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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Feb 1992

Vol. 416 No. 3

Merchant Shipping Bill, 1991: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 7, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:

"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.".

I wish to apologise on behalf of Deputy Gilmore who, unfortunately, has to attend the funeral of a very close friend. I am substituting for him. During the debate on this Bill on Committee Stage the case was very strongly made by Deputy Gilmore, particularly in the light of the terrible tragedy as a result of the collision between the Hasselwerder and the mv Kilkenny, previous incidents of collisions in Dublin Bay and other horrendous incidents at sea that inquiries should be held. However, the results are kept secret by the Government. Everybody must be aware that because of the amount of trade and shipping engaged in, for example, in Dublin Port alone, and the history of accidents and death, we must make public reports produced by civil servants and results of inquiries.

The Minister should accept this amendment which simply calls on him to lay before each House of the Oireachtas a report of any inquiry or investigation which he orders under this Bill and other enabling legislation. There is a great deal at stake, the whole question of public safety and the lives of fishermen and seamen. The sad result of the most recent collision is that seamen lost their lives. We should be able to reassure the public, the shipping lines and passengers who travel on bigger and mightier liners that when an incident occurs and is duly investigated the findings will be made public. I cannot see any logical reason for keeping the reports secret.

There have been many incidents in Dublin Port and although there have been inquiries and, presumably, reports, the incidents have continued. One must ask if plans have been implemented as a result of the reports. What are the causes of these incidents? One would have expected that if an inquiry had been held into an incident in Dublin Port five or ten years ago the Department of the Marine and the port authorities would activate whatever plan was recommended to prevent a recurrence. However, subsequent to reports on previous incidents there have been more incidents. It is important that the Minister accepts this amendment.

On Committee Stage I commended Deputy Gilmore for tabling such an amendment and my party and I supported it. As we pointed out then we felt it was a public accountability issue.

I have always been impressed with the openness of the Minister for the Marine, Deputy Woods, in his former ministeries and the reform he brought to them. Therefore, when this amendment was withdrawn to be considered on Report Stage we were hopeful that the Minister would accept it and that there would be a new and more open policy in his Department in regard to laying such reports before the House and having a full and open debate on them. I know there is an urgency about this Bill and I will not go through the points we enumerated before. When there is a public inquiry its report should be debated to reassure the public that, having learned from this, it will not happen again. It is only by open debate that we can honour the work of the inquiry. We also owe such a policy to everybody who is tragically affected by the accidents requiring inquiries.

We fully support the Minister's remarks in regard to confidentiality and perhaps certain technical legalities. However, apart from those matters, the remainder of a report should be published and debated. It would be very sinister if that was not the case. I know the Minister is not interested in a cover-up and that his staff work hard to ensure that the Department of the Marine are seen as the protector and standard bearer for safety at sea and for amending rules and regulations to ensure that accidents the subject of these inquiries will not happen again. Even in fairness to them, the matter should be looked at again and the Minister should indicate that in the near future — perhaps not under this Bill — he will be able to do that.

With regard to the last accident in Dublin Bay, not alone do we have to take into consideration the human side but also the whole threat to our environment as a result of pollution and cargoes being carried. When areas like this are seen to have been mishandled and where there is a need for a tightening of regulations, not alone will the public be grateful, they will fully support what the Department of the Marine may have to do as a result of such inquiries.

Fine Gael believe that this matter is of great importance to the public, the accountability of this House and the future monitoring and learning from such inquiries; they take this amendment very seriously and support it.

There is a traditional reluctance by the Department to publish any report of this nature. If one looks at marine accidents and tragedies here there is a history of not making the reports of inquiries public. One reason given was to save the relatives from further hurt. However, the Ballycotton tragedy should be a turning point because the relatives in that case demanded — and eventually succeeded in winning — a public inquiry. The Captain Kirwan report was confidential and confidentiality was pledged to the people who gave evidence at that inquiry. However, I felt that if there was loss of life — and in this case a number of lives were lost — there should be a reluctance on the part of a Minister or Department to say that confidentiality should be recognised because when lives are lost there is an onus on the Minister and the Department to make sure all the facts are made public. I ask the Minister for the Marine, who is new to the job, to break with the tradition which has existed in his Department for quite a while whereby the findings of inquiries are not divulged to the public.

