Thursday, 29 June 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
This amendment may be late as some of this work has already commenced, but it is designed to ensure there would be worker representation in what is described in the Bill as the transferee company, which is the company which will oversee the transference from the two port authorities to a single port authority. The provision that has been made excludes this particular activity from the provisions of the Bill which would otherwise apply. There is a small transferee board and we are seeking to ensure there is worker representation. I appreciate that the work has begun already, but I would appreciate the Minister of State's comments.
Minister of State at the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Byrne): Deputy O'Sullivan will understand that sometimes a small board can be much more effective. However, subsection (2) provides that the Minster may by order, where he is of the opinion that the efficient and effective implementation of an order under subsection (1) so requires, provide that the number of directors of the transferee company shall not exceed five. The duration of any such order shall not exceed two years. Provisions in the Harbours Act, 1996, which relate to employee and local authority directors – section 30 – and the chief executive as an ex officio director – section 36 – shall not apply for the period of the order.
The hallmark of the implementation structures provided for in the Bill is that they are designed to be simple, effective and non-divisive. It is of vital importance that the implementation board, which has a short shelf life, be tightly focused and for that reason I have decided to keep the numbers low. There is a balanced representation from each company and an independent chairperson. It also has a clear-cut and focused remit. While  one could argue for more or less members, in my judgment a board limited to five members will facilitate the orderly and speedy conduct of its business.
Among the tasks of the implementation board overseeing the unification process will be close liaison with the port company boards and their successor advisory boards in order to ensure the smoothest possible transition to a new single port company structure. The advisory board, which is comprised of the directors of the two or more port companies being amalgamated and includes the employee and local authority directors, will have a real and important role in assisting the implementation board to pursue the difficult decisions that are vital to the success of the new company, the development of the business and of the port facilities.
Ms O'Sullivan: I realise this is a short-term arrangement that will last two years at most and that I will not be successful in changing the Minister of State's mind. Rather than waste the time of the House I will withdraw the amendment.
“(d) Where, for the purpose of honouring the terms and conditions of office of existing harbour masters transferred to a new company, a new company deems it expedient to employ more than one harbour master, each having jurisdiction over a different part of the new harbour, such new company may appoint more than one harbour master each with a limited geographical jurisdiction as defined by the new company and each harbour master so appointed shall be responsible to the Board for his or her geographical area and sections 17(5) and 37 and Part III of this Act shall be construed accordingly.”.
The Harbours Act, 1996, which was the primary legislation governing the 12 semi-State ports at the time, designated the Foynes and Shannon Estuary Ports companies as separate entities. The terms and conditions of employment of the staff of both locations were sacrosanct within the Act.
The new port company will have an initial phasing-in period. The new Bill will impact on the terms and conditions of one of the harbour masters. It will not impact on the chief executives because the chief executive of the Shannon Estuary Ports Company has resigned and the only remaining chief executive is in Foynes. I propose this amendment because it is important that the new company enjoy the goodwill of everyone involved from the beginning.
Mr. Byrne: This section provides for staff transferring from one company to the other and for the continuation of the protections afforded by the Harbours Act, 1996, in relation to scales of pay and conditions of service. It also provides that statutory office holders of chief executive and harbour master posts of a transferrer company are not required to be appointed as chief executive or harbour master of the new, or transferee, company. It is clear that in a new single port company entity there can only be one chief executive officer and one harbour master in charge and responsible.
There is no intention to undermine the employment protections given under the Harbours Act, 1996, that staff members transferred from predecessor harbour authorities shall be brought to no less beneficial conditions of service or of remuneration than those to which they were subject immediately before vesting day of the new port companies.
No business can be run efficiently with two or three heads in charge and it would undermine the whole thrust towards unification of two or more companies if any elements were to be left separate whether in the technical, management, administration or other areas.
Under section 37(1)(b) of the Harbours Act, 1996, a harbour master cannot assign a member of his staff to perform functions conferred on him or her by the Act. In discharging such a delegated function the person to whom it is delegated assumes the full authorities and powers of the harbour master under the Act. It will be a matter for the new Shannon and Foynes Port Company to decide how best to deploy the significant resource of six persons currently employed as harbour masters, deputies or assistants. Such delegation of functions can be put in place in the interest of good governance and has the benefit that it can be retracted as well as given to meet particular circumstances which vary from port to port so flexibility is provided for under existing harbours legislation.
Enshrining this amendment in the Bill would undermine the whole thrust of unification and help to maintain, and indeed encourage, a separate empire mindset instead of a dynamic unified new company operating on the same basis as its competitors such as Dublin or Cork.
