Adjournment Debate. - Waterford Customs and Excise Maritime Unit.

The maritime unit of Customs and Excise in Waterford is equipped with a sea-going boat to combat smuggling and particularly the importation of drugs, which is the cause of considerable problems in the city and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, because of a disagreement among staff the boat has lain idle since August 1994. In the wake of the Maastricht Treaty the duties of Customs and Excise officers have changed in many cases but there has been a reluctance to accept change by some staff.

In this instance a dispute has arisen as to who will operate the Customs and Excise boat. Pre-Maastricht it would have been the duty of the outside staff but post-Maastricht the duties may be shared between indoor and outdoor staff. I think we are all aware that as a result of the passage of the Maastricht Treaty Customs and Excise staff were reassigned to various duties; in particular they were removed from the Border and assigned to other duties.

In Waterford the outdoor staff want to retain their duties and do not want the staff who previously worked indoor to share in the performance of those duties. As a consequence the boat and gear which cost approximately £60,000 have not been used for the past ten months. In addition, a jeep for hauling the boat, which cost approximately £25,000, is also lying idle. The cost of storing the equipment in question is in the region of £8,000 to £10,000 per annum. There are two major scandals involved here: first, a waste of public money and, second, a reduction in the capacity of Customs and Excise to prevent the smuggling of drugs. As I understand it, no blame attaches to senior management in Waterford who have done everything in their power to resolve the problem. I ask the Minister to intercede immediately to ensure this scandalous position is rectified without delay.

I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, who is unable to be here but I will certainly convey Deputy Deasy's views to him.

The position is that the Waterford maritime unit in common with the units located in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Sligo, is used mainly to act on information received and to support intelligence gathering operations. The semirigid inflatable craft are suitable only for inshore use or for use close to the shoreline. Their use is also restricted depending on weather conditions. They are not suitable as patrol craft.

The Waterford maritime unit has not operated in recent times because there has been no operational requirements for its use in the Waterford region. The costs involved are the normal maintenance and running costs which are determined by the extent to which the craft is used and rent for the secure storage of the craft. The unit is staffed on a part-time basis with staff being assigned as required.

The commissioners have had under consideration the location of their maritime units from the point of view of their effectiveness. They have now decided that the craft located in Waterford should be relocated to Cork. They consider that having two craft in Cork would be a more effective use of resources, having regard to the dangers faced by the level of drug smuggling encountered along the south-west coast. It is also the situation that the training of staff for maritime duties is carried out in Cork, and having two craft located there will ensure that one is always available for operational purposes if the other is in use for training. It is also pointed out that all the craft are capable of being transported between locations and launched to meet operational requirements.

I do not agree with that assessment.

The Minister's reply ends the debate.