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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 19 Feb 1992

Vol. 415 No. 9

Merchant Shipping Bill, 1991: Committee Stage.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.
Section agreed to.
Sections 2 to 5, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 7, before section 6, but in Part I, to insert the following new section:

"6.—The Minister shall lay before each House of the Oireachtas, the report of any enquiry or investigation which he orders to be conducted under this Act, or other enabling legislation.".

Let me first offer my congratulations to the new Minister for the Marine on his appointment. In the debate on Second Stage I referred to a number of inquiries which apparently were still under way, the reports of which have not been published. I am referring in particular to some of the inquiries conducted into the tragic deaths of fishermen at sea. We usually find after each tragedy of this kind that an inquiry of some sort is ordered but very rarely is the report of such an inquiry actually published. The one exception was the report on the Ballycotton tragedy. It was widely appreciated that that report was published but the report of the earlier inquiry, which led to the tribunal eventually being established, was not published. It is a matter of public importance that such reports be published.

There is a current inquiry regarding the collision of the mv Kilkenny at the mouth of Dublin Port and so far there has been no indication that the report will be published. It is important that such reports are published and the formula which I propose in this amendment is that the reports of such inquiries should be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. If an incident is sufficiently serious to warrant the Minister establishing an inquiry and the investment of public funds in trying to find out what happened, then the report of the inquiry should be brought before the House so that Members can examine it. It is the very least that should be done regardless of whether the report is subsequently printed for a wider distribution.

I welcome the Minister's appointment to the Department of the Marine and I hope to work constructively with him in the coming months.

I support the amendment tabled by Deputy Gilmore because it is usually public outcry which causes an inquiry to be held. As Deputy Gilmore said, the inquiry into the Ballycotton tragedy was set up as a result of an outcry by relatives. The Minister's predecessor said that reports of inquiries would not be made public in order to protect relatives. However, more often than not, it is the relatives who demand an inquiry and reports should be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas so that we can learn from mistakes. As a result of each inquiry there are lessons to be learned and we should be given an opportunity to discuss reports so that we learn from failures and prevent further accidents at sea.

Many fishermen feel that inquiries of this nature are necessary and their organisations are very anxious that reports of inquiries are made public or laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas so that we take precautionary measures in future to avoid accidents. I will listen attentively to what the Minister says in this regard and I ask him to give it his consideration.

I commend Deputy Gilmore for tabling this amendment, which I support, because as Deputies Gilmore and O'Sullivan said, this has been the subject of an ongoing debate between the spokespersons on this side of the House and the former Minister for the Marine, Deputy Wilson.

As Deputy Gilmore said, this is not just a matter of public funds being spent but a matter of public interest. As we have said in the House before, when public inquiries in this area have been aired and debated much has been learned from them. Nobody wishes to have a public inquiry report published to lay blame but to learn and build from it. It is only through public debate, particularly in this House, that we can do so. Even more important, as we have also discovered, is that not alone do the recommendations and what we learn from these reports aid and guide the Department, but they allow a monitoring to be set up in which we can all participate and act upon, which is very important.

I also welcome the Minister, Deputy Woods, to this portfolio. In my dealings with him in his other ministry he has shown an openness, not just to reform but to discussion, across the Chamber with his Opposition spokesperson. I look forward to the same participation and sharing in his present ministry. In that regard, will the Minister let us know whether he can give us a definite decision whether the report of the public inquiry into the tragic events of the mv Kilkenny is being finalised and if it will be published soon so that we can learn and build as a result? There were many worrying aspects in regard to that accident which we need to know and act upon as quickly as possible. The former Minister, Deputy Wilson, indicated that he was seriously thinking of allowing the report to be published. This needs to be done as it is a matter of the greatest urgency.

I should like to think that the Minister, in accepting this amendment tabled by Deputy Gilmore and supported by the rest of the House, would continue his good record of participation across the House.

I thank Deputies for their good wishes and I will try to be as frank and open as I can. I am also anxious to provide as much information as possible as the basis for our progress in the House. I think Deputies know I rely quite heavily on discussions in the House and use them to the utmost subsequently.

I should like to say two things in regard to this amendment. First, there is no provision in this legislation for the conduct of an inquiry or investigation. The Deputy tabled the amendment because he is interested in having these inquiries made public, which is obviously worthwhile, and I will support him in that in so far as it is possible because there are legal constraints relating to the conduct and information in the inquiry and to any proceedings which may arise from it. I would be very keen to have a report of any inquiry or investigation made public and laid on the table of the House. Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan mentioned making a report public or laying it on the table of the House but, when it is laid on the table of the House, it is public.

Deputy Gilmore raised the question of reports, particularly in relation to the tragic accident in which the mv Kilkenny was involved. It is in that connection I wish to make my second point. At 11 a.m. today I will be issuing a statement in relation to the mv Kilkenny. I will now read it for the House. If the debate had commenced earlier I would have read the statement earlier. The information contained in the statement has been conveyed to the relatives of the deceased in advance. The statement relates to the collision in Dublin Bay and is as follows:

On the 22nd of November last, the day following the collision between the mv Hasselwerder and the mv Kilkenny, the Tánaiste and the then Minister for the Marine, Mr. John P. Wilson, TD, ordered a Preliminary Inquiry under Section 465 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. This investigation will be completed shortly and a full report will be made to the Minister for the Marine, Dr. Michael Woods, TD, at that stage.

The collision between the two vessels resulted in the death of three crew members of the mv Kilkenny. Preliminary findings indicated that the matter required investigation by the Garda Síochána and the papers have accordingly been referred to the Garda Commissioner.

When their investigation is completed, the Garda authorities will decide whether or not a file should be sent to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Minister is advised that it would be inappropriate for him to comment further at this stage.

The Minister has also been legally advised that, in view of the Garda investigation, it would be inappropriate to publish a report based on the inquiry under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, at this stage. The Minister hopes, subject to legal considerations, to be in a position to publish a report of the Department of the Marine inquiry when the legal processes have been completed.

That is all I intend to say about the matter here. I felt that I should make the statement on the present stage of the investigation available to the House this morning.

With regard to the question raised by Deputy Barnes about monitoring and the need to act on reports, I will be very anxious, within the resources and powers available to me, to act upon reports as quickly as possible.

Deputy Gilmore's amendment proposes to amend the 1894 Act. It would not be appropriate to include such an amendment in this Bill in any event.

I am very glad the amendment afforded the Minister an opportunity to make a statement to the House on the accident involving the mv Kilkenny. I thank the Minister for making that statement. I appreciate and understand that as the information which is available to him through that report has been sent to the Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner and that there is a question about whether it might be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, it would not be appropriate for him or any other Member to comment on it in detail. I thank the Minister for stating that when the legal side of this affair has been completed he will publish the report of the inquiry because the public want to know how, with all the modern communications and modern technology now available to large vessels, two large vessels collided at the mouth of Dublin Bay.