As things stand, a harbour master may attend board meetings in accordance with the provisions of section 17(5) of the Harbours Act, 1996. This is an unusual provision as, for example, this statutory provision does not apply to other senior professional staff of port companies, including the accountancy and engineering disciplines all of which contribute equally to the efficient operation of ports.
Increasing the number of harbour masters in attendance at board meetings, as proposed in this amendment, would only further exacerbate this dichotomy. It is, of course, open to the board to require any member of the staff to be in attendance at a meeting, depending on the business  being transacted. An identical argument could be put forward for a similar provision or exclusion to apply to the position of chief executive officer. It would, of course, be equally unacceptable. Similarly, an argument could be advanced to have two headquarters rather than a single headquarters at Foynes which is the subject of another amendment put forward by the Deputy. I do not accept that doubling up on headquarters would make much sense either. Consequently, I do not propose to accept this amendment.
Mr. Finucane: Does the Minister of State agree that if two entities, each with a harbour master, are merged one harbour master must be undermined? The Shannon Estuary Ports Company does not have a chief executive while Foynes harbour does. No chief executive will be undermined by the merger but a harbour master will.
Mr. Byrne: Deputy Finucane has clearly received representations on this matter and I understand his difficulty. He must also understand, perhaps more fully than other Members, that one cannot have two people in charge of a harbour. As a former chairman of New Ross Harbour Commissioners I am sure a harbour with two harbour masters would be quite unworkable. One may feel a person is undermined because he is not given a job but his remuneration will remain the same and, in the interest of the future of the company, we should not apply an easy short-term solution to this problem.
Mr. Finucane: I did not say this person would not have a job. I was speaking about the terms and conditions of the job. However, I see no point in arguing the pros and cons of this matter indefinitely.
Limerick County Council presented a submission to KPMG Consulting. The submission was attendant on several considerations, some of which have been addressed by the Minister. The Minister has given a commitment of £3 million for the crane and dust hopper facilities at Foynes and for the crane in Limerick. A sum of £12.5 million is to be spent on the west jetty extension at Foynes. This is a de luxe facility but surrounding infrastructure is also required. These financial commitments conform to the wishes of members of Limerick County Council from all parties.  There is tradition going back over 100 years in regard to the composition of the port company at Foynes. There were always three local authority members on the authority. It is in accordance with the wishes of the submission from Limerick County Council to the KPMG consultations, which was further consolidated by amendments moved at a council meeting last week, that this amendment was tabled.
Ms O'Sullivan: I seek clarification because the Harbours (Amendment) Bill, 2000, only allows for three local authority members to be on any port company. I am not sure whether this means there would just be representation from Limerick County Council and from no other local authority. For example, Clare County Council, Kerry County Council and Limerick Corporation are three other local authorities which have an interest in the estuary. I am not clear whether the amendment proposes that representation from local authorities be confined to Limerick County Council. If it does, I will not support the amendment.
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): This section provides that the Minister shall appoint three members of a prescribed local authority or local authorities to be each a director of a company. Local authorities are prescribed by regulation under the 1996 Act. I also indicated to the Seanad that such an amendment tabled in respect of limiting the local authority representation on the newly unified port company to one named county council was unbalanced and lacking in inclusivity. If I accepted the amendment which deals solely with the interest of one local authority, I would inevitably face difficulties with the others.
To illustrate the difficulties, I would like to point out that serving local authority directors of the two companies have been nominated by Limerick County Council in the case of the Foynes Port Company and Limerick Corporation and Clare and Kerry county councils in the case of the Shannon Estuary Ports Company. I have already received approaches on behalf of Kilrush Urban District Council and Kilkee and Shannon Town Commissioners seeking representation on the new port company board.
The representation by local authorities on the board of the new company will be defined by amending the Port Companies Local Authorities Directors Regulations, 1996. The criteria used to guide the choice of local authorities prescribed by the regulations included, inter alia, the distribution of the principal activities of the port and the economic relationships between the port and the functional areas of the local authorities in question.
In deference to the commitment given by me in the Seanad and to the Deputies concerns on the issues, I am prepared to revisit this matter and consult with all interested parties in advance of amending the regulations, including the Mini ster for the Environment and Local Government and the local authorities concerned.
I would also point out by way of explaining the procedure involved that section 30 of the Harbours Act, 1996, defines how employee, local authority and other directors of a port company are selected. I expect to be in a position to nominate up to six of the 12 directors of the new company following required statutory consultation with the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation and other appropriate bodies. This presents me with the opportunity and facility to address any imbalance in the composition of the board's local authority or other representation. However, clearly there is a limit to the number of local authority directors which can, or should be, appointed given the commercial mandate of the State companies involved and the need to have balanced representation. As it stands local authority directors comprise 25% of the composition of the port company boards. I do not propose, therefore, to accept this amendment but will initiate the consultations to which I am committed as a priority.