I supported Deputy Gilmore's amendment from the outset as I felt there was a need for it. I believe the Department of the Marine are slightly different from most other Government Departments. There have been a number of tragedies at sea over the years and I believe fishermen's organisations are in favour of the findings of inquiries being divulged and a full report being laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. This would enable us to assess the information and hopefully prevent such accidents occurring in the future.

I wish to refer to the Ballycotton tragedy. I got the distinct impression from the relatives of the people who lost their lives in that tragedy that they wanted to know the facts. In fact, on several occasions they implored the Minister to make the facts known to them. There was secrecy, doubt and innuendo about this accident and a public inquiry had to be held before the truth was known. I think this matter is before the Attorney General at present.

As I said, it is necessary for the Minister to break with the tradition in his Department and make known the outcome of inquiries. If there is a legal reason why he cannot make this information public then obviously he has to follow the advice of his legal people. The Minister should say at this stage that he will make public the findings of any inquiry which costs the taxpayers money. I again ask the Minister to look favourably at this amendment which is necessary and timely.

I wish to make one intervention on this Bill in support of amendment No. 1. I have to say that I am deeply concerned about the procedures which apply in relation to transport related accidents and inquiries. These include aviation matters, shipping matters, rail transport and road transport.

The first thing we have to establish is that in many cases Departments of State — in the case of shipping it is the Department of the Marine — have a vested interest in the role of the rescue services and the way they perform, the infra-structural facilities, terminal facilities, port facilities, harbour facilities and the role of their inspectorate from the point of view of safety. Of course, the State may even be a shareholder in companies such as the B & I whereby they would have a direct interest in the matter.

As the Ceann Comhairle will be aware, I have put down a question to the Minister today in relation to the accident involving the mv Kilkenny. While not wishing to involve myself in that issue now, I have to say it is a matter of public interest that there should be as a matter of routine — in other words, automatically — publication, the laying before the Houses of the Oireachtas the results of any such inquiry, and debate in this House.

To give another example, a train was recently derailed at Ballycumber. There is no guarantee that any report will ever be published about this incident. Proceedings may be taken by any injured party. I understand proceedings are being taken in the case involving the mv Kilkenny. No conclusion may be reached as to who was responsible for this accident and what lessons can be learned. The whole purpose of an inquiry is to establish the cause and ensure that such accidents will not happen again.

It is a matter of direct concern to this House that we tighten up the procedures. I have no doubt that Departments will advise Ministers against, as the Taoiseach calls it, opening the shutters. The publication of the results of inquiries should be made mandatory. Yesterday I had discussions with a large publicly owned transport company who told me that the only option is a judicial sworn inquiry which could cost £2 million. If any transport operator, the B & I or anyone else, were to be saddled with the costs of such an inquiry needless to say it would be totally prohibitive.

There is a major gap in the system at present. On the one hand, there is the beef tribunal, a major inquiry, where everybody is legally represented and there are huge senior and junior counsel fees — it is a very costly procedure; it is the worst extreme — while on the other there is nothing. Therefore, there is a gap in our system of public scrutiny. There should be scrutiny right across Government Departments, not only in relation to the transport issues dealt with in this legislation, for example, pleasure craft and a very limited range of facilities, but also in relation to the issues dealt with under general merchant shipping legislation such as an accident which may occur on the southern or central corridor any day of the week. There is also the ongoing conflict about whether the Department of the Marine or the Department of Tourism, Transport and Communications have responsibility for such matters.

Regardless of the advice he gets on this matter, I appeal to the Minister to give a commitment to the House that he, in conjunction with his Government colleagues, will reassess the position in relation to accidents and public safety so that there is a clearly defined procedure whereby reports of such inquiries will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and there will be ministerial powers to ensure that all such reports are made public as a matter of routine. This is a vital matter of public interest. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment or, failing that, to give a commitment on a wider Government level. Fine Gael support Deputy Gilmore's amendment as we believe it is vital that this matter is rectified.

