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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Oct 1947

Vol. 108 No. 1

Harbours Bill, 1947—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The purpose of this Bill will be obvious to Deputies from the Title. It is to amend and extend certain provisions of the Harbours Act, 1946, and make provision for some additional matters which were raised when the 1946 Act was under discussion here. During the passage of the Harbours Act, 1946, I indicated to the Dáil that it was the intention of the Government to provide financial assistance where necessary for the development or restoration of harbour works, where there appeared to be a reasonable prospect of a revival of the trade of a harbour. Since then, applications for financial assistance have been received from 21 harbour authorities and grants amounting to £668,000 have been approved in 12 cases. There are other applications under consideration and as I anticipate that some Deputies may, in the course of the discussion on this Bill, raise the matter of delay in giving decisions upon outstanding applications, it might save time if I point out that the main cause of delay is that in most cases a survey must be carried out to determine the type and the cost of the works that are needed. The Board of Works organisation is used for the purpose of conducting such surveys and they have been doing their utmost to expedite the work, but they are handicapped at present by the difficulty of providing suitable engineers with experience of marine works.

However, one application which has been approved is the subject of a provision in this Bill. In the case of the Tralee and Fenit Harbour authority, the Government decided to make a grant of the full cost of providing a new viaduct and of widening the pier, works which are estimated to cost about £100,000. They made that offer to defray the cost of these works on the condition that the Kerry County Council would remit the debt of approximately the same amount due to them by the harbour authority. That debt arises out of a loan guaranteed to the harbour authority in 1882 by the predecessors of the county council. The loan had been raised originally for the purpose of constructing the pier and other works at Fenit. In making remission of a debt a condition for the grant, the Government had regard to the fact that the restoration of the harbour is important to the future development of the whole of County Kerry that a contribution from local authorities towards the cost of harbour works has been made a condition of a grant in other cases and that no port of the size of Fenit could be expected to prosper when burdened with such a heavy debt. The County Commissioner for Kerry agreed to wipe out the debt, but was advised by his legal advisers that Section 133 of the Harbours Act, 1946, which sets out the different ways in which a local authority may assist a harbour authority, does not authorise a local authority to remit such a debt. Section 6 of this Bill is intended to meet that difficulty and to clarify the position in regard to the grant of assistance by local authorities to harbour authorities.

The next matter to which the Bill refers arose after the harbour elections of 1946. It was found that certain schooners at Arklow harbour were owned by groups consisting of corporate bodies and individuals. The Act provided for the granting of voting rights in respect of vessels owned by individuals or by corporate bodies, but we overlooked the possibility of a vessel being owned jointly by individuals and corporate bodies. In the case of Arklow harbour, the returning officer, acting on legal advice, decided that he was unable to allow the owners of these schooners to take part in the elections, even though the vessels were registered in the State and the requisite amount had been paid in tonnage dues. I undertook to have this matter considered in conjunction with any amending harbour legislation. It is now proposed to substitute Section 2 of this Bill for sub-section (5) of Section 7 of the Harbours Act, 1946, so that the owners of all vessels registered in the State in respect of which the requisite tonnage rates have been paid may be able to take part in an election, either directly or through their resident manager. There is no departure in this from the principle adopted in the original Act.

Prior to the war tenders for liners calling at Cobh were provided by commercial firms. These firms were not in a position to restore tender services on the resumption of transatlantic liner traffic. On the representations of Cork Harbour Commissioners provision was made in the Harbours Act to enable harbour authorities to provide tenders. Cork Harbour Commissioners have been involved in heavy capital outlay in providing the present tender service.

With a view to offsetting some of the cost of providing this essential service they have now requested that they should be enabled to undertake other remunerative services with the tenders particularly excursions in the summer season when the vessels are not required for their main purpose. Similar services were provided by the commercial firms before the war and they were, I think, popular with Cork citizens and visitors to Cork. Section 4 of the Bill accordingly empowers a harbour authority to carry passengers for reward in vessels provided by them, subject to the approval of the arrangement by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I think it is desirable to retain that requirement of Ministerial approval to ensure that the remunerative character of these excursion services may not induce a harbour authority to diminish in any way the adequacy of the tender services provided for liner traffic. Section 8 of the Bill brings the provisions for the granting of travelling and subsistence allowances to members of harbour authorities into line with the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1946. Deputies will remember that we aimed in all provisions of the Harbour Act relating to staff to maintain similarity with the local government legislation. Since the Act was passed, however, the local government practice in regard to travelling allowances to members of local authorities has been changed. We are effecting a corresponding change with regard to members of harbour authorities. Under Section 38 of the Harbours Act, 1946, vacancies for secretaries and technical officers employed by harbour authorities must be filled through the Local Appointments Commissioners. In the case of a number of the smaller harbours where the salaries attaching to the posts are small and the work is usually of a parttime nature there appears to be a case for exempting the appointments at such harbours, at any rate for the time being, from the local appointments machinery, in the same way as posts such as town clerks and clerks of pension committees have been exempted under local government legislation.

