Tuesday, 27 June 2006
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Morrissey: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Transport to the House. I raised this matter on the Adjournment almost 12 months ago when he was a Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. Since then, the responsibility for our ports has been transferred to the Department of Transport under Transport 21 and I welcome that. It might bring coherence to the issue.
Our ports are very important as Ireland is a small trading nation and huge volumes of goods pass through Dublin Port. For the past 30 years, Dublin Port has proposed to increase the size of its berthing by reclaiming 52 acres along the foreshore at Clontarf. However, these proposals have not progressed one iota in 30 years. Ping-pong has been played between the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Dublin City Council. I have had discussions in the past 12 months in order to develop a policy document on this issue, and it is clear that a game of cat and mouse has been played. The loser in all of this has been Dublin Port. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has stated that it cannot give Dublin Port a foreshore licence until it gets planning permission. Dublin City Council has stated that it cannot give permission until the authorities at Dublin Port produce a foreshore licence.
I am aware that the Minister of State has said that there are no plans to move Dublin Port. I concur with that sentiment completely. However, I would like to see direction given to Dublin Port. It has operated for the past 30 years on the basis of plan A, which was to increase its trade berthing area by 52 acres. There was no plan B and it still does not exist. However, the capacity is fast running out due to the huge increase in the volumes of trade in recent years. I had discussions last week with representatives of Dublin Port and they seem to be resigned to the fact that they are being given no direction.
Our ports are under the Department of Transport since last January. There has been no definitive statement on where the Department will take the ports and that is why I have raised this matter on the Adjournment. I ask the Minister of State to address the issues I raised tonight, especially those regarding the direction of the Department of Transport for our ports and, in particular, Dublin Port.
Mr. Gallagher: I thank Senator Morrissey for providing me with this opportunity to report to the Seanad on certain matters concerning Dublin Port Company. As indicated in response to Parliamentary Question No. 155 of 3 May 2006, there are no proposals to move Dublin Port from its current location, which the Senator has welcomed. As the Senator is no doubt aware, Dublin Port is a State-owned company established under the Harbours Act 1996. It is the country’s premier port in terms of throughput and turnover and, as such, is of vital strategic importance to our trading economy. Some 99% of our goods go through our ports, which makes them and Dublin Port, in particular, so important. The 1996 Act provides that the principal objectives of the company include the provision of such facilities, services and lands in its harbour for ships, goods and passengers, as it considers necessary. The company is required to take all proper measures for the management, control, operation and development of its harbour. Decisions regarding the use of the land within the port estate are primarily a matter for the port company.
One of the key challenges that lies ahead for our commercial ports, including Dublin, is the provision of adequate port capacity to meet growing demand, particularly for unitised trade, such as containerised trailers and roll-on, roll-off trucks. In January 2005, when responsibility for ports policy was with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, I, as Minister of State at that Department, launched the Government’s ports policy statement. The policy statement aims to better equip the port sector and its stakeholders to meet national and regional capacity and service needs and sets out a framework to ensure that capacity needs are identified, planned and progressed in a co-ordinated manner.
As part of this process, in September 2005, that Department appointed a firm of consultants expert in this field, Fisher Associates, to carry out a capacity study. They were to invite detailed project submissions from the commercial ports and evaluate those submissions in advance of the Department’s recommendations to Government. The purpose of this process is to help determine whether the anticipated capacity requirement to 2014 and beyond can be efficiently and adequately met by the port sector without recourse to the Exchequer. Seven submissions were received from ports around the country. The submission from Dublin Port Company included a project related to the proposed reclamation of some 21 hectares of foreshore in the port, to which the Senator referred. The final report of Fisher Associates was delivered to the Department in early June 2006 and the findings of the study will be reported upon to Government shortly.
In 1999, Dublin Port Company applied for approval under the Foreshore Acts for the proposed reclamation of an area of some 21 hectares of foreshore. This application is still before the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, which has responsibility for foreshore licences and is not a matter for the Department of Transport. I understand that full consideration of the port company’s application would involve a process of public consultation comprising making available the environmental impact statement and other information concerning the application, and an opportunity for interested persons or bodies to make submissions or observations on the proposal. Dublin Port Company’s proposal would also require planning permission pursuant to the Planning and Development Act 2000. This is a matter for the local planning authority, which in the case of Dublin Port is the Dublin City Council.
As indicated in response to Parliamentary Question No. 471 of 21 April 2006, there are no plans to alter the ownership status of Dublin Port Company. The Government’s policy is clearly outlined in the ports policy statement, which I launched in January 2005. It is a reflection on the successful economy and the growth of recent years. All the information was made available to Fisher Associates and we will report to Government. I expect that developments will take place in some ports standing alone or perhaps in amalgamation with other ports. We cannot stand by and allow the economy to grow without providing the necessary infrastructure. Some 99% of our goods are imported and exported through our ports. The matter is very fluid at the moment; I am monitoring it very closely and hope to make recommendations to Government in the near future.
Mr. Morrissey: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Dublin Port Company sought permission for its foreshore licence in 1999 and no progress has been made yet. However, we are told of a huge capacity problem, as the port will reach full capacity by 2008. As the Department of Transport now has responsibility for ports, I hoped that it could throw some light on the status of this foreshore licence and bring some element of co-ordination to the matter. I issue a word of caution to Dublin Port, which needs direction. Should it continue to be industrialised or should a process to de-industrialise it commence? The capacity constraint, which is the Dublin Port tunnel, is the responsibility of the Department of Transport.
Mr. Morrissey: The gateway to the port will be the limiting factor to the future growth of Dublin Port. The ships bring goods to the country in big containers. We need to resolve the matter. The wait since 1999 is too long. The Department of Transport, Dublin City Council or the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources must take the issue by the scruff of the neck and find a solution.
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