Wednesday, 29 November 1995
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. D'Arcy: After a lot of pressure over a long number of years, the then Minister for the Marine, Deputy Wilson, established the Commercials Harbour Review Group in October 1990. Its task was to identify those aspects of existing legislation which constrained a modern port. The structures of harbour ports needed to be examined as to the extent of ministerial and departmental control on the day to day activity of ports.
The review group included a broad representation of interests associated with ports — the Irish Ports Authority Association, IBEC, a transport economist, a port user, a local authorities representative, a SIPTU representative and representatives from the Department of the Marine. The group presented its report and recommendations in July 1992.
The key recommendation of the review group was that, to facilitate commercialisation, commercial State companies should be set up to manage certain ports. The group also recommended that the commercial mandate on which the new port company would operate should give it flexibility to operate as a truly commercial enterprise.
This Bill is based on the main recommendations of the review group. It provides for the setting up of commercial State companies to manage and operate the ports of Arklow, Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Dundalk, Foynes, Galway, New Ross, Shannon, Waterford and Wicklow. At present these ports are managed by harbour authorities in accordance with the Harbours Act, 1946.
I wish to refer to the setting up of a State commercial company to manage and operate Dún Laoghaire harbour, which is at present managed and operated by the Department of the Marine, the functions of the company so established  and the revision of the law relating to pilotage. It is important that ports are viable and represent the regions in which they are situated. Because of industrial relations and other problems in ports like Dublin, they have not operated as they should to our advantage and many firms export through Northern ports which are considerably cheaper. The Minister should examine this because it does not make sense for exporters from Wexford to haul their produce through Dublin and Louth to Belfast but, unfortunately, this is happening at present. The setting up of the new boards should see a change in this area.
I have spoken to people about the ports in Northern Ireland. They have claimed that there is a certain amount of subsidisation which, as far as competition is concerned, is in their favour. It does not make sense to haul produce from Wexford to Larne. What is the position in respect of the subsidisation of these ports which gives them an advantage over our ports?
While I accept and commend the Bill to the House, I have difficulty barring MEPs — although they are never available — Senators and TDs from membership of the new port companies. We are always biased against Senators and TDs. By and large, Senators and TDs, particularly backbenchers, provide an important link between the ports and departmental officials because they are on the spot.
We talk about accountability and transparency. Who is more accountable than a TD, Senator or county council member? TDs and Senator must go before the electorate every five years. I have always said, even when I was a Minister of State, that the Department of Finance seems to interfere in this area, and I object to that. Why should a Senator or TD not be a member of these boards?
Section 13 deals with light dues and harbour charges which affect ports in County Wexford and, to a lesser degree, in County Waterford. Ships bound for  the port of New Ross must pass through part of Waterford harbour. At present these ships are charged light dues at the same rate as vessels which proceed to Waterford, despite the fact that the New Ross ships use less than half the lights in the estuary. Waterford Harbour Commissioners collect £45,000 per annum in light dues from New Ross bound ships. This charge is excessive and does not relate to the cost of providing the lights; it is making New Ross uncompetitive. There is no basis for these charges and I will seek an amendment to this section.
The amendment made by the Minister for the Marine to section 13(8) on Committee Stage in the Dáil allows this inequitable situation to continue. We accept that if a port provides facilities or services which are of benefit to ships going to another port, then the first port should be able to recover a fair proportion of the capital and operational costs of providing them. However, these costs should be recovered from the other port company rather be levied on each ship. This would result in an equitable and transparent situation between the two ports. In my view, section 13(8) as it stands should be deleted and the following inserted:
If, by reason of the situation of any harbour, it is necessary for a ship proceeding in such a harbour to enter or anchor within the harbour of another company, then, where a ship enters or anchors within the harbour of such a company for that purpose, and the purpose only of proceeding to the first mentioned harbour, the said company may not impose any harbour charges in respect of such entry or anchoring by that ship, provided that where the said company provides services or facilities which are utilised by such ships, it may recover a fair proportion of the capital and operational costs incurred in providing such services or facilities from the first port company.
I ask the Minister of State to consider deleting section 13(8) and replacing it  with my amendment. This would be a most fair and equitable system. The Waterford Harbour Commissioners would probably argue the opposite. However, in fairness, New Ross is a small harbour and an annual payment of £45,000 to Waterford Harbour Commissioners is over and above the real cost of providing these services. We know that and they know it too.
Section 60 deals with pilotage. We carefully examined this section and while we agree with some parts we disagree with others. Pilotage is compulsory for in bound vessels in the Waterford Estuary. In many cases ships proceed to Ballyhack-Passage East before a pilot embarks. This practice is especially prevalent in poor weather which prevents pilots boarding at Dunmore East. Pilotage outward from Ballyhack-Passage East is not compulsory for coastwise vessels. I ask the Minister of State to consider the following points.
Pilotage should be optional for vessels of less than 8,000 tonnes deadweight from Dunmore East to Ballyhack-Passage East. Current practices indicate that compulsory pilotage in this area for ships of certain sizes is unnecessary. The review group is prepared to put this argument forward. New Ross pilots should board at Ballyhack-Passage East and proceed through the Barrow Bridge to New Ross.
This move would improve safety by giving New Ross pilots a chance to become familiar with the handling characteristics of the ship before the Barrow Bridge, which is the most dangerous and challenging area of navigation in the entire passage. The current position is unsatisfactory as the New Ross pilot boards just as the ship approaches the bridge. The pilots are boarding far too close to the bridge and it is more dangerous to do this than not to board at all. I ask the Minister of State to consider this point.
On Report Stage in the Lower House, the Minister of State recognised that pilotage in the Suir estuary should be examined and he announced the establishment  of a review group comprising representatives of both ports, an independent expert and an official from the Department. I understand the review group is due to meet before the end of the month and it is envisaged that its report will be submitted in approximately three months. The Minister has powers under sections 43, 70 and 80 of the Harbours Bill to implement the review group's findings without the need for any further legislation. People in the Wexford area are concerned and we hope the review group will examine the argument between the Waterford and New Ross Harbour Commissioners. We hope a satisfactory outcome can be achieved.
The links to Europe, including the southern Irish Sea corridor and the southern land bridge, have not been mentioned so far in the debate. This aspect is most important in terms of exits from ports. Improvements to the road network serving Rosslare, Ferryport, New Ross and Waterford on the Irish side and the ferryports of Fishguard and Pembroke Docks on the Welsh side have been an issue for many years. Some improvements have been undertaken over the past few years but these have been more cosmetic than real. People involved in transport have argued this point for the past ten years.
Such has been the concern that in July 1993 a conference was held in west Wales with the aim of establishing a standing conference to ensure the future development of the southern Irish Sea corridor links to Europe, which includes the southern land bridge concept. Throughout the conference there was great play on the need to urgently improve road communications serving the ferry port of Rosslare, New Ross, Waterford, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock. There has never been parity with the expenditure made available for highway improvements serving the ferry ports in the North, particularly Larne. I do not have the figures but I consulted people in Pembroke and they claim it is far above any amount invested on the Welsh side.