There was another collision in Dublin Bay some years ago into which an inquiry was to be conducted. Ironically, that collision, too, took place in much the same area. To date, the report of that inquiry has not been made public. There are matters of general public interest and matters relating to navigation in the Dublin Bay area which we need to know about and which I believe the publication of these reports would make available to us. I hope the Garda investigation will not take too long and that the Minister will be in a position to publish the report as quickly as possible.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to make available the report of any inquiry carried out by his Department. That is a departure from the Department's traditional practice. As I said previously, it has been the practice that, where inquiries have been conducted, particularly in relation to tragedies involving fishermen, those reports have not been made available. I understand and appreciate that very often there is a sensitivity, particularly as regards the relatives of the deceased, about making public the circumstances and results of the investigations and so on, however, it has to be said that very often the relatives of the deceased wish the information to be made available. There is a responsibility on the rest of seafaring population and on the general public to learn from tragedies and the only way those lessons can be learned is if the information made available to the Minister is also made available to the public so that we will know what happened, why it happened and what steps can be taken to prevent such accidents in the future. This is a matter of public interest.

I accept the point that Minister made about my amendment in the sense that there is no specific reference in the Bill to the Minister establishing an inquiry. However, this is a new Merchant Shipping Bill and relates to the existing merchant shipping legislation. It seems ironic that legislation enacted 100 years ago enables the Minister to establish an inquiry, but 100 years later when we attempt to amend that legislation by providing that the results of any such inquiries be made public, we are told the 1992 version of the legislation does not make provision for carrying out an inquiry.

In view of the Minister's commitment to publish and make available the results of inquiries, I ask him to give further consideration to my amendment and build it into the legislation. While I accept the Minister's commitment that he will be willing to make reports available, that may not be as in the case of every Minister. I do not think we can allow a situation where the policy in relation to making reports available varies from Minister to Minister.

A provision to make reports available should be included in the legislation, even if it has to be qualified by references to legal constraints, to constraints related to the needs of the relatives of the decreased and so on. That is fair enough. However, the principle of the reports of inquiries being made available should be enshrined in legislation and it should not depend on the Minister of the day whether he is in favour of publishing a report or keeping it private.

I accept that my amendment may need to be refined. I would be quite happy if the Minister considered introducing an amendment on Report Stage to meet the qualifications he put on my amendment.

I welcome the statement to the House today with regard to the tragic accident in Dublin Bay, to which all of us have referred. Like my colleagues, I understand that we shall have to await referral of some of the documents to the Garda. Because of the worrying aspects of this accident I hope the Minister will ensure that the report is processed as quickly as possible. I would like to think that legal technicalities or difficulties will not preclude us from having an open debate on the matter, taking all the parameters into consideration. We all look forward to such a debate. I welcome the Minister's assurances that the report will be published and laid before the House as quickly as possible.

I welcome the updating of the safety provisions in the Bill. The previous Minister in his introduction to the Bill stated that fines for offences have been derisory and out of date. We commend the Minister and the staff in his Department for updating the provisions in this regard. A great number of shipping acts are well over a century old and are totally out of date as regards penalties. We are living in a completely different climate now and these provisions need to be updated. I welcome the Minister's statement — and his record shows this — about his openness and willingness to take on board proposals from all sides of the House.

It is very important that it be mandatory that reports of public inquiries be published and debated. Perhaps a provision in this regard could be included in this Bill. Taking into consideration the fact that the Shipping Act, 1894, is almost a century old and we cannot begin to compare shipping then with modern shipping, it is important that the legislation is updated. Perhaps this amendment could be included in this Bill or alternatively in other legislation which should come before the House as quickly as possible. With the present climate of open Government and public accountability it is essential that such an important and fundamental amendment be included in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister and his staff would positively consider that matter.

I, too, welcome the Minister's approach to this matter and also his statement on the tragedy of the mv Kilkenny. This incident is under investigation and that is where the matter should rest. There has been a traditional reluctance by the Department of the Marine to give information regarding inquiries. The excuse may be given that they want to protect the relatives of the families involved but nevertheless I feel very strongly that in future we should be given such information. Our marine and merchant shipping legislation is rather antiquated and should be updated. Merchant shipping is progressing rapidly and safety measures should be improved. When the Bill was introduced in the House it was welcomed on all sides as being very necessary and it was hoped that it would be put through the House as quickly as possible.

While I welcome the Minister's remarks this morning that he will be willing to take a new approach to this matter, commitments have to be entered into when tragedy and loss of life occurs. In the past, commitments have been made that information would not be divulged and that there would be confidentiality. It may be difficult for a Minister to go back on such a commitment at a later stage, and that is the reason I support Deputy Gilmore's amendment. It proposes that the report of any inquiry undertaken be laid before the House. The people who participate in such an inquiry should know that their evidence will be public knowledge. From that point of view, I welcome the Minister's remarks. I would like to see this amendment enshrined in legislation. As the Minister has outlined, this may not be the Bill in which to include it, but it is necessary that it be taken on board. My party fully support it.

Deputy Gilmore has pinpointed the position fairly accurately in that the question of whether or not a report is published is and has been a matter of policy. In general, I favour the publication of reports. However, that does not necessarily mean that all the details as supplied should be published because some information may be sensitive and there may be legalities involved. In some instances also we may not be able to get information. Our function is to investigate accidents, to find the reasons for them and how they can be prevented in future. We are not in the business of allocating blame. That is totally outside our brief. We are considering the matter from the point of view of the investigation of accidents.

In some instances people will not give information unless they are given an undertaking that it will remain confidential. In those circumstances people may be prepared to give information if the matter goes before a court of law, which is a different matter. Ministers in the past may have been anxious to make information available but were restricted in that they gave certain undertakings in the investigation of an accident. In that sense the matter is somewhat more complex. If we were to make this a legislative or mandatory matter we would have to consider at some length the different elements involved and decide which procedure would be best. As the Deputies know, I would be very anxious to reveal the facts and to publish the report of the inquiry but we must respect any undertakings that have to be given in the process.

Those are the elements involved. I will certainly do as Deputy Gilmore has suggested and examine the matter further for Report Stage. However, I think the Deputy will appreciate that it is a matter that would have to be considered at great length and in great detail if such a proposition were to be a mandatory legislative one.

I thank the Minister for his undertaking to consider the matter before Report Stage. In the light of that, I intend to withdraw my amendment.