I believe it would be very valuable to Deputy Yates if he very carefully read the transcript of what he has just said. He has analysed the problem very well. He pointed out that there can be a gap between a public sworn inquiry, where there is an allocation of blame etc., and an investigation by an inspector of my Department. When one looks at the gap one can see that it arises because of matters such as confidentiality. Are people going to give an inspector the information which he or she may require or will they only give it in the case of a full legal inquiry where all their interests are protected by the relevant people who are there to look after them and where they feel certain that regardless of the outcome their interests will be properly and duly protected? That is one approach. It is a very costly and time consuming approach.

If one does not follow that approach then one has to follow an administrative or policy approach. If you take a policy approach you have to ask for people's co-operation. Deputies have asked why the confidentiality aspect should be respected as it is a matter of public interest, importance and safety. If the people concerned decide that they are not prepared to give information unless it is on a respected policy basis then one will not get to the root of the problem which, as Deputy Yates spelt out very clearly, is to find out first and foremost the cause of the accident. The Deputy is quite right. The Department of the Marine are not in the position of allocating blame to anybody. Their task and the task of the legislation is to establish clearly the cause of such accidents, to protect the public and ensure that that is done immediately. There is no point blaming the people who are involved. I know Deputy Yates and others did not set out to blame anybody in particular, but there is a suggestion that somebody is covering up or hiding something. The people concerned will outline the traditional views and the traditional advice that is given to a Minister who is in the position to deal responsibly with reports.

Deputy Yates would get full marks for pointing out that reports undertaken by the Department of the Marine staff are primarily a safety review. That is the first objective. These reports are undertaken to identify quickly the causes of an accident. In compiling such reports Department of the Marine staff take statements on a confidential basis in an effort to ensure that witnesses contribute freely to safety investigations, especially in cases where negligence or a disregard for basic safety measures has been a cause of the tragedy. In those circumstances there is a great likelihood that people will be reluctant to give information unless it is on a confidential basis. It would, therefore, be a breach of faith if, after such undertakings were given, the Minister or the Department disclosed the information to a third party. Such disclosure could, it is feared, prejudice the willingness of witnesses to speak freely in the aftermath of future marine casualities. Release of such reports or the statements on which they are based would, therefore, be contrary to the public good. They would not serve the purpose to which Deputy Yates spelt out so eloquently as being the first purpose of the investigator on behalf of the Department and the people operating from that Department. There are various other good reasons given, which would be the traditional position established over a long period.

I am sorry Deputy Yates was not here last week when we discussed Committee Stage. I accept that we cannot all be here all the time, but I went a fair distance on that occasion, particularly in relation to the current case. I spelt out the difficulty in relation to the mv Kilkenny and the mv Hasselwerder and gave an undertaking to publish the report of the findings of the investigation. That is a major step forward and, as Deputy O'Sullivan said, is a break with tradition. I want to proceed with caution, with due consideration and in a responsible way.

On Committee Stage the three Opposition spokespersons called on me to release the reports of marine accident investigations. On that occasion I was sympathetic to the view that marine accident investigation reports should be made available to the House and to the general public, there are good policy reasons this has not been the practice heretofore but notwithstanding these, the time has come to alter policy in this area. I wish, therefore, to announce to the House that on an experimental basis my Department will, unless legally debarred from so doing, release a report of marine accident investigations undertaken by the Department of the Marine. This is being done to allay public concern reflected by Deputies from all sides of the House for greater disclosure in the interest of maritime safety.

This new policy will have implications for the conduct of inquiries by the marine surveyors of my Department. Work has already begun to devise a new modus operandi for future investigations. I would like to make it clear that this new policy will apply to the Kilkenny-Hasselwerder collision of November last and to all subsequent marine accident investigations conducted by the Department. However, as earlier investigations were conducted under different circumstances with certain guarantees of confidentiality being given, the new policy will not have retrospective effect. After a trial period the chief surveyor of my Department will be asked to advise on the extent, if any, to which the new policy impeded the primary aim of marine accident investigation, that is to establish the cause of an accident and set about preventing its recurrence.

Deputies should be aware that there will be often a time lag between the date of an accident and the date of publication of the related report. Delays can occur where the pursuit of civil or criminal proceedings arising from a casualty effectively prevents release of a departmental report until after the completion of the legal process. I trust that this significant policy change will receive wide support and will be an indication of an effort on my part to move to a more open and frank style of administration in the maritime safety area.