 This debate on the need to drastically improve the road network serving Rosslare, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock was carried on in a seminar workshop held in Wexford. There was a consensus that improvements of significance were required to sustain the viability of the southern Irish Sea corridor and the emerging importance of the southern land bridge leading to the English south coast ports which have aligned themselves in support of development of the southern Irish Sea corridor.
The Assembly of Welsh Counties with the support of the Association of Welsh District Councils has produced a Welsh transport strategy to be used to acquaint members of the EU with the strategy needed for Wales. This report emphasised the need for improvements to the trans-European network linking the Welsh ferry ports with Ireland. It contends also that it is equally important to develop a good network of internal roads, including Irish roads. We have some extremely bad routes, such as the route from Enniscorthy to New Ross. The route from New Ross to Waterford has been improved in the last four to five years but there are other routes that require a lot of improvement to reach the necessary standard.
The southern Irish Sea corridor is a vital link in the communications chain joining Rosslare, New Ross and Waterford with the west Wales ferry ports, English south coast ports and the European mainland, providing a direct and efficient trade route between Ireland and the heart of Europe which is where we sell our produce. It is contended that a high quality road system is essential to establish links between the peripheral south-east Irish and Welsh and west coast sub-regions and trans-European networks.
In the west Wales context Dyfed County Council's transport policy programme has made the case to the Welsh Office over many years for major works to be undertaken on the A40 route to Pembroke Dock. The policy programme  seeks to make the A40 west from St. Clears a dual carriageway and to have specific schemes implemented along the A477. Providing a dual carriageway west from St. Clears has been consistently refused by the Welsh Office on the grounds that it is not merited having regard to the volume of traffic predictions. It is understood — I do not have the figures — that traffic movements tions. It is understood — I do not have the figures — that traffic movements increased substantially this year and last year.
As to quantifying traffic movements on the roads in west Wales, Dyfed County Council has recently retained consultants to investigate traffic movements between west Wales ferry ports and Rosslare. The aim of the study is to stimulate cross-Border activity which will contribute to the cultural and economic development of the Border regions. It is contended that selective improvements, such as the Whitland bypass, do not address the overall problem of an inadequate west Wales road network.
To address the problem it is necessary for Irish south-east local authorities to join with the local authorities in west Wales to develop a unified road strategy and the study mentioned could be the basis for presenting such a strategy. The findings of this study should be formally presented to the Irish and UK Governments, in particular to the Welsh Office. It should also be brought to the attention of EU Transport Commissioner, Mr. Neil Kinnock. The transportation subcommittee of the west Wales task force discussed the transportation links with Mr. Kinnock who recognised the unfair allocation of resources to west Wales. He recommended that continued pressure should be placed on the UK Government but cautioned that the sovereign states of Europe retain the right to approve or veto plans put forward by the European Parliament. He said he would give all possible assistance in support of improving the transportation system through the west Wales area, which will also serve the Irish side.
When one arrives at the port of Rosslare from Fishguard there is a 60  mile stretch of very poor roads which we wish to have upgraded. Will the Minister of State take a personal interest in this and give us some support? I was chairman of Wexford County Council and the two councils met on a couple of occasions. We went to Wales to meet their council — which has been discontinued with three councils merging — and we are having a further meeting shortly. It is very important for this to be taken into consideration in any future policy.
In addition to seeking the support of the EU Transportation Commissioner, it seems appropriate to make use of the INTERREG II programme as the vehicle to develop cross-Border networks of co-operation between Wexford County Council, Dyfed County Council and, from April 1996, Pembrokeshire County Council. INTERREG II has a transport measure aimed at improving and overcoming the problems related to poor economic development through progressing improved transport communications. There should be a joint aim to ensure the provision of high quality road and rail access to the ports of Rosslare, New Ross, Waterford, the rest of the south-east coast, Fishguard and, in particular, Pembroke harbour.
I have listened to all the debate and I feel it is very important to take into consideration the entrances and exits to the ports. Airports are different as they are near cities but ports have very bad access roads. We are the only island nation in Europe and it is vital to ensure, particularly in the south-east, that the road network is brought up to a reasonable standard as, unfortunately, Larne is taking the business from that area.
I have every reason to believe that this is an exceptional deal for which we have waited for some time — with the exception of the two small points which I mentioned. The Minister has set up a commission and I sincerely hope that satisfactory results can be arrived at in favour of New Ross port, otherwise it  will continue to face serious problems in the coming years.
Miss Ormonde: The purpose of this legislation is the restructuring of the framework of the port authorities. The existing legislation has been in place since 1946 and is very outdated. I welcome any changes necessary to modernise the ports. The review group was set up in 1990 and identified problems which needed to be examined in order to modernise our ports and harbours to ensure future prosperity. We are an isolated island dependent on the rest of Europe for our external trade and our ports must meet the highest international standards.
There was a great deal of good reading in the Minister's speech last week. I also looked at the recommendations of the review body which contain great detail about who will be on the boards. The local representatives, councillors or otherwise, should be part of the board because they understand the area, the operation of the boards and the people and ethos from which the boards derive. It is important that we do not neglect local democracy.
The object of the new companies is to operate, develop and promote investment and to take action on safety, harbour charges and the acquisition and disposal of land. The Minister will be empowered to act if necessary. This is to be welcomed because it will streamline our thinking and we will have a framework within which we will do business in the future.
I had no difficulty with the Bill until I read what would be done in each new port company which is to be set up. I did not know much about Foynes Harbour but I like the area and became interested in it. If I thought that harbour and its tradition were being neglected, I would be concerned and would suggest that the Minister should take note of this and smaller harbours. The new Shannon port company will have jurisdiction over the Shannon Estuary; I hope the Minister can confirm there will be separate jurisdiction for Foynes Harbour  and that it will be under the control of its trustees. If that is so it is to be welcomed because they are two different entities; Foynes Harbour is market driven while the Shannon port would be an administrative company which would not be tuned into the finer details of a country area. I trust the two separate jurisdictions are copperfastened by the Bill.
A mediator has been operating between Limerick Harbour Commissioners and Foynes Harbour Trustees on the extension of the jurisdiction and limits to facilitate larger vessels coming to the harbour. Limerick Harbour Commissioners expressed their concern that large vessels coming into the approach channels of Foynes Harbour would have difficulty navigating to other destinations as a result of the change of jurisdiction. I ask the Minister to consult with both harbour bodies so that vessels will not have problems. I have listened to each group; I understand their concerns and I wish to ensure they are accommodated accordingly. It is important that each has its say. I welcome the independent jurisdiction of Foynes and the extension of the limits for large vessels, because this is where the deep water berths are. It will create prosperity, economic development and employment for the town.
I stress, again, that local representation is very important when dealing with local areas. It reflects what is happening in the area. There is nothing better than local democracy for finding out what is, and is not, good. I ask the Minister to ensure we do not lose sight of local democracy. I reiterate there is some confusion. The Limerick Harbour Commissioners feel their business is being jeopardised. This point can be worked out around the table. There should be room for both sides to operate, each should recognise its role.
I now wish to address the problems of pilotage and charges at New Ross harbour. I spoke to two deputations about this issue. I know the area well because  I have travelled from Dunmore East to Cheekpoint, where the route separates — one route goes to New Ross and the other to Waterford.
