmingham is rightly pointing out should be undertaken. At the same time I am noting Deputy O'Malley's points about not getting into undue bureaucratic delays. The section is as it is to allow for the necessary flexibility. I would ask the Deputies to agree to the section.
Mr. Birmingham: The Minister says that in practice this will be a matter for the inspectorate, that one could not imagine their views being overruled by a Minister. I am not really sure that that is right. Any application would involve some obligation to balance interests, to balance potentially conflicting factors. There is no doubt that in an ideal world every installation, however small and however few people are involved for whatever short period, would be subject to the statutory framework that this Bill would be providing. There is an interest  in staying as close to that as possible but there is a legitimate interest also in ensuring that in some cases a degree of flexibility will be present.
When an application becomes live and goes in the first instance to the inspectorate and then to the Minister, the person making the decision at each level will have to review the position and decide where the best balance lies. That is not purely a technical decision. It certainly may require the application of technical expertise, but it may also require judgements that are of a non-technical nature as to how far one is prepared to rely on people's goodwill, to what extent one can allow people to take the short trap and so on. It is in those circumstances that I am anxious that the views of the unions would be heard. The Minister also spoke about the opportunity for informal consultation. Could he say to the House that he will direct the inspectorate, as the people who will be the first line response to any request, that whenever they get a request they should, if feasible, ascertain whether the trade unions have any views to offer on the subject? If so they should take those views into account when coming to a decision. That would go a very long way towards meeting my concerns.
Mr. P. O'Malley: From the time he would receive a formal application for exemption, does the Minister have any time frame in mind in which such an exemption order would then be granted? That could be quite important.
Mr. B. Ahern: I stated yesterday that I thought an essential aspect of the section is that the Minister should be able to respond quickly to requests for any exemption. That was one of the main grounds I gave for wishing the section to be passed as it is. The Deputy will appreciate that if one delays people until the winter they can lose a whole season's work, so the answer to the Deputy's question is as quickly as absolutely possible. There will be a written application to the Minister, the inspection by the inspector,  consultations and discussions and the decision by the Minister.
On Deputy Birmingham's point, the Minister would have the power to overrule the inspectorate but it comes to the circumstances that might arise. Perhaps the granting of a particular exemption miight give rise to concern about the safety, health or welfare of the workers. On that base it would be wrong of the Minister to overrule the specialised and qualified expertise. On Second Stage, a number of questions were asked in this respect and we satisfied ourselves that we have highly qualified people in that area. The Minister would not reasonably be in a position to overrule expertise based on safety. Perhaps there would be some other aspects that could give rise to discussions or an exemption. Of paramount importance would be the safety of the workers; the whole principle of the Bill is the giving of protection to offshore workers.
I assure the House, and Deputy Birmingham in particular, that there would be consultation. Several sections of this Bill are extended to allow for consultation. I am happy that the inspectorate, if not absolutely satisfied but without causing undue delay, would have the necessary consultations. The matter might be very straightforward but urgent and the subject matter might be an offshore installation with which they were very familiar and so on which they would know the precise position. We have, and I hope shall always have, competent inspectorate to regulate our other legislation and that would be the case here. The inspectorate would be requested by the Minister to ensure that consultation was carried out before they finally advised the Minister whether or not to give an exemption. I hope this assurance will go all the way to satisfying the Deputy.
Mr. O'Sullivan: It is Deputy Birmingham's amendment. However, I am not satisfied that it is going far enough. We are told that there will be consultations. There is nothing in the Bill that will ensure adequate protection being afforded to the operator. One can talk until doomsday but unless the inspectorate have the muscle to impose standards it will be all for naught.
Mr. B. Ahern: That is not correct. The inspectorate are the people who would be advising the Minister whether or not to give an exemption. If they, having examined the procedure or the application are not satisfied — being part of the Department of Labour and pro the interests of the workers because the legislation they are given to implement governs the safety and welfare of workers — the exemption will not be granted. They are always careful, as we all know, of the decisions they give. If the owners of the installation cannot get an exemption they are defeated. The power clearly rests with the inspectorate to examine fully the application and if necessary to examine the installation to ensure that they are totally happy about it. The inspectorate have vast powers, through the Minister. While the Minister will give the exemption in writing there will be a responsibility on the inspectorate to ensure that the regulations and conditions are adhered to. What Deputies O'Sullivan and Birmingham are trying to cover is in fact already covered by the section.
Mr. Birmingham: Some of the fears that have been underlining the contributions on my amendment would be met if the Minister, when publishing the annual report of his Department in future years, indicated the number of applications for exemption which were received and the response to them. It would not be necessary to itemise them  one by one but if the Minister indicated the scale of applications which were received it would satisfy some of the fears that there could be wholesale applications which would set the legislation at nought.
This amendment to section 5 (1) (b) is a technical one necessitated by the Government's redistribution of functions between a number of Ministers on taking office in March last. A similar amendment, that is No. 6, is necessary in regard to section 22 (1). The functions described in subsection 1 (b) were previously matters which came within the responsibility of the Minister for Communications and these functions are now shared with the Minister for Tourism and Transport and the Minister for the Marine. The amendment provides that where the Minister for Labour proposes to make regulations relating to the areas described in the subsection he shall be obliged to consult with the Minister for Energy and to seek the concurrence of the Minister for Tourism and Transport, the Minister for the Marine and the Minister for Communications.
“(7) (a) Before making a regulation under this Act, the Minister shall consult such organisations or other bodies of persons representative of employers and such organisations or other bodies of persons representative of Trade Unions as he considers appropriate.”.
Once more, we are back on the subject of consultations and it is only right that I should say that consultation is central to this Bill. If the Bill appears to be of a confused mixed parentage given the number of different Ministers and Attorneys General who have worked on it over the years, they all have accepted that we should seek to operate on the basis of consensus. My amendment seeks to take that proposal a little further. It seeks to require the Minister, before making regulations under the Act, to consult with the organisations which are representative of the employers, the operators and the trade unions. There is nothing radical about that proposal as there are similar obligations in a number of other areas. Maternity protection legislation is one area which comes to mind. Such a process of consultation seems to be inherently appropriate in this case.
While all acknowledge the expertise of the inspectorate, and there is no doubt that they have served the State well over the years, it is the case that exploration in this country is in its infancy and that, by definition, exploitation is at an even earlier stage. We ought to recognise that there may be wider expertise available beyond these shores and we ought to be big enough to recognise that that expertise may be available to the operators as they may have safety experts working for them who would be in a position to comment on the best practices which operate in other jurisdictions. It may be that the trade unions through their international contacts would be in a position to bring particular knowledge and expertise to bear. What I am seeking is to require the Minister before making regulations  to enter a process of consultation.
The legislation as drafted provides for a subsequent period of consultation and for the publication of the intent in Iris Oifigiúil and giving an opportunity for people to have their say then. Once the Minister has committed himself to a course of conduct and once he has stated his intent to act in a particular way he is less likely to respond favourably to views he might hear. Those who are putting forward views at that stage will find themselves, at the very least, with the task of trying to persuade the Minister and his Department to change their minds and positions. What I am trying to do is to bring them in earlier when minds are perhaps more open and when they would be of real assistance.
The wording of the amendment, an amendment, I think, which would find favour with the industry, is borrowed from the Maternity (Protection of Employees) Act. Given that consultation is central to this legislation and that we have accepted that it would be desirable that the area of safety and welfare should be imbued with the spirit of Barrington it is desirable that this amendment be accepted. It is one which the Minister should accept. It contains nothing new or radical and has many parallels in other legislation. What it does is to make meaningful the offer of consultation which is already provided for by the legislation. All the interested parties will be consulted but my concern is that they will not be consulted at the optimum time, perhaps not even at a meaningful time, at a time when their views would be of most use and assistance. What my amendment seeks to do is to give them the opportunity of being heard when minds are still open.