I recognise that in the conduct of any investigation the confidentiality of persons giving information to the inquiry is guaranteed. I realise the necessity for such confidentiality. Nevertheless, the issue needs to be elevated above the area of policy because policy may be changed unilaterally by a Minister. If the Minister were to come back with an amendment on Report Stage which committed the Minister for the Marine to the making of a report on such an inquiry, we would all understand that there may be confidential matters and information given to any such inquiry which of necessity could not appear in that report. If such a report was made available then it would be a matter for Members of the House or the public to comment on the adequacy of the report.

I await the consideration the Minister proposes to give to the issue before Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

We shall now proceed to deal with amendment No. 3 in the name of Deputy Gilmore. I observe that amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 6 are related and I suggest that amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 be discussed together if that is satisfactory. Agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 7, subsection (2) (a), line 21, to delete "£1,000" and substitute "£5,000".

As Deputy O'Sullivan said earlier, the Bill was generally welcomed when it came before the House. All Members expressed an anxiety to have the Bill enacted as quickly as possible. That attitude is reflected in the limited number of amendments that have been tabled. Amendment No. 3 relates to the level of fines.

I recollect that when the former Minister for the Marine introduced the Bill he indicated that if Members considered the levels of fines were not sufficiently high then he could reconsider that matter. The amendment relates to the section that deals with the surveying of passenger ships. The maximum fine proposed on summary conviction is £1,000 and the maximum term of imprisonment is six months. For conviction on indictment the maximum fine proposed is £5,000 and the maximum term of imprisonment is two years. One has to bear in mind that it is the maximum levels of fines that are at issue. Levels of fines proposed in legislation tend to last for a long time. Indeed, when introducing the Bill, the former Minister said that the levels of fines contained in the previous legislation had been very much out of date.

This section deals with passenger ships. I made a lengthy comment on Second Stage about disturbing reports that appeared in consumer magazines in Britain and France about levels of safety. Those magazines described as being inadequate the provisions for escape from passenger ships serving this country. For example, the French consumer magazine listed some of the passenger ships serving Ireland as ranking among the lowest in safety standards of ships surveyed. Surveys referred to the method of escape from some vessels as being via rope ladders rather than the dry shod method that is recommended.

We are not talking about small boats, we are talking about ships that carry large numbers of passengers. I cannot contemplate that the owners or operators of such ships would not co-operate with the annual survey proposed in the Bill which is designed to try to establish that the ships are safe for passengers travelling on them. The levels of fines proposed are very small when one considers the size of the ships involved, the numbers of passengers they carry and the phenomenal potential for tragedy on any of those ships if something should go wrong. I make the point because of the commentary in consumer magazines expressing doubt about the safety standards on passenger ships serving this country. I am responding to the indication given by the former Minister that if Members were unhappy about the levels of fines proposed they could be reconsidered.

Similar provisions for fines are found in other sections but rather than tortuously list amendments to every measure, I decided to table amendments to the first section in which the levels of fines are mentioned. I hope a debate on this section will encourage the Minister to accept the amendments and increase the levels of fines.

The point made by Deputy Gilmore that large passenger ships and ferries should be covered under the Bill is relevant. The Bill puts emphasis on the safety aspects relating to smaller craft and fishing vessels. However, the measures in the Bill refer to ferries. My amendment, No. 7, also refers to ferries.

When one considers the size of ferries and the volume of passengers they carry across the Irish Sea and to the Contintent, the maximum level of fine is derisory. A maximum fine of £1,000 is adequate in the case of a small boat. However, we are talking about a maximum fine, not a minimum fine and the maximum fine should be increased to take account of the large ferries which in certain instances have been found to have inadequate safety measures. We have to differentiate between vessels. A maximum fine of £1,000 may seem adequate for small boats, a greater fine would be necessary for large passenger ships. I support the amendment because the Bill contains no differentiation between vessels.

Because of the commitment by this side of the House to co-operate in the speedy passage of the Bill, I shall not delay the House except to support the amendment. As Deputies Gilmore and O'Sullivan already said, if this amendment is accepted it could equally apply to other sections without adding unnecessarily to the bureaucracy and the paperwork. The point has been well made that in providing for all vessels, including passenger ships which can be responsible for huge numbers of people and which have a vast potential for tragedy, the ceiling for penalties should not be too low. We should at least substitute £5,000 for £1,000 and five years for two years. As Deputy Gilmore said, it is not mandatory to impose the maximum sentence but the ceiling should be raised so that we can cater for a very serious offence. I hope the Minister will be able to take these amendments on board and will consider similar amendments for other sections, where relevant.

When the Tánaiste, Deputy Wilson, spoke on the Second Stage of the Bill he referred particularly to section 30 and said he was open-minded with regard to the size of penalties for offences. I hope Deputies Gilmore and O'Sullivan in their amendments are pushing an open door and that the Minister and his staff have reconsidered the size of penalties.

I sympathise with the objective of the Deputies but there is a difficulty with regard to summary offences where there is already a maximum penalty of £1,000 in a court of summary jurisdiction. We are also limited to the six month penalty for summary offences. I have been informed that there is really very little difficulty with the surveys which are generally complied with. If someone defaults on the survey he will not have the certificate and will be potentially liable to two different fines.

There are 21 different types of offences in the Bill for which penalties are provided. The penalties were fixed having regard to the gravity of the offences. In section 12, on conviction on indictment, the fine for uncertified passenger ships goes as high as £50,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years. If we raised some of these penalties we would create a disparity throughout the 21 different penalties.

There is an existing limit with regard to summary convictions but I will reconsider the package again before Report Stage. The package is designed to meet the requirements of the different kinds of offences. In section 22, for instance, there is a forfeiture power. On reconsideration we may well find that this is a balanced package with legal advice on the fines involved. However, in view of what the Deputies have said, I am prepared to consider the package further for Report Stage.

It appears that the Minister will have a lot of considering to do, before Report Stage. There are something like 21 different fines provided for in the Bill. I simply wanted to put on the agenda the levels of fines that are being proposed and to draw the Minister's attention to our concern that perhaps some of those fines could be increased to make them more prohibitive. I chose the first section which relates specifically to passenger ships because of the enormous implications of anything going wrong on a passenger ship. The maximum fine on summary conviction is £1,000 and we are talking here about somebody who fails or refuses to have a passenger ship surveyed, a ship perhaps carrying hundreds of passengers. It would be grossly irresponsible of the owner of a passenger ship to refuse or fail to comply with this legislation to have the ship surveyed with regard to safety and so on, but, if an owner refused or failed to comply with the requirement, on summary conviction the maximum fine is £1,000. Very often, the Judiciary do not impose the maximum fine and a ship owner could be fined the equivalent of what it would cost him in beer spillages in one night for failing to comply with the requirement. It is to try to put the matter into proportion that I put down these amendments but I am happy to withdraw them in the light of the Minister's commitment to reconsider the level of fines generally in the Bill between now and Report Stage.

