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.