Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill, 1997: Amendments from Seanad.

The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 1.

Section 1: In page 3, line 18, after "Marine""and Natural Resources" inserted.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment No. 2 is consequential on amendment No. 3 and they can be taken together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 2:

Section 3: In page 3, subsection (1), line 30, "The" deleted and "Subject to subsection (3), the" substituted.

This issue has been around for a long time. The original motion moved on 8 October 1992 by the then Minster of State at the Department of the Marine, Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, was agreed to. It is a pity there was not a proper discussion on its merits. Many of the problems that have emerged since could have been teased out. Members did not fully appreciate the full complexity of it.

The Minister moved the Bill in the Seanad recently to clarify the legal position of the Commissioners of Lights, a proud body which has provided tremendous service for navigation, but the saga of Loran C and the implications for the area around Loop Head in Clare continues to run after seven years. The Minister said in the Seanad that he intended to have consultations with all interested parties and that the Bill would go through with the consent of both Houses. Will he clarify what is meant by consultations and when does he intend to hold them? Will the meetings be informal? Will he meet groups and accept their reservations?

He is aware of an article in a newspaper this week which stated that almost £1.5 million has been spent on this project to date and that the Committee of Public Accounts should investigate this. It must be considered that 136 acres were purchased in the earlier stages and the landowners objected to the mast at that time. Nobody who agreed to this in October 1992 was told it would be 700 feet high, slightly less than the Eiffel Tower. When the landowners objected originally the point was made that it was probably not subject to the planning process. However, it went through the planning process and the local council in its wisdom refused planning permission on health and environmental grounds. An Bord Pleanála subsequently overturned that decision and said it would have to be blended into the landscape. I do not know what type of trees it had in mind to camouflage a 700-foot mast in a flat landscape. The Clare farmers took the case to the High Court and the Supreme Court, won their case and were vindicated.

The issue will now go back again for consultations. I am not sure what the Minster expects to find because I anticipate that the people who resisted and went to the Supreme Court will not have a sudden change in their attitude to the mast. The Minister must forget about the mast in Loop Head and start again. There is a great deal of emotion aroused by this issue, as witnessed in radio interviews which refer to French involvement. Why have the French taken up 50 per cent of the cost of this project? It has led to suspicions, perhaps erroneous, with regard to the French involvement.

I welcome amendment No. 3. My understanding is that the Bill as it went before the Dáil prior to the election would have effectively given the commissioners the power to continue to put in place the Loran C system. The amendment changes that. If it is be introduced at any future time, it has to be voted on in both Houses. I thank the Minister for this provision.

The amendment is a waste of legislative time. I do not understand why it was necessary to introduce it. In the Loop Head area there is total opposition to the mast. The Commissioners of Irish Lights have purchased lands and a substantial investment has been made in the area. This is in accordance with our international obligations. The previous Minister gave an undertaking that all these matters would be examined by a commission. Deputy Killeen said there has been a major change and the House will now have the privilege of voting on the resolution agreed following consultation.

The Deputy has already voted on it.

I voted against it in the chambers of Clare County Council. I told the inspector that this mast could ruin the landscape of the area. Deputy Daly was a member of the Government which introduced the legislation.

The Deputy fully supported it.

However, he reversed his opinion during the general election campaign. There has been a change of opinion by the Deputies opposite on this matter but I have never changed my opinion on it — the Loran C mast should not be located in County Clare.

A representative of a private company which is in competition with the Loran C model was very vocal on local radio and made some extraordinarily nasty comments about my contribution as an elected representative. I have always acted honourably during the debate on this highly emotive issue. I am totally opposed to this mast. My party inherited the issue from the previous Government and we did our best to deal with it properly. This amendment is a sleight of hand and waste of time.