Mr. P. O'Malley: I would like to support the amendment and particularly the point in relation to consultation with the industry. We have no track record of any real consequence in this activity but this is no reflection on the inspectorate. It is merely that we have not been participating in oil or offshore exploration to any great extent for any great length of  time. The industry is an international one and has major experience under its belt. It would be of benefit if the Minister inserted in the Bill a requirement on himself that before introducing regulations he would consult with the industry. I also agree that the trade unions should likewise be consulted. Acceptance of this amendment would give the Bill a better balance and make it more meaningful as the intention of the Bill is to ensure that there will be proper safety regulations in operation on these rigs.
Mr. O'Sullivan: I support the amendment. I go along with what Deputy Birmingham said and I note the emphasis Deputy O'Malley puts on the role of the industry. I accept that the people involved are of international standing. I have a certain bias. I am totally concerned about the welfare of the people working on these rigs in an extremely hazardous situation.
Mr. B. Ahern: I have noted Deputy Birmingham's amendments. The Bill proposed to make regulations with some exceptions with regard to the time within which representations concerning the regulations may be made. It is similar to the provisions in the Mines and Quarries Act, 1975, the Safety in Industry Acts 1955 and 1980 and the Dangerous Substances Act, 1972. This procedure of regulations is considered more suitable for a safety protection measure than consultation at the initial formulation stage. In anticipation of the Bill passing into law that preparation of regulations is already well under way so that the time scale for bringing the Act fully into operation will be as short as possible. Having regard to the hazardous nature of the work connected with offshore installations, there is also the consideration that it is desirable that the procedure for the introduction of new regulations should be required to be expeditious. I have considered the amendment and I am prepared to give an assurance to the employers and the workers' representative bodies that there will be the  fullest consultation with them on an informal basis on the regulations to be made under the Bill in advance of the publication of the regulations. The time provided for is not less than 21 days after the regulations are issued within which representations can be made by interested parties. That is a minimum time which may be increased if the necessity arises. The Deputy's point is valid in that this is a time when the lines are drawn but I give an assurance that consultation will take place before minds are closed.
Mr. Birmingham: I am glad the Minister has acknowledged the point in this amendment and that he has indicated it is a matter of practice that consultations will take place at the first stage. Having done those things the Minister could go on to accept the amendment. In arguing against it the Minister relies on the precedents of the mines and quarries legislation and of the dangerous substances legislation. Both of those measures are measures of some antiquity and there has probably been some movement in thought since then and the fact that I could find this wording in more recent legislation substantiates that. More significantly, in the case of the mines and quarries legislation and the dangerous substances legislation, they both relate to activities which are being carried on here for many years and there is expertise and experience in those fields that has been built up here among the operators, the workers and among those whose task it is to inspect. Here we are talking about something quite different, about an activity which is still very new to our jurisdiction. Many of the things we hope will be policed by this measure have not yet taken place. In those circumstances it is common sense to recognise that the people doing those tasks probably know more about it than any inspector. If one wanted to find someone who was an expert in drillings procedures or anything related one would not go to the Department of Labour inspectorate, however skilled they are, but would go to people who are experienced in this area. There  are such people among the operators and the unions are in a position through the various international bodies to which they are affiliated to bring their experience of what has happened in other jurisdictions to bear on this. Given that the Minister has acknowledged the substance in the amendment, why can he not accept the amendment?
Mr. B. Ahern: The Department of Labour inspectorate is an experienced body and nobody would argue about that. The Deputy has referred, for his case, to employment legislation but in all the safety legislation one will find this type of section. In relation to the Deputy's request for consultation, I am now giving an assurance that informal consultation will take place at the drafting stage of the regulations and then there is a 21-day statutory period during which people can come back and challenge the regulations. That 21 days is not final, it can be increased. There are three opportunities to negotiate and surely that is adequate time. If we build in a further consultative process into the legislation it would delay the process which is already lengthy. There is no question of there being no opportunity to discuss the regulations. I understand and accept the point in the Deputy's amendment that perhaps there should be consultation prior to people closing their minds and prior to the regulations being drafted and being perhaps difficult to change. Having considered his amendment, I am prepared to give an assurance to the employers and workers' representative bodies that there will be the fullest consultation with them on an informal basis on the regulations to be made under the Bill in advance of its publication. I think that satisfies the valid point which the Deputy has made.
Mr. O'Sullivan: Will the Minister comment on the likely effects that this Bill will have on the Safety in Industry Act, 1955, and the updated Act of 1980? Under these Bills prohibition notices can be served by the inspectorate and there is a proviso in the Bills that dangerous activity will have to cease immediately if  the risk of serious injury is considered imminent. That could be said about many of the offshore rigs. What effect will the Bill have on that legislation?
Mr. Birmingham: I do not want to worry away at this like a dog with a bone, but the Minister says that consultation is desirable and there should be the maximum opportunity for consultation. He also says there will be three opportunities for consultation. There will be an opportunity, on foot of his undertaking to the House, for informal consultation at an early stage; there will be the opportunity within 21 days of the publication of the notice of intent to make regulations in Iris Oifigiúil; and if necessary there is the opportunity to pass that on a stage further. He has all but accepted that the most valuable of those opportunities is likely to prove to be the earliest, informal consultation. We might have produced a Bill that said nothing about the obligation to consult and the right to be heard by people likely to be affected by consultations, but we did not do so. We thought it appropriate that there should be reference. If it is appropriate that  there be any reference to the right to be heard and the right to be consulted, then it seems the sensible reference should be that which will be of most use to the people involved, and that is the earliest consultation.
The Minister when he was Government Whip and Opposition Whip won quite a reputation for himself because of the way in which he approached matters in this House in a somewhat non-partisan way, recognising that there was sometimes wisdom to be heard from different sides of the House. I cannot but believe that what I am proposing represents an improvement on the Bill and I ask the Minister to accept it. If he has any problems about the drafting, if he thinks that a more elegant phrasing is possible — I would not be the one to deny that possibility — then by all means let him see to that. If we say there is to be consultation, let us put in what we want to happen.
Mr. B. Ahern: I am repeating myself but the fear would be that to write it into legislation will only extend the period of the consultation process. There is reference in the Bill to the period of 21 days which is a long period if we want to expedite matters and have some speed in the decision, as Deputy O'Malley rightly pointed out. After the regulations are drafted, put forward and issued in Iris Oifigiúil, when all necessary consultation can take place, it is not less than 21 days and that allows for further discussions. I have outlined also that there should be informal discussions. That to a reasonable extent gives the Deputy what he seeks. There are three processes. The informal process will have to be real. The employers and the unions will have to have the fullest consultation on an informal basis. I have no doubt that that would lead to a better regulation. If we got a better regulation at that stage then it might be less likely that there would be debate in the 21-day period or that we would have to extend the 21-day period. There are three fairly lengthy processes that would satisfy the consultation requirement. I do not believe that putting  it into the Bill could lengthen the discussion still further. That point is being put forward and has been considered at some length and it is continually left as it is. I am extending it further from what was in the legislation by giving the commitment to the House that this informal process will have to take place prior to the regulation being issued.
Mr. Birmingham: The Minister's anxiety is that the process should not be unduly prolonged and I understand that. However, before any regulation gets to the stage of appearing in Iris Oifigiúil there would have been a substantial degree of preparation, so I do not see how holding consultations at that stage would prolong the life of the proposed proceedings. All we are seeking is the right for these bodies to be consulted. It is for the Minister to decide that he has heard enough of their views. Neither side of industry is getting a veto, neither side is being allowed to hold things up. I do not believe this is going to prolong proceedings. It is a net issue. I believe this would improve the Bill and I would like to see it incorporated.
Mr. B. Ahern: The Deputy suggested coming up with some other words, but I have to go with the Bill to the Seanad and I have to think further about it. I cannot give a commitment because my advisers feel that the process given in this is quite lengthy and elaborate with the three phases I have outlined. If Deputy Birmingham wishes me to consider any further consultations prior to bringing the Bill to the Seanad I would undertake to look at that. In the meantime I am giving the assurance, following his request, that the informal process which he seeks will now be given. While I cannot agree with the amendment I am giving the assurance he seeks. I will consider it further.