The purpose of the amendment is to include this legislation under the Freedom of Information Act, 1997. Most Departments, local authorities, health boards and other public bodies are covered by the freedom of information legislation. This body should also be covered by that legislation which has been very effective in providing information to the public in a range of areas. I am sure the Minister would want to provide whatever information is available to the public in relation to the operation of the new harbour authority.
Mr. Fahey: The Attorney General's Office advised me that there is provision within the Freedom of Information Act to allow for the addition of bodies to those already subject to the Act and this can be done by regulations made under that Act. In the circumstances, it would be more appropriate to have the port companies included by way of such regulations and not by provision contained in this Bill. I assure Deputies, however, that I have no difficulty in principle with any new body becoming subject to the Freedom of Information Act and my Department will  liaise with the Department of Finance to arrange for the port companies to be included in appropriate regulations made under this Act.
This amendment is similar to amendment No. 4. It seeks to include the body under the Ombudsman Act, 1980, to ensure the harbour authority is subject to investigation by the Ombudsman should any issue arise which would be deemed to be appropriate to be investigated by the Ombudsman. The amendment is self-explanatory.
Mr. Fahey: I assure Deputy O'Sullivan that I have no difficulty in principle with the port companies becoming subject to the Ombudsman Act, 1980, but the Department of Finance is in the process of drafting an amending Ombudsman Bill which, among other things, will provide for the addition of a number of new bodies to become subject to the criteria of that Act. I am advised again by the Attorney General's Office that it would be more appropriate to have the port companies included in the amending Ombudsman Bill rather than seek to provide for an amendment in this Bill.
The intention behind this amendment is to oblige the Minister to bring this legislation back to the Oireachtas before it is implemented, that is, the orders made under the legislation. I understand this is normal procedure in that legislation comes back for the approval of the elected representatives of the people. That is the reason we propose the deletion of the word “not”.
Mr. Fahey: I have amended section 3 of the Harbours Act, 1996, to allow that the order in relation to the amalgamation of Foynes Port Company and Shannon Estuary Ports Company will not be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, that is, that the principle and technicalities of the proposed amalgamation of these two companies will not require further approval from the Houses of the Oireachtas. There is no justification for insisting that the Oireachtas, having considered all the issues relevant to the amalgamation proposal, should again consider the matter by virtue of a requirement to consider a ministerial order laid before each House. Consequently, I do not propose to accept this amendment.
Ms O'Sullivan: This is common practice with legislation and for very good reason. We do not know how the implementation of this legislation will pan out and what we will have at the end of that process. I have faith in those who will be involved in bringing the proposals to fruition but, at the same time, it is good practice that the legislation comes back to the elected representatives of the people. Why is this Bill being treated differently in that it is normal practice to ensure the Members of the Oireachtas are satisfied with the way the proposals are to be implemented?
Mr. Fahey: The principle of the proposed amalgamation will not require any further approval from the Houses of the Oireachtas. As I said, the Oireachtas has now considered all the issues relevant to the amalgamation proposal and, therefore, there is no need to lay a ministerial order before each House.
Mr. Fahey: Section 1(3)(a)(ii) provides that the name of the new company can be prescribed by the making of a ministerial order. After a comprehensive public consultation, the KPMG Consulting report recommended that the name of the new company should be the Shannon and Foynes  Port Company. I have an open mind on this issue but the name should reflect the regional composition of the ports in the Shannon Estuary.
In terms of tonnage, the Shannon Estuary Ports Company has eight times that of Foynes. The implementation body should decide the name of the new company. I hope a consensus will emerge on a name which is not skewed in either direction, but which commands confidence, reflects the commercial reality and the best interests of the region. In other words, a name which is fully in tandem with the commercial needs of the new company.
By laying down what the name should be, the House would be removing an important local power. I prefer to leave this issue open because the two advisory boards will have an important role in advising the implementation board. It would not be fair or proper for the House to lay down the law for them so I cannot accept the amendment.
“4.–The transferee company formed by the amalgamation of Foynes Port Company and the Shannon Estuary Ports Company pursuant to section 43 of the Harbours Act, 1996 (as amended by section 1 of the Harbours (Amendment) Act, 2000) will maintain its principal office for commercial, administrative and operational functions at Foynes in County Limerick.”.