The previous Minister ordered a full consultation process in Kilkee or Kilbaha. I hope the Minister is not shying away from giving the people of this peninsula an opportunity to properly discuss the matter as envisaged by the previous Minister. If that is the intention of the amendment then it is a con job. If the consultation is private rather than public then the campaign will become vicious. The people of the area are opposed to the mast and only an honest and open debate will resolve the issue.

The Minister has not made clear the purpose of the amendment or said when the resolution will be brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas. We are being asked to accept the amendment on the basis that there will be some sort of consultation. We are all aware of the need for consultation and if it had taken place some years ago the same confusion would not exist in County Clare. There have been many suggestions and much innuendo about who bought the land, while somebody is supposed to have objected to the purchase of certain lands for political reasons etc. The House should know the exact consultation process before accepting an amendment of this kind.

The Bill arose from High Court challenges. The Commissioners of Irish Lights have been left without protection for some months and individual members are now responsible for anything that goes wrong. These people carry out a vital service in terms of marine safety and it is an absolute disgrace that the legislation has been held up. The legislation was held up in the Seanad when I was Minister because of a lack of political support. The two Clare Deputies opposite should be ashamed of themselves. There is no point in praising the Commissioners of Irish Lights at this stage when their party held up the legislation in the Seanad.

If the Deputy had been able to do his job as Minister the matter would have been resolved.

I gave assurances but the Deputy tried to twist my words in County Clare for pure political gain.

That is absolutely untrue.

The Deputy acted in a totally irresponsible manner.

The Deputy did not have the ability to produce this amendment.

This amendment was dreamt up in the Department long before the Minister, Deputy Woods, arrived on the scene.

Why did the Deputy not put it forward?

For the simple reason that we could not get the support of the Seanad for the Bill because the Deputy's party wanted to use it as a political football.

We want to represent our constituents.

The Commissioners of Irish Lights have been left in a very difficult position and they will be held responsible——

The Deputy was an inept Minister.

The Deputy should mind his own business and stay quiet.

I am responding to the Deputy.

I am not addressing the Deputy. The Deputy was highly irresponsible in terms of the way he dealt with the legislation and should be ashamed of himself. With respect, the best thing he could do is keep his mouth shut.

The Deputy should address his comments through the Chair.

Given his record, the Deputy is a good judge.

The Deputy is being hypocritical when he refers to the good job the Commissioners of Irish Lights are doing when his party were responsible for leaving them in a position where they have no power to carry out their important functions and are personally liable for anything that goes wrong. The Deputy has a cheek to praise them when his party left them in this impossible position.

A Cheann Comhairle, the Deputy is deaf along with everything else.

Such comments should not be made about a Member of the House.

The Minister is well aware that the Department was very anxious to have the legislation enacted. My party was prepared to consult with the people of County Clare through a commission which would ensure that all queries and worries were addressed in a professional manner. I sincerely hope that that is still the position. We also gave an undertaking that we would seek planning permission in the proper manner, if and when that was required.

The Minister should remind the House, and his fellow colleagues, that we are tied into an international obligation in relation to Loran C. Will he spell out clearly the position if we withdraw from the Loran C system and confirm for his colleagues in Fianna Fáil that we will be liable to pay compensation? Will he indicate the moneys we are talking about and the other obligations on us under the agreement entered into by the Government of which Deputy Daly was a member? These matters should be spelt out clearly so that the people of Clare are made fully aware of the agreement we entered into, why we were put in this position by the then Fianna Fáil Government, the obligations on us if we withdraw from the agreement, how the consultations will take place and when the House will be informed about whether it is intended to proceed with the Loran C system or to withdraw from the international agreement.

It is time this legislation was passed and I am pleased to support it. The House will be acting responsibly by passing the legislation today so that the Commissioners of Irish Lights have protection in carrying out their important marine safety functions.

To put the record straight for Deputy Barrett, I was not a member of the Government that signed the agreement, but that is not the issue here. I am surprised he is getting so hot and bothered about this matter because I told him in the Seanad the legislation could be put through that House in 50 minutes if he was prepared to introduce an amendment similar to that we are dealing with here, but he did not give an assurance to that effect.