In the north Dublin expression, I made a dog's dinner of this amendment and I would be the first to admit that if it was passed in its present form it would not improve the Bill. However, I hope my intentions are clear. I am pleased to see that the amendment immediately following which the Minister is moving goes a substantial distance along the road I was trying to go and would not have reached with my amendment.
Mr. Birmingham: No, what I would prefer to do is amend my amendment, if I had that permission. Let me just make the point very briefly that what is involved in both this amendment and the subsequent one is the extent, if any, to which the consultation procedure we have just been talking about is delimited. At present subsection (b) excludes from even the limited consultation procedure the publication in Iris Oifigiúil of a series of measures. What my amendment sought to do — but which I accept would not have achieved — was to get rid of all those exclusions and simply to say that whenever one was providing for regulations one consulted. In a Bill of this fundamental importance I thought it was not appropriate to start knocking things out and saying: consult generally but not in these cases. What the Minister has done is reduce the number of cases in respect of which it will not be necessary  to consult. That represents sizeable progress. If I have the permission of the House I will withdraw my amendment.
Section 5(7)(a) provides that, with the exceptions set out in section 5 (7) (b) the Minister for Labour shall, before making regulations, publish in Iris Oifigiúil and in such other manner as he thinks desirable notice of the proposal to make the regulations and of the place where copies of a draft of the regulations may be obtained. Interested parties then have 21 days to make representations about the content of the regulations.
I have examined the list of provisions in section 5 (7) (b) which are excluded from this publication process. I propose to restore to the process regulations to be made under sections 11 (1), 12 (1), 13 (5) (b), 17 (2) and 29. These provisions cover the qualifications of installation managers and their deputies, log book entries and prescribed diseases. These are matters in respect of which interested parties should have an opportunity of putting forward their views. The amendment provides accordingly.
This section deals with the obligation to provide information to the Minister. As drafted at present it appears to be somewhat open-ended in terms of the information that can be required. It is a matter of high probability that the only information likely to be required of an owner is that he furnish information in respect of those persons who are there, subject to his control or who are within his employment. But that is not what the Bill says at present. My amendment is a simple one and indicates what can be required of an owner. It seems to me that what can be required of an owner is what he can be reasonably expected to give, which is that he gives information on those who are subject to his authority and control.
Mr. B. Ahern: I consider that section 6 (1) should stand. The qualification sought in the Deputy's amendment would have the effect of divesting an owner of responsibility to supply information in respect of persons employed in the neighbourhood of an installation but not under his control. Attention is drawn to the terms of section 22 (4) and (5). For example section 22 (4) (a) says:
In addition for the foregoing, regulations under this section may impose duties on persons who are of a precribed class or description and who are employed on, in or in the neighbourhood of an offshore installation to which this Act applies.
The manager of an offshore installation shall notify the owner thereof as soon as practicable of any event which occurs on, in or in the neighbourhood of the installation and of the  occurrence of which the said owner is under regulations under this section required to notify the Minister.
The original thinking on the Bill proposed the concession owner as the person on whom the duty to supply information should be laid. However, I have been advised that the installation owner is the more appropriate person. On that basis I must oppose the amendment.
Mr. P. O'Malley: Might I seek clarification in relation to section 6 (1)? What is meant by the phrase “in the neighbourhood of the installation”? I am not sure exactly to what that refers. For example, is there an actual limit in terms of distance to which this expression “in the neighbourhood of the installation” applies?
Mr. B. Ahern: On the amendment the point is that the owner has full responsibility to supply the information, so it would not be possible to limit the power in any way. Clearly responsibility must rest with the owner.
Mr. P. O'Malley: Does that mean that if one is within 500 metres one is then in the neighbourhood of an installation but, if one is beyond 500 metres one is not in the neighbourhood of an installation, as defined within the terms of this Bill?
Mr. B. Ahern: That is probably the reason there is not an area inserted or referred to, to allow of consideration of what that area may be. The Deputy asked for the definition of “in the neighbourhood of an installation”. Five hundred metres would be the normal distance. That is the distance mentioned in the Continental Shelf Act. The reason a distance has not been referred to in the drafting of the legislation, I presume, is to allow flexibility, that “within reason” can be a negotiable point, without inserting a hard and fast distance.
Mr. P. O'Malley: Would that mean that there is the requirement to have an offshore installation manager on board an installation beyond a distance of 500 metres from another installation? Is there an obvious requirement that there should be an installation manager on board such an installation if it is sited 500 metres away from a primary installation, or is there not? If there is not, would this not lead to further confusion in the sections we have already debated as to whether there should be exemptions granted? Does it not throw into confusion many provisions of this Bill anyway?
Mr. B. Ahern: No, the installation manager is in charge of the installation and of the installations in a particular neighbourhood. The reason 500 metres is not specified is that, if the installation manager is responsible for a number of installations within fairly close distance of one another, then it is a matter of being reasonable. If the installations are sited substantially apart then it is a matter for negotiation. The installation manager  cannot reasonably be asked to be responsible for installations that are totally isolated. That would be a matter for prior discussion. It is for that reason that distance has not been specified in the Bill. The installation manager is responsible for the installations within an area, without the legislation being very strict as regards distance. That would be fairly obvious if there were two or three close installations, but he would not be asked, under the legislation, to take charge of two installations that were significantly apart.
Mr. O'Sullivan: I support Deputy Birmingham's amendment which is very reasonable. After the Second Reading everybody in the House fully supported the main thrust of the Bill. I ask the Minister to accept this amendment. If it is to be specifically the owner who will supply the necessary statistics on returns you could be providing a borehole, as it were, for some unscrupulous operators because many of these rigs are leased and the people who operate them are not the owners of the platforms. For that reason what Deputy Birmingham is asking is very reasonable.
Mr. Birmingham: He is generous in suggesting what my amendment is capable of achieving. As I understand from the Minister, what he says is desirable is, for example, that he could put questions about the health and safety of people employed by contractors on the rig to the owner and that in so far as the owner knows anything about it he would then be under obligation to provide the information. Is that the reason the section is drafted in its present shape? If so, I can see some sense in it. Perhaps I lost the flow of the debate but I was amused at  the introduction of the 500 metres. From where did that come?
Mr. B. Ahern: First of all I said, “within a reasonable distance” and I was asked what is a reasonable distance. The definition of “the neighbourhood of” in the Continental Shelf Act, 1968, is 500 metres. The drafters of this Bill wisely left out that distance because if you confine it to a certain distance all kinds of difficulties would arise. My definition of “the neighbourhood of” is perhaps a better one. The Deputy is correct in regard to the question he asked me to clarify.
Mr. O'Sullivan: Is the Minister happy that this is a legal definition and that it would stand up to close scrutiny in the courts? If a person was involved in an accident in the neighbourhood of a certain area and if he was asked to define that, is the Minister happy that that definition would be legally binding?
Mr. B. Ahern: I am happy it would be legally binding. It is a question of a particular case and the grounds of a particular case and I am happy with it. We have been advised that this is the correct wording to use.
The section deals with the obligation to provide information. There is a recognition of the fact that in this industry perhaps more than almost any other, confidentiality is vital. The section states that information supplied on a confidential basis can be republished for statistical purposes but that the identity of the person giving the information should not be disclosed. That sounds fine. The reality is that we have so relatively few operators at any one time that it would be possible for someone looking at the journal in which the statistical information is provided to say: “We know exactly who was the person who gave that information to the Minister so that he could provide it in his annual report”. That would seem to cause a potential injustice to the person providing the information. After all, to some extent the Minister thinks he can get a secondary benefit from the information provided. By all means let us have the publication of statistical information and so on but if information is provided it should be on the basis that it will not be published unless the person providing it gives his consent.