The charges problem arises from the fact that there is a common approach from Dunmore East to Cheekpoint. New Ross claims it is being charged too much. Waterford Harbour Commissioners maintain that is where the quay lights are and they maintain that part of the estuary. There seems to be a problem but I cannot understand why it cannot be sorted out. There are harbour commissioners at New Ross and Waterford. The Waterford commissioners maintain these charges are fair while those at New Ross say they are excessive because they relate to charges from Dunmore East to Cheekpoint and from Cheekpoint to New Ross. I ask the Minister to bring the two groups together, to sit them down and thrash out this problem. It can be done. I do not think the Minister or I should be dictating terms to people who know what they are doing.
Pilotage is another problem. The Minister said each pilot can have a certificate but there can be exemptions. I do not understand this. If a pilot can apply to be exempt so he can pilot a ship from Dunmore East to New Ross or from Dunmore East to Waterford, that is a new development in the Bill. I ask the Minister to explain this. All I am saying is that there is no better way to solve a problem than consultation between the Foynes group and Limerick Harbour and New Ross and Waterford. No decision should be made which would draw attention to any group. We are looking for fair play.
Ms O'Sullivan: This is important legislation. It will enable small and large ports to develop to their full potential in order to be of maximum economic benefit to the region they serve. This is necessarily a detailed Bill; it contains over 100 sections. Some of them are technical but this is necessary if we are to facilitate the safe and productive use of our ports. I hope this legislation will  enable us to achieve this for the next number of decades and beyond.
There are two guiding principles in the development of ports and harbours — economic benefit and marine safety — and they must go hand in hand. The Minister is faced with a number of difficult areas and will probably need the wisdom of Solomon to deal with two particular cases where the interests of one port conflict directly with the interests of another. Some of these were mentioned earlier and include combinations such as Dún Laoghaire and Dublin, Waterford and New Ross and Limerick and Foynes. I wish the Minister luck in resolving these problems.
I wish to refer specifically to the Shannon estuary. Much time in the Dáil and Seanad debates has been spent discussing the effort to reach a decision on the operational arrangements between Foynes port and what will become Shannon Estuary Ports under the new legislation. The Bill retains the current limits but it has been made clear that there is an intention to change those limits. I have no problem with giving Foynes more scope and I acknowledge that extra room is required to develop the port. However, we must balance the needs of both Foynes and the Limerick Harbour Commission's area, which is to become Shannon Estuary Ports. The consideration in this specific area, as well as in the general area, must be maximum economic development while maintaining the paramount importance of safety.
I understand the need for development at Foynes. There are plans, particularly in the Mount Trenchard area, to extend berthing areas. I do not know how immediate those plans are or whether they are in a financial position to carry out those developments. There are problems relating to dockers as well as “ghosting”, which has been discussed in the media, and I assume those problems will be addressed. I accept the need for Foynes port to extend and develop and I do not have a problem with that. The mediator was appointed by the Minister in July to look at the  issue, to talk to both companies and to come up with some proposals.
Looking at the need to develop Foynes to its maximum potential, it is important that we do not threaten the established economic activity in both Foynes and the area under the jurisdiction of the Limerick Harbour Commissioners. I dispute Senator Ormonde's perception that Limerick port is not market driven. Limerick port has the second highest throughput after Dublin; Dublin has 7.88 million tonnes while Limerick has just over 7 million tonnes. It is by no means a small or an unimportant port. It includes Aughinish, Moneypoint, Tarbert and the oil coming into Shannon and Limerick docks; there are over 2,100 jobs directly dependent on these port operations.
There are plans for development in Limerick. A development which would presumably benefit both ports is the proposal to deepen the bar at the edge of the estuary which presents a problem for larger boats. I understand it would cost about £4 million and it would enable both ports to develop even further and allow the large Cape size boats to come in on a 24 hour basis.
My concern relates not so much to future developments as to what is happening at present. I am particularly concerned about the large Panamax vessels coming into Aughinish on a 24 hour basis. Senator Ormonde mentioned this. At present they have flexibility and full freedom of the channel. However, there are often very bad weather and strong currents in this area and it is important that these concerns are taken into account and that these vessels would have the flexibility of a full channel in order to come to Aughinsh on a 24 hour basis.
I am not a technical expert but concern has been expressed by pilots who operate in the estuary. There is also concern about the question of anchorages in these areas where it is known that boats can drag their anchors. Such concerns should also be taken into account; they have been expressed to the Minister.
 The Minister for the Marine, Deputy Barrett, announced earlier his intention to respond to the report of the mediators, and he indicated the boundary lines to the west and the east. These would allow for development in the Mount Trenchard area. I have no problem with these boundary lines and accept them. Will the Minister consider the concerns expressed regarding the northern boundary before Committee Stage? He did not spell out these concerns in the House last week but they are genuine. They do not involve any major changes; nevertheless, when drawing the exact boundary line he should take them into account.
There are some economic issues to consider with regard to Limerick and to possible delays arising from the proposal to extend the Foynes boundary in this area, northwards rather than westwards. Will the Minister look at these concerns before Committee Stage and before we insert the exact definition of the boundary lines into the Bill?
The mediation process was initiated in July and the first report was dated 12 October; it was described as an interim report. The Minister said on Report Stage in the Dáil that the interim report needed to be tested and developed further and that there were issues relating to navigation, hydrographic issues and so on, which had to be taken into account. A second report was submitted on 15 November. Have these areas of concern, especially the technical areas, been looked at in the period between the first and second reports? While it may have been understood from the beginning, when I heard about the setting up of the mediation process, I did not understand that there was to be an interim report followed by a final report.
Inevitably, altering boundaries is going to be difficult. There are interests on both sides and I wish the Minister well. However, it is important, when enshrining this in legislation, that we get it right. I want to have these issues addressed before Committee Stage to  ensure that, when the legislation is enacted, all the issues are fully addressed, the concerns expressed about the boundary line are taken into account and the technical expertise would be brought to bear on the details of the navigation channel.
I hope the Bill will regulate our expanding maritime trade for decades to come and that it will be to the economic benefit of the country. Taking this into account, it is essential that all the details of the Bill are as good as they can be. I am happy with the overall thrust of the Bill; indeed the Bill does not cause me any problems apart from the fact that Foynes needs an extension. It is just the specifics of the northern boundary I am concerned about.
Mr. Daly: The harbour authorities of Ireland have made a major contribution to Ireland's economy. In terms of employment and economic development they have been a very strong instrument of economic growth and have made good progress in creating jobs and helping to generate prosperity in the regions in which they have some responsibility and impact. In addition, they have generally helped tourism and business to flourish and develop.
At a time of growing challenge and change it is now opportune to look at the legislative framework which governs the management and operation of the harbours and to modernise that legislation to deal with the challenges that face us in the future. I wish to put on record my appreciation — I worked with them for some time — of the valuable contribution made by the members and personnel of harbour boards and authorities throughout the country and by the harbour masters, pilots and staff who have given dedicated and loyal service in dealing with these complex areas of administration. In many respects their diligence and hard work have never been fully recognised and appreciated.