On a point of order, that is not correct. The Deputy's party wanted to exclude the whole system. He said if we gave a guarantee to exclude Loran C his party would support the legislation.

The record of the Seanad may be checked. The former Minister did not say that he proposed to bring in this type of amendment. The matter was discussed informally with him and an indication was given that such an amendment might be put forward, but that was not done.

I was told the Bill would not get through, and the Minister is well aware of that. This is an absolute disgrace.

The Government orders business in the Seanad, as it does in the Dáil. The former Minister introduced the Bill and it was discussed for about a day, but he did not come back to the Seanad with it. His speech is on the record.

I was told it would not get through.

There is no point writing speeches now for the Seanad. The Deputy had an opportunity in the Seanad to make a contribution but he did not indicate he intended to introduce an amendment such as the one before us. Had he indicated that, the attitude in the Seanad would have been totally different.

I introduced the Bill on Second Stage.

The Deputy gave no indication——

I did, but the Deputy had not made clear his position at that stage.

——he would bring in an amendment of this type. The Minister is to be complimented on bringing forward this amendment which has enabled the legislation to go through the Seanad and the Dáil.

It is a political cop out.

The Deputy could have introduced such an amendment had he bothered to do so. He endeavoured to put the legislation through the Seanad——

The Deputy made it clear on Second Stage that the Bill would not go through unless Loran C was excluded.

That is what is being done here.

The Government is not excluding Loran C. This is a fudge.

It is a con.

The amendment specifically states that Loran C will not be agreed without a resolution of the Dáil and Seanad.

And without consultations with the people.

The amendment does not exclude Loran C from the legislation.

The legislation ensures no masts will be put up on any site without agreement of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Without a motion going through the House. Does that exclude it from the Bill?

I am aware of no other way it can be excluded.

The Deputy wanted to exclude it altogether.

When the Deputy had the opportunity to deal with this matter he failed miserably. He introduced the Bill, walked away and did not come back to the Seanad with it again. He should not try to blame the Seanad because he did not even attempt to put the Bill through that House.

I am blaming the Fianna Fáil Party. This is a political cop out and the Minister is acting irresponsibly.

The Deputy was dictated to by some of his own people in the Seanad and as a result he did not endeavour to put the Bill through that House. His attitude was that the Bill, in the form in which it stood at that time, was to be put through the Seanad. That would have ensured it would be possible for the Commissioners of Irish Lights to erect the mast without consultation.

It is important to put on record that there has been much discussion of this matter in recent years. It is obvious now that, regardless of how much consultation was undertaken, the people in the area where it was planned to put this development would resist in every way possible the erection of the mast and the development of the Loran C system. The people have argued that the Loran C system is antiquated and that developments, particularly in satellite communications, offer a positive and excellent substitute to it. I encourage the Minister to identify and proceed with an alternative system to the Loran C system, that is the satellite system, the modern system used by other states, particularly America. It is possible to introduce such a system which will deal with the shortcomings in our navigational aid systems and be far superior to the Loran C system.

A clause in the agreement provides for an opt out after a certain time. It will take some time to fully research the new satellite system and develop a scheme which would give Ireland the most modern satellite system. In the meantime it is desirable to put on hold the plans for the Loran C system and avail of the opt out clause when the time comes. In that way we would ensure an adequate system of navigation around the coastline. It would resolve the problems that arise from an outdated system — it has been overtaken by developments in technology — and would be more sensible in terms of navigation safety.

Past differences about this issue will not advance matters. It is necessary to introduce this Bill speedily because of the position as outlined by Deputy Barrett. Regardless of the negotiations that take place, the Loran C proposal, in so far as it relates to County Clare, will never be acceptable. It would be much better to seek an alternative system and opt out of the Loran C agreement when the opportunity arises in a few years' time.

There is provision in this year's Estimates for £450,000 for Loran C.