I trust that the position I have adopted meets the case put so eloquently by Deputies Yates, Barnes, O'Sullivan and Byrne. I hope the Deputy will withdraw the amendment because it would be restrictive and could not be complied with in practice. I know the purpose of the amendment is to have the question debated and to try to make progress in that area. I trust that the Deputy will recognise that the step I am taking today is a substantial one.

The Minister's proposal is a move in the right direction but, as he said, he is considering this change only on an experimental basis. Although we recognise it as a step in the right direction it falls fundamentally short of what is needed and does not satisfy Deputies on this side of the House. Therefore I will be pressing it to a vote.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 65; Níl, 74.

  • Ahearn, Therese.
  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Barry, Peter.
  • Belton, Louis J.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Connor, John.
  • Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
  • Cotter, Bill.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Currie, Austin.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Doyle, Joe.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Enright, Thomas W.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • FitzGerald, Garret.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Foxe, Tom.
  • Garland, Roger.
  • Gregory, Tony.


  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Mattie.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Burke, Raphael P.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary Theresa.
  • Cullimore, Séamus.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Hillery, Brian.
  • Hilliard, Colm.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kelly, Laurence.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, Jim.
  • McEllistrim, Tom.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • O'Connell, John.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • O'Toole, Martin Joe.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Stafford, John.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Wilson, John P.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wyse, Pearse.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Rabbitte and McCartan; Níl, Deputies Dempsey and Clohessy.
Amendment declared lost.

Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Michael D.Hogan, Philip.Howlin, Brendan.Kavanagh, Liam.Kemmy, Jim.Kenny, Enda.Lee, Pat.McCartan, Pat.McCormack, Pádraic.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Jim.Moynihan, Michael.Nealon, Ted.

Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East).O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Gerry.O'Sullivan, Toddy.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat. Rabbitte, Pat.Sheehan, Patrick J.Sherlock, Joe.Spring, Dick.Stagg, Emmet.Taylor, Mervyn.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.Timmins, Godfrey.Yates, Ivan.

Amendment No. 2 is in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are related. I suggest, therefore, that we discuss those amendments together. Is that satisfactory? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 7, line 24, to delete "£5,000" and substitute "£10,000".

All three Opposition spokespersons spoke on Committee Stage of the need to raise the maximum penalties provided for in the Bill. I agreed to examine this proposal before Report Stage. In the week that was available to me I have considered the matter and decided to take on board the views expressed. Accordingly, I am proposing amendments to sections 6, 8, 11, 12 and 13. The amendments proposed will double the maximum fine on conviction for an indictable offence, and thus for offences involving passenger ships, that is ferries carrying more than 12 passengers, the penalties will be raised from £5,000 to £10,000 and from £50,000 to £100,000. I thank the Deputies for their contribution on the subject and I am glad to be able to accommodate their wishes on this occasion.

The Minister agreed with us on Committee Stage as to the danger of carelessness particularly with regard to ships carrying a large number of passengers. I welcome the fact that fines have been raised, but we also suggested that custodial sentences should be increased for careless or irresponsible behaviour which led to damage or the tragic loss of life. The spokespersons on this side of the House felt that not alone should the fines be increased to take account of the enormity of such a crime but that there should be some type of punishment to reflect the public attitude to a ship offering standards which could result in the deaths of people or pollution on a wide scale since pollution is not alone an attack on the environment but an attack on the quality of life of the people in that environment.

I am glad the fines have been increased but why was not the jail sentence looked at? We do not demand that people be put in jail and the key thrown away, but the punishment should reflect the crime having regard to the type of service offered and the number of passengers and staff who might be involved. It should reflect the level of irresponsibility and carelessness involved. The maximum penalty should certainly be a very heavy fine or long sentence, if it is called for. I wonder why the period of imprisonment was not looked at? It needed to be extended because of society's need to impress upon people who are responsible for carrying passengers, staff and dangerous cargo the seriousness of any breaches of the law. Such breaches must be viewed by society as deserving a longer sentence. While I welcome the increase in the fines will the Minister say why the seriousness of the breaches outlined is not reflected in the sentencing of offenders?