Over the last 20 years three attempts have been made to modernise the ports legislation or some aspects of it. Deputy  Peter Barry, when he was Minister in 1977, and Deputy Jim Mitchell in 1986 attempted to do so. In 1989 I, as Minister for the Marine, introduced the Shannon Harbours Estuary Bill, 1988. The purpose of that Bill was to establish a development corporation to undertake the management and development of the Shannon Estuary. These previous Bills, all of which lapsed with the calling of elections, differed in many aspects. The proposals were well intentioned and mine died the same death as the others.
Mr. Daly: It is to be hoped this Bill will not meet the same fate. I would not be as sure as Senator Neville that my Bill was such a bad idea. The emphasis in that proposal was on Foynes and the development of the estuary as a unit centred around Foynes.
Mr. Daly: Some of the technicalities we had to deal with still have not been dealt with in this legislation. The Minister of State has a good deal of negotiation to carry out in order to resolve the current situation between Foynes and Limerick. I wish him well in that and I assure him of my support.
Mr. Daly: If there are to be two harbour authorities in the Shannon Estuary it is better to have two strong and well defined authorities, with adequate jurisdiction to enable them to carry out their work successfully. That is why I support the extension of the Foynes jurisdiction. If there are to be two authorities — my preference would be for one — let them be soundly established with adequate jurisdiction and financial support because that is one of the major problems they have had.
Mr. Daly: It is reasonable to say that the delay in dealing with harbours legislation has hampered the prospects of developing an important sector of the economy. It has resulted in the stagnation of trade in many areas, delayed the prospects of developing Ireland as a strategic trans-shipment base and generally tied the hands of the progressive harbour authorities who were denied the legislative framework to enable them to follow a developmental role and carry out their work.
We have failed to exploit many opportunities and advantages which our unique geographic location offers. The result has been the loss of thousands of jobs and million of pounds in revenue while the legislators have delayed in taking the necessary action to streamline our laws. Furthermore, opportunities for large scale European Union funding for major port investment were not fully availed of resulting in an absence of the infrastructural requirement which is so essential for prosperous and successful shipping and harbours related industry.
 Is it any wonder that people in the business are disillusioned and frustrated when they see that even the estimate for State harbours for 1995 was reduced by 15 per cent to £2.75 million while less than £750,000 was provided for grants for the improvement of commercial secondary and other harbours? The real lack of interest by Government in Ireland's ports can be seen from the scant attention which has been given to ports in the Government document Ireland's Community Support Framework 1994-99. I will not delay the House by quoting from it, but one of its paragraphs states that the main emphasis and investment will be in Cork and Dublin andthat other ports that have development plans will be evaluated. What it really says is that if there is any prospect of investment in these ports, it will have to be so fully evaluated that we will see further delays, frustrations and lack of action. It will be subjected to a ministerial and departmental stranglehold organised and supervised by the Department of Finance.
I strongly support the Minister of State in his work in the Department and urge him to continue it. I also strongly support this legislation. It is vital we have modern sophisticated ports capable of handling the changing pattern of business activity, such as dramatic changes in cargo handling. When 80 per cent of the volume of our total trade is handled through our ports, it is not good enough that such scant attention is paid to port development in these Government framework proposals.
One of my main objectives is to give the port authorities some autonomy so that they will not be hamstrung by ministerial directions and controls. If this new legislation reinforces the system under the Harbours Act, 1946, there will be a lack of development, investment and initiative and rather than advancing Irish ports, their development will be retarded which would be damaging. I suggest a loosening up of the ministerial stranglehold over harbour and other authorities to enable them to meet the  requirements of customers and develop new opportunities and business in partnership with people in the trade. The harbour authorities could not avail of these opportunities under the old legislation.
The new harbours legislation will offer the opportunity of putting these authorities on a sound commercial footing. I strongly urge the private sector to explore the possibility of working in partnership with the harbour authorities so that the availability of substantial funding from the private sector can be utilised to open up and expand trade and develop more business.
Public representatives or Members of the Oireachtas have been denied membership of the new boards. That has been a feature of most of the Bills that have come to this House in the last while. However, I am not sure it is wise not to give the chambers of commerce a role under this legislation. While I do not have a mandate to speak on their behalf, many progressive chambers of commerce are modernising their procedures and becoming more active and involved in local activities and businesses should have a role in these new authorities. While keeping in mind the local authority representation, it is important when appointing his nominees that the Minister keep in mind leading people in the chambers of commerce and the business community. As part of these new development corporations we can have the benefit of their advice, help and money. Some of them have substantial access to badly needed financial resources.
It is reasonable to expect that the harbourmasters, who have played a key role in the development and management of harbour activity, would be members of the boards of these new companies. I appreciate the magnificent work done by our harbourmasters who have played an outstanding role in the development of our harbours, admittedly in many respects with their hands tied behind their backs due to lack of finances. They have a part in the overall management and development of the  new companies and I hope there will be a place there for the harbourmasters to act in some capacity. I intend to follow this matter up on Committee Stage.
There are expert and skilled pilots on the lower Shannon, which is a tricky estuary. The volume of traffic on the river has increased substantially, especially with the developments at Aughinish and Moneypoint. In the years since I first became aware of the Shannon Estuary in my dealings with the Kilrush Harbour Commissioners, Kilrush Urban Council and the Shannon pilots, people of the highest calibre and skill have navigated that estuary in difficult circumstances and their safety record is second to none. I cannot recall any major accident or misadventure on the River Shannon in the last 30 years. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those people who have, in their own dedicated and skilled way, navigated the often turbulent waters of the River Shannon and have made a large contribution to the overall development of the port.
Even in the international arena, estuaries and harbours can get a good or a bad name for safety. When I was Minister for the Marine, I visited many foreign harbours in my research on the ways in which we might modernise our legislation. Many of the pilot associations I met abroad were loud in their praise of our navigation skills, the systems we put in place and the way in which we did our business.
I thank the members of Kilrush Harbour Authority, which will be wound up under this legislation. It managed Cappagh Pier and the area adjoining it. It was not successful because it did not have either the power or the finances to undertake the work that needed to be done there.
In spite of what was said about investment in the development of the Kilrush Creek marina adjacent to Kilrush, it has been one of the best projects in the west in the last 30 years. It will more than adequately pay for the investment made in the long term.
 The Minister of State will also be aware that the initial cost for the development of Howth marina was £2 million but it finished up costing £14 million. We hear little about these matters if they happen in Dublin but if they occur in the west coast, we are lambasted in every newspaper. This was a first class investment and development, which is why I welcome the legislation and the responsibility which has been given to the new harbour authorities. In giving them these new responsibilities, one is not neglecting to give them a role in the development of marine leisure recreation facilities. This is a welcome development because it was one of the major disadvantages in the old harbours legislation.
The fastest growing recreation is marine leisure activity. Anybody who is familiar with developments in that area will know about the considerable sponsorship and involvement in the marine leisure business throughout the world. But we have been slow to exploit to the fullest the marine potential of the Shannon Estuary and Dún Laoghaire, which is close to the Minister's heart. Thankfully change has also taken place there.
There is no need for conflict between the development of commercial traffic and business which is essential to maintain economic prosperity and development and marine leisure and recreational facilities which are equally important. They can go hand in hand. There is no need for dispute between those involved in the recreational area and those concerned with important activity for the creation of jobs and employment opportunities.