We have discussed this issue at length and I referred to it on Second Stage. The Minister has clarified that the principal office for operational, administrative and commercial activities will be in Foynes. This amendment seeks to underpin that decision in the legislation. There is a precedent for this in the 1988 Bill which stipulated that the headquarters would be in Foynes, but that Bill did not proceed.
In the Seanad the Minister stated it was not good legislative practice to insert a provision in the Bill stipulating that the headquarters would be in Foynes. That is surprising. Does the Department now have a different definition of “good legislative practice” than it did in 1988? Circumstances change and Ministers come and go, so I am proposing to insert the location of the headquarters in the Bill.
I have a strong interest in this issue as I come from Foynes. I am also aware of the concerns of Deputy O'Sullivan who is from Limerick and is concerned about losing the headquarters to Foynes. This is an important issue and I await the  Minister's response. The Department has not tabled an amendment on this issue so I presume it is not going to agree to my request. However, I await the Minister's response.
Ms O'Sullivan: I understand where Deputy Finucane is coming from and he is representing his constituency. However, I agree with Deputy O'Malley's comments on Second Stage when he said we need a broader vision. I did not comment on the previous amendment which sought to insert the name Foynes before Shannon, but constant attempts to give Foynes the upper hand will not help this Bill. We need to adopt the broad vision required to make this Bill a positive, proactive opportunity for the mid-west.
I have not tabled an amendment which seeks to gain advantage for the Shannon Estuary ports which are in my constituency. The Minister needs to adopt a balanced, neutral position but he is not doing so, no more than are other speakers. He has already announced that the headquarters will be in Foynes, despite the clear recommendation in the KPMG report. That report recommended that the location of the headquarters would be a matter for the new executive, but operational management should be located at Foynes while Limerick should house the administrative and commercial responsibilities. This report followed widespread consultation with all interested bodies and geographic locations.
It is inappropriate to have one of the companies trying to strongly impose its view on the legislation and the Minister should maintain a balance. This development offers great potential but it will only work if there is genuine goodwill and co-operation between the two former companies. That will be forthcoming but it would be helpful if we left as many of these decisions as possible to the incoming board, rather than trying to pre-empt its decisions. The new board will represent the interests of both sides and will bring them together in an amicable, positive and proactive way in the best interests of all regions in the mid-west.
Mr. Collins: I understood that Deputy O'Malley comments concerned the composition of the new board. In other words, he said he did not wish it to be too parochial and I agree with him to a certain extent. However, I understand from where Deputy O'Sullivan is coming.
The consultant's report recommended that the headquarters should be in Limerick. However, this Government has a policy of decentralisation and for that reason alone the headquarters should be in Foynes.
Mr. Deenihan: Yes, but that makes his position all the more credible. Deputy Collins would perhaps have an interest in siting the headquarters in Limerick but he is being magnanimous about locating it in Foynes. The Deputy's support for this amendment adds credence to the decision to locate the headquarters in Foynes.
From a Kerry point of view, it would be more balanced to locate the headquarters in Foynes because it is half way along the County Kerry Shannon Estuary coastline. I agree that the headquarters should be in Foynes. From the point of view of facilitating developments on all parts of the estuary, especially on the Ballylongford-Tarbert land bank, it is very important that it should be in close proximity to it. Decentralisation is also a factor. I have no doubt the Minister will accept this amendment.
Mr. Fahey: Following publication of the KPMG report, I as shareholder decided that certainty was required on where the headquarters and executive for the new port company should be located. I made the decision. I was not lobbied or influenced by anybody, even though some people are mischievously attempting to claim the credit.
Mr. Fahey: I will explain my motives. Before anybody spoke to me and having read the report and considered the recommendation of the consultants that the headquarters should be split in two, I made the decision that that ran contrary to the concept of a united port company. I announced it at the opening press conference in Limerick, and I claim credit for that. The reason for my decision is simple. It does not make any sense to have two divisions in the headquarters of the company as recommended by the consultant. That is not to say that some administrative work which is specific to the port of Limerick will not be carried out in Limerick. However, the main corporate headquarters should be in Foynes. The combined business of the two companies and the facilities over which most business influence can be exerted by the new port company are at Foynes. Also, the thrust of Government policy is away from centralisation in major towns and cities. I explained this fully to the boards and management of the two port companies when I visited them and believe my view has been accepted by both.
I introduced a specific amendment to the Bill in the Seanad on foot of the concerns raised about the identification of the headquarters location of the new port company. The Bill now empowers the Minister, in addition to prescribing by order matters such at the company name, also  to provide for the identification of the headquarters location. It will be at Foynes in the case of the new port company, and I was already committed to that.