By increasing the fines and tackling the problem with such speed it appears the Minister means business. I welcome the Minister's approach in the Bill. It was pointed out on Committee Stage that the fines were derisory for large companies because they could pay them, motor on and do the same thing again. The Minister, by increasing the fines substantially, has brought into sharp focus his attitude to people who blatantly breach the regulations laid down by the Department of the Marine. He also indicated the very good reasons the regulations were put in place.

I welcome his approach and I fully support him. The fines under the previous legislation bore no relationship to present living standards. The fines will apply for a number of years but should we look at the possibility of indexing the fines in the legislation? I do not know if there is an impediment to doing this. If there is we should in future legislation index the fines imposed on people who blatantly and indiscriminately breach the regulations laid down by this House and by the Department of the Marine.

I join my colleagues in supporting the amendments proposed by the Minister. A fine of £100,000, with the possibility of a two year jail sentence for breaches in the insuring of passenger ships, is not too punitive. It could be argued that because of the scale of disasters on passenger ships any fiddling with the insurance cover of the ship would be an extreme breach of the intentions of the Bill. The Minister has increased the fines in a number of sections. The fine for uncertified passenger ships will be increased from £50,000 to £100,000 and that is welcome. We will support the additional fines to be levied in the event of breaches of the legislation.

I thank the Deputies for their support for my amendments. In regard to sentencing, a period of two years was considered an adequate sentence for the offences involved, such as non-certification or false declarations in surveyor's certificates. The prison sentence will be the same whether one has a great deal of money or very little money, but the fact that one may have a great amount of money may mean that a higher cash penalty will be levied. The fine of £100,000 is the maximum and it will be left to the court to decide the amount of the fine. That represents a very substantial improvement. The fines are substantial and they will remain at that level for some time. I thank the Deputies for their support.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 8, line 32, to delete "£5,000" and substitute "£10,000".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 8, line 37, to delete "£50,000" and substitute "£100,000".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, line 33, to delete "£5,000" and substitute "£10,000".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 9, line 44, to delete "£50,000" and substitute "£100,000".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 10, line 28, to delete "£50,000" and substitute "£100,000".

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 16, between lines 25 and 26, 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.".

This amendment was debated at length on Committee Stage and the Minister indicated that a special committee were sitting to discuss various aspects of safety on leisure craft and so forth. I have given very careful thought to the two parts of my amendment and I have examined sections 19 and 20 in detail. The Minister argued that he had certain powers under section 19 to make regulations on the competency of skippers and crews and I accept the Minister has those powers in regard to fishing vessels but my amendment is slightly different in that it deals with the competency of users and the owner of the boat to handle that craft on the waterways and in the sea. My amendment deals with the competency of the user of a pleasure craft, whether on his own or with passengers, to handle it — let me hasten to add that this is not for reward.

I can well understand that there may be opposition to the curtailment of anyone's freedom but having spoken to a number of people involved in sea rescue operations I believe there always has to be someone to go out and rescue someone who gets into difficulties with his boat. At present there are no rules or regulations for someone who wishes to purchase a boat, a yacht or a cabin cruiser. I am trying to ensure that the person who goes out in his boat on the river or sea is competent to handle the craft. I realise it is difficult to try to include this in legislation. However, we all agree that the emphasis in the Bill is on the safety of the public and those who use the sea. There is a need for some type of registration in regard to people who use the sea and the rivers. A person without sufficient competence could decide to take a boat from Cork to Baltimore, Schull or Dingle. After a few hours it might be discovered that the boat was overdue and would have to be regarded as missing. A problem is that there might not be a record of the type of boat being used. The RNLI and various other agencies would have to be alerted. Very often they save lives in such circumstances. There is a need for those who wish to use the sea to have some means of competency assessment so that they will be reasonably safe under normal conditions. Of course, the elements can change within a matter of minutes.

I toyed with the idea of requiring the registration of boats and there is much merit in that idea when one considers the safety aspect. It is not right to put the lives of other people at risk due to one's own inexperience. Anybody taking a boat out to sea must know the nature of the risks and responsibilities. The competence of skippers and crews is another matter; I am referring to the individual. I am asking the Minister to make provision for competency certificates for pleasure boat owners and users. I do not believe the powers contained in the Bill will be adequate in this respect. It is necessary that people who use the seas have a basic standard of seamanship. Many yachting clubs and boating schools are doing an excellent job in teaching boys and girls the basics of good seamanship and all credit is due to them, yet the regulations allow a person who has not sufficient competence to charter a cabin cruiser and sail out from Cork harbour to the open sea. In the interests of general safety there should be some regulations.