I will deal with technicalities on Committee Stage. This Bill is a start and it makes up for some of the neglect in modernising our ports legislation over the past 20 or 30 years. If passed, it will be a major start to a new era in port activity and development. Harbours and ports will make a valuable contribution, far greater than at present, to the overall economic prosperity of this island.  Whether we look at this locally, nationally or internationally, Irish harbours have an important role to play in relation to future economic progress and development. We should give any support we can in terms of streamlining legislation, strengthening it or providing additional powers to deal with what is necessary because it will be a long time before we will be back here to debate another Harbours Bill.
Mr. Cregan: This Bill is necessary, although it is a little unfair to many harbours. I have been a member of the Port of Cork and a representative of that area for many years and I am mystified as to why we now want a major restructuring of harbour authorities. However, I am not saying it is not needed from the point of view of an authority and a board. The situation in some port authorities in terms of losses is frightening.
Clarification of amendments passed in the other House were sent by the Minister's Department to the relevant port authorities. It should be noted that amendments passed in the other House must be passed by both Houses. I do not understand why they were sent to port authorities before this happened. It is disturbing that these amendments were discussed in detail at the meeting of the Port of Cork last Monday week, although they have not been discussed in this House. Many of the amendments passed in the other House commit the Government to ensuring “buck stop” guarantees to particular ports.
In many respects, this Bill is before us to protect port authorities which do not have their houses in order, in particular Dublin Port which has suffered heavy losses because of work practices that need to be rationalised. Other port authorities which put their houses in order by rationalising their ports and workforces — unfortunately, people lost their jobs as a result — must suffer the consequences of this Bill, particularly the Port of Cork.
“Buck stop” guarantees will protect port authorities which have made no  attempt to protect themselves or their workers from an apprentice's point of view. The cost to the State will be enormous in terms of the money which must now be provided to ensure workers are protected. Workers did not receive protection because of bad management and the boards of these authorities, particularly those in Waterford and Dublin, which will get money from the Exchequer.
It is easy for people to say these port authorities have been working well. However, that is not the case when compared to port costs and so on in other areas, for example, the Port of Cork which may reasonably ask if it did the right thing by putting its house in order and ensuring that its workers were properly protected. I do not believe it did the right thing because it is not getting the recognition for doing so, while other ports are getting “buck stop” guarantees which is very unfair to those which have been working well. Although the Port of Cork has been working well, I recognise it has received an enormous amount of money from State bodies over the years for upgrading the port. The Minister guaranteed money for the lower harbour in Cork. Ports which are not working as well as the Port of Cork and other ports like Limerick should not be given this recognition.
This Bill is before the House because Dublin Port is in such a mess, its losses are somewhere in the region of £22 million or more; I do not have the up-to-date figures. Was it necessary to change, rationalise or restructure all ports because of the situation in Dublin Port? Centralisation in this respect is very worrying. We should decentralise and not give guarantees to ports which do not have their houses in order. We should recognise those ports which, unfortunately, have had to rationalise by reducing staff so that the board could operate properly, with which I do not agree — I want more people working. I would like a guarantee that if we rationalise we will be given a commitment from central Government which is not forthcoming.
 Other Senators discussed the problems at Foynes and Limerick. We should not say that people should lose out because others can do a better job as that is not always the case. The port of Kinsale or Courtmacsherry should not lose out to Cork, and I speak for these areas. The authority responsible for the port of Kinsale has worked well and the facilities there are good. In general, these areas should be protected. Kinsale is not just recognised for tourism but also its deep water facilities and safety. It and ports such as Foynes and Dingle should not be undermined. The hard work of committees over the years to upgrade ports should not be undermined because more money is being spent on bigger ports which may not be working well. I am concerned about this aspect.
While ports on the east coast are closest to mainland Europe is too much money being spent on these facilities in comparison to other areas? Are the ports being upgraded the best choice? In the early 1980s, B&I and other ferry companies pulled out of Cork. Local people and the port authority had to get their act together to ensure ferry services continued from Cork. In many ways, the dedicated people on committees are hitting their heads off a stone wall when one considers the amount of money which can be provided for bigger ports which may not be working as well as others, such as Cork. I can only make comparisons with Cork port because I know it best.
Rosslare Harbour is working to its full potential. Ireland has gained many advantages from Rosslare which it would not otherwise have achieved. However, it is claimed that ports on the west coast, in the north and the southwest, including, for example, Dingle, are also capable of doing a good job. The Bill concerns money and the restructuring of harbour authorities. In this regard, there is an emphasis on the new authorities. We are aware of the commitment of members of port authorities
As a member of a large authority I am aware of the personal benefits some  people gain through their membership of the body. I resent this very much. Some consider that these people have a divine right to be members of such authorities because, for example, they are stevedores or are directly involved in the workings of the port through ferries or shipping. These people do exceptionally well as a result of their membership of the port authority. The Government has taken a strong line against cosy cartels and golden circles through which some people may make personal gains. Other Members mentioned this aspect which should be dealt with on Committee Stage.
Members of the new authorities must be careful. I have been a members of a board for a long time and I received no personal gain. However, I am aware that cohesions have been formed by certain people. The Minister of State is conscious of this point and I am aware of his thinking on this matter. As an authority member, a Cork harbour commissioner and a public representative I am worried about these cohesions. New authorities will be established but public representatives will not receive any real recognition.
One public representative will join the new authority for Cork port and this is not good enough. I do not mean, just because I am a Member of the Oireachtas, that I should be appointed to the board. However, we should not allow the ports to become commercialised. It cannot be said that Cork port is not commercialised but the danger is that by having commercial authorities, certain people are in a position to gain. It is not easy for me to make this point because I must go back to Cork and listen to people repeating statements I made in the House.
Public representatives are the first to say they should not be members of certain bodies. If I am a member of an authority, whether it is a health board, the board of a voluntary hospital, a vocational education committee or the Cork port authority, I represent the public. Public representatives, irrespective of party, are the best people for  such positions because they will be straight. However, there is the view that the number of public representatives on boards should be reduced. I resent that suggestion, particularly when I am aware of what is happening on an authority of which I am a member. Some groups will continue to make personal gain through their membership. This occurred over the years and has not helped Dublin port. We must recognise this.
Who made money in Dublin port when it was profitable? Who created the problems in the Dublin port authority? Was it the worker directors or were the workers aggravated by others? In all honesty, it cannot be said that throughout the 1980s and up to the early 1990s the workers were out to aggravate the situation. They could not have been because they needed work. The Minister of State knows this is the case. Did certain people on boards adopt a particular strategy or did others, who were informed by members of the board, decide to adopt a particular line to ensure they gained the most? I have information on this in my head and that is probably the best place for it.
We should examine the cost and division of shipping to ports. I mention the position in Cork as I know it best. In comparison to other areas, the cost there can be either higher or lower. What are the costs in each area? A port must receive a certain amount of money per tonne and ship docking fees. The heavier the ship and load the better for the port because this is how a better infrastructure can be built up. This has been done over the years. The Ringaskiddy area in Cork is now bringing in very heavy tonnage and we want to ensure our costs are reasonable to encourage ships to continue to dock there. There was a great deal of rationalisation with the result that fewer people are working. Approximately 60 per cent of the workforce of seven years ago is now employed. I do not like this because I want people working.