The prospect of anonymity is unreal. For example, we were told during the course of the debate on the oil terms last week that it is proposed to drill only one well next year. Suppose this Bill is in place and the Minister obtains some information from the operators and chooses to publish that information later in the year, the journal will not record who gave him the information but one would not need to be an Einstein to work out who provided the information. While of course we hope there will be a greater volume of activity in that regard we will still be talking about a relatively small group of people. It might often be possible for the informed to work out by process of exclusion who provided the information. It is a reasonable safeguard that before information used is published for statistical purposes the consent of the  person providing the information should be obtained.
Mr. B. Ahern: It is assumed from the amendment that there should be greater anonymity in respect of the operations but subsection (3) (b) of section 6 is in effect self-regulatory. If a summary within the terms of the proviso in the subsection cannot be framed the disclosure of information in terms of the subsection cannot take place. That covers the Deputy's point. I am advised it is a technical matter. The point the Deputy makes is valid and it is covered in the section.
Mr. Birmingham: On reflection, the section certainly addresses the question of confidentiality but I am not sure that the way in which it does so is adequate. Let us consider what actually happens. There will be certain information available now within the Department of Labour and somebody, perhaps the industrial inspectorate or another Government Department, will propose to produce a paper on offshore activity and decide to publish it. At present the judgment as to whether anonymity will be affected will be made within the Government service. The information officer of the Department of Labour will look at this and say: “That is fine, I can publish those statistics because they do not reveal the identity of a particular person.” It may be that the information officer of the Department of Labour would be substantially underestimating the ingenuity of the competitors of that operator. It may be that he would be underestimating the effectiveness of some of the people watching what is happening in the Stock Exchange, for example.
While I accept that the section addresses the problem and while it purports to have a self-regulating defence, an electric kettle type of operation, it does not completely cover the problem. It may well be that people will be quite satisfied that no information has been revealed that can be traced to its source  but the source may know better and that is why the consent should be obtained. Alternatively, I would be happy if the Minister would tell the House that if information is to be published under this section, before the publication takes place the original source would be informed of their intention. At least that way he may be in a position to put them on notice of things they would not otherwise be aware of which would disclose his hand.
Mr. B. Ahern: I can give that assurance because it will be an informal consultation. If it were not possible to summarise the information it would not be released. As regards who would deal with this in the Department, it would be the inspectorate not the information officer.
All I am seeking to ensure is that unreasonable demands are not made. I contemplate that all these things will happen whenever practicable, and I cannot believe the Minister would want notice where it was not practicable. It is clearly desirable that the Minister should have maximum notice of likely developments but there might be cases where the giving of 21 days notice would not be feasible.
 In a sense this is the reverse of the argument the Minister was putting on section 4. He will recall that on section 4 where I was seeking consultation with the unions, the Minister's response was that things could crop up as a matter of urgency and an instant decision would have to be made and we could not have consultations procedures because they could slow things down. That argument carried the day. If that argument was valid as to why there could not be an absolute obligation on him to consult, then equally it is the case that there should not be an absolute obligation on the operators to give notice. They should give notice wherever practicable since there may be emergencies when they would need to move fast.
Mr. B. Ahern: The point is that we are asking for notification, not necessarily consultation. In this way the inspectors would know who is moving installations around in our waters. The subsection provides that where the owner of an offshore installation intends to discontinue exploration or exploitation operations he shall give three days notice in the case of the exploration or 21 days in the case of exploitation to the Minister for Labour. I consider that to be extremely reasonable and it will not create any difficulties. All we want is that the owners inform the Department when they were moving, 21 days in the case of a major installation and three days on the exploration side.
Mr. P. O'Malley: I support the amendment. We approach this area in a practical way. I believe there is a need for taking on board the points Deputy Birmingham made. The Minister wants 21 days notice when an offshore installation is being established. As Deputy Birmingham pointed out, an emergency might arise and it might be necessary to bring a second offshore installation into a certain area — it might be a crane barge or another rig — which might be ancillary to the work on which the first offshore installation is engaged. What I am trying  to do here is to eliminate bureaucracy to the greatest extent possible. Deputy Birmingham's comments of only resorting to these provisions when it is practicable were well made and should be considered by the Minister.
Mr. O'Sullivan: I support the Minister and oppose the amendment. What the Minister is requesting is reasonable. There is a high risk factor involved if the operation is adjacent to a shipping lane and, therefore, it is only right and proper that notice should be given. My main concern is abandoned rigs. At present there are rigs abandoned in the North Sea and I am very concerned that this might happen in our waters.
Mr. B. Ahern: I cannot see where an owner would not be able to give three days' notice in the case of exploration or 21 days' notice in the case of exploitation. What is involved here is notification. When an owner is leaving a development the inspectorate should have reasonable notice to make whatever arrangements are necessary. This is a minimum period and I believe the inspectorate deserve that much consideration. I cannot see that this would raise any difficulties since only notification is involved.
Mr. O'Sullivan: When one takes into account the magnitude of the operation in getting the rigs on site I believe the time suggested by the Minister is very reasonable and I ask Deputy Birmingham to withdraw his amendment. The Minister is making a very reasonable request.
Mr. Birmingham: There is unanimity in the House that it is desirable that notice be given. One would hope that in the majority of cases people would be very reasonable and give more than the statutory minimum notice of 21 days or three days. That is what we should be aiming for. The information available to me is that emergencies may occasionally arise and something will happen fast. To that the Minister says his information is that there are no circumstances in which it will not be possible to give the three  days or 21 days notice. If that is so, my amendment is harmless. If the Minister's information is right, it will always be practicable to give this statutory period of notice. If I am right and if occasionally emergencies arise when it would not be possible to give the statutory notice, then my amendment is helpful. At the very least, my amendment can do no harm because there would still be a statutory obligation on the owner to give notice whenever practicable. If, as we are told, it is always practicable to give notice, then we are fine. Therefore, my amendment can do no harm and in some circumstances it might do some good.
Mr. P. O'Malley: The period of three days' notice applies where a rig which has been engaged in exploration is being moved and the 21 days' notice applies to a rig which is being moved out of an area where it has been engaged in exploitation. I understand that there is also a requirement to give 21 days notice if a rig is being moved to another area to get involved in exploration. If there is a 21-day requirement in that instance it makes a stronger case for the acceptance of the amendment. We must take account of the practicalities involved particularly in view of the requirement to give three weeks notice. That would be very cumbersome.
Mr. B. Ahern: In case of an emergency where an owner has to vacate or leave an installation and is not in a position to inform the inspectors that person can make his case and if it is upheld no offence will be committed. However, we must have some guidelines so that we will not have operators moving around our waters with equipment to carry out explorations. In my view it is necessary to have the three weeks period. To the best of my knowledge the Department of Energy will also be involved. What is involved is a notification process so that the inspectors are aware of what is happening.
Mr. Birmingham: At first glance I do not think that subsection helps because it seems to cover proceedings for an offence under section 12, a section that deals with supervision of ongoing activity rather than moving in and out of waters.
Mr. B. Ahern: Sections 13 (3) and 36 (2) provide for the cases referred to by the Deputy. The installation manager can in an emergency do what is necessary but in other cases inspectors will have to be notified.
Mr. O'Sullivan: I do not accept that Deputy Birmingham's amendment will not do any harm. We must take into consideration the shipping movements in the immediate area. It will be necessary to give notice to the shipping authorities of the movement of these installations. If proper notice is not given I do not think we can maintain proper safety standards in our waters. That is why I am concerned about this matter. Many of those rigs are located off our southern coast where there is a lot of shipping activity. It is only right that adequate notice should be given in advance. SECTION 10.
Mr. Birmingham: I move amendment No. 4e:
In page 11, subsection (2), between lines 46 and 47, to insert the following:
“(c) In making regulations for the purpose of paragraphs (a) and (b), the Minister will take into account prevailing international standards and be conscious of the desirability that there should be no divergences between international standards and those applicable in Ireland.”.