I mentioned section 12 because if there is no survey, there is no certificate and if the owner does not have a certificate there is a fine of up to £50,000. Notwithstanding that I will have a look at the package.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 6 not moved.
Section 6 agreed to.
Section 7 agreed to.

We come to amendment No. 7 in the name of Deputy G. O'Sullivan. Amendment No. 8 is related. Therefore with the agreement of the House, amendments Nos. 7 and 8 may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 8, subsection (1), between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

"(c) compliance with international safety requirements and regulations under international agreements and conventions, and with best practice in safety measures currently in use.".

I should like to have the Minister's views on this amendment. Much interest was generated in the subject of safety at sea when the Zeebrugge disaster occurred, when there was a hard look taken at safety standards on our passenger ferries.

As Deputy Gilmore has already remarked, some commentators did touch on the safety standards of our passenger ferries and how they complied with international safety standards. It was felt by most observers, commentators and experts that our ferries did not fare very well when it came to safety standards. Nonetheless, I have to say that surveys undertaken showed that our ferries complied with the minimum standards. However, we should strive to do a lot better than merely adhere to minimum standards of safety on our ferries which will become even more important in the future. We have seen the comments of various experts on shipbuilding, surveying and ferry operations to the effect that some ferry designs at present are completely outdated and should be considerably revised.

I will refer briefly to some reports I have read and studied over a period of time. One such survey conducted after the Zeebrugge disaster, showed that life rafts on board Irish ferries and B & I passenger-car ferries meet the minimum national and international legal safety standards but their design is outdated; I do not know whether ferry companies intend carrying out major improvements on their ferries in the future.

My reason for tabling this amendment was the firm belief that we should strive for the best safety measures to be incorporated into any ferry service for which the Minister and his Department are responsible.

I will refer to the type of escape chutes installed on continental ferries, similar to those installed on aircraft so that, in the event of an emergency occurring at sea, they can be deployed very quickly — within a matter of seconds — when a ship is not listing. For example, if the type of ferry being used at present is involved in a collision with another vessel, within 30 seconds, there is the frightening prospect that it can capsize and list in such a way that the life rafts and lifeboats on board cannot be launched. That is the frightening prospect we must consider at all times. Bearing in mind the volume of passengers using ferry services to and from Britain and the Continent we should, if necessary, legislate to ensure that the best safety standards obtain on all our ferries. Indeed, I contend that aircraft-type escape chutes should be mandatory on any ferry with a large complement of passengers.

I am very disappointed to read that Irish Ferries fall far behind the safety standards of their British, French and continental counterparts. While realising that the emphasis within the provisions of this Bill is on small boats, perhaps the position vis-á-vis ferries was overlooked inadvertently. For example, should we not legislate to change our overall outlook with regard to safety on board passenger ferries? I travel fairly frequently on the ferry from Cork to Swansea and, nearly always, the passengers have a certain sense of safety, because there is a good crew, and the requisite appliances are installed but, as happened in the case of the Zeebrugge disaster, within a matter of minutes, one can be faced with an emergency or disaster. Therefore, unless there is available proper modern safety equipment so that people can be taken off a ship at sea within minutes, we could have a recurrence of that tragedy.

I await the Minister's remarks in regard to this amendment because it would appear that we apply minimum standards on our ferries. In certain circumstances minimum standards may be adequate but, judging by the reports and surveys undertaken by various independent bodies, it would appear that minimum standards are no longer sufficient and are in need of being improved dramatically. Perhaps the Minister would examine this aspect, ascertaining whether he could devise better standards of safety for our ferry services. If he maintains that he is satisfied with the standards obtaining, I would have to take issue with him because independent marine surveyors and others have indicated that such is not the case.

Deputy O'Sullivan's two amendments are central to this Bill, dealing mainly with increased safety at sea and the standards and criteria that must be deployed to ensure that all passenger carrying vessels-ferries adhere to those safety conditions.

In introducing the Bill on Second Stage the Minister had this to say:

Bord Fáilte in seeking to attract tourists to this country place special emphasis on our relatively unpolluted waters and our water leisure activities.

He continued to say:

... for them — that is the tourists we are endeavouring to attract — safety is of paramount importance.

Indeed, the guarantee and/or perception of safety on all ferries plying in and out of this country are crucial and form part and parcel of the attraction of this country to potential tourists.

Deputy Gilmore has already commented that there have been independent surveys and studies undertaken which might lead potential tourists to be fearful of the standards of safety applicable to ferries travelling to and from this country. That would be a great pity, first, in human terms but, second, in that even such perception would be enormously damaging to the potential tourism development we are all anxious to encourage.

In supporting Deputy O'Sullivan's amendments it has to be said that there are overriding considerations for us here, first, because we rely so much on tourism and, second, because, being an island, most of our tourists travel here by sea. When travelling by air sometimes passengers do not want to be overly reminded of safety aspects, but, when an air steward or stewardess stands in the aircraft passageway reminding passengers of emergency exits-chutes and so on, how they should be prepared psychologically and otherwise to use them, the safety standards on board become very relevant indeed.

As Deputy O'Sullivan said, the Zeebrugge type disaster could recur. Indeed he drew attention to the speed with which, once a ship lists, passengers at sea can be put at risk. For all those reasons it is vital that international safety requirements and regulations specified in international agreements be complied with so that the specifications included in Deputy O'Sullivan's amendments not alone form part of our legislation but will enable us to go forward proudly advertising that fact.

As in the case of a different matter which is currently under discussion, when the unforeseen happens people turn to this House to ask why we did not make provision for it. I have raised the subject of safety on ferries in this House on a number of occasions in the past two years. I referred to consumer magazines which have cast doubt from time to time on the safety standards of ferries operating in and out of this country. I came in for some criticism for that. I was accused of scaremongering. I quite understand that ferry companies who are in competition with airlines do not wish for unwelcome attention or to have doubt cast on their operations or their standards of safety. That would never be my intention. My preferred method of travelling is by sea rather than by air. I do not raise these issues to place the operators of the ferries at a competitive disadvantage with the airlines.

However, there is a problem which must be addressed. As I understand it, in the case of an accident occurring, it is not possible for there to be a 100 per cent evacuation from those ferries. The report in Que Choisir, a French consumer magazine, states that the two ferries operated by Irish Ferries can evacuate just 43 per cent and 38 per cent of their passengers respectively. A separate report in the British consumer magazine Which makes the point that on the B & I ship Leinster 750 people would, if the ship were full, be left with little alternative but a hair-raising climb to safety.