 However, I must consider who gained from these measures. The port gained because the costs were low, but those who lost most were the people who wore the overalls, the workers who no longer have their jobs. Others working in the port did not lose. They are doing exceptionally well compared to other ports. When will this issue be resolved? Will the new authorities deal with such matters? The best people to ensure that will happen are elected representatives. They will watch the issues much closer than others. I am in a position to query costs and ask who gained from certain measures. The Minister of State is aware that for too long certain groups made all the money in certain ports. This is what happened in Dublin and the result is that approximately £9 million must be provided because no money was earmarked by the authority to ensure the workers received their pensions when they retired.
The job of a docker is not easy and never has been. It is dangerous, although not as dangerous as it was 50 years ago. There is modern machinery for lifting and container work. However, pensions for retired workers at these ports must be funded by the Central Fund because money was not provided by the port authorities. The work now done in these ports has to be funded from Central Funds because pension funds have not been provided for. Other authorities which provided for pensions are suffering because of this, including Cork. I would like to know why. What benefits are the ports which have put their houses in order gaining from the new set-up?
There is all-party agreement on this Bill but we should not allow the Bill to pass without question. Boards which have put a lot into the ports over the years are to be undermined. It would not be fair to them to say we should take authority or jurisdiction from them because another port upstream deserves it more. Under no circumstances should Waterford dictate to New Ross or Limerick to Foynes. If ports are working well we should leave them to it.
 We are in a situation where we are prepared to make sure the ports rationalise, work to the future and become more commercialised. We talk about the proper commercialisation of CIÉ, Telecom Éireann and the ESB and it should also apply to the harbours. However, we must also make sure that a certain few do not benefit from the infrastructure built up over the years in the ports. That is happening at present and may happen more with increasing commercialisation.
There is a danger I should like a socialist or somebody who does not want to look to the future. However, that is not so. I have already been involved in rationalisation; I had many fights with managers and trade union officials to ensure Cork port stayed open. I will continue to work for Cork port and the people there. This Bill is not strong enough. Are we selling some of the family silver? Some may ask what we would lose with the harbours and their authorities but the danger is that one may give all the benefits to particular groups without a watchdog.
The new authorities will have on average one member from a public body. In Cork, for example, one member of the new authority for Cork port will be from Cork Corporation. That is not good enough. I have seen many examples of avenues which authorities may use to ensure Departments are not involved in their business. A good example of this happened in the recent past with a particular authority which wished to sell a site in Cork. There was no public representative involved who might have opposed the sale or insisted on transparency.
I hope the Minister can confirm whether I am right or wrong. I cannot be all wrong because I have been on the Cork Harbour Authority for too long. The direction we are taking with this Bill is not better for us as people. We must always ensure those on the boards are accountable. We did not do so in the past and it led, for example, to the recent case in CIÉ. The board in CIÉ decided to eliminate a certain committee  and sell off a certain site without accountability. I have seen port authorities transfer sites from one authority to another without considering whether they might go for open sale and get a better price. I have seen that happen as a managerial function in the authority with which I am involved.
My local authority could not build a public toilet without getting sanction for the funds from the Minister for the Environment, yet some of these boards have the right to pass a site from one authority to another, as happened in the Cork port authority. I do not say what it did was right or wrong, but I question the way it was done. Will these circumstances arise again with this Bill? Does the Bill provide enough protection to ensure that the fine harbours taxpayers have built up through the years are run with accountability? I do not want an authority to have the power to transfer sites without accountability to public representatives, members of Government or the people.
The Bill puts a strong emphasis on details. However, on a more profound level the main reason the Bill is before the House is that many port authorities did not put their houses in order through the years and are now looking for money to protect their workforces. In many ways I welcome that but it should have been done in the past when others who made money out the ports did not re-invest in the infrastructure of the ports. They took the money and put it elsewhere. The stevedores in particular gained greatly from the people of Ireland and that must not continue.
I may not get many changes to the Bill but we will have a strong discussion on Committee Stage. When people are appointed to the new board structures we must ensure they have no commercial or personal interest in any authority. If not there will be backbiting and personal gain. I refer again to what happened in Cork in the last few months.
I welcome the Bill in many respects because it tightens up many aspects, particularly what happens in Dublin, Waterford and elsewhere. It gives a  guarantee to people that their pensions will be covered. Those pensions should have been covered in the past. Others were not just covering their own pensions but lining their own pockets. That is a sad reflection on us as public representatives. We are facing a situation again where a public representative will not have the authority to question except at Oireachtas level.
We must take a serious look at who should be on these boards. I do not wish to fly the flag for any public representative, myself included. I admit I can say many stupid things but I can envisage a situation, particularly on port authorities, where people may make great personal gains. What happened in Dublin, Waterford and elsewhere that money was not put in funds to cover the workforce? Over the last ten years, an average of £15 million in profits was made by the Port of Cork because of good management and rationalisation. Half that was put into a scheme over the last ten years to ensure that the workforce was protected. What benefits are we getting from it now? Other people did not put their house in order.
Could the £7.5 million contributed by Cork port over the last ten years have been invested elsewhere? Could we have improved our harbour structure or bought another ship? Could our deep water berth be better? Could we have better berthing for liners to come into Cobh? Of course we could. However, instead we made sure that, as part of the rationalisation programmes, workers got proper wages and bonuses. People in other areas did not get any benefit but certain people did.
Professor Lee: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I will be very brief as I am not an expert or an authority on this subject. I welcome the general thrust of the Bill — at least, I did before Senator Cregan spoke. Now, I am confused but I have confidence in the Minister and I sure he will take cognisance of what he deems to be valid in the points made by Senator Cregan. There is nothing sacred  left in politics at this stage as Senator Cregan has become a socialist and I have become a reactionary — there are no points of the compass on which one can rely for guidance.
As a matter of courtesy, rather than leaving it to Committee Stage, I will indicate now that I was very impressed by the vigour, energy and enterprise of the representations made by New Ross and Foynes harbours to every Senator. I am aware that there are alternative ways of looking at matters, some of which we heard from Senator O'Sullivan in the cases of Foynes and Limerick harbours and from Senator Ormonde in the cases of New Ross and Waterford harbours. I was so impressed by the strength of the representations made that I am strongly disposed to vote for amendments on Committee Stage.
I hope that this is not an adversarial issue in terms of party politics. I also hope the Minister deems that a good case has been made and he will take it on board and table Government amendments so that it will not become a dog fight across the floor of this very civilised Chamber. It was for that purpose that I wished to indicate my intention at this stage. I would greatly appreciate if the Minister arbitrated to some extent on the conflicting points raised by the parties to these disputes to give those of us disposed to go one way an opportunity to review the situation before we cast our votes. However, as matters stand, I have been impressed by the vigour of the representations. I am almost cross eyed and, with apologies to those in the Visitors' Gallery from New Ross, I could almost pilot a boat under that bridge on the Barrow myself at this stage.
It is, in general, a very welcome Bill which could be improved by amendments. I hope that the Minister will see his way to proposing amendments which, in light of the discussion in this House, he feels are worthwhile.