Nowadays people have more leisure time and are engaging in marine sporting activities. We have wonderful strands at places like Youghal and Owenahincha and others along the west coast, off which people use speed boats and water skis. This can be a danger to people swimming. Certain local authorities have tried to ban water skiing because of complaints but they have difficulty in enforcing the ban. In some parts of Cork grave exception has been taken to the use of speed boats close inshore where young people are swimming. Anglers get very angry when having fished quietly in a lake for two or three hours the water is disturbed by a speed boat. Jet skis and water skis are becoming increasingly popular and this is our opportunity to enshrine safeguards in legislation. A ban by local authorities will not stand up in court unless it has some legislative backing. We have wonderful beaches which are enjoyed by many people but a speed boat can spoil everything by coming inshore. I am not aware of existing regulations to curtail that type of activity.

I welcome the safety committee which the Minister has set up and I ask that provision be made for rules governing public safety with regard to speed boats, water skiing, the use of pleasure boats and any other activities which need to be reglated in the interests of public safety. The Minister might bring in regulations at a later stage but these matters should be incorporated in the Bill. It is now a matter of major public concern. I can understand the difficulties with regard to competency certificates for individuals but it must be remembered that the volunteers in the rescue services risk their lives to rescue those who have foolishly ignored weather warnings and got into danger. I ask the Minister to look at the amendment sympathetically.

My sympathy goes to an angler on a nice quiet stretch of beach, or fishing from rocks in some secluded bay, when these speed boats arrive, with their attendant noise, disturbing the overall tranquility of the area. I suffer a similar problem when I try to get away from all the tensions of everyday life. I get up early on Sunday mornings to travel into the Wicklow Mountains when, to my horror, even though I might have been there from, say, eight o'clock in the morning——

Motor boats.

——one is annoyed, not by motor boats but by motorbikes, the noise of which echoes right across the wilderness. We shall have to investigate that matter under some other Bill, this not being the appropriate one to do so.

I hope it is not the political wilderness about which the Deputy is speaking.

I share Deputy O'Sullivan's concern about safety generally. This is based on personal experience. I remember, at approximately 17 years of age, going youth hostelling around Achill Island. I had never before been on a boat in my life. I remember an occasion, a Welsh boy and I, aged about 16 and 17 years respectively, hired a rowing boat, but when we were given oars we had no idea how to use them. Yet we rowed out into that waterway and there were certain stages of our rowing expedition that worried us enormously. Even as a more mature person I remember spending a holiday around Castletownsend, when I hired a tiny motor-powered boat taking it out into deep sea waters, which also caused me not a little worry.

The point I am making is that it appears very easy for boat owners to hire out boats to members of the public, who have no training or competency, who may not have even basic swimming skills, in the event of an accident or getting into troubled waters. This raises the serious issue of whether individual owners of pleasure craft, paddle boats, rowing boats, speed boats, etc. should be able to hire such vessels to people incapable of handling them. The time has arrived when we must address the issue of whether such boat owners should be capable of hiring out vessels without any assurances that their hirers are capable of manoeuvring them.

Then there is the ancillary problem of practical life-saving jackets and equipment not being adequately covered or provided. For example, paddle boats or rowing boat can be hired without their owners providing the requisite life jackets. That should be done automatically.

I do not make these points to be a killjoy but rather to highlight the fact that many inexperienced hirers, or indeed people without any experience whatsoever, can gain access to our waterways, placing young lives in danger. One often sees very young children in these pleasure craft.

We should give serious consideration to Deputy O'Sullivan's amendment ascertaining whether the provisions of this Bill cannot incorporate some of the sentiments expressed in the course of this debate.

Since we spent some time on this amendment on Committee Stage I will not repeat my argument. We welcomed the information furnished by the Minister to the effect that he and his Department had established a committee with a view to drawing up rules and regulations for the control or usage of such vessels, in particular, ensuring that an adequate safety element is incorporated while protecting others' rights to engage in water leisure activities which are becoming increasingly popular.