This issue was not dreamed up by Members of this House. It has been raised publicly in reputable consumer magazines. There is a problem with regard to safety standards and with regard to evacuation on ferries operating in and out of our ports. First, there is an obligation on this House and upon the Minister to make sure, in the interests of the passengers, that the standards of safety which apply on ferries are such that the sea travelling public is safe. Second, there is also an obligation to ensure that the ferry companies themselves and their employees are not placed at a disadvantage in competing for passengers by doubt continuing to be cast on their safety. Third, we have an obligation to the tourist industry to ensure that one of the main methods of access to and from the country, which is by sea, does not have doubt cast on its safety.

This issue must be cleared up. Summer after summer this question is raised. When I raised this matter here before I was told that the copies of the various consumer magazines had been referred to the National Ferry Safety Committee and that they were to make recommendations. I am not sure if that has been done. Today might be an opportune time for the Minister to indicate that it has been done. None of us wants to be back here after the occurrence of an accident asking why it happened, why precautions were not taken and why legislation was not produced to deal with it. The problem has been highlighted and it must be addressed in the interests of passengers, of the companies themselves, of the tourist industry and the public generally.

I would like the Minister to tell us what measures it is proposed to take to make sure that the safety of the operation of ferries in and out of this country is put beyond doubt so that we will not again see consumer magazines abroad ranking Irish ferries at the bottom of the safety league. If consumer magazines abroad continue to rank Irish ferries at the bottom of the safety league that will have very serious implications for the tourist industry. This is not something that people ignore.

The public are now much more safety conscious particularly since the Zeebrugge disaster. I must confess that until the Zeebrugge disaster it never occurred to me that a car ferry could go down or that it could go down with such rapidity. We now know what can happen and there is an obligation on us to make sure that we get this right. It is said as a cliché now that after the completion of the channel tunnel we will be the only member of the European Community that will be surrounded by sea. People will only be able to get in and out of this country by air or by sea. It is an area that must be addressed very quickly, very urgently because of everything that is at stake.

Deputies are spelling out clearly their interest in having the best possible standards that can be achieved, and the highest quality generally relating to tourism and the importance to the country of having ferries of such high standards that people coming here on business or on holiday can feel happy about coming to the country and using the facilities. Of course I agree with them.

In relation to the amendment specifically, while I sympathise with its objective, I have to oppose it. The amendment provides for compliance with international safety requirements and regulations made under international agreements and conventions and with the best practice and safety measures currently in use. I would have to oppose it on the following grounds: (a) it does not specify particular agreements but merely refers to international safety requirements and regulations under international agreements and conventions; (b) those international agreements to which Ireland is a party would already have the force of law under domestic legislation, such as lifesaving appliances rules and passenger ship construction rules; the marine surveyor of my Department would have due regard to such legislation in the conduct of any survey of a passenger ship and would issue a declaration of survey indicating compliance with the relevant legislation; and (c) this information which would essentially comprise a list of statutory instruments would not be appropriate on a passenger certificate which is intended for display on a passenger ship.

The function of the passenger certificate is to allow passengers know the geographical limit in which the vessel may ply and the maximum number of passengers which the vessel may carry.

Amendment No. 8 seeks the insertion of a further paragraph (d) which states:

there have been breaches in international safety requirements and regulations under international agreements and conventions, or in failure to implement notified improvements towards best practice in safety measures currently in use,

I am opposed to this amendment as it does not specify what international safety requirements and regulations or international agreements or conventions are in mind. Those international agreements, to which Ireland is a party, already have the force of law here under various Acts and regulations. Breaches of these Acts or regulations constitute an offence.

Naturally I would be very concerned about safety on ferries operating into and out of Ireland. I am satisfied that all such ferries adhere to the international safety standards, including evacuation systems, as laid down by the International Maritime Organisation. Irish registered ferries are required to undergo an annual inspection by my Department's marine survey office for the renewal of their passenger and safety certificates. Foreign registered vessels using Irish ports may be inspected under the terms of the IMO's safety of life at sea convention and also the Memorandum of Understanding on the Ports State Control to which Ireland is a contracting party.

My Department are working on an ongoing basis to ensure that the highest safety standards are achieved on all ferries using Irish ports, both in the context of the International Maritime Organisation at international level, and the national ferry safety committee at domestic level. New regulations are being introduced on foot of the report of the formal inquiry into the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. Further regulations will be introduced as appropriate based on expert advice and recommendations of the marine survey office. The national ferry safety committee who considered the reports, referred to in the magazines mentioned by the Deputy, and found that we meet the basic minimum standards required——

The minimum standards.

——and those of the International Maritime Organisation. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Deputies in that we want to have the highest possible standards. Standards are set internationally by the International Maritime Organisation. For example, they set minimum standards and these are adhered to by 150 countries. From a commercial or business point of view, or from a general convenience point of view it is desirable that shipping companies aim for the highest possible standards and strive to reach standards in excess of the minimum international standards. There is a question of updating technology, equipment and shipping and that is something we would like to see.

I am rather like Deputy Gilmore in that I would probably feel safer on a boat — partly because I am a swimmer, although I might not last very long — than in a plane. While I respect the information I get when I am on the plane, there is not very much I can do afterwards as I am very much in the hands of the pilot. I make my peace with God before I go and after that I enjoy the flight. I know Deputies are concerned about reaching the highest standards and being assured that the standards are at the highest level in our ferries. The point which struck me while Deputies were discussing these points was that it might be useful to visit the ferries. I invite the spokespersons to come and visit the ferries wih me and we will discuss the position with them. My surveyors have advised me that they meet the minimum standards set by the International Maritime Organisation. I know there are many other aspects to be considered and there is the question of how quickly one can advance to a much higher standard. If Deputies are interested I would be happy to arrange for a visit where we can have discussions with the ferries personnel in situ and look at where things stand at present and where they are going from here.

I take the points the Minister has made in regard to the two amendments. I should like to refer to amendment No. 8 which seeks to withdraw the certificate if there has been a breach of the safety requirements. The Minister is not accepting the amendment, perhaps because it is too broad. I could have given more detail on international safety requirements but I felt rather than go into to much details about certain standards which should be met that general international safety requirements and regulations would cover the point I was trying to make. The Minister indicated that we should have minimum standards — this is the point with which I take issue — but I suggest we strive to be much more progressive than merely reaching the minimum standards. As we all know, minimum standards can be very basic. If certain proposals are put forward and if new methods and new technology are devised for safety at sea for passengers than we should examine them very closely and see how they can be implemented in law for our ferry services. As Deputy Gilmore said, it is unfair to the ferry services if they just barely comply with the minimum standards; it is not fair to the crews or the companies who are in competition. We are all in the same boat here in that we feel safer on ferry services than on aircraft. We should learn from mistakes which have been made in the past.