Mr. Sherlock: I welcome the Minister and the opportunity to make a few comments on this Bill. I take my brief from  the various interested parties which have made submissions, which indicate beyond any doubt the great significance of this legislation.
New commercial State companies formed to manage port operations will attract investment in harbour development, as well as enabling ports to reach their full commercial potential, which I am not sure is happening at present. Of course, there are always problems and Senator Cregan is very familiar with the Cork Harbour Commissioners. I am rather surprised at their statement at their board meeting on 16 October when they voiced their unanimous disapproval of a number of key provisions of the proposed new harbours legislation. They were particularly critical of the apparent abandonment of the Government's declared objective of granting greater commercial freedom to ports.
I think that this is what this Bill is doing. They went on to say that the Harbours Bill confirms that “far from permitting ports to operate more commercially, there will be much greater centralised control over their activities”. The existing harbours legislation dates from 1946 and it is time for a review. This Bill, which has 105 sections, covers that very nicely.
The statement by the Port of Cork mentioned employees' pensions which is covered in sections 40 and 41, so I do not know what the issue is there. I was very concerned by the point made by Senator Cregan. Section 32 deals very specifically with the disclosure of interests by directors who will be required to disclose any personal interest in any contract or agreement to which the company is party. Does that not adequately cover the point? There is no reason it would not be implemented.
The Bill is possibly the most significant legislation affecting port management since the foundation of the State and, inevitably, attracted controversy. I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the concerns expressed by Cork pilots regarding the vulnerability of Cork Harbour  following its designation as a chemical industries harbour. This designation will significantly increase the amount of dangerous cargo handled by the port.
The pilots of Cork Harbour are a professional highly skilled body, self employed and operating as licensees of the Port of Cork. While the pilot's duty is to the master of the vessel that is employing him at the time, he also has responsibilities regarding the Port of Cork and the environment therein.
Cork Harbour has been designated specifically as a chemical industries harbour, thereby increasing significantly the amount of dangerous cargoes which would normally be carried. Inside the harbour is situated the only oil refinery in Ireland, contributing heavily to the amount of dangerous cargo continuously traversing Cork Harbour and on the River Lee as far as Cork city. Pilots are an important part of any port structure. However, in the case of Cork Harbour their importance cannot be overemphasised and the continuing presence of pilots on vessels carrying dangerous cargo is absolutely essential.
The Murphy report on commercial harbours and pilotage policy [which is dealt with in section 59 of the Bill] and legislation recommends that pilot exemption certificates should not be granted to masters of vessels which carry dangerous cargo. [Having listened to the submissions, I think that this will be taken on board by the Minister].
It has been made clear to us by the Port of Cork management that they intend to grant pilot exemption certificates to masters of container vessels under the new legislation. As these vessels normally carry dangerous cargo the granting of such PECs would be in direct contradiction to the recommendations of the Murphy report. The same stands good for oil  tankers, LPG vessels, ammonia tankers and various product tankers carrying an assortment of dangerous cargoes.
Senator Ormonde ably discussed the dispute between Waterford and New Ross. We received much representation about that and I am sure the Minister will take the matter on board. We received material on many other matters also. With reference to the pilots' submission, in the aftermath of the potential disaster at Ringaskiddy we are aware of the dangers posed to the environment and public safety by handling hazardous chemicals. I urge the Minister not to grant pilotage exemption certificates to masters or mates of ships carrying dangerous cargoes. As I said at the outset, while I welcome the establishment of the commercial State companies to handle port operations, I am sure the Minister shares this concern. One will never go too far wrong if one has regard to the research and recommendations previously carried out. In this regard I place great store by the Murphy report on commercial harbours and pilotage policy. I am glad of the opportunity to contribute on this Bill, which will have a great effect on the development of our harbours.
Mr. Lydon: This is important legislation. I come from Killybegs and anyone who comes from a sea port will realise the Bill's significance. In general I support the Minister's approach. The Bill has highlighted various disputes, to which I shall refer. A number of Members referred to the exclusion of Senators and county councillors from some of the companies which shall be established. There is a case for public representatives being on the boards. The current trend is for people to be unnecessarily shifted from boards and that should reversed. My experience of vocational education committees, semi-State bodies and similar organisations  is that public representatives fulfil their role well in what is often a thankless task.
Could the Minister state if the companies which are to be set up will have any responsibility to discharge in developing fishing? This is an important source of income for the country and but it is a totally underdeveloped and underfunded industry. There are problems concerning tonnage and quotas but there may be scope in this Bill to do something on the matter.
The legislation has brought other disputes to light, such as that between the ports of New Ross and Waterford. A review body has been established to examine the problem, which is the proper approach to take. I am sure the Minister will take its conclusions on board.
The problems in Foynes have also been highlighted. Some points were considered by the mediator, Mr. Patrick J. Murphy, who examined the request by Foynes Harbour for an extension of its limits. The mediator's report was issued on 15 November 1995 and was accepted by the Minister when introducing the Bill to the House. The limits recommended were not those originally sought by Foynes.
When the limits are put before the House on Committee Stage, one hopes everyone will be reassured on the questions of safety. This matter was raised before the mediator by the licensed pilots but his report stated he was satisfied the new limits for Foynes Harbour would not pose any safety risks for incoming or outgoing ships navigating the estuarial channel for destinations other than Foynes. However, as the Minister said the Bill will not only extend the limits of Foynes but will enshrine the limits of Limerick Harbour for the first time ever. This clear definition of jurisdiction in the Shannon Estuary will in itself contribute to the safety of operations. For the first time control and responsibility in the river will be clearly defined.
Another point about safety of operations in this part of the estuary is that  a ship navigating there, whether within the limits of Foynes or Limerick, will be under the pilotage of a qualified person appointed for the pilotage district. In addition, it will be subject to directions by the appropriate harbourmaster. At meetings of boards of these companies it should be not merely desirable but mandatory for the harbourmaster to attend.
The harbour limits recommended by the mediator and accepted by the Minister separate ships manoeuvring to use Foynes Harbour from those on passage through the estuary. It has long been recognised by the UN International Maritime Organisation that the best way to avoid collisions between ships is to keep them on separate routes rather than to rely on tactical rules for avoiding each other. This is how it is done in St. George's Channel, the Irish Sea and channels all over the world. Apart, therefore, from the need to keep ships for Foynes Harbour separate from those passing through the estuary is the need to keep those passing well clear of any berths which may be developed in Foynes in time to come.
Everyone would like to have more water and the mediator was appointed by the Minister to achieve a compromise. A number of specific points arise and I will put them to the House so it can be reassured that the limits to be fixed by the Minister, on the recommendation of the mediator, provide the best solution to the problem of sharing the available water in the greatest safety. It should be recognised that the mediator was concerned with safety of operation, not just in the context of the present state of development of the harbours and the estuary but of the future expansion which it is hoped will take place in Foynes and possibly Limerick under the new régime to be implemented by the Bill. The study of the potential of the Shannon Estuary, published by An Foras Forbatha in 1983, identified the area now to be brought within the limits of Foynes Harbour as having high development value  as a deep water facility for Foynes and the natural capacity and the landscape to absorb offshore wharfage.