It is somewhat puzzling that despite public pronouncements on issues such as the location of the headquarters, there remains a degree of unease and lack of acceptance that commitments given will be delivered upon. While these fears are unjustified and are groundless, nevertheless, the more clarity there is now about future actions and the new structures the better. For this reason I announced on Second Stage that Kieran McSweeney, the current chairman of the Foynes Port Company, who lives in Limerick – that was an important factor in my decision – and who is a member of the transitional implementation board, has agreed to accept my invitation to act as chairperson of the new single port company. When the board is constituted in accordance with section 43(2)(e) of the Harbours Act, 1996, as amended by this Bill, I propose to nominate Mr. McSweeney in that capacity. I am delighted that Mr. McSweeney, an IBEC nominee to his current position, has agreed to take on this challenge and to bring his strong business and commercial expertise as well as his public service background to making the new company an outstanding success.
Regarding inserting a specific provision in the Bill that the new company headquarters will be located in Foynes, I am not convinced that this is necessary or in line with good legislative practice. While I note what the Deputy says in regard to the 1998 Bill, I do not accept that it is a precedent. I do not think it was good practice then, and it would not be good practice now. However, the headquarters, meaning the principal office of the company, the company's registered office, the place where the board holds its meetings – which is not to say that it cannot hold its meetings in other places if it wishes to do so – and the core of senior executive staff will be based at Foynes. I cannot be more specific than that. I will consult the implementation board on the technical details.
I intend to move very quickly once the Bill is enacted to make the appropriate order identifying Foynes as the headquarters location. My Department will ensure, in the context of its corporate governance role, that arrangements for the new headquarters at Foynes are put in place as a priority by the implementation board.
Given that we want to make this the most prestigious port in the country, it is appropriate that a new building should be built to house the new headquarters, and that new building should reflect and be reflected in a prestigious and high-profile location in Foynes. I do not for a moment feel that the Ted Russell docks in Limerick would be downgraded. The headquarters in Foynes will reflect very well on the estuary. It is in the centre of the estuary. As Deputy Deenihan says, it takes in Kerry and, if Ballylongford proves successful, it will be strategically located to Ballylongford. I  was also conscious of the existence of the ferry which gives immediate access to the headquarters in County Clare. Limerick City is developing fast. It does not need to have this headquarters. It will be a major boost for Foynes to have it there. It is not necessary for me to enshrine that in legislation. My word is my bond, and it will be a brave Minister who would come after me and change it.
Mr. Finucane: I am aware that when the Minister made his announcement on 26 March in the Ryan Hotel, he was quite definitive in announcing that Foynes would be the headquarters. I am aware of his clarity during Priority Questions, in the Seanad and now. However, I respect the Minister's decision because it was a logical one. Foynes is a central location. Deputy Deenihan could not have described it better. It is strategically convenient to Ballylongford developments. It is strategically well positioned with Limerick 20 miles away and the of necklace of ports, which are really private ports, that surrounds the Foynes area. The amount of revenue that the Shannon Estuary Ports Company got from ports which were probably more contiguous to Foynes is like the mythical throwing of a dart into the Shannon Estuary a long time ago. That is history. We have moved on and are talking about the present. Foynes is a logical location. The Minister said it was not good legislative practice, but the Harbours (Shannon Estuary Development Corporation) Bill, 1988, contained a simple statement in section 6 to the effect that the corporation would maintain its principal office at Foynes, County Limerick. That was logical at that stage in the context of a Bill which fell in the wake of a general election. It would be logical on this occasion. However, I accept the Minister's assurance at this stage.
The officials have said it cannot be included in the Bill itself. In the course of the first discussion I had with the Minister after his appointment, he asked me what I considered to be the most important areas in the context of the location of the headquarters. This was opposed successfully over 25 years. Whoever was in Opposition always opposed it whenever it was mooted by the Department. On this occasion the Opposition has taken a pragmatic approach which was conditioned on the basis of the Minister having been magnanimous and forthcoming at an early stage in stating to me in private discussions that he would give favourable consideration to locating the headquarters at Foynes. The Minister made the ultimate decision, but he was conditioned to a degree by all the factors which pointed to Foynes as being the most suitable location. This Bill is significant and important for the future of the estuary and it should be seen as contributing positively. In recent times there have been clear-cut approaches from industrialists who may consider setting up in the estuary, particularly in the Foynes area, and I hope this comes to fruition.
 The Minister is correct in terms of the headquarters and its location. I have always felt the headquarters should be located in the main harbour area. It would probably cost much to re-equip the offices at the present location. The main players are situated within the confines of the harbour in very fine offices which the agents and stevedores built. I feel strongly about the issue and will press the amendment.
