The programme for Government,An Action Programme for the Millennium, stresses the strategic importance of our shipping industry and the necessary infrastructure to handle ever increasing volumes of tourism and trade, and recognises that the sector must be underpinned by continued investment and the maintenance of competitiveness. The programme identifies as key priorities the development of comprehensive and strategic policies for both the shipping industry and for commercial harbours.
While major progress has been made in recent years in investment in ports and in shipping services and the development of new corporate structures for the commercial ports, we must begin to analyse and plan for the future, especially in the context of the requirements for capital expenditure in the post 1999 Structural Funds situation. With this in mind, I will commence shortly a comprehensive assessment of Irish commercial seaport capacity. This will be funded under the technical assistance programme — TAP — of the 1994-9 operational programme of transport — OPT — and will provide a firm foundation for future portal policy.
Alongside this initiative, I will consult widely with other policy making agencies and Departments, as well as service providers, such as ports, shipping lines, etc., and major customers, such as importers and exporters, and business and professional organisations. The purpose of this process will be to identify the needs for the future and if there are bottlenecks or constraints which will require the State to intervene by way of investment or other support in the best interests of the growth of trade, tourism and the wider economy.
At this stage, it would be pointless to speculate on what the funding requirements may be. This will depend on the outcome of the analysis and the process. When it comes to the point, probably during the second half of 1998 when issues of funding post 1999 fall for consideration, the needs of the maritime transport sector, including shipping and commercial harbours, will have been fully articulated. In the meantime, progress will be maintained in developing corporate plans for both the individual commercial seaports and for the commercial portal sector as a whole, taking account of all the issues affecting maritime transport and recognising that maritime transport policy must be developed in an integrated manner with the other links in the transport chain.