Three other issues were raised by the licensed pilots and these are important matters which must be addressed one way or another. The first concerns large vessels in the channel, the second is the proposed anchorage and the third is the entrance channel into Foynes. On the issue of large vessels, perhaps bound for Aughinish Alumina, it must be recognised that equally large vessels would be bound for Foynes Harbour and somehow they must share the waterway together. The waters within the limits of Foynes must be available for use by vessels bound for Aughinish, should they wish or need to use them, just as the waters of the rest of the estuary will be available to ships bound for Foynes. However, at this part of the estuary the deepest and safest waters are to be found at the north side of the channel, away from Foynes Harbour. Rinealon Point on the Clare shore is lit and presents no danger to ships passing close by.
The currents around there are predictable because they are away from the confluence of Foynes island channel with the main channel where they meet. It needs to be recognised that this is one of the safest stretches of the estuary. It is eight cables wide at this point — that is approximately one statute mile in width. It has no shoals at this point except for ships entering Foynes. It is well sheltered from the sea and is rarely fogged, which is one of reasons it was used as a transatlantic base for the Sunderland flying boats long ago. That was long before they heard of Shannon Airport, which was developed afterwards. If you examined the meteorological records or recent years for the Shannon Estuary, they would confirm that this is an area which is usually clear of fog.
The limits recommended by the mediator and accepted by the Minister leave a clear five cables — that is about half a nautical mile — to the north for ships to pass without crossing the new limits for Foynes. Only 2.8 cables of the  available width is given to Foynes for the likes of harbour works and moorings and for ships manoeuvring to use these facilities. Clearly such ships will have the use of the Limerick water just as those bound for Limerick will be free to use the Foynes water.
A fairer division might have been for the mediator to have fixed the limits in the middle of the water thereby allocating four cables width to ships on passage through the estuary and four cables to Foynes harbour, and I think this has been sought by Foynes. It seems fairly logical and perhaps it might be done yet. I think someone suggested that all the water should come under the jurisdiction of Limerick. I do not think that would be fair and I will give my reasons later.
I suppose the mediator had to give due weight to the professional opinion of the licensed pilots. In the light of that opinion, the mediator has reached a compromise and has left some two-thirds of the available width of the estuary at this point outside the limits of Foynes Harbour. I suppose one cannot but reflect that the pilots on whose representations this was done are the same pilots who bring ships through Tarbert Race. Tarbert Race is a dangerous place and that is where ships encounter a meandering and narrow navigable channel with dangerous shoals and rocks and strong cross-currents. The representations of the licensed pilots are aimed at obtaining large margins of safety for passing vessels near Foynes but this is done, I am afraid, at the expense of the margins of safety for vessels using Foynes. I would not like to suggest or imply that the licensed pilots are doing more than voicing concerns. They have to raise these concerns because that is their job but I wonder — and I am only wondering — whether their conclusions are based more on their own convenience than on looking at the overall picture.
However, I do not think anyone can take seriously the suggestion that the fixing of the limits, as recommended by the mediator and as accepted by the  Minister, could result in the scaling down of operations at Aughinish Alumina Limited and lead to a reduction in the number of ships there. If this were the case, Panamax ships would never be able to enter Cork, they would not be able to enter many of the harbours of the world and, in fact, the would not even be able to enter the Panama Canal.
This brings me to another point I wanted to address; that is the proposed anchorage. The advice of the licensed pilots in relation to anchorages within the new limits of Foynes is of great interest because the anchor holding ground around Foynes is not good but the area is well sheltered and both harbour boards are agreed that the anchorages here can be enhanced with permanent moorings, which would make them safe. Foynes's proposal for establishing a mooring buoy here was recently tested by Limerick Harbour Commissioners with absolute success so both agree on that. The use of such safe moorings — and these types of moorings which have been used in harbours throughout the world without any difficulty — will result in considerable cost savings for vessels waiting to load or discharge cargoes which, it must be borne in mind, will contribute to the overall safety in the estuary by reducing the river's Scattery Island traffic.
I would like to address the Foynes entrance channel itself before I conclude. A review group on commercial harbours and pilotage policy and legislation published its findings in 1992. It recommended the legislation now before the House and that harbour limits should be redefined to include the navigational channels into each harbour. That is an important point.
To put the record straight in relation to the Foynes submission to the mediator, I would like to quote from their submission to Mr. Patrick Murphy. It states that at present when ship of the size of over 5,000 deadweight tonnes commence the approach of the narrow channel, they are irrevocably committed to entering the harbour yet at this stage of the approach they are approximately  over one mile from the existing limits of the harbour. The entrance buoys themselves are in excess of half a mile outside the existing limits and when an approaching ship is a mile from the existing limits, she has only half a mile to run to the entrance buoys. Since the channel is already narrowing, she can no longer turn back without carrying out emergency manoeuvres.
The licensed pilots make two specific points in relation to the Foynes entrance channel. First they say Panamax vessels drawing up to 12.5 meters have been successfully swung up to the entrance of Foynes at a distance of one mile from the existing limits. Surely this is a case for saying that such vessels do not need the huge margins of sea room sought for them rather than that the approach limits to Foynes should not be extended beyond the entrance buoys, where margins of safety are measured in feet rather cables or parts of a mile. Second, in the pilots' professional opinion, large vessels assisted by tugs are not committed fully to the entrance until they are less than two cables from the entrance buoys. It is difficult to see why pilots continue to raise this point as the new limits to be fixed on the mediator's recommendation are just two cables from the entrance buoys. I think the pilots' opinion influenced the mediator to cut back the limits to two cables at this point. However, it is unfortunate that the professional opinion is based on the assumption that tugs will always be available to assist. Clearly one reason a vessel would need to be turned back is if one of her tugs suffered engine failure or had parted a towline and was no longer able to assist the vessel.
The limits which the mediator has recommended and which are accepted by the Minister are somewhat less than those which Foynes would like to deal with in these operations and in developing the estuary at Foynes to its full potential. The limits to be fixed might not give enough to Foynes and more to the rest of the channel.
Historically that estuary is shared by all who live there and it can be shared  now and into the future. Foynes is just a small town, and that is why I speak so strongly about it. There were a number of dynamic people there who got together and built up the port so that it is now a major port. Nobody asked them to do it, nobody paid them to do it; it was mostly done by people who were concerned and interested that their part of Ireland should contribute to the overall economic development of the country. They are to be commended for that.
If the other end of the channel is not working to capacity, there is an opportunity for everybody in Limerick to develop their port without interfering with Foynes. There is a huge estuary; it is about 150 miles in length. I do not know the exact distance because it is a long time since I sailed there, but Foynes is only a small part of it. Surely that is not a lot to give people who developed the business themselves.
I am confident I speak for most people here when I say we will be able to reach some sort of solution which will be fair and equitable for everybody sharing these waters. This is an important issue. Senator Cregan said that the people who put in the effort down the years must be rewarded. He may not have been referring exactly to what I have said, but the point remains the same. If you put in the effort and work hard, I see no reason that a person should not be rewarded at the end of the day.
|Last Updated: 21/05/2011 15:39:15||Page of 10|