There is concern in the industry that the certification requirements contemplated by this section could represent a further disincentive to locate in our waters. Apparently, there are all types of recognised international certification procedures in existence and they would have been cleared in many instances before operators come here. If there is a divergence between our standards and the generally accepted international standards it could mean that people will be obliged to go through what could be a lengthy and expensive process to obtain certification. That seems to be unnecessary. My amendment states that in setting standards the Minister should take into account the existence of general international standards, that he should, except for a very good reason, accept that it is highly desirable that there should be a uniformity of approach between the Irish and the international position. Any departure from that could serve as a disincentive to people locating in our waters.
Mr. P. O'Malley: I should like to support the amendment. Many of the rigs or offshore installations that will be moving to our waters will be coming from areas where they have been certified. They will be carrying internationally accepted certificates as to their safety acceptability. I am not trying to diminish the requirements to ensure that offshore installations function to the highest possible standards. However, we should not insist on people having to comply with another layer of regulations. It should be possible to detail standards which can be checked  by a new operator and if that operator has complied with those standards in another country we should accept that as a valid certification to operate in our waters. There is a serious possibility that operators will not feel inclined to explore in our waters if they are confronted with a lengthy delay before they are issued with the appropriate certification by the Irish authorities although they may have in their possession certification from another country.
Mr. O'Sullivan: I do not agree with Deputy O'Malley that we should accept the standards tolerated in other countries. It may be in order to accept the standards that prevail in the North Sea where conditions are worse than an operator is likely to encounter in Irish waters but there are parts of the world where operators are not subjected to the same type of pressure and weather conditions as they would when operating here. Deputy O'Malley seemed to be putting the emphasis on the operator but I am far more concerned with the likely effects on the people working on the rigs which is the primary function of the Bill. For that reason, it is legitimate to insist on the highest possible standards which would be accepted internationally instead of accepting standards which are not as high. We must satisfy ourselves that the operation of the rig will comply with Irish standards. We should not accept a rig which has passed a test in the Far or Middle East where weather conditions are not as difficult as in Irish waters.
Mr. P. O'Malley: I take the point made by Deputy O'Sullivan. I did not intend to convey that we should accept certificates, the origin of which we could not be satisfied with. However, we should accept certification from internationally acceptable authorities and the Minister should decide what those authorities are. British certification should be more than adequate for operators in Irish waters and it could be a serious disincentive if they had to get further certification to work here. I do not accept that I am laying the emphasis on the operator,  indeed I confirmed that at all times I am very keen to ensure that the safety standards on rigs should be in the interests of the operatives on board.
Mr. B. Ahern: I accept the points made by Deputies. We are interested in safety standards and that is why there must be a certification process. There are five major internationally recognised certifying authorities and when they come into this country the IIRS will examine the certification procedures to ensure that they cater adequately for conditions in Irish waters. That is the purpose of the regulations. I am aware there is concern that certification standards might overlap between the Department of Labour and the Department of Energy and that technical certification procedures might be subject to different standards. The terms of section 10 (2) of the Bill have been discussed and agreed with the Department of Energy and provide for certification procedures to be embodied in regulations. The terms and regulations remain to be settled and it is envisaged that the IIRS will, in the case of exploration installations, certify acceptance of an existing certificate issued by one of the five internationally recognised certification authorities. In the case of exploitation development platforms, it is envisaged that the IIRS will have a more extensive certifying role but one related to prior certification by one of the five authorities referred to. The requirement in section 10 (1) for consultation with the Department of Energy before making regulations under the section will obviate any question of overlapping. The Act will require notice of intention to make regulations under section 10 to allow representations to be made by interested persons. Accordingly, the intention of the amendments is already met by the Bill.
Mr. Birmingham: That all sounded pretty complicated. There are five international certification bodies. Are they  concerned with exploration and exploitation?
Mr. B. Ahern: Yes.
Mr. Birmingham: In the case of exploration, will one of their certificates be deemed suitable for Irish purposes?
Mr. B. Ahern: Yes, subject to it being examined. They will present their certificate to the IIRS who will examine it.
Mr. Birmingham: For exploration purposes that is fine. What about exploitation?
Mr. B. Ahern: A more detailed process is contemplated.
Mr. Birmingham: That seems to be very reasonable.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Amendments Nos. 5 and 5a are related and may be taken together for discussion.
Mr. B. Ahern: I move amendment No. 5:
In page 12, subsection (5), line 26, after “so far as is” to insert “reasonably”.
Section 10 (5) provides that it shall be the duty of an installation manager to ensure that every workplace on, or in the neighbourhood of the offshore installation with which he is concerned is, so far as is practicable, made and kept safe. The amendment proposes that this duty should apply in “so far as is reasonably practicable” which is a more realistic requirement and in respect of which there is already a precedent in similar provisions in the Safety in Industry Act.
Mr. Birmingham: I welcome the Minister's amendment. I am very tempted to indulge in a debate about the difference between “practicability” and “possibility” with a linguist such as yourself.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Chair asks you to resist the temptation.
Mr. O'Sullivan: Is the Minister happy that there will not be a lowering of standards as a result of his amendment and that the section will ensure that adequate standards are maintained at all times?
Mr. B. Ahern: The inspectorate will ensure that standards are maintained.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 5a not moved.
Section 10, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 11 and 12 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 13 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. P. O'Malley: Subsection (1) (b) states:
This subsection shall not be construed as extending to any matters for which another person is responsible as master, captain or person in charge of any vessel, helicopter or other aircraft, hovercraft or lighthouse.
I raised the question of the jurisdiction of the installation manager on Second Stage and I asked what control he exercises over the pilot of a helicopter or the captain of a supply vessel coming towards an offshore installation. I know that the primary function of the installation manager relates to matters pertaining to safety and I accept that the captain of a ship or pilot of a helicopter is naturally also in control of the helicopter or ship. If the installation manager thinks the vessel coming near the rig or the helicopter coming to land constitutes a safety hazard, is he entitled to direct the captain or pilot not to come close? Does he have jurisdiction over them to the extent that they will have to comply with his direction?
Mr. B. Ahern: Yes, they will have to comply with his direction. The installation manager has the final say and it is his responsibility.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 14 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. O'Sullivan: I have made representations to the Minister about certain people employed on the rigs. I should like him to ensure that those employed who are not properly trained will be given that training through an AnCO course. It has been said it is their own fault that those 27 men involved did not receive training, but their future could be affected by the new regulations.
Mr. B. Ahern: I appreciate the Deputy's concern about those 27 people in Cork who refused the opportunity to acquire training in one of the courses provided in conjunction with AnCO. I am having the matter examined to see what can be done. I am sure the Deputy will accept that when the courses were organised and commenced in conjunction with AnCO inspectors those people refused to participate. The purpose of the course was to improve the standards and provide expertise for those people, who may very well have substantial knowledge. By regulations we are trying to bring the standards for this dangerous and difficult work up to a high national level. However, I understand the Deputy's difficulty. We are examining the matter to see if anything can be done.
Mr. O'Sullivan: I welcome the Minister's reply. I accept it is essential that the highest possible standards will be achieved and maintained. The people I have been talking about are long serving employees on the rigs. From day one many of them have been involved in the offshore operations and it would be a waste of a resource as well as anything else if those people were not given the  training necessary. It would not cost very much for AnCO to finance a course for them.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 15 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Birmingham: I should like to comment briefly on the phrase “in the neighbourhood of”. It might give rise to some difficulties. Obviously, the phrase is imprecise. Does it mean a distance away, or heading away from when tugs are in question?
Mr. B. Ahern: I understand the point being made. The inspectors require flexibility and “in the neighbourhood of” allows for flexibility.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 16 agreed to.
Question proposed “That section 17 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Birmingham: This provides for the keeping of logbooks. What is contemplated is that the Minister will prescribe the form of logbook. I regard that as being a bit bureaucratic. I can see no particular reason why people cannot keep their own logbooks in any form they wish provided they are sufficiently comprehensive for the Minister's purpose. It is not a major issue but it represents unnecessary fiddling in other people's business.
