Wednesday, 11 February 2004
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Glynn: I do not advocate the banning of jet skis or speedboats from our waterways, inland or otherwise. I recommend that users of such vehicles should observe good safety practice, but a small percentage of such people do not do so, unfortunately. There are great difficulties in many areas as a consequence. There are many lakes and rivers in my home county of Westmeath, which is known as “the lake county”. A small proportion of people, who are not indigenous to the county, cause absolute mayhem in the area on a regular basis. They annoy swimmers and disrupt anglers during the angling season. They make a point of being particularly provocative in their actions when angling competitions are taking place.
I want amending legislation to be brought forward. I spoke on this matter yesterday at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. I have clearly stated my position to the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, whom I wish to thank for his courtesy in receiving deputations from Mullingar on two occasions. There has been a fatal accident in Cobh and I understand that accidents have also occurred elsewhere. An accident will happen on Lough Ennell in County Westmeath if something is not done very soon. Everybody is entitled to use the waterways, by all means, but regulations and legislation are needed to ensure that those who use jet skis and speedboats operate them in a way that takes cognisance of other waterway users. A specific section of any given lake should be designated for this sport because of its nature.
Local authorities should be the enforcement agencies in this regard. There is no point in giving power to local authorities without also giving them resources. If there is to be enforcement, it can only come about if resources are provided. Every boat should be licensed so that it is identifiable. Any vehicle, in the air or on land, has to have a licence plate so that it can be identified. There is no way of identifying motorised water craft because they do not have licence plates.
I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, to convey to the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, my concerns and those of other Members who have spoken about this matter ad nauseam in this House and elsewhere. They have the full support of this House in their attempts to bring forward amending legislation which will enable the appropriate regulations to be made. The regulations I demand will ensure that users of lakes and other waterways can enjoy themselves in safety.
Mr. MacSharry: This is a very serious issue. I agree with my colleague, Senator Glynn, that proper regulation is required for jet skiing and water skiing on our inland waterways and at sea. I should declare an interest at the outset — I am an avid water ski enthusiast and I own a jet ski.
The activities under discussion have resulted in fatalities and serious injuries throughout the country, for example in Senator Glynn's home county. There was a fatality in Mullaghmore, County Sligo, some years ago as a consequence of this activity. Many people like me would be more than happy to operate in line with clearly defined regulations and parameters, which need to be introduced. There are rogues in every area of activity, however, and this activity is no different so it needs to be properly legislated for and properly regulated. It does not matter if it is policed by the local authorities, or by the fisheries officers who operate in these areas.
Genuine people who want to participate in angling, jet skiing or swimming should be given clearly defined and properly policed areas in which to do so. Not only would such measures represent a serious improvement in the context of health and safety, but they would also help us to market our inland waterways, lakes and coastal areas. This is a central aspect of tapping into a resource that has not yet been tapped into. We have under-utilised these resources to a significant degree in the past. Health and safety matters need to be top of the agenda. This area needs to be properly resourced, in the interests of anglers, swimmers and other groups. I appeal to the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, just as Senator Glynn has done. I am aware that legislation is due to come before the House and I look forward to discussing it. I hope the Bill that is brought forward will contain the appropriate measures needed to protect those who participate in the various activities on our waterways.
Mr. N. Ahern: I thank Senators Glynn and MacSharry for their comments, which are based on their local and personal knowledge of these problems. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Dermot Ahern, regrets that he is unable to attend this debate this evening. He has asked me to emphasise that he will not tolerate the unsafe use of jet skis in waters off our coast and on our inland waterways. The operation of jet skis and other high powered leisure water craft in areas where bathing takes place, harbours and other places frequented by water users is a matter of particular concern. Since he took office, the Minister has implemented a number of measures to address this problem.
Two sets of regulations which contain national provisions governing the safe use of jet skis and similar craft were introduced in 2001. The first set, the Merchant Shipping (Mechanically Propelled Pleasure Craft) (Safety) Regulations 2001, contains age restriction provisions, provides for the carrying, wearing and use of lifejackets and restricts the use of alcohol and drugs. The provisions also apply to ski boarding, water skiing, paragliding and other towed rides. The second set of regulations, the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000 (Prescribed Classes of Vessels) Regulations, 2001, prescribe personal water craft or jet skis, and fast power craft for the purposes of careless and dangerous navigation or operation provisions in the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000.
The penalties for dangerous navigation or operation offences are imprisonment for up to five years, a fine of up to €10,000, or both where death or serious bodily harm is caused. In all other cases, the regulations provide for a term of imprisonment of up to 12 months, a fine of up to €1,500, or both. The Minister has recently brought forward proposals to amend the Fishery Harbour Centres Acts to increase penalties for breaches of fishery harbour centre by-laws. The proposals will provide for stronger controls on jet skis and other high powered craft that could endanger life and seriously prejudice the proper operation of fishery harbours.
The Minister wishes to encourage local authorities to adopt local by-laws for the safe operation of jet skis for all areas under their responsibility, including beaches. To this end, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has been encouraging local authorities to adopt suitable by-laws. At least eight local authorities have implemented new by-laws on the use of jet skis and others are following suit. This has followed a campaign introduced by the Department for the safer use of jet skis.
A legal issue has arisen regarding the making of the by-laws in respect of water areas not directly under the control of a local authority. Section 33(1) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1992, inserted by section 44(11) of the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000, provides for the introduction of regulations to enable local authorities to make by-laws for the control of vessels, including personal water craft and fast power craft in areas under their jurisdiction. The Department's legal advice indicates that this provision might be open to challenge in light of recent case law. The Department's maritime safety directorate has consulted the Office of the Attorney General on the legal position and the powers of local authorities to make by-laws to regulate jet skis and other such craft. The most recent legal advice states that it appears that local authorities have the power to make by-laws under section 37(1) of the Local Government Act 1994, subject to the area being under the control or management of the relevant local authority. Local authorities, however, cannot make by-laws under section 37 for areas not under their control or management, unless section 33 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1992 is repealed or amended.
The Minister has requested his officials to introduce proposals as quickly as possible for legislation to address these legal difficulties. This approach will help considerably to allay public concerns about the improper use of jet skis and other watercraft on all waterways within the State. As part of the review of safety measures on small watercraft, the maritime safety directorate has drafted a code of safe practice for recreational craft which will be ready for publication shortly. The code sets out recommended safety practices on board recreational craft and also the statutory safety requirements as they apply to such craft. It has been developed for application to recreational craft operating in Irish waters. It covers all types of sailing and motorboats and also craft such as ski boats, jet skis, canoes and kayaks. It also incorporates both competitive and non-competitive use of recreational craft.
I note what the two Senators have said and I assure the House that the issue of the safe use of jet skis and other such craft remains a priority of the Minister. I regret that the Minister could not come to the House at the last minute, but I will convey the Senators' concerns to him.
Mr. Glynn: The Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, is a very able Deputy. Local authority members will be very glad to have this power but, as I said, they will need the resources to ensure enforcement.
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