When it comes to the safety of passengers and the general public we should look at all aspects of legislation governing safety of ferries. I will have to stand by my amendment which is sufficiently broad for the Minister to accept as it includes the words "best practice in safety measures currently in use". There have been dramatic developments in safety methods. Our ferries are fairly old and have been built for a number of years. The standards which prevailed at the time were adequate and were the minimum standards, but with modern-day technology and travelling we should have the best equipment if at all possible. The point I am making is that the provision of the best safety measures currently in use may require only a small amount of expenditure in order to reach the required level of safety. The airtight escape chutes in aircraft can be devised for ferries. So far as I am aware none of our ferries have that type of safety measure. As Deputy Gilmore said, should an accident or tragedy occur at sea, people will have to climb 40 or 50 feet down a rope ladder to a boat. In this day and age if there is a better and safer way we should be looking at it. I will be pressing my amendment.

I am glad the Minister shares our concerns. As Deputy Gilmore said, we do no want to come into the House following a tragedy to ask how it happened. As the Minister is aware from experience, when a tragedy happens the people held responsible are the politicians because they did not bring in the required legislation. We are asked why we did not foresee that such a tragedy could happen and why did we not put the necessary legislation in place.

If the Minister has difficulty with the wording of Deputy O'Sullivan's amendments or if he considers the wording to be too loose — they reflect the serious thought that he has put into them — he should agree to accept what Deputy O'Sullivan proposed, even if he has to refine the wording. Perhaps I should not try to amend the amendments put forward by Deputy O'Sullivan, but given that the idea behind them is of the utmost importance, the fact that the wording is too loose is no reason for opposing or excluding them.

Like my colleagues, I get worried when the Minister mentions minimum standards. One hundred and fifty countries are members of the IMO. I do not know about any of my colleagues, but I have had some very hair raising experiences on ferries in other countries. I do not want to name them but there are a few I could think of which I am sure are members of the IMO. However they could probably tell us they enforce the minimum standards. I recall one particular excursion when my hair nearly turned grey; four or five people almost drowned and it was only the grace of God that saved them. Yet, I would say that if an inquiry had been conducted it may have been shown that the minimum standards were being adhered to.

It should be remembered that we are dealing here with different age groups and passengers of different size. Given my years and weight, I could not visualise myself evacuating down a rope ladder. We ought to take into account the passengers' needs because we cannot all be Tarzans and Janes. If this amounts to the minimum standard then I am worried and I will certainly be looking for a faster way to evacuate from a boat or a ferry.

I am very glad the Department are going to define what safety technology should be used. I hope the Minister's reply, which I hope will be positive, will indicate whether the National Ferry Safety Committee and his own working group have discovered that the accepted standards are not good enough and that he will in the near future demand, through the Department of the Marine, that the standards be updated and improved. I am sure that both committees are working along those lines. This makes it all the more important that Deputy O'Sullivan's amendments are included.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 8 agreed to.
Amendment No. 8 not moved.
Section 9 agreed to.
Sections 10 to 13, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 10, before section 14, but in Part III, to insert the following new section:

"14.—(1) A vessel shall not be used as a passenger boat unless the owner or the person/persons using the boat for the purposes of conveying passengers have passed an approved competency test as specified by the Minister for the Marine.

(2) The Minister shall by regulation specify the terms and conditions in relation to competency tests and may by order amend such regulations.".

I put down this amendment advisedly because there is now greater awareness and usage of pleasure boats. This amendment covers both passenger vessels and pleasure boats. As we are all aware, the master of a registered shipping vessel or a passenger vessel must have a certificate of competence but, in relation to smaller vessels — any person can purchase such a cabin cruiser or launch and put to sea or take to the river without first receiving a certificate of competence. I believe that on the Continent one has to hold such a certificate.

One day last summer in west Cork I came across a very agitated fisherman on the cliffs. When I asked him what was wrong he told me there was a boat with a number of passengers trying to go around the headland against the tide and he felt they were in danger of being swamped. The person sailing the boat obviously had no experience and was not competent to take the boat around the headland. The fisherman, as an experienced fisherman and boatman, saw the danger and tried to warn them not to go near the headland.

About 99 per cent of people who use boats are experienced because they have attended schools run by yachting clubs, etc. Anyone who loves the sea and wishes to participate in sea activities genuinely fears and respects the sea. One must be competent to take a boat out on the open sea. However, under the law as it stands, anyone can purchase a boat and put to sea or use our waterways for gain without meeting any standards. There is obviously a gap in the system. I do not want to hinder anyone from doing what he or she wants but, in relation to boating, there is a reluctance on the part of the Department to become involved, as it is part of our lifestyle to do what we please. However, we must remember that someone has to rescue those who get into trouble on a boat at sea or on a river. I have the greatest respect and admiration for any school or club who, over a period train young people in lifesaving and the handling of a boat in various conditions. It is great to see this because, although we are an island nation, we lag far behind other countries in this regard.

As the law stands there is no prohibition on anyone buying a cabin cruiser or a yacht and taking it out with people on board although not competent to do so. I would be interested to hear the Minister's reaction because the time has come to set standards. The vast majority of people using the sea are fishermen who grew up on boats, from the age of four or five years they hung around boats in the harbour and gained experience from going to sea with their families. There is no problem in regard to them but, with increased leisure time it seems to be the "in" thing to buy a boat or cabin cruiser. In that regard there is a glaring omission in the legislation and, without hindering the freedom of the individual, there should be some method whereby a person would receive a competency certificate to use a boat. I do not want to compare it with a licence to drive a car but something should be done, perhaps through the supplier. A person must show he is capable of using a boat properly because his life, the lives of his passengers and of the people who engage in rescue operations are put at risk. We know the vagaries of the weather and an inexperienced sailor may not be able to handle a boat in rough conditions, which could result in loss of life.

On Second Stage I told the former Minister that I would be tabling this amendment and I asked him to consider the matter. If the new Minister has views on this, I am anxious to hear them because the time has come to look at this aspect of boating.

This section deals with passenger boats; pleasure craft are dealt with in the next section. Boats are defined in section 2 as follows:

"Passenger boat" means—

(a) a vessel carrying not more than 12 passengers for reward or having on board for the purposes of carriage for reward not more than 12 passengers, or

(b) a vessel that is carrying not more than 12 passengers, or has on board for the purposes of carriage not more than 12 passengers, and is on hire pursuant to a contract or other arrangement under which a crew or part of a crew is provided for the vessel by its owner.

and includes a vessel carrying not more than 12 persons to or from their place of work, or having on board not more than 12 persons for the purposes of such carriage, and owned by or on hire to their employer and a vessel registered outside the State and carrying not more than 12 passengers between places in the State, or having on board not more than 12 passengers for the purposes of such carriage, but does not include such a vessel carrying passengers to or from the State or having on board passengers for the purposes of such carriage, a fishing vessel, a ferry boat working in chains or a vessel in respect of which a certificate is in force.