Mr. B. Ahern: A minimum amount of information is required by the inspectors. If the installation manager requires additional information there would then be no difficulty. The inspectors must insist that the minimum amount of information will be in the format of the logbook. It is not bureaucratic; it is to ensure  that the minimum amount of information will be provided in a standard format.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 18 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. O'Sullivan: My concern is that sufficient and suitable facilities will be provided on rigs. We have not heard much about this provision but it does not seem to be controversial. However, I have information that some of the conditions on board leave a lot to be desired. It is essential that the Department inspectors ensure that the highest possible standards be maintained. Those on the rigs should not be asked to work in conditions less bearable than those provided in factories. Facilities on those rigs should not be so inadequate that there would be risk to health. People have to work in confined spaces and due to lack of natural light and confinement it is very difficult to work in rigs.
Mr. B. Ahern: The section provides that the owners of offshore installations have an obligation to see that suitable and sufficient equipment, such as clothing and other materials, is provided for the protection of workers against the dangers of the job. In a later section we provide that the equipment necessary for the workers cannot be denied to them. The costs will be on the owners whose responsibility it is to see that workers are protected. The inspectors will ensure that the facilities are adequate considering the dangers and the hazards of the job. In the normal sense clothing would be of minor importance but here we are talking about clothing of sufficient quality to protect workers against the conditions of their job. That is why this section has been inserted.
Mr. Birmingham: I share the concern expressed by Deputy O'Sullivan. In a sense, most of the concern of the Bill is in the area of high technology and our  anxiety that inspections will be adequate. However, is it possible that by concentrating on those areas we would forget about the more mundane issues dealt with in section 18 which are issues of the most fundamental importance. The Minister should impress that on his inspectors.
Mr. B. Ahern: I will refer to subsection (2) which empowers the Minister to make regulations prescribing equipment, clothing and materials to be provided for the protection of workers. The regulations may require the general issue of such items for certain processes or types of work. It is not necessary to have regulations in all cases but when this Bill becomes law and when the inspectors examine installations and are unhappy that facilities there are not up to a high standard they can make regulations which can be enforced. It would be better if that high standard could be implemented without having to make regulations on an individual basis. The power to do that will be contained in the Act.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 19 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 20 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Birmingham: This section with sections 19 and 21 are slightly curious in that they deal with very specific provisions and they do so in what is essentially a framework Bill. I suppose borderlines can always be drawn but it strikes me as strange that these areas have been taken out and highlighted and not dealt with later in the Schedule, for example.
With regard to gas detection, section 20 seems to cover all installations. Does this include all installations whether they are manned and whether they are anticipated to constitute a gas hazard? I am slighty dubious about the wisdom of  going into this degree of detail about some specifics and at the same time leaving other specifics to be dealt with later in the Schedule or by way of regulations.
Mr. P. O'Malley: I support the points made by Deputy Birmingham. These seem to be very specific provisions in what is essentially framework legislation. Presumably these could have been more appropriately dealt with by regulations made under the legislation.
With regard to gas detection, the requirement under section 20 is that all installations should have gas detection equipment on board. Would this apply also to installations that are mothballed, not in production or do not constitute any kind of gas hazard? Why is there incorporated in the Bill a very specific requirement which will be placed on the owners of such a rig if it is not going to constitute a hazard? Why maintain a gas detection device in that case?
Mr. O'Sullivan: Again I am at one with the Minister because I believe that this is a very basic piece of equipment and is not very costly. It is normal in welding operations in enclosed areas that there are no emissions above the safety level. I support the Minister in what he is trying to achieve in relation to this.
Mr. B. Ahern: Earlier in the debate we amended the definition of installations so perhaps that will get over some of the difficulties in relation to installations involved in exploration or exploitation. Deputy Birmingham asked why these provisions are included in these sections rather than in regulations. On Second Stage debate I gave statistics to the House on the number of deaths and serious accidents in offshore rigs off neighbouring coasts. The inspectorate feel that these matters are too important to be left for regulations at a later date, that it is necessary to build them quite clearly into the legislation to avoid any ambiguities. That is why these detailed sections are written into the Bill rather than being left to be dealt with by way of regulations at a later date.
 Question put and agreed to.
Section 21 agreed to.
Mr. B. Ahern: I move amendment No. 6:
In page 18, subsection (1), line 27, after “the Minister for Communications,” to insert “the Minister for the Marine and the Minister for Tourism and Transport,”.
Amendment agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 22, as amended, stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. O'Sullivan: Is the Minister satisfied that the same measure of safety can be maintained for the people working on offshore installations as is provided for people working on onshore industries? People on offshore installations are in more hazardous jobs and should be provided with greater representation. There is reference to consultation but that would not seem to have much muscle. Is the Minister happy that adequate standards of safety will be maintained for those people and that they will have proper representation?
Mr. B. Ahern: Yes, great effort is made in these sections to ensure that the safety regulations are to the highest standards and that the safety committees and representatives will be consulted and involved in the procedures relating to safety. The inspectors in their examination of the installations will consult with the workers and employers to ensure that the highest standards of safety are maintained. That is the whole purpose of the Bill and particularly of these sections.
Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 23 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Birmingham: This section and the following sections combine to bring into the measure the approach of the Safety in Industry Act, 1980, in relation to the notion of the appointment of representatives, safety committees and so on. Some questions have been asked about the appropriateness of that approach and I would like to hear the Minister's comments on this. The point has been made also that what is involved here is a replication of the Safety in Industry Act and that at the time that Act was passed the construction industry were not regarded as appropriate for inclusion in it. The argument was that if there were reasons for not applying these provisions to the construction industry, in so far as the offshore area bears any relation to any form of economic activity onshore, the activity to which it most closely relates is the construction industry. If representative committees are unsuitable for the construction industry why are they suitable for offshore installations? This is a question which should be answered. It has been commented on that what is involved here is a reproduction of the Safety in Industry Act, 1980, but that that Act has been overtaken by the Barrington Commission but that that commission were less than enthused about the way in which some of these procedures were working and held the road open for a much more flexible and dynamic form of consultation. It has been said that the thinking of the Barrington Commission is not reflected in here and that people have been content to rely on a safety in industry Act on which there have now been second and perhaps wiser thoughts.
Mr. B. Ahern: Sections 23 to 25 are based on similar provisions in the Safety in Industry Act, 1980, and deal with the safety representation required to be brought into force by regulation. Section 23 allows for selection by workers of safety representatives and deputy safety representatives to represent them in consultations with the installation manager on safety, health and welfare.
 Section 24 outlines the procedures for the selection by the workers if they so wish of a safety committee to assist the owner and the installation manager in securing compliance with all the safety provisions and regulations. That is something I should like to see, a safety committee in which the workers are directly involved with the installation manager. We can then ensure the high standards that we seek in this legislation. The committee may appoint a delegate and a deputy delegate.
There is provision in section 25 for the appointment by the installation manager of a safety representative or safety committee in default of any initiative in that regard by the workers, so in the event of the workers not appointing a safety committee the onus is then on the installation manager after a time which is laid down in the section to undertake that task.
Section 3 (3) gives the Minister power to limit by regulation the application of the three sections mentioned above. This permits flexibility depending on differences between installations with regard to the amount of work involved; secondly, the number of workers concerned and, thirdly, the duration of the work. Sections 23 to 25 nevertheless have met with some opposition and Deputy Birmingham has asked some questions on these on the basis that the sections in the 1980 Safety in Industry Act on which they are based are criticised by the Barrington Commission as being unwieldy and inflexible. A more flexible form is under consideration.
These sections are based on the Act in existence. If the Barrington Commission come forward with proposals it may prove the point raised in their criticism and there will be changes then in the law. In the meantime the legislation must be based on what is there, which is the Safety in Industry Act, 1980. I give an assurance to the House that when the new framework is backed and if we then go away from the unwieldy and unflexible sections criticised by the Barrington Commission, we can strengthen this legislation. That  review will take place as soon as we are in a position finally to bring before this House legislation based on the Barrington Commission's new health and safety recommendations.
