Thursday, 21 May 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
7. Mr. Byrne asked the Minister for the Marine if, in regard to the comments made by the Taoiseach during his visit to the IMI conference in Killarney, he will outline the plans the Government have for the development of the Shannon Estuary as a deep sea port facility linking Europe and the US, and if he will make a statement on the matter.
15. Mr. Collins asked the Minister for the Marine if he will elaborate on a statement by the Taoiseach recently in Killarney, County Kerry, on the possible development of an international sea base in the Shannon Estuary.
34. Mrs. Taylor-Quinn asked the Minister for the Marine if he will elaborate on the comments by the Taoiseach relating to the setting up of a Europort on the Shannon Estuary at the IMI conference in Killarney, County Kerry.
39. Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for the Marine if he will confirm whether it is the Government's intention to set up a transhipment port in the Shannon Estuary following the recent statement by the Taoiseach at the IMI conference in Killarney, County Kerry.
The question of developing transhipment facilities in the Shannon Estuary is being examined at present by my Department, in consultation with An Taoiseach's Department, other Departments and relevant State agencies.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: In relation to the  transhipment element of this issue, could the Minister say what consideration is being given to this proposal? Is it proposed to tranship by smaller vessels into Europe or by carriers across land? Has consideration been given to the provision of Structural Funds for either method of transportation?
Mr. Yates: Does the Minister know that this matter arose by way of a major announcement by the Taoiseach in response to a proposal of Dr. Tony O'Ryan concerning an air bridge in which the Taoiseach said he had a proposal for a deep water transhipment facility? Is the Minister saying that the Taoiseach was speaking off the top of his head and that there is no specific project, that this idea was merely something plucked out of the air? What is the solid blueprint? Second, does the Minister consider that a one channel estuary authority would be the best vehicle to oversee this development or does he prefer the existing system, under which there is a multiplicity of port authorities in the Shannon Estuary?
Dr. Woods: The issue of an air bridge versus a sea bridge has been raised. Of course, several sea bridges to Europe are being considered for access to Europe. I remind the Deputy that 97 per cent in volume of all our exports go by sea; it is therefore easy to recognise the importance of a sea bridge to Ireland. The developments taking place internationally, particularly given the changes in the GATT, will result in much increased global trade. This project is  related to the expected increase in global trade. I assure the Deputy that the concept is being examined thoroughly.
Mr. Gilmore: I wish to ask the Minister about the examination of facilities to which he referred. He said the examination would be completed in a matter of weeks. When did that examination begin? In view of the Taoiseach's indication that the facility would be capable of accommodating vessels of 300,000 tonnes, has the examination found that the facility will be able to accommodate vessels of that size? In which of the existing ports in the Shannon Estuary will it be possible to accommodate those vessels, or is it intended to establish a new port? The Taoiseach referred to the facility being integrated with Shannon Airport and could the Minister give any indication as to whether the development might be some kind of compensatory promise in anticipation of a decision on the Shannon stop-over?
Dr. Woods: This matter has been under consideration for some time. The Deputy asked about ships of 300,000 tonnes. The position is that the maximum size of vessel that can enter Moneypoint is 150,000 tonnes to 170,000 tonnes, drawing 17 to 18 metres of water. The marine facility at Moneypoint has a depth of 25 metres alongside at low water and is designed for vessels of 250,000 tonnes — the inner marine facility can accommodate a vessel of 250,000 tonnes. The development of the deep water navigation channel could allow a vessel of 250,000 tonnes to enter there, for example.
Mr. G. O'Sullivan: Would the Minister agree that the creation of a new transhipment port, as envisaged in the Taoiseach's announcement, would be a waste of valuable finance in that it would cost millions of pounds and would not be economically viable for the reason that transhipment from the United States to  this country or to Europe would be better off going through Rotterdam or through existing ports such as Cork, Waterford or Rosslare on the south coast? Will the Minister agree it would be ridiculous to create a new port which would cost this country, and the EC millions of pounds?
Dr. Woods: Even in the early stages, the ability to bring in ships of that size could result in substantial indirect savings to the ESB at Moneypoint. If the navigational channel was further deepened it would be able to accommodate ships of up to 400,000 tonnes.
An Ceann Comhairle: I am anxious to facilitate Deputies and I am also concerned about the lack of progress at Question Time today. I ask Deputies to be brief and help me to expedite matters and dispose of as many questions as we can.
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Is the Minister familiar with the details of the statement by the Taoiseach in Killarney, in which he promised the development of a Europort similar in capability to that of Rotterdam? In view of that, will the Minister indicate the extent of the studies, particularly in relation to the feasibility study, on the transportation economics of the proposition? What consultation took place between the Department and shipping companies who could be potential users?
Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Finally, I ask the Minister whether he is now having to cobble together a response to a question in the House resulting from an off the cuff remark by the Taoiseach in Killarney, in which he tried to hold out a laurel of compensation to the people of the midwest because of the Government's indecisiveness over the Shannon Airport issue?
Dr. Woods: Apart from the use of that facility to increase the cost-effectiveness of shipments to Ireland, there is the possibility of establishing a port at least as good and probably better from the point of view of depth and suitability for the major vessels transporting grain, ore, oil and coal in particular. The project is being examined.
Mr. Yates: Will the Minister not acknowledge that the Shannon Estuary port is a client-based port for Aughinish Alumina and provides deep water facilities for the ESB at Moneypoint? Will he agree that in no way is it suitable for the type of distribution centre about which the Taoiseach spoke and that it would be much more realistic to have a feasibility rather than a project study undertaken. In that regard would the Minister not acknowledge that the Taoiseach was talking a load of rubbish?
Dr. Woods: Of course the feasibility study will form part of the study at present in progress. I would not be quite so anxious to downgrade such a major port on the edge of Europe as the Deputy seems to be——
Mr. Finucane: As somebody who is representative of one of the harbour boards in the Foynes Estuary, I can talk with competence about the Shannon Estuary. Is the Minister aware that the Taoiseach's announcement was greeted with a certain amount of incredulity in the area? So far as the research SFADCo had been undertaking for some time in regard to industry and so on for the Shannon Estuary is concerned, can the Minister say to what degree SFADCo were consulted in relation to this project? Is the Minister also aware that in regard to the transhipment idea a project was proposed recently for the estuary which was not proceeded with?
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