Is that excluding it from the legislation? Perhaps Deputies from Clare will answer that question.

How much did the previous Government spend on it last year?

The Deputy should be allowed continue without interruption. I ask him to confine himself to the business before the House.

The Minister should clarify with whom he is having consultations. Will the consultations be public? While not wishing to pre-empt discussions with the local people, if the case goes to the High Court or the Supreme Court they will be determined that a Loran C mast will not be erected at Loop Head. The Minister can probably pre-empt the outcome of consultations with the local people and this matter will be revisited in the Dáil and Seanad. I understand one of these masts is stored in Paris at a cost of £900 per month. Given that, at a height of 700 feet, it is visually intrusive, will the Minister say why it was considered in the first place.

I have seen a mast and it is not like the Eiffel Tower, as some have suggested. It is very thin, but covers a substantial area. It depends on where it is placed and this is one of the issues that has arisen regarding Loop Head. Deputies are correct to emphasise the urgent requirements of the commissioners. They need to be covered and assured of their position and, consequently, this legislation must be enacted quickly. The commissioners currently provide a wide range of radio based aids to marine navigation, including radio beacons, radar beacons, radar enhancers and the differential global positioning system. The primary purpose of this legislation is to enable them to continue to provide radio navigation systems in the interests of maritime safety. I am sure Deputies will acknowledge the importance of that. It is essential, therefore, that the necessary legislative framework is in place to allow the commissioners to provide seafarers with those vital radio based aids to navigation.

The amendment will ensure the Loran C project does not proceed unless a new order is made by the Minister and approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas. I assure Deputies the Loran C project will not proceed unless new legislation is adopted by the Dáil and Seanad. The site chosen, and any subsequent issues that arise, will have to come before both Houses of the Oireachtas for discussion by Deputies and Senators.

In the meantime, I intend to carry out a fundamental review of all aspects of the Loran C project. Deputies Finucane and Barrett asked what form that review would take. It will consider all aspects of the project and the current state of technology and allow me to hear at first hand the views of all interested parties, particularly those living in the Loop Head area. The proposed amendment would ensure interested parties can contribute to the wide ranging consultation process in the secure knowledge that no action can be taken in the meantime to progress the project.

These amendments provide that the powers conferred on the Commissioners of Irish Lights to develop and operate radio navigation systems shall not apply to the Loran C system until such date as the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources may appoint by order and subject to any conditions as he or she may specify in the order. The amendments also provide that such a draft ministerial order shall come before both Houses of the Oireachtas for debate and shall not be made unless approved by each House of the Oireachtas.

It would be useful to outline the background to the Bill and the Loran C project. Deputies will be aware that the need for the Bill arose out of a legal challenge to the commissioners' powers to proceed with the erection and operation of a Loran C long range navigation system at Loop Head, County Clare. Those legal proceedings culminated in a Supreme Court decision to the effect that the powers given to the commissioners under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894 could not be interpreted to cover the proposed Loran C radio mast and, by implication, the existing radio based aids currently provided by the commissioners.

Ireland's involvement in the Loran C project arises from a commitment under an international agreement, approved by Dáil Éireann on 8 October 1992, to provide a Loran C radio mast and ancillary facilities in the west. Following a detailed site selection study undertaken by the commissioners, with the assistance of relevant expert bodies, the proposed site at Loop Head was chosen as most suitable.

When the Bill came before this House last February there was general support for its objective to remedy the lacuna in the commissioners' legal powers in respect of the provision of existing radio navigation systems. I am aware, however, that there was considerable disquiet that the passing of the legislation, as introduced at that time, would enable the commissioners to proceed with the Loran C project. Concerns were expressed that the Loran C system poses a threat to health, represents a damaging environmental intrusion and may also be considered obsolete.