Mr. Birmingham: I do not think the Minister's response is adequate. He categorises as inflexible and unwieldy the provisions in the Safety in Industry Act on which these sections are based. Yet he proposes to reproduce them.
Mr. B. Ahern: Let me just correct the Deputy. That is what the provisions are accused of being. I am not accusing them of being so.
Mr. Birmingham: I stand corrected on that point. There is obviously a substantial volume of opinion — and I suspect the Minister might not dissent from it, either — that would categorise these sections as unwieldy and inflexible. In those circumstances to incorporate them in mid-1987 strikes me as being less than wise, particularly if an alternative approach was open to the Minister given the greater wisdom we now have as a result of the Barrington Commission and given that we know there will be major legislation in this area in the reasonably near future. It would have been possible simply to say that there will be provision for representation by workers in this area and that the manner of that representation and the rights and duties of those representatives will be determined by the Minister by regulation. That would allow the Minister to incorporate into the measure the wisdom of Barrington. No doubt as people attempt to put concrete shape on the thinking behind Barrington, our thoughts will develop as the legislation comes into the House and is teased out. There will be a deeper appreciation of what is required. To include the section just on the basis that it was what we had thought worthwhile in 1980 does not seem a particularly good idea.
Would the Minister comment also on the fact that the construction industry  apparently was excluded from the Safety in Industry Act and that those who are unhappy with sections 23, 24 and 25 say that there appears to be a closer analogy between the offshore industry and the construction industry than anything else? Why exclude one and include the other?
Mr. B. Ahern: I do not think the construction industry would necessarily be a good analogy with offshore workers. If sections 23, 24 and 25 were to be excluded all the safety regulations in the Safety in Industry Act and the safeguards for workers would be excluded. However, that is not the point that Deputy Birmingham is making. His point is to try to have the most up-to-date legislation available. After the discussions on the Barrington Commission report and when there is agreement on the Safety in Industry (Health and Welfare) Bill it will be possible to reach a conclusion on this, it is hoped, early next year. The updated provisions for sections 23, 24 and 25 can be taken at that stage. We can update this Bill at the same time to correct anything that is wrong according to Barrington. The only alternative at this stage would be to exclude them and that I could not undertake. We would be excluding what are vital safety regulations for offshore workers. They are based rightly on what is in the 1980 Act and on the present standards for safety regulations in all the other areas. We have no option but to include these sections but I give the undertaking to the Deputy and the House that in the review of the Barrington Commission report which we hope to have completed within 12 months we will then be able to update this legislation without having to amend it. In the meantime we must keep the best available.
Mr. O'Sullivan: I welcome the Minister's acceptance that there may be a need to update the legislation and that he will be quite flexible in that regard. With regard to safety on the rig there is reference to death on survival craft. Could the Minister inform the House as to the standards required of those survival  craft? Will the standards be by Lloyd's rating or something similar? What type of craft will qualify? I see converted trawlers being used as survival craft in the port of Cork. Is the Minister happy that the present survival craft available to us is adequate for the needs in relation to any emergency that may arise as a result of offshore activity?
Mr. B. Ahern: That will be covered in the regulations. Under the regulations we will be attempting to achieve the highest standards possible. Deputies accept that these sections are essential at this stage. I am giving an undertaking that as soon as the other legislation is passed we can tie these three sections to that legislation and we will not have to introduce amending legislation in 12 months time.
Mr. Birmingham: I do not quarrel with the Minister's approach. How much of what happens offshore will be covered by the framework legislation giving effect to the Barrington Commission report? As I understand it, the basic thrust of the framework legislation will be to provide that all workers including those not now covered under the safety legislation will be covered. Will this legislation include everyone offshore?
Mr. B. Ahern: In the Barrington legislation?
Mr. Birmingham: Yes.
Mr. B. Ahern: Only where specified. Normally we would come back and amend the Bill but the difficulty of introducing amending legislation is that we would be into a long process and there would be a long delay. To the best of my knowledge the Barrington Commission would not cover offshore workers. This legislation will cover offshore workers.
Question put and agreed to.
Section 24 agreed to.
 SECTION 25.
Question proposed: “That section 25 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. Birmingham: I accept the Minister's point that the general structure of the Safety in Industry Act is the best available at the moment. This is the legislation which should be incorporated on the basis that we can improve as further information becomes available. Everything we know about what is contemplated in section 25 tells us that it does not work. It is entirely appropriate that people should have the right to elect a representative, but to suggest that people have a duty to do so takes it much further and all of the evidence on the way in which the Safety in Industry Act has worked indicates that where this operates it is a dead letter. If workers decide not to elect someone, having someone parachuted on top of them, selected by the operators, will not represent any advance. People selected by their employers to represent the workers are most unlikely to enjoy workers' confidence. In this case what has happened is that having accepted that one goes to the Safety in Industry Act for a headline, the people copying it went too far. Everything we know says that this procedure will not work. We should just drop this section from the Bill and it would be much more sensible. At the moment it is just a silly piece of bureaucracy.
Mr. B. Ahern: I am anxious to keep the three sections together, pending the review. I do not altogether disagree with some of the points made by the Deputy. There is clearly a need to improve. Section 25 (2) says that there must be consultations so it would not be a question of forcing the workers. I accept that there are some difficulties. When we review this in the light of the Barrington legislation we will try to get some formula to overcome the difficulties. I would ask that these three sections would remain and in the meantime we will try to improve the operation of this.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Pattison): Is the section agreed?
Mr. Birmingham: No.
Question put and declared carried.
Section 26 agreed to.
Mr. Birmingham: I move amendment No. 6a:
In page 23, lines 23 to 26, to delete “the installation manager concerned shall ensure that written notice of the accident is given forthwith to both the Minister and the Minister for Energy”, and substitute “it shall be the duty of the installation manager and the owner to ensure that written notice of the accident is given forthwith to the Minister”.
There must be some doubt as to who should provide this information. I can envisage situations in which it would be the manager and in others it would appear to be the owner. What I have attempted to do is to say that it should be their joint function. That does not mean that each has to send the information in, but between the two of them they have to see that the information arrives.
Mr. B. Ahern: I cannot agree to the Deputy's request to have the duty to notify placed on the owner. The manager is the person on the spot in charge of duties in respect of safety, health and welfare. The requirement to notify the Department of Energy reflects the Department's interest. The manager is the responsible person and I cannot accept the Deputy's amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: “That section 27 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. O'Sullivan: It is possible that the  owner may not at all times be the operator. Is there a possibility that somebody could slip through the net in relation to the regulations and may not report to the Minister? A lot of these rigs operate under licence. They are contracted out but the owner need not necessarily be in possession of it at a given time. Is the Minister happy that nobody could avoid recognising the role of the Minister in this?
Mr. B. Ahern: In section 2 the definition of the owner is the individual who manages the operation and he is the one who is responsible. We are quite happy that that definition would cover the Deputy's fears. The owner is the manager of the operation and legally there is no way out for him.
Mr. O'Sullivan: The Minister is absolutely sure about that?
Mr. B. Ahern: Our legal advice and our advice from the draftsman is to that effect.
Mr. P. O'Malley: Section 27 (4)(a) provides that where a notifiable accident occurs the subsection requires that the site of the accident remain undisturbed effectively for two days. Would it not be appropriate that the site of the accident be photographed and all relevant measures taken to ensure that all the details regarding the accident and how it occurred would be available to the Minister? I am not trying to minimise this in any way. If a serious accident occurs of course it should be properly investigated and all the data should be available to the investigating authority but, particularly in the case of an emergency, it could hold up unduly the proper functioning of the installation. Will the Minister consider waiving this requirement for the two day period and allow the installation manager to have the site properly recorded in terms of measurement and photographs?
Mr. B. Ahern: That is a valid point.
 While the regulations imply that all the documentation should be listed in the case of a serious accident, it may not always be practicable to do that. Section 13 (3) overrides this section in that regard in the case of an emergency when the installation manager would go through the procedure of recording all the data and information that would be necessary. He could then make a decision to move the site or to do whatever would be necessary. That should satisfy the Deputy on the valid point he has made.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 28 and 29, inclusive, agreed to.