The Bill therefore provides that local appointments machinery will not apply to any offices at the harbours of Annagassan, Ballyshannon, Baltimore and Skibbereen, Buncrana, Dingle, Killybegs, Kilrush, Kinsale, New Ross, Westport, Wicklow and Youghal unless the Minister so declares. When the 1946 Act was under discussion I undertook to discuss with the Minister for Local Government as to whether arrangements could not be made to enable previous service with a local authority to be reckoned for pension purposes under a harbours superannuation scheme. As a result of these consultations it is proposed in this Bill that power should be taken to include in a harbour superannuation scheme arrangements for reckoning past service with a local authority. I understand that under the Local Government Superannuation Bill at present before the Dáil the Minister for Local Government proposes to include reciprocal provisions to deal with the cases of officers who retire from the service of a local authority having had previous service with a harbour authority.

An annual payment of £369 4s. 8d. is made by the Cork Harbour Commissioners to the Cork Corporation under an agreement executed under the Cork Harbour Act, 1820. Under that Act the corporation had abandoned rights which they claim to have had to levy dues and tolls on certain vessels entering the harbour. During the passage of the 1946 Act the Cork Harbour Commissioners pressed that they should be relieved of that payment which was among the old levies which the Harbours Tribunal had recommended should be abolished. The Cork Corporation and the harbour authority have been in negotiation in the matter but have so far failed to reach agreement. Section 9 of the Bill provides that the annual payment shall be discontinued and that compensation in lieu of the payment should be paid by the Cork Harbour Commissioners to the corporation.

Failing agreement as to the amount of compensation the matter will be resolved by an arbitrator to be appointed by the Chief Justice. These are the changes in the Harbour Act which this Bill proposes to make. Deputies will remember that in connection with the Harbours Act arrangements were made for consultation with affected interests and, as a result of that consultation, the Bill was substantially altered. I think the justification for that method is to be found in the fact that with experience in the operation of that complicated measure only these few changes are required in the provisions of that Act. I think I can state in respect of all the matters to which this Bill relates and upon which disagreement might have been feared, such disagreement does not exist.

I think there will be no objection to the Bill generally on this side of the House. I was particularly pleased by the explanation given by the Minister of Section 2 of the Bill because already hidden and mysterious motives have been ascribed in certain quarters to this section. I would be glad to learn from the Minister the power taken in Section 4:—

"(5) A harbour authority may, with the consent of the Minister and subject to such conditions (if any) as he may think fit to impose, employ any vessels, provided by them under this section, for the carriage of passengers for reward."

I take it that in the case of the ferry service on the Liffey already operated by the Dublin Corporation, if it was decided at any time that this service should revert to the port authorities the port authorities would operate it under this section. Actually the service at the moment is entirely inadequate and something will have to be done. I do not think the corporation are too keen on retaining the service. Power to change is given in this section.

Subject to the concurrence of the Minister for Industry and Commerce.

Mr. O'Sullivan

I think the principle contained in Section 7 of the Bill in regard to the superannuation of officials is entirely sound. I think that those who had service with a local authority and who enter the service of a harbour authority should have that service recognised. The logical sequel to that is that those with service under a harbour authority should have that service recognised if they go into the employment of a local authority. Questions of that kind are occurring at the present time. As the Minister has indicated it is proposed to deal with that matter under the Local Government Bill. This Bill is non-contentious. It is merely a tidying-up Bill, following upon the recent Act.

I should like to congratulate the Minister upon this Bill and upon the fact that he has already made available £668,000 for the harbours of the country. I should like to impress upon him the necessity for speeding up grants to the other harbours, especially Cork. He himself must have seen the necessity during the past 12 months of improving the major ports. He is aware that Dublin port was unable to handle all the traffic which came its way recently and that ships had to be diverted to other places. Cork Harbour Commissioners are very anxious to go ahead with the work which they have in view as quickly as possible. The week-end excursions will be of great benefit to the people of Cork.