“4.–The Shannon Estuary Development Company established in September 1997 will be a subsidiary of the transferee company formed by the amalgamation of the Foynes Port Company and the Shannon Estuary Ports Company pursuant to section 43 of the Harbours Act, 1996 (as amended by section 1 of the Harbours (Amendment) Act, 2000).”.
In 1996 when I was Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture I decided to establish a strategy group to give the Tarbert-Ballylongford area a chance. I felt we had received numerous promises over the years. I remember one Minister visiting the site before an election in 1981 and turning a sod to much fanfare in the company of local Deputies. Over time numerous Ministers came to Listowel and made promises about the potential of the landbank, but nothing happened. I have heard people fantasising about the landbank over the years. We all recognise it has significant natural advantages, such as deep water, but nothing has happened and there must be a reason for this.
Because of this lack of commitment I thought the best thing to do was to establish a company focused on the development of the landbank and to examine all its possible uses. The Shannon estuary strategy group was established and included all the main stakeholders, including the Department of the Marine. In September 1997 a subsidiary company of Shannon Development, the Shannon Estuary Development Company Limited, was established. Subsequently it commissioned Price Waterhouse to produce a very good report, the Shannon Estuary Development Limited position paper. Much of what appeared in the KPMG report was included in that report. That position paper included three key conclusions, namely, that the estuary is a multi-use entity and must be planned as such to harmoniously accommodate a mix of industry, tourism, acquaculture recreation, shipping and so on; that all future developments would have to be carefully handled to avoid infringing on other users of the estuary or conflicting with the various existing or proposed planning conservation and environmental designations; and that a large number of statutory bodies are concerned with various aspects of the management, planning and  administration of the estuary making a unified approach more difficult.
Things have since evolved and following publication of the position paper a meeting was sought with the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Woods, in early 1999. However, for whatever reason he did not meet the group and the working of the group became more or less irrelevant. The group became dormant. I made inquiries today and was glad to hear it had a meeting recently. It feels the initiative has taken on a new meaning and relevance. It would be better if the company was under the umbrella of the board being established by the Minister so it could give a focus not only to the landbank in Ballylongford but to the coastal management of the estuary. That is why I am promoting the amendment.
I do not wish to dwell too long on the issue. There have been three reports on it already and I do not wish to go back over old ground. In the context of an overall development approach for the estuary, it would be better if this company, which has thankfully been reactivated by Shannon Development – perhaps following a few tough letters – was under this arrangement.
Mr. Finucane: I support the amendment. I know there will be a focus on the development of the estuary in terms of marketing, but the organisations such as Shannon Development, the IDA and others in the area may feel on the periphery. They could be complementary to the board and it should be possible to provide for a special company associated with the new board in terms of carrying out the work, which would help the new port company and further advance the estuary.
I very much respect what the Minister said about investigating the feasibility of a container business as there have been many promises and false dawns for Ballylongford. Ballylongford has often been used for general election purposes with regard to projections of jobs and various projects. At this stage it is important to clearly and quickly establish what is suitable for Ballylongford and whether the container business is feasible. The report referred to by Deputy Deenihan clearly sets out what is suitable. In the time of the late George Colley there was talk of a smelter, but in this day and age there would be no acceptance of such a project. Therefore, there is a limited niche market in terms of suitability and given the depth of water. I would very much respect a timescale being placed on the special investigation being carried out by the Minister. The previous Minister, Deputy Woods, set a timeframe for the KPMG report so it would be produced as quickly as possible and I am sure a timeframe can be imposed on the consultants examining the suitability of Ballylongford for a container business.
Ms O'Sullivan: I support the amendment. The work already done is considerable and it would  be a pity not to build upon it for the future. It makes sense for the Minister to support the amendment in order to pursue these issues to see what is feasible under the new arrangements.
Mr. Fahey: It was I who reactivated the Shannon Estuary Development Company when I discovered on taking office that it had not met for over 12 months. I did so because I was of the view that it had a very important role to play. I informed the chairman and a number of other board members that it was my intention to proceed with the establishment of the new port company. It is only appropriate that the Shannon Estuary Development Company should continue to play a role in the wider development of the estuary in the areas mentioned by the Deputy, including aquaculture and tourism. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Shannon Development and its objectives extend to Ballylongford. I am satisfied that it will be fully represented in the new single port company. This is the best way it can contribute to the wider development of the estuary.