The extension of this legislation to cover these boats is a huge step forward, as I am sure the Deputy knows. Effectively, it brings the licensing of vessels carrying not more than 12 passengers for reward — which are defined as passenger boats — within the scope of the Merchant Shipping Acts for the first time. It is a huge change as far as they are concerned.

Section 4 provides for the repeal of section 94 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1907, under which such vessels may currently be licensed. As Deputies know, few local authorities exercise their powers in this regard. Section 14 provides that a vessel shall not be used as a passenger boat unless a licence is in force in relation to it. It is a major change. I listened to Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan but I wish to point out that section 18 already confers powers on me to make regulations to ensure the safety of passenger boats, their crews and passengers. Section 18 (2) (e) allows me to ascertain and test the standards of competence of masters and other members of crews at any time I consider it necessary. Therefore, an enabling power is given which can, if considered necessary, be used having implemented the Act.

A merchant vessel safety working group is being set up to advise me on the safety procedures and standards required on Irish passenger boats, including those which carry under 12 passengers. It is not appropriate to require that the owner of a passenger boat has passed a competency test as he or she may not be involved in operating the vessel. The best thing to do now is to implement all the legislation dealing with the Merchant Shipping Acts in relation to the smaller boats and, at the same time, the safety working group can advise me on the additional procedures to be adopted.

I appreciate Deputy Gerry O'Sullivan's views. I know he has been very concerned about the development of skills related to boating and in running courses for young people. Of course, this will lead to a higher standard in the future. I believe it is appropriate for me at this stage to take these powers and introduce the regulations — they will be very substantial in any event — and consider how much further I should go in regard to the developments taking place nowadays so as to meet the concerns expressed by Deputy O'Sullivan. In these circumstances, I ask the Deputy to withdraw the amendment.

I support the spirit of Deputy O'Sullivan's amendment. I do so in view of experiences in my constituency of Clare. On a number of occasions Clare County Council were asked to license boats which ply between Doolin and the Aran Islands. This was the subject of litigation between Clare County Council and various boat owners for a long time. Several claims were made about overcrowding on small passenger boats and this gave rise to much distress. Will the Minister say who will administer the regulations and issue the licences? Will there be a limited number of licences for small boats?

The Minister promised that much of the necessary information would be gathered by the working group. If the Minister is going to set up a working group to look into these matters I suggest they take into consideration the views of county managers in coastal counties who have to deal with these problems. He should invite the Clare County Manager, Mr. Michael Noonan, who has been involved in litigation with small boat owners, to be a member of the working group.

A small boat owner in County Clare who made an application in good faith for a licence is now involved in court proceedings. This man, whom I believe is a good person, purchased a boat to bring tourists from Doolin to the Aran Islands during the summer. He has a legitimate case and has engaged the services of highly qualified people. Clare County Council sought the advice of the Department of the Marine engineer who contradicted the opinion of the marine engineer employed by Clare County Council. In addition, there are problems about whether Clare County Council can give an opinion on issues arising outside the high water mark. Will the working group examine such matters? I hope the Minister, when making the regulations, will eliminate most of the pitfalls and difficulties identified by the working group.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy referred on a number of occasions to litigation. I should point out to the Deputy that such issues are sub judice. The Deputy needs to be careful about the use of the word “litigation”.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his caution. I referred to the local authority but not to the person involved.

Like Deputy O'Sullivan, I am concerned about the number of passengers allowed on boats, particularly those which travel from Doolin to the Aran Islands. It does not matter whether these boats can hold one passenger or 24 passengers because once this legislation is enacted they will probably be licences to carry 12 passengers only. I should like the Minister to say how these licences will be issued. Will Clare County Council or local authorities have any say in the issuing of licences or will it be entirely a matter for the Department of the Marine?

There has been much disquiet about the number involved in the issuing of licences. Most people would welcome the issuing of licences by the Department of the Marine without reference to the local authorities. If Clare County Council, or any other local authority, are to act on an agency basis for the Department of the Marine in the issuing of licences, specific guidelines should be set out in section 14. I am very sympathetic to the spirit of Deputy O'Sullivan's amendment which proposes that boat owners should undergo a competence test. He wants to know if marine engineers outside the Department of the Marine can be used in appeals; whether there will be an appeals system and how the licences be allocated.

With regard to the allocation of licences, I should like the Minister to say if there will be a number of licences for Doolin, Galway, Achill, Cape Clear and Baltimore? How will the licences be distributed? Will the Minister invite applications for licences? How will these matters be dealt with? Seafaring people are very protective of the rights they have enjoyed over the centuries and do not like any of them being taken away. While I agree there has to be some control to prevent tragedies off our coast, I should like the Minister to be specific on how these matters will be dealt with so that the people who apply for licences will fully understand what is involved.

I assure the House that I will try to find a proper balance between what is proposed by Deputies Carey and O'Sullivan — one wants me to go further while the other does not want me to go too far. With regard to the licences, the Deputy need not be concerned about the issue. Licences will be issued to those who meet the required standard. Therefore, there is no limit on the number of licences. Licences will be issued by the Department of the Marine. This is a change in the power local authorities had and which they generally choose not to exercise.

The Deputy referred to the problems which occur during the summer season. He may be surprised to learn that during my leaving certificate year I plied boats from a beach and I know what tourists are like when they are getting on boats. Sometimes they almost need to be hit with an oar to get them to have some common sense when in a boat — they are inclined to forget that boats can rock very easily. I was quite a good oarsman at that time.

The experience to which the Deputy referred is particularly valuable. I will ensure that people who have been involved in such issues in the past, especially the Clare county manager, will be consulted by the safety working group. This working group will get underway in a matter of weeks. I regard this as an urgent matter as I want to ensure the Bill is enacted for the tourist season. As Deputies know, the Bill will have to be sent to the Seanad and there will be time gaps. That is one of the reasons I want the Bill through this House fairly quickly.

I have listened very carefully to the Minister and he has grasped the point I am making. He indicated that he may refuse a licence to those who do not reach the required standard of competence. In my amendment I am asking him to go a step further, to lay down a competency standard and require people to pass a test before receiving a licence. I can understand his reluctance to take such a step, but as Deputy Carey said incompetent people may take out boats with passengers on board — I am glad the Minister has acknowledged that this sometimes happens. My concern is that under the legislation as drafted people may be given a licence who are incompetent to use a boat.

