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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 4 Nov 1987

Vol. 374 No. 10

Shipping Investment Grants Bill: Report and Final Stages.

I disagree with the Minister when he says that there are adequate port facilities here. In conjunction with this Bill which is seen as a development of the whole area of shipping I ask the Minister if he will consider a proper overall policy for the development of the ports. As an island nation it is essential for the development of the whole shipping area that a national plan be brought forward to enhance the initiative the Minister has brought forward. I indicated that on Second Stage and the Minister Deputy Daly, responded.

Has the Minister had time to consider the point I made before lunch in relation to section 6 (2) and the possibility of omitting the word "loss" but allowing for a broader interpretation the parliamentary draftsman feels one can in terms of the inclusion of loss if circumstances so warrant. Rather than presume that in the case of the natural loss the grant must be repaid, could be we just turn that on its head? I think the parliamentary draftsman gave us an opening in his interpretation of an earlier situation. I would like the Minister's view on this.

I would remind the House that ordinarily on Report Stage when there are no amendments discussion is very limited. However, because we have had such a tranquil, enlightened and educational discussion the Chair has been a little more lenient than it might be normally. I ask the Minister to comment on what the Deputy said.

In relation to the development of the ports, there is no doubt that many of our ports are in need of repairs and maintenance and there are areas where we would like to extend our ports. These are matters of finance and the finance available, while the four or five major shipping ports are a matter for the Department of the Marine and now the commercial harbours are also a matter for the Department. There is some £3 million in the Estimates this year and, hopefully, some of these moneys could be used to update harbours. I feel that facilities are adequate to cater for existing and short-term future levels. I will look at the question of what can be done in relation to the operation of ports generally, whether to cater for this type of boat or smaller boats.

I am just trying to be helpful in saying that before spending any money there should be a plan as to what ports need to be developed in the overall context of the national interest.

A plan could be drawn up. It is obvious to all of us that even in the absence of a plan the ports that are necessary for the berthing of ships of the type we are referring to need to be developed. While I am not opposed to a development plan, there are so few of the type we are talking about that if I find it necessary to prepare a plan and to give priority to the ports that require financial investment, then we can do that but the plan is available off the top of any of our heads.

I want to refer to the matter raised by Deputy Doyle and the amendment circulated and her suggestion that we should, in section 6 (2) delete the word "loss". The advice to me is that to do this would leave the State's investment vulnerable in the event of a grant-aided vessel being lost whether accidentally or otherwise. In any case, each shipowner who is grant-aided in respect of a particular ship will be required in advance of payment of the grant to produce documentary evidence to show that the vessel has been fully insured. It will be one of the conditions of the scheme that the grantee should record the interest of the Minister in insurance cover for the vessel. This insurance will cover the vessels against all eventualities, including its total loss and its replacement cost including the portion of its cost which was met by the State's investment grant. That may overcome the difficulty which Deputy Doyle has in relation to the loss.

It should be remembered that the principal purpose of the grant scheme would be to increase the size of the Irish fleet. Securing this objective is of overriding importance and must be safeguarded under the terms of the enabling legislation. I accept there were fears in regard to the replacement cost but I am happy, on the advice available to me, that the boat will be insured and that the Minister's interest will be included; the insurance will cover the vessel against all eventualities, including its total loss and its replacement cost including the portion of its cost which was met by the State's investment grant. I hope that covers the point raised by Deputy Doyle. The powers of the Minister will be broad and all of the points raised will be taken into consideration.

I thank the Minister because he has gone to some considerable trouble to meet our reservations in relation to this. This has been the only area where there has been some small element of quibble in relation to the provisions. The Minister, on advice, has not been able to accommodate the management because it was not in order, or our request that the word "loss" be dropped, and I accept that. I hope that within the conditions that this or any further Minister may or may not lay down in regard to such an eventuality, that is, a natural disaster involving the loss of one of these grant-aided ships, the Minister can if he sees fit allow roll over and not claw back the grant and the shipowner who has borne the loss is going to re-invest in another ship that complies with all the necessary conditions. If he should insist on the repayment of the grant or portion thereof, depending on the length of time the grant had been paid, priority will be given in terms of a grant to the man who has lost his ship to replace that ship if the £7.5 million has already been spoken for. There are two ways to protect in the case of this eventuality now that, for different reasons, the Minister cannot accommodate what we ask. I would like to thank the Minister, the Minister of State and the officials for coming down the road as far as they could in relation to this point that has been causing concern.

I assure the House again that the Minister has these discretionary powers and that we shall be quite humane and sympathetic. If either of the Deputies held the post I am now holding, I would feel very confident if that assurance were given by them.

I thank the Minister.

The courtesy, well wishes and looking into the future are very praiseworthy.

I move: "That the Bill do now pass."

