Any Bill dealing with the Shannon is a political barometer and the Dáil has fallen on five or six occasions on which the Shannon estuary Bill has been introduced. When Dr. Woods was Minister for the Marine and we spoke about this Bill I told him to be careful as every time the Bill was introduced we have a general election. Such an event is not an impossibility given the events of recent days, but I would regret it if the Dáil fell without passing this Bill. There should be a single estuarial authority. There should be a particular company in charge of running this valuable asset.
The Shannon estuary has been neglected as a potential area of growth. Parochial interests on both the Clare and Limerick sides of the river have meant major decisions have been postponed because of political infighting. It is not confined to one party but is a general intercounty rivalry and people in the midwest have suffered as a result. A huge industry was to be located at Ballylongford when Shannon Development and the IDA bought a park there where an international company was to locate a car assembly plant. When the estuarial authority company could not get off the ground and things could not move on, the industry was located elsewhere and a potentially huge employment opportunity was lost. The quicker the Minister moves this Bill on the better.
Even if people have reservations they should look at the advantages of the Shannon. There is deep water on both sides of the river and there is an excellent if under utilised pier at Moneypoint which could help employment in west Clare, west Limerick and north Kerry a great deal. Since Moneypoint was built by the ESB it has been very good to west Clare, north Kerry and west Limerick. Wherever this estuarial authority is located, as long as it is able to raise finance and put up an infrastructure we will be well on the road. The Minister should keep the board as tight as possible, as a wide-ranging board or management interference will mean we not get anywhere. The old Dal Cais fights will start again – the Clare, Limerick and Kerry people will be fighting for who will get what. That has presented enormous difficulties over the years.
Many aspects of the Shannon, such as tourism, have not been exploited. There is huge commerce on the Rhine, for instance, in Europe. Barges ply that river every day from one side of Europe to the other, but tourists take cruises side by side with them. The tourists are brought ashore to places of interest such as great castles or the birthplace of Konrad Adenauer and there is a huge tourism industry. There is a myriad of little islands on the Shannon, many of which are of great historical interest. This resource could be exploited. I am glad there is now some sense of development of the River Fergus. Shannon Development, FÁS and the Clare County Enterprise Board are helping people to develop access to these islands and people will visit them once more. However, that is only one part of the Shannon estuary's potential for tourism and I compliment the Minster for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands for designating the area used by the group of dolphins on the Shannon as a special area of conservation. The people of north Kerry and Clare will gain substantially from the tourism generated by this.
Other historical sites along the Shannon should also be exploited, but potential investment in this area is being halted because we do not have a company that can raise the funds to improve infrastructure. Deputy Collins referred to the infrastructure of Foynes and that should be developed. It is the same for Kilrush, Kildysart and other parts of west Clare. Their infrastructural needs must be addressed and some kind of partnership should be established between Clare County Council and the estuarial company to produce the fine roads necessary to service a harbour like this.
I see nothing but good coming out of a unified Shannon estuarial authority. I am one of the few people from my county who would not fight for a greater proportion of Clare people on the board. I live in a port, Clarecastle, which had special legislation passed to give it harbour trustees. That legislation is still operative and I regret the Minister has not included Clarecastle harbour in this Bill. The parameters of the Bill should include the entire Fergus estuary, subsuming Clarecastle, as it has trustees. Small boats of 1,000 and 1,500 tonnes used to come to the piers in Clarecastle. They used the Shannon estuary well up to the 1960s, though use has now fallen away. The only people who now use the river permanently are local drift net fishermen looking for salmon during the short season from May to July. I appeal to the Minister to look at Clarecastle again to see if it can be included in the Bill by way of an amendment.
The authority might also include Clarecastle and there might then be an opportunity for the future development of the area. A great deal of coal came into County Clare via the Clarecastle port. We also exported considerable amounts of timber through the port. As stocks of salmon are declining, local fishermen seek alternative forms of employment. Because the port is tidal it cannot accommodate continual traffic but there is interest in the provision of excursions down river and pleasure boat trips during the summer months to the islands in the estuary and the River Shannon.
The Bill provides many opportunities. I wish it well and I ask the Minister to consider the posi tion of the Clarecastle port and the Fergus estuary and to include them under the new authority.