Wednesday, 5 July 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
20. Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will clarify the position regarding the future development of Ros a’Mhíl harbour, due to his Department’s commissioned report to assess the viability which recommended two separate developments and in further view of the commitment given by the then Minister, Deputy Fahey, of €14.8 million for Ros a’Mhíl; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26682/06]
Mr. Browne: In 2000, the Department commissioned O’Hare and Associates to carry out an assessment of the capability of the existing infrastructure and onshore facilities at Ros a’Mhíl fishery harbour centre to service safely and efficiently the existing and future requirements of the fishing industry and other potential sources of commercial traffic.
The thrust of the report recommended a phased development. Phase one of the development entailed the provision of dedicated ferry berths in an area of the inner harbour dredged to 3.6 meters and a small craft harbour in the same dredge area. Phase 2 involved the provision of a deep-water berth, with facilities for vessels up to eight metres draught. The report went on to recommend further phased developments.
This Department appointed consulting engineers to the project in July 2001 and they estimated the total cost of the development at €30 million. In 2004, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs agreed to co-fund phase one of the development. The dredging of the inner harbour and the dredging for the small boat facility is now complete at a cost of €5.1 million. This amount does not include any sum to cover the contractor’s claim for additional fees.
Planning permission was sought and obtained for the overall development in 2002 and all statutory permits are in place. Amendments subsequently made to the development were submitted to Galway County Council for planning approval. Planning permission has been received for amendments to the layout of the inner harbour entailing construction of a rock spoil breakwater and shore access area. Currently, amendments to the proposed layout of the ferry berth pontoons and the configuration of the proposed deep-water quay are with Galway County Council for approval.
Mr. Perry: In light of the announcement by the then Minister, Deputy Fahey, of the investment of €14.8 million, while I welcome what the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, stated on the work carried out, this development is required because Ros a’Mhíl is a major fishery harbour centre situated close to the most productive fishing grounds. The Department’s fishing figures for the past three years show that Ros a’Mhíl is the second most important fish landing port in the country. The difficulty is that landing of fish declined over the past year as the new generation of vessels are unable to land. Fishing boats over 100 ft. have been prohibited from entering the harbour and unless deep-water facilities are provided Ros a’Mhíl’s declining trend in fish landings will continue. One processing company cannot get fish.
From the tourism point of view, Ros a’Mhíl is the main port of access to the Aran Islands. With in excess of 350,000 passengers per annum, it is the fourth largest port in terms of passenger movements in the country. There are six ferries to the Aran Islands on a daily basis and a deep water berth would facilitate visits from cruise liners, with passengers disembarking for Connemara and the Aran Islands.
Given the fishing, tourism and commercial potential, the difficulty is that this was agreed in the national development plan and the then Minister, Deputy Fahey, announced €14.8 million for Ros a’Mhíl. The development has been slow and phase 2 has been frustrated. The Minister of State replied that certain works have been done, which I have seen, but there is a deep concern that the development will not proceed as originally envisaged. No funding is ring-fenced in the Department’s budget, which we discussed a few weeks ago.
Mr. Browne: The dredging is complete and representatives of my Department and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs are carrying out a detailed analysis of the need for a dedicated passenger ferry terminal and the building of a number of pontoon berths required. The next stage is the completion of phase 1 through the installation of the pontoon berths and I hope planning permission will be granted in this regard soon. The contract will be awarded in the autumn with the work completed by spring 2007. The provision of the deep water quay is the next stage and this will provide a facility for the larger pelagic vessels using the harbour and for visiting foreign and domestic trawlers. The deep water quay will also be available to serve other industries such as offshore exploration.
With regard to funding, €84.35 million is available under the national development plan while up to the end of 2005 the Department had spent €120 million under this programme. This year €22.5 million is available for fishery harbour development. Planning permission rather than money is the issue. I hope permission will be granted soon and then we can go to tender to award the contract.
Mr. Perry: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He said the project is ready for tender. The funding announced by the former Minister for the Marine, Deputy Fahey, is critical. Will the building of the deep water facility proceed, given that I have been assured planning permission is in place and funding is all that is required?
Mr. Browne: A number of stages were agreed and the next phase is the installation of the pontoon berths. As soon as planning permission is granted, that project will go to tender and a contract will be awarded in the autumn or earlier, if the permission comes through quickly. The work will be completed by next spring. Phase 2 is the provision of the deep water quay, which will be built after the pontoon berths have been installed. These phases have been agreed by both Departments and the people in Ros a’Mhíl. The issue is obtaining planning permission, installing the pontoon berths and then moving on to phase 2, the provision of the deep water quay, which, as the Deputy stated, is important for large pelagic vessels.
Mr. Perry: I thank the Minister of State for the clarification because there was major uncertainty among the people of Ros a’Mhíl. There was ambiguity among the key partners in the fishery harbour regarding the direction and timescale of the development. They sought clarity on the timsecale and funding, not promises. The original cost of the development was estimated at €29 million, which was agreed by the Department and designs and costings were produced for the provision of dedicated ferry berths and a deep water pier 200 metres long with a minimum depth of 8 metres. Does the Minister of State agree to that?
Mr. Browne: I am not in the business of making promises. If planning permission is granted to provide the pontoon berths, the contract will be awarded in the autumn and completed by spring 2007. I have visited a number of ports in recent weeks. I intend to visit Ros-a-Mhíl in the next two or three weeks and I will have discussions while I am there. Phases 1 and 2 have been agreed. Phase 1 is about to be achieved as the planning permission should be granted soon. The Deputy and the people of Ros a’Mhíl should not be worried because we will honour whatever commitments have been agreed.
Mr. Perry: There were massive celebrations when the former Minister for the Marine, Deputy Fahey, made the original announcement in 2000. A marquee was erected amid high expectations. There has been much disappointment since but I am assured the Minister of State is not in festive mode and he will deliver what he has outlined. If he does not, the next Government will.
Mr. Browne: The former Minister, Deputy Fahey, made a commitment to Ros a’Mhíl and the development is under way. The senior Minister and I intend to see it through to the end. The Deputy should have no concerns. The first phase will be completed next spring and when we return following the election, we will complete the project.
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