Tuesday, 3 April 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
115. Mr. Finucane asked the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources the policy guidelines laid down by his Department for purchasing or selling property and land in commercial harbours; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9944/01]
Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Fahey): My Department is the regulatory and development authority for the maritime transport sector as well as the governing authority for the State's commercial ports. Sixteen harbour authorities operate under the Harbours Acts, 1946 to 1996, and eight port companies operate under the Harbours Acts, 1996 to 2000. There are different provisions in the governing legislation in respect of property matters. Under the Harbours Act, 1946, a harbour authority may lease any of their lands or premises for any period not exceeding two hundred years, but no such lease shall be made for a period exceeding ten years without the consent of the Minister. In addition a harbour authority may, with the consent of the Minister, sell any of their lands or premises which are not required by them for the purposes of their harbour.
It is Government policy that in the sale of State lands by harbour authorities, the guidelines set out in the booklet Public Procurement – 1994 Edition, designed to achieve best obtainable price in an open and equitable process, are observed. Where it is not proposed to dispose of State assets by public tender or auction, or where a public tender or auction process is used and it is proposed not to accept the highest bid, clear reasons for this departure from standard practice must be submitted when seeking ministerial consent.
The disposal of State properties by port companies is governed by section 15 of the Harbours Act, 1996, which makes provisions with respect to sale, leasing and acquisition of land. It provides that the decision by a company to dispose of any of its land shall only be made by the directors of the company and that the consideration for which any land is sold shall, in so far as is practicable, not be less than its open market value.
The report by the Committee of Public Accounts, following the Committee's examination of the special report of the Comptroller and Auditor General to the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources on the sale of State lands, made a number of recommendations as to the manner in which the sale of State properties should be conducted and proposed that adequate safeguards be put in place to ensure that guidelines set out in the booklet Public Procurement – 1994 Edition, designed to achieve best obtainable price in an open and equitable process, are observed. In particular it recommended that in future, where it is not proposed to dispose of State assets by public tender or auction, or where a public tender or auction process is used and it is proposed not to accept the highest bid, clear  reasons for this departure from standard practice should be recorded.
In order to give effect to the Committee's recommendations, I have informed each port company of my intention to have the guidelines contained in the booklet Public Procurement – 1994 Edition, applied, where practicable, by the port companies' boards as a matter of policy. My Department has notified each port company of my intention to give such a policy direction in writing. The statutory consultation process as required by section 44(1)(d) of the Harbours Act, 1996, has been initiated.
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