Am I in order in asking one final question?

It is in order for Deputy Doyle or any other Deputy to speak on anything that is in the Bill. If there is some question the Deputy might like to put, I am sure she has the ingenuity to do so.

I want to reiterate my general welcome for the Bill which is very timely. I thank the Minister, the Minister of State and the officials for having brought it with reasonable haste to the House. The Government are in office only since last March. I thank my colleague, the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Mitchell, for the groundwork he did and which has been generously recognised by the Minister and Minister of State already. I acknowledge also the groundwork that the Committee on Strategic Shipping Requirements did in relation to the provisions we are now discussing and which we hope will shortly be enacted. These were all published by Deputy Mitchell some time ago in the form of the Green Paper on Transport. It is quite rewarding to find that there are issues such as these which follow through on a change of administration and that basically what we all want is to ensure that the shipping industry has the structure in which to thrive and expand. We want to rejuvenate our fleet and increase it. We want to ensure, apart from the trade aspects, that in any eventuality we would have a strategic fleet on which we can call if and when it may be necessary.

There is the employment aspect and that of the training of merchant seamen and many other aspects which are most important and which are all contiguous to the different parts of this Bill.

The Minister said this morning that subject to budgetary constraint at least £1.03 million will be made available under the scheme next year, the first year of its full operation, with about £500,000 this year, I understand, which will possibly suffice for the applications that are on hand awaiting the processing of this legislation. May I take it that there will be no question that the budgetary constraints will suddenly arrive upon us next year and that there may be no grant aid to make applications under this Bill feasible for next year? The Minister of State confirmed that the £1.03 million is included in the Book of Estimates under the relevant subhead and will be there for such applications in 1988.

I hope the Minister will agree that the way in which this debate has been conducted shows that we have been trying to encourage him in this area, particularly in the development of an Irish fishing fleet. I hope that he would see this as a signal for further development. As the Minister and the Minister of State have said, this is a first step. I hope that the Minister would see that this constructive approach will be taken into account and that he will be anxious to bring forward even more enlightened development in the whole area of shipping.

In the area of employment which is my concern with this Bill, would he at all times give great serious consideration to that aspect of the development? We have in this country today people who, unfortunately, are unemployed but are very able seafaring people, many as a result of the liquidation of Irish Shipping. We have that skilled workforce available to us and when giving grant aid in the months ahead every effort should be made to ensure that as many people as possible are re-employed in this area.

Finally, with regard to insurance I thank the Minister for looking into that aspect and satisfying the House with regard to the matters under query with regard to the possible loss of a ship.

I assure Deputy Doyle that £1.03 million is included under the appropriate subhead in the Estimate for 1988 and, of course, £515,000 is available this year. It is hoped this Bill will get as speedy a passage through the Seanad as it has got in this House in order that it will be enacted as quickly as possible. It is in everyone's interest that the shipping industry should be assisted.

I overlooked a point raised by Deputy O'Keeffe who suggested that we should tie in payments of grants with training, that this was a feasible proposition. It is an interesting point and we shall certainly examine the Deputy's proposal. The training capacity of grantees will be considered in the procedures.

The question of insurance is of vital importance, not just for the Minister but for the grantees. It is in their interest that we ensure that there is available a proper insurance policy in the event of any difficulties arising but particularly the one referred to earlier which caused some anxiety, that was the question of loss, that the insurance would cover the replacement value including the grant made available by the State.

Employment is a vitally important element in the entire package. That will be of paramount importance when we are vetting each application. Of course, there are guidelines available and we shall be guided by the Marine Surveyor. All things being equal, the question of employment is vitally important. We have former employees of Irish Shipping whom we have been unable to help by extra statutory redundancy repayments. These now could benefit from the additional employment opportunities afforded by the incentives in this Bill. The strategic fleet will be increased in line with the recommendations of the Committee on Strategic Shipping Requirements to approximately 158,000 deadweight tonnes. The income earned could be used to expand the national fleet which would result in a net balance of payments improvement through foreign earnings and import substitution. Irish companies would be paying Irish shipowners to transport the materials where at present overseas shipping enjoy the business. We are now carrying only 20 per cent of our own goods. Employment prospects for seamen and shore based personnel would be improved.

The necessary marine training facilities refered to by Deputy O'Keeffe, including access to sea time experience will continue to be available to seagoing cadets, thereby ensuring the continuation in Ireland of the necessary marine skills for the future. The shipping industry would receive a stimulus which might fuel further expansion in both the size and scope of their service. It is of particular interest to me as Minister of State at the Department of the Marine that I am looking forward to the day when these grants will assist individuals or companies in the purchase of refrigerated vessels which would carry our frozen products from the country more than to the country.

Question put and agreed to.
This Bill is a Certified Money Bill in acccordance with Article 22 of the Constitution.