When I recently reintroduced the Bill in the Seanad I gave a commitment to carry out a fundamental review of all aspects of the Loran C project and, to this end, to engage in a comprehensive consultation process concerning all the relevant issues involved. This process will involve seeking the expert advice and opinions of domestic and international authoritative bodies responsible for navigation, along with the EU Commission. The purpose of these consultations is to elicit the international view on current requirements in the area of maritime safety, medium to long-term developments and requirements in the area of radio based navigational aids and, in that context, the case for a land based complement to support a space based system. The views and concerns of the people of west Clare and others regarding installations such as the Loran C mast will be fully taken into account.

The purpose of the amendments under discussion is to allow the Bill to be enacted as soon as possible, thereby ensuring that the commissioners can legally operate and maintain their existing radio navigation systems in the interests of the safety of mariners. They would also allow time for the whole Loran C issue to be reviewed in the context of the consultative process which I propose to initiate. This process can take place in the secure knowledge that no action can be taken in the meantime to progress the project. I believe this approach meets the concerns of all interests to the greatest possible extent.

Regarding the other questions raised by Deputies, a hearing on the planning issue is set to take place in the Supreme Court on 6 February. The countries involved are France, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and Ireland. As it depends on when the last country signs up rather than when the project starts, the earliest date for withdrawal is 2005. A provisional sum has been provided in the Estimates to meet legal or other costs. If those costs do not arise I am sure the money can be used in other areas. Bearing in mind that no action can be taken without bringing the matter before both Houses of the Oireachtas, Deputies should agree to the legislation to put the matter right for the commissioners while allowing discussion on the other issue to proceed. On that basis, I ask Deputies to agree to the amendment.

I am disappointed with the Minister's reply, particularly as he does not propose to engage in public consultation.

Regardless of whether I agree with a proposal, there must be public consultations with local people. Even if the Minister has good reasons to promote this development in Loop Head he will cause terrible difficulty for the local population. The IDA, Forbairt and other promotion agencies have established systems to consult people prior to the establishment of an industry in their area.

The method of public consultation proposed by the previous Minister, Deputy Barrett, is the most important aspect of this matter and I am disappointed the current Minister, Deputy Woods, will keep the consultation process within the Department under a marine inspector. The same information will be trotted out again and the Minister will claim that as we have international obligations in this regard and as time has already been given to the matter, he must again bring it before the Houses. The Government has an inbuilt majority in both Houses so the measure will be passed. That is not fair to the people of County Clare.

The best indicator of the difficulties that arise for politicians with regard to serious developments such as this is a general election. The opposition of Deputies Daly and Killeen to the Loran C mast did them no harm in the last election. The Minister should be aware that there is an obligation on those Deputies and if there is no public consultation it will cause them great difficulty.

Even where there might have been a level of support in the west Clare area for the Loran C mast when it was initially proposed — the previous Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, said the mast was essential to control the illegal importation of drugs — there is no such support now. In addition to the people who vehemently opposed the proposal, challenged its legality in the courts and won their case in the

Supreme Court, the general view in the west is that the Minister should not proceed with the proposal.

Regardless of what consultations the Minister or a consultative committee undertakes, the mast will never be acceptable in the location which was identified and purchased for it by the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The site should be abandoned and the land resold to the initial vendors. The prospect of getting this mast erected on the site in Kilbaha is so remote that no amount of consultation and dialogue will make it acceptable. The people just will not wear it and if they cannot accept it in their own locality, I doubt they would wish to have it built elsewhere.

The Minister should be aware that opposition to the proposal is widespread and unanimous. The sooner the Loran C mast proposal is abandoned the better. He should look at the alternative global positioning system which is more accurate, modern and adaptable to our situation.

In an effort to be constructive our party did not put down negative amendments in the Seanad. We wanted this measure passed. The Minister has removed the Loran C mast from the equation so the legislation will probably be passed. However, with the benefit of hindsight the Minister will agree the Dáil was probably remiss when, on 9 October 1992, it agreed to the rather innocuous motion on the international agreement moved by the then Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Deputy Gallagher. There was no discussion as the question was put and agreed to.