While none of us would wish to be killjoys, but rather would want to encourage every aspect of water leisure activity, I predict that the committee established will have a difficult task drawing up the requisite regulations. Deputy O'Sullivan could not over-emphasise this aspect and was right to have spent so much time expressing his anxieties about people's competency, contending that it would appear that all that was required are the necessary funds with which to invest, even in large pleasure boats, enabling people to take off into the blue horizon. As Deputy O'Sullivan said, he could buy a cabin cruiser tomorrow and take it out to sea without being questioned by the authorities. I must say is occurred to me, as he made that point, that his electorate might well question such eventuality, of course, for very different reasons. Deputy O'Sullivan has made the point well about the need for such a committee to address that issue.

Of course there should be a requirement that the requisite life-saving equipment be furnished to all hirers of boats, particularly people hiring pleasure craft, which is what the provisions of this Bill are all about. Perhaps the Department of the Marine, with this committee, could lead to some Government decision being taken on this matter generally. Here I have in mind the many sailing schools nation wide who not alone foster a love of sailing and train people in its skills but also invest much time and energy encouraging life-saving skills at sea. Bearing in mind the large amounts of moneys allocated to other sports and recreational activities, a legitimate case can be made for those sailing schools not only being maintained but developed considerably. Since I do not engage in sailing myself I am not aware whether such sailing schools already receive lottery funds. If not, I should like to see greater emphasis being placed on this as an ever increasing pleasure activity or sport, one we should like to encourage, particularly on the part of people who did not perceive it as being open to them to date, it being perceived as a more privileged activity. We must remember that those sailing schools offer the most incredible service to young people by way of training and facilities generally. I should like to think that consideration would be given to allocating lottery funds to that type of sporting activity, backed up by the necessary life-saving skills and equipment. This is another aspect that might well be considered by the committee.

Deputy Barnes has put a very good point in that there are some minor lottery funds being allocated to organisations such as the Sea Scouts in my constituency. She made an absolutely valid point when she said that we are an island nation and our ignorance of the sea and its ways generally is frightening. It is terrifying to think of the numbers of young people who go out in boats without any skills whatsoever. Therefore, Deputy Barnes' point is deserving of endorsement and support. This would be a worthwhile area into which to channel funds and assistance.

I might point out also that some vocational education committees have become involved in providing sailing courses. For example, in County Wicklow, in the Blessington lakes area, there is a sailing course run by a sailing club — which would have been regarded by many as elitist which clearly is not — in conjunction with the vocational education committees. These are worthwhile efforts and should be the beneficiaries of such supporters. No doubt if such lottery fund allocations are channelled into such sailing clubs, there will be people who will argue that it is wrong, that they are elitist clubs, whereas the reality is that many are endeavouring to open their doors to young men and women who heretofore had no opportunity whatsoever of engaging in sailing activities. That is a good, healthy trend. I rose simply to support the point made by Deputy Barnes.

I want to make it very clear, as I did on the last occasion we discussed this matter, that I have powers in this Bill to undertake the actions recommended by Members here. For example, section 18 provides me with powers to make regulations to ensure the safety of passenger boats, their passengers and crews, whereas section 18 (2) (e) allows me to ascertain and test the standards of competence of masters and of any other members of crews of vessels, the subject of licences, at any time I consider to be necessary.

Under the provisions of section 20 a merchant vessel safety working group is being set up to advise me on safety procedures and standards required on Irish passenger boats. It is not appropriate to require that the owner of a passenger boat pass a competency test as he or she may or may not be involved in operating the vessel. The whole question of the need for competency tests for pleasure craft is being examined by a recently established pleasure craft safety working group. Section 20 (1) states:

The Minister may by regulations make such provision as he considers necessary or expedient for the purpose of ensuring the safety of pleasure craft and their occupants.

