Thursday, 28 May 2009
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this issue, which is the need for the Minister with responsibility for the marine to outline the actions that can be taken as interim, medium and long-term measures to ensure harbour and vessel safety at Greencastle breakwater in County Donegal and the role of the new marine body in prioritising and supporting the development of marine infrastructure to support job creation.
I am delighted the Minister for State, Deputy Sargent, will take this Adjournment matter and I will provide him with a brief outline of the issue. The existing harbour at Greencastle had difficulties with particular prevailing winds and needed a breakwater to address the issues of the inner harbour and to facilitate larger boats which tie up at Killybegs because they physically cannot get into Greencastle. It is a very busy harbour because not only does it have fishing vessels, it also has a small amount of marine leisure activity. Is has the RNLI, cliff sea rescue, pilot boats and the Magilligan to Greencastle car ferry. Magilligan has just been moved from international to domestic status but that is another day’s work we achieved.
At present, there is a project at Greencastle that will cost €36 million overall but a difficulty has arisen. We have spent €5 million but there is a particular point at which things are at their most dangerous and the money for this year seems to have dried up. However, what has been achieved will be consolidated. At present, the breakwater is out a certain level and is above the water in certain tides but it is causing difficulties because it is changing the course of the tide and making it dangerous for all vessels using Greencastle Harbour. I am not saying this because we want to cause bother. This project is at a stage where for health and safety reasons it needs to be completed. It is well-started but not far enough out to deal with the currents and tides in operation at that point. It is at its most dangerous. Rock armour will be put in place to try to hold what we have. We do not want to have spent €5 million on a breakwater to realise that the tidal impacts over the coming months will remove the work already done. We do not want to lose the money that has been spent.
We understand that contractual arrangements are in place for some harbours that are a priority. However, if a sum of hundreds of thousands of euro became available we could spend it. It is not a case that the money would be returned to the Department unspent. We are constantly able to bring in more stone for the breakwater to continue this project. In the interim term we are seeking a commitment that should moneys become available, they will be given to this project. We promise to spend them if they do. We also ask that in the 2010 budget priority would be afforded to this project for health and safety reasons. Many of the projects under contractual arrangements will finish by the end of this year and we seek an interim commitment that we will become the priority for 2010.
The changes in Area 6 have been very difficult for the fishermen who have been given perhaps three days a month to fish but have loans of €200,000 on their boats. Over the coming years, one will have to establish one’s right to fish in Area 6 and we know Greencastle Harbour will be a very busy port. I am not here to argue the case for work on Greencastle Harbour. It has already been made, sanctioned by the Department of Finance, started and therefore will be finished. It is that there is a potential danger to health and safety from leaving the work the way it is and we need short, medium and long-term projections of what we can do.
I welcome that there will be a consolidation of the overall marine infrastructure. It was ridiculous to have seven different Ministries dealing with it which made progress in an island nation impossible. I wish it well but I hope it will have a role in being able to give us clear indications on the priorities, how they have become priorities and that where dangers arise, as they have in Greencastle, they can be addressed. We all believe in the future of our coastal communities and the importance of the marine sector not only to Donegal but to all coastal communities.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Trevor Sargent): Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as seans a thabhairt dom freagra a thabhairt ar an gceist thábhachtach seo. I want to clarify the position with regard to the responsibilities of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the development of fishery harbours. My Department is responsible for the day-to-day running, maintenance and development of the six fishery harbour centres. These are located at Killybegs, Ros an Mhíl, Dingle, Castletownbere, Dunmore East and Howth. There are numerous other fishery harbours which are not in the ownership of my Department. These are in the main in the ownership of local authorities and my Department is committed to assisting where possible in their development and upgrade. Funding for such developments is provided under the Department’s fishery harbours and coastal infrastructure development programme, subject to the availability of Exchequer funding.
Greencastle Harbour falls into this category. It is owned by Donegal County Council and that local authority is responsible for the day to day operation of the harbour as well as its maintenance and development. Greencastle Harbour was identified by Donegal County Council as a priority for further development. The recommended development at the harbour is divided into three main phases which will provide a rock breakwater, fuel and mussel berths and a new deep-water berth at the harbour.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has agreed to co-fund phase 1 of the development which involves the provision of a rock breakwater. When completed, it will extend to 290 metres in length. The cost of phase 1 has been estimated at €16.8 million and is being funded jointly by the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Donegal County Council. The agreed funding breakdown is that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will fund 75% and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Donegal County Council will each fund 12.5%.
In addition, although the harbour is in the ownership of Donegal County Council, agreement was reached whereby the Department’s engineering division would project-manage the development. This decision was taken as the Department is fortunate in having a highly experienced engineering division with accumulated expertise that could not be readily available within the resources of Donegal County Council.
Work commenced in 2007 and considerable progress has been made to date. The spend on the project was €1.537 million in 2007 and a further €5.062 million in 2008. A further €1.6 million has been allocated to progress the development in 2009. Issues relating to safety are always of paramount importance and feature highly with both the Department’s engineering staff and Donegal County Council who are the people charged with the day to day running of the harbour.
It is important to note that the harbour development project at Greencastle is designed to ultimately address the health and safety issues already existing at the harbour. The issues are harbour congestion, wave penetration and cross currents at the harbour entrance. The Department’s engineers have advised that it is expected that these problems will continue to feature at Greencastle to a greater or lesser extent as the project advances and can in reality only be fully addressed when the project is completed.
The Department’s engineering division will continue to ensure that health and safety will not be compromised during the breakwater development at Greencastle. I assure all harbour users that appropriate measures are being taken to address health and safety concerns as construction of the breakwater advances from the shore.
The measures being taken include the deployment of navigational markings, diver survey inspections of the constructed breakwater works and the issue of a marine notice warning all ship owners, agents, shipmasters, fishermen, yachtsmen and seafarers about the breakwater construction site and the changed tidal current patterns in the Greencastle area. Health and safety, however, is everybody’s responsibility and there is an onus on all harbour users to proceed with due diligence and care while navigating in the vicinity of the breakwater, which is under construction, and while entering Greencastle Harbour. The investment in Greencastle Harbour is significant and I am confident that any inconvenience caused during the construction of the breakwater will in time pay dividends for users for generations.
My Department is in correspondence with Donegal County Council regarding the payment of arrears outstanding for construction costs on harbour works to date and is seeking an undertaking that future liabilities accrued by this Department on behalf of Donegal County Council will be discharged in a timely fashion. It is hoped that, subject to the availability of Exchequer funding, the payment of arrears by Donegal County Council and the undertaking outlined, funding for the continuation of work on phase one of the project will be considered under the 2010 harbours and coastal infrastructure programme.
On Senator Keaveney’s question on the new marine body, I confirm that my Department colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, has been asked by the Taoiseach to chair a co-ordination group of Departments on marine related matters. The Minister of State has stated that it is important that all relevant Departments co-operate as effectively and efficiently as possible in marine-related matters, particularly in the current economic climate.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I accept that money is available in 2009, but that will only bring the ongoing work to what I would call a safe halt. We are scared that in 2009 the word “halt” might mean that it is a closed project and we will have to fight a new battle to ensure it becomes an open project again. We hope this is an ongoing project and that, subject to very unusual circumstances, it will recommence as soon as money is available for it. That is the commitment we seek. The health and safety issues are not the day-to-day issues. We understand that people will be inconvenienced by activity but our difficulty is that if the project is left in its current condition for any length of time, it will provide opportunities for a disaster to happen. We will have to react quickly if that occurs.
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