That is not true.

It is. I have a copy of the record before me.

That is inaccurate. There was a full debate on the matter and Deputy Deasy spoke on behalf of Fine Gael. The Deputy should check the Official Report.

I have it here.

This is not relevant to the amendment before the House.

The Deputy's party unanimously supported it.

I am glad Deputy Daly has given such a definitive statement. He has made it clear the mast will not be erected on Loop Head as neither he nor the people will accept it. If the Minister persists with the Loran C proposal and brings it before the Dáil again, I am sure Deputy Daly will oppose it. A similar situation arose with regard to Shannon Airport.

Deputy de Valera got a seat on the Front Bench as a result.

She did well from it.

Deputy Daly should do the same.

The Minister said he will get technical appraisals and investigate the matter again. I refer the Minister to the files in his Department which contain a great deal of research on the different systems involved. About 40 sites in Kerry and Clare were visited and Loop Head was chosen as the most suitable by the officials.

The Loran C proposal appears to be dead. If it does not appear on Loop Head it is unlikely to appear elsewhere as the publicity and concerns generated by the current proposal will be emulated and repeated regardless of what site in Kerry or Clare is involved. Deputy Barrett asked a pertinent question. What will be the impact of not proceeding with Loran C? What is the advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs if Loran C does not proceed in view of the binding commitment we made in the context of the international agreement? What type of compensation is involved? If the proposal does not proceed in County Clare what will happen to the land for which the State paid £420,000? What about the money that has been poured down the drain on this project?

We are discussing this matter seven years too late. If proper discussion had taken place when it was first proposed we might not have entered into many of these financial commitments. This is a white elephant for the Department——

The Deputy is not discussing the substance of the amendment.

It will not go anywhere in the future.

I am encouraged by Deputy Carey's concern for my supporters in the Loop Head area. However, Deputy Daly ensures they are scarce in that area in any event.

Competition is keen.

The Deputy has some supporters there too.

My supporters and others who are interested in the matter have indicated they are satisfied with this amendment. If my constituents are happy with it, that is good enough for me. Deputy Barrett accused me of praising the Commissioners of Irish Lights. I am quite sure I did not——

Was the Deputy criticising them?

——and if I did, it was not my intention in that context.

Deputy Finucane asked what would happen if Loran C did not proceed. The arrangement under this legislation is that it will not proceed without the approval of both Houses. Any other consequence is speculation.

Did the Minister get advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs?

With regard to the land——

It will be good for Lansdowne Road on a Saturday.

The value of land in that area has increased considerably so the Department might make a profit on it. In relation to the point made by Deputy Carey, I understand the assurances I have given have been accepted by local people. I met the delegation when they came to the Seanad. They are fully aware of and understand what we are doing and regard it as satisfactory. They understand the importance of going ahead with the legislation. I pointed out that the public consultation and the review would be widespread, given all the technological developments and all aspects of the situation. Regarding public consultation in the local area, in so far as this is necessary I am happy to have whatever consultations are appropriate. The general review is particularly important at this stage.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 3:

Section 3: In page 4, between lines 11 and 12, the following new subsections inserted:

"(3) Paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to the radio navigation system known as LORAN C (within the meaning of the international agreement concerning the establishment and operation of the civil LORAN C navigation system in North West Europe and the North Atlantic done at Oslo on the 6th day of August, 1992), until such date as the Minister may appoint by order, subject to any restrictions or conditions as the Minister may specify in the order.

(4) Where an order is proposed to be made under subsection (3) of this section, a draft of the order shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the order shall not be made unless a resolution approving of the draft is passed by each such House.".

Question put and agreed to.
Amendments reported and agreed to.

I thank Deputies for their contributions. This may be the first Bill to go to the new President.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

I merely called a quorum to facilitate the Minister. I am happy to allow the House to continue if that is in order.