I have the enabling powers and the power to make regulations. We have also set up a mechanism whereby we can examine the whole question and see what is the best approach to take. Because of the concern expressed by Deputies regarding the need for a competency test for pleasure craft users I have arranged that this matter be placed on the agenda of the next meeting of the pleasure craft safety working group. I will rely heavily on the advice of this committee as to how best this area of the pleasure craft operation should be regulated in the interest of maritime safety. Early indications from the committee as to the opinion of the group — they represent the different interests — are that the subject of pleasure craft safety should be more appropriately dealt with by means of voluntary codes of practice rather than statutory control. I will bring to their attention the points raised here in the course of this debate and I trust they will give due weight to those views.

The question of jet skis, speed boats, the tranquility of the waters and so on, is currently being examined by the recently established pleasure craft safety working group. I have arranged for the matter to be placed on the agenda for the next meeting of that group and I will be guided by their approach. It is not a matter we can solve here in detail. All we can do here is take the enabling powers to make the regulations. We will then be in a position to adopt the recommendations after they have been fully considered by the committee. I should mention that local authorities have powers under section 94 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act, 1907, to licence pleasure boats and boatmen or persons assisting in the charge or navigation of such boats.

Deputies will recognise that we in the Department of the Marine are making immediate arrangements to tidy up this area to secure improvement, to look after the whole question of safety and to take on board the questions which have been raised here by Deputies. These are matters with which I am familiar. I know the circumstances in which small pleasure boats can be used and the lack of use of safety jackets and other safety equipment. All of this costs money and it also means a certain discipline. People have to discipline themselves to realise the sea can be treacherous even when it is calm. It is amazing that individuals do not want to use the equipment even when it is beside them, when there are rules and regulations in force and which might have saved their lives in particular circumstances. I can assure the Deputies — and I have given evidence of this in regard to the committee which has already begun to work — that I am taking this matter very seriously.

I note what has been said by Deputies Barnes and Roche about the lottery funds. Incidently, this morning I met a group who are training young people. They did not come to me as Minister for the Marine but as their local TD. They have already received a grant but they cannot get people to agree about a place in which to train young people. There are a number of sailing groups for young people on the north side of Dublin. These Deputies from the south side should come to the north side sometime and get their special pass and we will make sure the bridge stays up until they have gone back again.

You are very lucky.

We have facilities on the south side as well.

I agree very much with what Deputy Roche and Deputy Barnes have said in that respect and I know that Deputy O'Sullivan has had a similar experience. It is time we gave the matter much more attention and obviously it will require money. I take on board the point made by the Deputies in relation to future uses for the lottery funds among other moneys. I hope Deputy O'Sullivan will accept I have the necessary powers — I have already shown I am prepared to take action in this area — and that he will leave it to me to get on with the job.

I accept what the Minister has said that he has the necessary powers. Section 20 (1) states:

The Minister may by regulations make such provision as he considers necessary or expedient for the purpose of ensuring the safety of pleasure craft and their occupants.

That is the relevant section in which he can use his powers if necessary to introduce a series of regulations which would, perhaps, mean competency tests for a person to take out a boat, or the registration of pleasure craft. Certain fishing craft and craft used for ferrying purposes for profit would be regulated and registered and perhaps the Minister would look at that aspect. I welcome the Minister's positive response because he has identified with his committee that he will be taking action on their recommendations. The people with whom I have spoken and those involved in the sea have indicated it is time certain regulations were introduced where people under any circumstances would not be able to go to sea ill-equipped. Perhaps we should examine the VAT rates on life jackets which are very important to people who are messing about on the river. If I am not mistaken the VAT rate on life jackets is 2 per cent.

In the light of what the Minister has said and because of the assurances he has given me that he will be guided by the committee I will withdraw my amendment. I would ask the Minister to put before them the suggestion that perhaps it is time regulations were made whereby people would have to register in the interests of safety, so that if a boat, a yacht or whatever was lost at sea there would be some central computerisation system whereby the rescue services could identify within a matter of minutes the craft, its colour, the number of occupants and so forth. Frequently much time is lost in trying to identify the colour of the boat or yacht, the number of people on board and so forth. Even in this day and age there are people who will go from one location to another without giving the rudimentary facts that they will be out for four hours and if they have not returned after four-and-a-half hours it is time to institute a search. Some of those yachts have radios on board and, indeed, a back-up service. Therefore I welcome the Minister's assurance and withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration", put and agreed to.
Agreed to take Fifth Stage today.
Question: "That the Bill do now pass", put and agreed to.