The new single port company can act as a catalyst for the development of the estuary and reinvigorate the work of the Shannon Estuary Development Company which I intend will be represented on the new board – both can work in tandem. It would not be appropriate for the Shannon Estuary Development Company to become a subsidiary of the new single port company as they have separate and distinct roles, albeit complementary, which should be kept at arm's length. I take Deputy Deenihan's point that there is a very strong bond between the two.
An examination is being conducted by my Department, the Department of the Taoiseach and SFADCo to identify once and for all whether anything can be done in Ballylongford in terms of transshipment. We hope to be in a position to make an announcement before September. In the meantime we are moving quickly ahead and talking to the major worldwide players in the container business.
While I do not propose to accept the amendment, I am prepared to discuss with Deputy Deenihan and others proposals designed to ensure close integration and collaboration between the new single port company and the Shannon Estuary Development Company.
Mr. Deenihan: I thank the Minister for reactivating the Shannon Estuary Development Company. It was inexplicable that it had not met for over one year given the level of commitment shown in the previous three years. I look forward to discussing with the Minister the relationship between the two companies. The objective of the amendment is to avoid duplication. The Minister has indicated that the new port company will look after port matters, such as the handling of cargo, the provision of proper facilities and ensuring the port is competitive, while the broader develop ment role will rest with the Shannon Estuary Development Company.
Mr. Fahey: A report compiled by the Marine Institute in association with a series of statutory and voluntary bodies identified a plethora of development opportunites, in tourism in particular but also in ecological and cultural activities on the northern side of the estuary. We are now entering the implementation phase. This morning with my officials and representatives of BIM I looked at the potential of the aquaculture sector in the estuary. These activities will be the responsibility of the Shannon Estuary Development Company while the new port company will be specifically responsible for port developments.
Mr. Deenihan: I was of the view that the Shannon Estuary Development Company would fit in better with the new arrangements than with Shannon Development. If the Minister is satisfied that there will be no overlapping or duplication I will accept his explanation. It is very important that he keeps the heat on the company to ensure the impetus and momentum is maintained. He has already received a number of inquiries about activities in Foynes. It is very important that he has our full support in moving forward with this initiative for which we are very grateful.
“5.–Section 12 of the Harbours Act, 1996, is hereby amended by the addition in subsection (1)(d) after ‘environment,' of ‘in particular, by carrying out environmental impact assessments of such activities, and to have due regard to the consequences of such activities on tourism,'.”.
This amendment deals with harbours in general, not just the Shannon Estuary. It seeks to amend section 12 of the Harbours Act, 1996, to provide for the carrying out of environmental impact assessments. A variety of activities, including trade, commerce, industry and tourism, take place in harbours which can have a negative impact on the environment. There is a need to strike a balance as the various interests have often been in conflict. Cork is but one example. The same is true of other European harbours. It is suggested in the amendment that harbour companies would be the appropriate bodies to maintain an overview and should have the power to carry out environmental impact assessments to ensure a proper balance is maintained and particular proposals do not have a negative effect on the environment.
Mr. Fahey: The environmental impact assessment regulations amend the legislation governing harbours and provide for environmental impact assessments. All relevant development proposals within the consent system are required to undergo environmental impact assessment. A consent application for such developments must be accompanied by an environmental impact statement, which is a statement of the likely significant environmental effects, good or bad, of the proposal. The competent authority in its consideration of an application must carry out an environmental impact assessment of the proposal based, among other things, on the information contained in the environmental impact statement. Consequently, as port companies and harbour authorities are already obliged to comply in full with EIA regulation requirements, as prescribed by the EU and enshrined in national law, the amendment is not necessary.
Mr. Deasy: As well as allowing for the amalgamation of the port companies of Foynes and Shannon Estuary, the Bill in section 6 provides for the amendment of section 25 of the Harbours Act, 1996, whereby the Minister for Finance can make available £60 million, rather than £50 million, for capital works by the various port companies and also equity for other purposes. The Minister is aware that both Foynes Port Company and Waterford Port Company have financial problems. Waterford Port Company needs just under £2 million from central funds to allow it repay European Investment Bank loans. Will the Minister provide an assurance that this money will be forthcoming, so that we can safeguard the future of both the Foynes part of the Shannon Estuary Board and the Waterford Port Company by keeping them viable?
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): I thank the Members of this House and the Seanad for the constructive way in which they dealt with this legislation, especially Deputy Finucane and Deputy Collins, who had most interest in the Bill. I also thank Deputies O'Sullivan, Deenihan, O'Malley, Wade, Donal Carey, and O'Shea and Deasy with their Waterford interest. It is a milestone that after so long, this Bill has finally been passed. I was delighted at the constructive approach taken. There were some concerns and there will be difficulties, but I have no doubt that in a spirit of co-operation, partnership and trust, they will be overcome by the implementation board. We will support the board to enable it get to the point as quickly as possible where the new port company can take over running the single port.
