Before Question Time I was commenting on the fact that this Bill, for some extraordinary reason, seems to not include a large number of piers and one small harbour within the Shannon estuary. I was accused by the Minister, in one of his interruptions, of having changed my mind on the desirability of a single estuarial authority. I most certainly have not changed my mind. For the last 20 years I have striven for that. There were two earlier Bills which certainly had defects and of which I was not enamoured, but I would have preferred either of the two to this one which is very seriously defective.
The big row in the past was whether or not Foynes should be included in this estuarial authority. Foynes is included now but for some incredible reason various other places are not. I drew the Minister's attention to the fact that there is an application at the moment before Limerick County Council for planning permission for the development of deep water port facilities and associated industrial development and extractive facilities at Caheragh and Killacolla on the Shannon estuary about one and a half miles east of Glin. I wish that project well. If the promoter thinks he can make a success of it, by all means, but will that be included? Will the dues that will be generated by that go to a private operator or to this development corporation? The obvious thing is that we should have a single estuarial authority and every shipping activity that takes place in the estuary and in its immediate tributaries should come under the jurisdiction of the estuarial authority. Instead of that we do not have a harbour authority as such, but an industrial development and recreational and tourist authority which has as one of its subsidiary functions, the running of a harbour, and that only in respect of some parts of the estuary.
We are entitled to ask why these nine or ten piers which I named earlier have been excluded when they were included in the earlier Bills. Everyone who has compared this Bill with the earlier Bills feels that there is something sinister in this and equally about the exclusion of Clarecastle. There was a debate in the Seanad in 1986 on the estuary and its development and great things are promised for Clarecastle within a short period but they have not occurred. What has happened in regard to Clarecastle and to at least one pier called Cahiracon somewhere in the Kildysart area is that it has been leased to a private operator and the latest European Regional Development Fund report of applications for funds from this country shows that an application has been made for £500,000 from the Regional Fund to develop Clarecastle and what are called other small piers. This requires some explanation. At the very time when we are supposed to have a single authority, which in itself is a cause of controversy, are a whole lot of places in that estuary to be excluded including the proposed development near Glin and whatever is supposed to happen at Clarecastle?
Clarecastle, I understand, has not operated as a port for nearly 20 years but it has been established under an Act, the Clarecastle Harbour Trustees Act of, I think, 1933. The previous Bills brought in here proposed to repeal that Act, which, of course, makes sense. This Bill does not propose to repeal it and I wonder why. I understand that an application was made to the High Court within the past couple of years to appoint new trustees of that port and that that application was acceded to by the High Court. This would seem to suggest that it is the intention to retain it as a port independently of this corporation. We are entitled to ask why.
It seems that the manner in which it is sought to placate interests in Foynes is pretty hamfisted, to say the least. From what one hears, the reference in section 8 (3) (d) to two officials in Foynes was not in the Bill as drafted by the draftsman or prepared by the Department but was put in at the last minute as a result of a local political decision in order to try to placate opposition that might be expected and similarly with section 6 in regard to the principal office of the corporation, which was inserted in that way. It makes no sense that any Bill should contain a provision making it mandatory on a body to establish their head office in any particular place. It is a matter for the body concerned, if and when established, to decide where their principal office should be.
The staff of the Limerick Harbour Commissioners, who are competent and dedicated people in my experience over the past 20 to 25 years, certainly feel extremely sore, to say the least, about the provisions of this Bill and I do not blame them in any way. They are quite entitled to feel very aggrieved about it. They are senior and highly qualified people who are now going to be made subsidiary to people much less qualified than they in the formation of this corporation. There is not the slightest acknowledgment of their achievements over the past quarter of a century, in particular. Indeed, the thought struck me when the Taoiseach was making much of his meeting in Shannon a few weeks ago with Mr. Gorbachev, that Mr. Gorbachev would not be there, nor would there be a Russian plane landing in Shannon on any occcasion, were it not for the actions of the Limerick Harbour Commissioners in building a jetty for Russian fuel at Shannon and doing it entirely out of their own resources and providing storage there for that purpose. What they have done has been hugely to the benefit of the whole area, but they get very little thanks for it.
On the position of the staff of the Limerick Harbour Commissioners, in particular, they are very concerned indeed about the provisions of sections 15 and 16. At the moment the ordinary staff of the harbour commissioners are entitled to pensions which are unfunded, unfortunately, because the Department concerned never allowed a funded pension scheme to be established for Limerick harbour. They are not too worried about its being unfunded because Limerick Harbour Commissioners are in a very strong financial position and have a very substantial income; they are very much in the black. They are now going into a corporation which will have to take over other bodies if this Bill is passed, one of which has very substantial liabilities. To have to do that from an unfunded pension position is extremely unfair to those people. A man of, let us say, 60 years of age who has worked for perhaps 40 years with the commissioners and given excellent service should not now be faced with the possibility that, if he retires within the next couple of years, his pension may not be paid, or that it may not be paid in full.
Another aspect which this Bill does not deal with at all is the whole question of pilotage. The Pilotage Acts, I notice, are not referred to in the list of Acts at the start of this Bill. At the moment, pilotage is a function of the Limerick Harbour Commissioners. They carry out that function for all the authorities within the estuary, including Foynes, Cappagh and Clarecastle. Presumably, by implication, pilotage will now become a function of the new corporation and the pilots involved are certainly very concerned about what their position will be. Needless to say, there has been no consultation whatever with them and they do not know where they stand in this regard. They feel that a great many attempts may be made to let many of them go and that they have no continuity of employment.
There are numerous other matters of detail in this Bill which I, among many other people, find extremely objectionable. I shall deal with those matters on Committee Stage — if there is a Committee Stage which, presumably, now there may well be. This Bill is ill-conceived. It has, remarkably, obtained almost universal opposition from all the interests concerned and I cannot stress that strongly enough, particularly as several of the interests concerned see themselves as being in conflict with others involved. They are all unanimous that this Bill is totally unacceptable.
I find it extremely regrettable that at a time when at long last I had hoped that we would see legislation passed into law to unify this estuary and its control, we find it is not a unified port authority at all. It is an industrial development, a tourist development, an amenity and recreational development corporation with subsidiary powers of managing the harbour. That is not satisfactory. In addition, it is not the entire authority as we had all expected. It includes Foynes, but excludes a great many other places. Quite frankly, I do not see the point of an arrangement like that.
I cannot blame the people of Limerick, Clare and elsewhere if they think there is something sinister, in this. The evidence would seem to suggest, in the absence of some truthful and plausible explanation, that there is something sinister and that it is being done for a sinister and improper reason related to some private interest. Otherwise, why should this whole area be excluded? It is, therefore, a great disappointment that the third of these Bills is actually the least satisfactory by far of all three that we have seen in this House. The other two Bills were not passed and, if there were reasons for not passing the other two, certainly the reasons are infinitely more compelling for not passing this Bill which is extremely detrimental and disappointing.