Adjournment Debate. Regional Airports. - Harbour Authorities.

I thank the Minister of State for attending this debate and the Chair for allowing me to raise the matter.

The Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company decided last year to enter into an arrangement with a private company for the construction and management of a new marina at Dún Laoghaire harbour. As part of that arrangement, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company proposes to transfer control of the boatyard to the private company concerned. This means that the many existing users of the boatyard will have to deal in future not with the State-owned Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company but with the private marina company.

Many assurances were given by Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company that charges will not be increased and that existing users will continue to be accommodated. However, these assurances do not satisfy the existing users of the boatyard for a number of reasons. First, the transfer of control of the boatyard from the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company to the marina company represents a fundamental and unjustifiable change for the local users of the boatyard and for the coal harbour area in general. The boatyard is a relatively small space. It is already stretched to serve the existing needs of the present users of the harbour. When the new marina comes into operation and the marina users have the right to use this small space, it will overstretch its capacity. Giving control of the boatyard to the marina company means that over time the marina company will inevitably give preference to its clients and not to the general public. Inevitably, too, charges will go up and, as the Coal Harbour Users' Group has been told, market forces will dictate the level of charge.

The people of Dún Laoghaire feel strongly about this issue. There might be different opinions in Dún Laoghaire about the proposed arena, the traffic it will generate and whether it should be developed by the harbour company or by a private company, but there is virtual unanimity on the subject of the boatyard. That unanimity was expressed at a huge public meeting in the Boylan community centre last Wednesday which unanimously passed a motion calling on the Minister to intervene and to ensure that control of the boatyard is retained by the State-owned harbour company.

The Minister and the board of the company should not underestimate the strength of feeling on this issue in Dún Laoghaire. Local people will use every legitimate means to defend their rights to this public facility which they have enjoyed for generations. I believe the harbour company made a mistake in proposing to hand over control of the boatyard to a private company. It should correct that mistake by renegotiating its arrangement with the marina company and taking back control of the boatyard. In entering this arrangement with the marina company, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company is in breach of the Harbours Act, 1996. Section 12 of that Act sets out the general duties of a harbour company and makes it clear that harbour companies are required to have regard to the environment, heritage, traditions and users of a harbour. In transferring the boatyard to a private company, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company clearly did not have such regard.

If the harbour company does not change its position, the Minister should use his powers under the 1996 Act to direct the company to do so. I call on the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to intervene in this dispute, to meet the Coal Harbour Users' Group and direct the Dún Laoghaire Company to renegotiate the arrangement it has made with the private marina company and ensure that control of the boatyard is retained in public control and management.

I thank Deputy Gilmore for raising this issue and making his points well. I am pleased also to have the opportunity to outline some of the facts.

The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, met representatives of the Coal Harbours Users Group in May this year. On foot of that meeting, the Coal Harbours Users Group met Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company to discuss its concerns regarding the coal harbour and boatyard. Following the meeting the harbour company detailed the position on the future management of the boatyard.

There is no basis for the proposition that unfettered control of the boatyard is being ceded. On the contrary, the rights of existing users are protected and guaranteed by the imposition of a number of conditions in contractual agreements with Marina Marketing and Management Limited, the company which has the operating franchise for the marina being developed in the harbour. I will list the principal conditions. First, only the boatyard will be managed by the marina operator. The rest of the coal harbour, including all its boat moorings, will continue to be managed by the harbour company.

The boatyard, which covers an area of 1.45 acres and is situated in the coal harbour area, is used for summer and winter storage of boats. Some boat repair work is also carried out there. At any time there are approximately 120 to 140, mainly small boats, stored in the boatyard of which approximately 80 are paying customers. Total revenue from the boatyard is a modest £7,000 per year and it has been a consistent loss-making operation.

Second, the boatyard will continue to be run as a public facility. Third, the terms of the existing agreements with St. Michael's Rowing Club, Viking Marine Limited, Irish Youth Sailing Club, Dún Laoghaire VEC and 'Sail in Ireland' will be fully honoured. Fourth, the public will continue to have a right of way over and along the boatyard in order to gain unrestricted access to the slipway in the boatway. A fifth condition is the provision of a site within the boatyard at a nominal rent for the purpose of building a clubhouse by St. Michael's Rowing Club.

Adherence to these conditions, which have been included in the contractual agreements between Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company and Marina Marketing and Management Limited, will ensure the existing rights of users are protected while opening the facility to a wider population. The harbour company's by-laws will be amended to clearly state that the boatyard will continue to be used as a public facility. While the price for boat storage will be competitive with other storage facilities in the harbour, there is no question of arbitrary substantial increases being applied. Access by the public to the coal harbour and other areas of the harbour will not be restricted. In fact, because of the construction of two new breakwaters for the marina, the public will have access to the middle harbour area for the first time. Visitors will be able to walk on both breakwaters and enjoy fine views back towards the town for the first time. The harbour company has recently renovated and improved the slipway in the coal harbour at a cost of approximately £40,000 and without any users' contribution. The harbour company has recently commenced works which will improve public access to the other public slipway in the harbour. Current restrictions on access to the coal harbour during the construction phase of the marina development will be lifted as soon as the development is complete. I am sure the House will appreciate that health and safety precautions are necessary for the duration.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company must operate under its commercial mandate given to it by the Harbours Act, 1996. The Minister is precluded, and rightly so, from interfering with the day to day business of the harbour company. Currently, there are eight State port companies, shortly to be joined by another three at Dundalk, Wicklow and Bantry.

We must accept the reality here both commercial and by virtue of the statute. The port companies are formed under the Companies Acts. Their commercial mandate is enshrined in the legislation, each company board has 12 directors, including three local authority representatives and two worker directors. When disputes arise, apart from the statutory position, it would be intolerable if the Minister were to interfere with business decisions taken by the boards and undermine their authority and responsibilities under the Company's Memorandum and Articles of Association.

Therefore, it is not open to the Minister under the Harbours Act to give any direction such as suggested by the Deputy. This matter must be resolved by direct discussion between the primary parties. I do not see that a further meeting at this time between the Minister and the Coal Harbour Users Group would help to progress matters as the Minister is not party to the dispute. If, however, the group makes a submission to the Minister which sets out to establish a substantive basis for ministerial intervention, having regard to the Minister's statutory position, such a submission would be carefully considered.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 4 October 2000.