I learned this evening of Deputy Finucane's move to be his party's spokesman on Defence. I congratulate him on his three years of work on the Marine and Natural Resources. In my time in the Dáil and watching him from another role prior to becoming Minister, I have rarely come across a more constructive Opposition spokesman. At a time when politicians perhaps tear each other apart a lot – we have all done it in Opposition – Deputy Finucane has been very effective and gentlemanly in his role as Opposition spokesman. In a very knowledgeable way he put forward the case of many people involved in the marine sector. In the few months I have been Minister I have been amazed at the depth of his knowledge, given that he would not have the back-up at my disposal in terms of departmental staff, etc.
In his three years as Opposition spokesman, Deputy Finucane made a very significant contribution to the development of a Department which has come on in leaps and bounds over a number of years. That is due to the work of a number of my predecessors from a range of different parties. I intend to try and develop the Department into a major area of economic development. Deputy Finucane contributed to that since I took up office. I wish him well in his new post in Defence and I thank him for his constructive approach to this Bill and to so many other issues since I took up office. My predecessor, Deputy Woods, had the same to say of him.
Mr. Finucane: I thank the Minister for his kind wishes. It is ironic that I should leave this post with this Bill. I wish the new board bon voyage when it takes office with the merged entity of Foynes Port Company and the Shannon Estuary Port Company. It will be a successful entity and, overall, it will be very good for the estuary.
I was pleased to be constructive and pragmatic with this Bill. I have had differences at times with some of the departmental officials, however, their hearts are in the right place when it comes to the marine sector. I found my three years as my party's spokesman on the marine most interesting. I learned much about the area, including the span of responsibility that exists in the Department. I am sure the Minister has been surprised at the scope of the Department. It has been an exciting time.
Deputy Collins and I have always acted in the interest of Foynes and I am sure Deputy O'Sullivan can talk knowledgeably about Limerick. Now that the Bill has been passed, I hope it will be implemented speedily. I welcome the Minster's announcement this evening of the capital investment for Foynes and Limerick. It is a step in the right direction and will give a new impetus to the board of Foynes with regard to new equipment.
I also welcome the Minister's recognition of Foynes Yacht Club and I note he is prepared to provide funding. That would be very much appreciated by the yacht club community, which exists in close harmony with the local port.
Ms O'Sullivan: I wish Deputy Finucane well in his new portfolio. I welcome the passage of this Bill and I wish the implementation board well. With co-operation on all sides it can develop the Shannon Estuary in a way that will be hugely beneficial for the whole region. I am sure the Minister will find there will be full co-operation from all of the various areas affected by the legislation.
He said in his closing remarks that he intended that the Department would be an agent for development, economic prosperity and improvement. Certainly the Shannon Estuary will provide an excellent challenge. I am sure we will see much progress there in the future with this joint board.
Mr. Collins: I compliment the Minister and his officials for bringing forward this complicated Bill. As Deputy O'Malley said, this is the fourth such Bill, three having already fallen. This Bill went so smoothly because there was a different approach by this Minister and the officials in comparison to the approaches made by previous Ministers and the officials in so far as when the other Bills were introduced it was a question of one port taking over the other. This did not happen in this case as the Minister and this officials consulted the boards of both ports.
I am a former member of Limerick Harbour Board. That was before Deputy O'Sullivan's time. I compliment the members of both boards, the Shannon port company and Foynes Port  Company, and the good work done by all the people employed by the boards, and by the directors of the boards, the chief executive officers, the harbour masters, the employees and the dockers.
This Bill will be good, not only for the people of Limerick city and Limerick West, but for the people of north Kerry and Clare also. I compliment Deputy Deenihan for putting his shoulder to the wheel and making sure that Ballylongford was looked after, but it was a pity he was not here earlier when Deputy O'Malley was here. Deputy O'Malley set up the Ballylongford land bank and got Shannon Development to purchase it, and when things were bad in the late 1980s he stopped it from selling the land bank. In fairness, Deputy O'Malley deserves a great deal of credit also.
I hope the Bill will usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for all the enterprises of the Estuary. For my part, and I exert some influence in the Ballylongford-Tarbert area. I will certainly support the Minister in every way possible to stimulate development on the land bank.
I did not think we would reach this day. As the Minister will be aware, the three previous efforts fell because of elections. It nearly happened again. The Minister has brought the Bill home safely and steered it well, and I thank him.
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