Mr. B. Ahern: I move amendment No. 7:
In page 25, lines 39 to 41, to delete “a person employed on the installation being unable to perform the normal duties of his employment” and substitute “a person employed on the installation being unable to perform any duties”.
Section 30 provides for the necessity of a logbook entry in the case of an accident which results in a person employed in the installation being unable to perform the normal duties of his employment for more than three days. I am advised that because of the considerable flexibility already existing in regard to what are considered normal duties in offshore working conditions it would be preferable if the requirements of the section should be expressed as applying in the case of an accident resulting in a worker being unable to perform any duties for more than three days. This amendment so provides.
Acting Chairman: Is the amendment agreed to?
Mr. Birmingham: I think so. I want to clear my thoughts on this. The formula  that is now in the Bill is the formula in the Safety in Industry Acts. Is the Minister proposing to go back to the Factories Act?
Mr. B. Ahern: Yes.
Mr. O'Sullivan: Are we saying essentially that he cannot perform his normal duties? Is that it in a nutshell?
Mr. B. Ahern: Yes.
Mr. O'Sullivan: Is that entirely desirable?
Mr. B. Ahern: I am advised that considerable flexibility already exists in regard to what are considered normal duties and that flexibility is a practice in offshore working conditions. It would be preferable if the requirements of the section be expressed as applying in the case of accidents resulting in a worker being unable to perform any duties for more than three days. It is a normal working practice that is already in their conditions.
Amendment agreed to.
Section 30, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 31 to 33, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed “That section 34 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. P. O'Malley: I would like some clarification on section 34 (4) which reads:
In the event of the employment of a person in contravention of section 14 of this Act by a person other than the relevant installation manager, that installation manager shall, subject to the provisions of the Act, be guilty of an offence.
This relates to the employment of under-age employees, person under 18 years of age. If, for argument's sake, the owner  of a rig employs a person under 18 years of age this section seems to be making the installation manager liable for the offence even though the employer is in charge of both the under-age employee and the installation manager. Is there some sort of conflict there? It appears contradictory to some extent.
Mr. B. Ahern: If it is brought to his attention that the worker is under 18 the installation manager who is in charge of the installation is responsible for bringing that to the attention of the owner. I assume that the responsibility is on him to do so, but the offence would be by the owner because if he has employed a person and has sent that person to the installation, all the installation manager can do is to highlight that the regulations have been broken.
Mr. O'Sulivan: The Minister said that for the purpose of the measure the manager was the owner. I am asking for a definition of owner. Is there ambiguity here? Is there room for confusion in the interpretation of the Act? When I asked for a definition of the owner I was told that it was the manager of the rig.
Mr. B. Ahern: The definition of owner is the management of the installation. That is quite clear, but if somebody under 18 is working on the installation then under this section the installation manager has the obligation to inform the owner that that is so. That is his duty. In a legal case the person responsible for breach of the Act is the owner if the installation manager has fulfilled his duty of informing him.
Mr. Birmingham: Has the Minister conveniently to hand a summary of just what are the penalties? I am sure they are provided here but I cannot put my finger on them. Am I right in thinking that the maximum fine on indictment for any offence is £2,000?
Mr. B. Ahern: That is correct.
Mr. Birmingham: Is that appropriate?
 It seems that in many cases we are talking about a fine rather than a sentence of imprisonment because the culpability will rest with the company rather than with any individual and by definition, you cannot put a company into prison. In the case of a particular blatant, premeditated breach by, say, a very large company, it seems a penalty of £2,000 might prove quite inadequate. Why has any maximum fine to be stipulated? I understand why there is a need to provide that, in the case of a summary prosecution, there should be a maximum fine but in the case of a conviction on indictment why is there a need to include a maximum fine? Why not leave this to the discretion of the court? It is possible to envisage circumstances in which there would be an overwhelming case for swingeing penalties and those penalties could then be imposed.
Mr. B. Ahern: This matter was raised by a number of Deputies during the course of the Second Stage. In relation to the penalties for convictions for summary or indictable offences the jurisdiction of courts is prescribed by legislation, the most recent limits being laid down by the Courts Act, 1981. I am advised that the arrangements prescribed in the Bill before the House are in accordance with the Courts Acts. Section 39(9) of the Bill provides for continual offences and section 39(10) empowers a court to impose an additional six months prison sentence where an offence is likely to cause death or serious injury, to cause a dangerous accident or to endanger safety.
The ultimate sanction against a persistent offender, however, could be said to be section 42 which empowers an inspector to impose such prohibitions, restrictions or requirements as he considers necessary to safeguard safety and health and, in the case of any danger or risk of danger, to request measures to be taken to deal with it. The inspector may also apply to the High Court for an order prohibiting continuance of activities carried  on in contravention of an imposition or requirement.
While the fines covered by the Courts Act, 1981, are not as large as I would like them to be, there is a power to impose an additional six months prison sentence where the offence is likely to cause death or serious injury or where an accident is likely to endanger safety. It also covers powers of prohibition, restriction or requirement as are necessary to safeguard health and in the case of danger or risk of danger measures can be requested to deal with it. The inspector may apply to the High Court for an order prohibiting the continuance of activities which are in breach of an imposition or requirement.
Mr. Birmingham: I am subject to correction but I do not think the Courts Act can be relevant in this case. The Courts Act as far as I can remember, deals with what can happen in the District Court where a case is heard without a judge and jury and because of the Constitution only limited penalities can be imposed. Therefore there are lower penalties provided for wherever the conviction is a summary conviction. What is contemplated here is a more serious offence that is tried by a judge and jury of the Circuit Court. In the event of a conviction there I do not see any obligation to limit the discretion of the judge. It seems it would be open to a fine at the discretion of the court so that in the worst cases very severe penalties can be imposed.
In almost every case that comes before the courts it is much more likely that the culprit will be a company rather than an individual. Even if the finger of blame can be pointed at some individual, in most cases that individual will only have been carrying out his duties, however incompetently. One of the really serious offences that one can imagine would be a calculated decision by an operator to engage in a course of action that was dangerous. If a court found that was the case I think they would want to impose severe penalties, and I do not see why, as an Oireachtas, we should prevent them from imposing such penalties. I do not see any need whatever for the restriction.
Mr. B. Ahern: That is the advice I received. I will undertake to check it and I will examine the Deputy's point to ensure that we are correct.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 35 to 37, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 38 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. O'Sullivan: This section clears up the matter about the neighbourhood and the definition of “in the neighbourhood of” and the 500 metres.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 39 and 40 agreed to.
Question proposed: “That section 41 stand part of the Bill.”
Mr. O'Sullivan: Section 41(1)(b) states “to take with him a member of the Garda Síochána if he has reasonable cause to apprehend any obstruction in the execution of his duty”. Are we to take it that this applies in Irish territorial waters?
Mr. B. Ahern: It will come within the jurisdiction.
Mr. O'Sullivan: It does not present any problems?
Mr. B. Ahern: No.
Question put and agreed to.
Sections 42 to 48, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”
Mr. Birmingham: I wish to repeat what I said at the beginning of this debate. A number of Attorneys General have wrestled with the jurisdictional point. It is proper that we should pass this legislation but the fact that it took as long as it did means there have to be serious doubts about our capacity to legislate in this area outside the jurisdiction. It is much better that that be put beyond doubt now than that if at some stage in the future there was a major disaster and a judicial inquiry was established it was to emerge then that the legislation was invalid for constitutional reasons. I appeal to the Minister to consider inviting the President to consult with the Council of State about taking the Supreme Court's views at this stage.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Pattison): As it is now 1.30 p.m. I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the House of today: “That Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.”
Question put and agreed to.
Mr. B. Ahern: I thank Deputy O'Sullivan, Deputy O'Malley and Deputy Birmingham for their co-operation in passing all Stages of this extremely technical Bill.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.
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