For years before the war, they were a most popular form of recreation. Due to the closing down of the Cork and Crosshaven railway, they are more wanted than ever they were. The cost of purchasing two tenders and practically renewing them will not be much short of £100,000. That is a big outlay for a board such as the Cork Harbour Commissioners. It may encourage the Minister to speed up the grant for the other matters, as the money will be needed. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister on doing away with the old cocket tax. There was no reason for its existence since this country got its freedom. The payment to the corporation should not continue, either. There does not seem to be any reason for one public body paying another public body when there does not seem to be any service given for the money. On the Committee Stage, I may have something further to say.

I should like to impress on the Minister the necessity for effecting some improvement in the ferry service. Whether that service should be controlled by the corporation or by the Port and Docks Board is not for me to suggest but it is well known that the ferry service is inadequate to the traffic from north to south and south to north. The Minister can confirm the fact that, even during the meal hour, many workers on the north side, anxious to go to the south side, and workers on the south side, anxious to go to the north side, have been unable to do so. The ferry service was not, on some occasions, to my personal knowledge, able to deal with the situation. If the Minister would avail of the passing of this measure to improve the ferry service in the morning and during the meal hours, he would confer a great benefit on the increasing number of dockers and others who have to go from the north to the south wall and from the south wall to the north wall.

Mr. Brennan

I congratulate the Minister on the introduction of this Bill, with particular reference to Section 6, whereby local authorities will have power to remit debts incurred by way of guarantee of loans or grants to harbour authorities. A harbour which I have in mind has deteriorated very much during the past nine or ten years, particularly during the emergency period. Plans have been prepared for certain works at that harbour and attempts have been made to get them carried out. In company with members of the local authority and members of that harbour board, I have visited the Department of Industry and Commerce in connection with the matter. I felt, not from the information we received there but from the information we received at the Department of Local Government, that the fact that that harbour authority had incurred certain debts, which the local authority had guaranteed to the bank, and that these moneys had not been repaid by the harbour authority operated against their receiving any further help from the Departments concerned. Under this Bill, there is the hope that these debts will be wiped out and that the works at that harbour, so essential at the moment, will be developed and the harbour put in a proper working condition. The same remarks apply to another harbour I have in mind but I am happy to congratulate the Minister and his Department on their efforts to place that harbour on a proper footing by way of grants, technical help and otherwise. The only thing which prevents the work going ahead at the moment is the shortage of a certain material. Again, I congratulate the Minister on the contents of this Bill.

So far as the Cork harbour proposals are concerned, a decision has not yet been made on the application for financial assistance but I think I can undertake that it will be made in the near future. Whether Dublin Corporation or Dublin Port and Docks Board is responsible for the provision of a ferry service at the Liffey, I want to make quite clear that the Department of Industry and Commerce is not responsible.

Dublin Corporation is responsible.

I support everything Deputy Davin has said as to the need for the improvement and extension of that service, and I hope whoever is responsible will deal quickly and adequately with the matter. The Deputy must not, however, be looking to me; it is not my responsibility.

You can use your good offices, which are very powerful.

Deputy Brennan's reference was, I think, to Wicklow harbour. There is a scheme there for works of a fairly substantial character. The position as regards these works is that the Office of Public Works has been asked to carry out a survey and furnish reports as to the necessity for them and their probable cost. I am not familiar with the position concerning the debts of the harbour authority to the local authority. The decision on the application for financial assistance for the larger scheme of works must await the completion of the survey to which I have referred.

Will that survey apply to all harbours?

It depends very largely upon the nature of the works. In some cases there may not be any particular difficulty which would require to be resolved by an expert's report. In other cases there might be very substantial doubt as to the efficacy of the works and necessity for a protracted investigation before expenditure of a substantial sum would be approved.

Will it be necessary for the local harbour authority to make application for the survey or will the Office of Public Works make a general survey of all the harbours that are supposed to get grants?

The harbour authority begins by asking for financial help. When the matter comes up for consideration by the Department of Industry and Commerce then the other questions will flow from it. The decision as to whether a grant might be approved in principle subject to the scheme of works being all right will be taken but if a survey is required then the Office of Public Works will be asked to undertake it. I should point out that the Office of Public Works has, at the moment, very considerable difficulty in procuring engineers with experience of marine works. Consequently delays in the completion of these surveys are apparently inevitable.

The Minister did not mention Wexford harbour or New Ross harbour.

The only harbours I mentioned in my statement were a list of small harbours which, because of their size, are being exempted from the obligation to approach the Local Appointments Commissioners for approval in the filling of part-time and small posts.

Is Wexford not a very important harbour?

The list I gave was a list of unimportant harbours.

Is it your idea to look after Cork and the other big cities and to do away with the small harbours?

The Deputy has misunderstood what I have said.

Question—"That the Bill be now read a Second Time"—agreed to.

Ordered: Committee Stage to be taken on Wednesday, 15th October, 1947.