I do not know how the Minister will decide who should or should not receive a licence. He said the owner of a boat may not be the person who uses it, and that is a fair point. I would be willing to withdraw my amendment if he gives an assurance that the competency aspect will be carefully considered by the Department. It would be unacceptable to learn that an accident has occurred at Doolin or Baltimore in Cork because a person with a licence to take out a boat was incompetent to do so. If the Minister can assure me that standards of competence will be considered I will certainly withdraw my amendment.

I will ask the working group to consider that aspect.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 14 agreed to.
Sections 15 to 19, inclusive, agreed to.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 10 in the name of the Minister is a drafting amendment. Amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 13 are consequential on No. 10. Therefore, they may be taken together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 16, subsection (2), line 8, to delete "require".

These are drafting amendments to correct a minor drafting error. There is no material change involved and I would ask Deputies to accept the amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 16, subsection (2) (a), line 9, before "pleasure craft" to insert "require".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 16, subsection (2) (b), line 12, before "pleasure craft" to insert "require".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 16, subsection (2) (c), line 14, before "pleasure craft" to insert "require".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 16, subsection (2), between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following:

"(e) make provision for competency certificates for pleasure boat owners/users, and

(f) make provision for rules governing public safety with regard to speedboats, water-skiing and the use of pleasure boats in sporting activities, and any other activities which need to be regulated in the interest of public safety.".

I do not wish to repeat myself, but I will withdraw paragraph (e) of this amendment because the Minister has indicated that he will consider the competency aspect. The time has come when the registration of yachts, cabin cruisers and so on, must be considered. I am conscious of the fact that any person may purchase a boat or yacht — I am not talking about such a purchase for profit or for business purposes but as a pleasure craft. As the Minister is aware, a greater number of people use our beaches, waterways and lakes for leisure activities. I am sure many Deputies have received complaints from people who go to the seaside or visit our lakes about people on water skis. People water ski without restriction close to people who are swimming or lying at the waterside.

In my amendment I propose the introduction of regulations governing the use of speed boats and water skis.

We spent many hours debating the fisheries legislation and trying to resolve that issue. Anglers have complained that people, apparently without restriction, use lakes and rivers for water skiing and speed boat activities. I am prepared to withdraw the provision in my amendment relating to competency, but I ask the Minister to take on board the measure which relates to regulations. Provision should be made for the safety of people who use our rivers and lakes for leisure activities. Anybody who purchases a boat or yacht at present may use it as they wish without restriction. I do not wish to curtail the freedom of the individual, but there should be some method of registration of boats and yachts, as is the case with cars and trailers. Boating activities have become a big and, in some cases, lucrative business and people should be obliged to register such craft. I ask the Minister to consider this matter and I would like to hear his views.

I commend Deputy O'Sullivan for putting down this amendment. We all commented on this on Second Stage. When talking about the increase in water leisure activities, both inland and sea, we made the point that there must be a corresponding increase in responsibilities and standards. Deputy Gilmore and I are very aware of the difficulties and controversies in the Dún Laoghaire Harbour area. Some people are denied their rights because others are engaged in water activities. For instance, people wind surfing have different needs to people who are water skiing. Water skiing involves very high powered speed boats and can pose a great danger to others

People who go to Brittas Bay for the day — and they who do not often have such an opportunity — find their day is ruined by very noisy speed boats. Not only do those boats take up the water space, which is particularly important when children are concerned, but the noise they create can ruin the day for a family. I know that that could be a difficult issue to deal with, but perhaps the Minister and his staff could consider the allocation of designated areas and designated times for leisure activities so that people have the right to their space and to the enjoyment of that space at different times. Unless standards and conditions are introduced then the proliferation of many different leisure activities could easily lead to the occurrence of a bad accident and to the spoiling of what was a day out at the seaside enjoyed by everybody.

It is desirable that a message be sent posthaste from the House to the Department of the Marine, where the Pleasurecraft Safety Working Group, set up to advise me on the introduction of — among other things — safety regulations under this section of the Bill, are having their first meeting today. It would be appropriate to send that very relevant commiteee an urgent message so that they do not miss some of the points raised by the Deputies in this debate.

I accept the points made in relation to the second provision in the amendment. I do not consider that the provision should be passed as an amendment to the Bill at this stage but it is certainly an issue about which something needs to be done. The working group were set up to advise me on just what should be done in that regard. In any event, I have powers under section 20 and those powers could be exercised on the advice of the committee.

Deputy O'Sullivan mentioned speedboats, water-skiing and the use of pleasure boats in sporting activities. I know of the kind of problems experienced with jet skis, for instance, and that is something else that needs to be addressed.

Deputy Barnes mentioned the possibility of the allocation of designated areas and designated times as ways to approach the issue. Recently I met some fishermen who told me that when local people tried to designate water areas they came into conflict with the fishermen's traditional patterns of small-scale fishing. It is easy to recognise the way in which complexities arise in that regard. As speed and technology on the water increase there will certainly be need for greater regulation and more order in the way in which facilities are used. I am relying on the working group to whom I have referred to provide the advice that they feel appropriate at this stage and I shall certainly act on that advice. I thank Deputies for making their points in relation to safety, which are very relevant. I shall certainly give attention to the safety aspect. Nowadays it is very necessary to do so.

Acting Chairman

How stands the amendment?

In view of what the Minister has said, I shall certainly withdraw my amendment. I hope the Minister will be able to come back on Report Stage with a recommendation on the matter. We are all anxious that the Bill be enacted before the summer recess. I ask the Minister to try to advise the House on Report Stage of the recommendations of the working group. I withdraw my amendment under those circumstances.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 20, as amended, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 21 stand part of the Bill."

I should like to ask a question about the format of the system of appeal. How will the system work?

The section provides that the court in addition to or instead of a penalty may order the forfeiture to the State of a vessel when its owner is convicted on indictment of an offence for the second time. An authorised officer may assist in a seizure or detention of the vessel concerned. People would have the right of appeal to the court in that regard.

What I had understood by the section was that if someone had applied for a license and the Department of the Marine did not accept the application then the applicant would have a right of appeal. I understood that that would come within the jurisdiction of the District Court and I intended to commend the Minister for using the offices of the District Court in this kind of legislation. First, there is a greater chance that an appeal would be processed quickly and, second, the use of the District Court would not be so expensive for applicants. A provision for District Court appeal has value and I am not disagreeing with that measure. However, I am concerned about the format of the appeal. Already the Department of the Marine are not accepting the opinion of independent marine engineers. That has happened in a case in my constituency. On what basis will an appeal proceed?

That is a question that the District Court will have to decide. If there are two views put then it is left to the court to decide whether, for instance, a condition, restriction or requirement satisfied in certificate is reasonable in relation to the legislation generally.

I apologise to the Deputy. In the first instance I thought he was speaking to Section 22. In any event, the appeal would be made to the District Court.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 22 to 31, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Report Stage ordered for Tuesday, 25 February 1992.