I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The purpose of the Bill before the House today is to provide for the enactment of a new legislative regime to promote and enhance the safety of all persons who engage in adventure activities at adventure centres in Ireland. The key provision of the Bill is the establishment of an independent standards authority to regulate the safety of adventure activity centres and providers.
Specifically it will allow for the establishment of the Adventure Activities Standards Authority; mandatory registration of adventure centres and providers with the authority for specified activities; mandatory codes of safe operating practice for specified adventure activities; implementation of a regulatory scheme involving inspection of centres and providers for adherence to safety codes and powers for the authority to order cessation of the provision of any or all adventure activities in the case of failure to observe safety codes.
It is well known that, as Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, the safety of those participating in adventure activities, particularly young people, is very important to me. Deputies will recall that on the evening of 18 February 1995, two young people tragically died in a canoeing accident at Dunmore East, County Waterford, when they were swept out to sea in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions. The fatalities occurred in the context of a canoeing expedition involving a group of individuals whom, while not members of a club, organisation or activity centre, were under the unofficial leadership of a trainee adventure centre instructor.
My Department carried out a review of the accident following which an intensified safety awareness effort aimed at the marine leisure sector was launched by the Department and organisations involved in water sports safety. Mr. Michael Davies, whose son Ros lost his life in the accident at Dunmore East, has campaigned intensively since the tragedy to have the activities of adventure centres, which operate on a commercial basis, regulated from a safety perspective.
In August 1998, a Private Members' Bill entitled the Adventure Centres (Young Persons' Water Safety), Bill, 1998, was introduced by Deputy Finucane, and debated in the Dáil at the end of March 1999. The Bill, which was based largely on the legislative framework introduced in the UK in 1995, proposed that a new licensing and policing scheme for adventure centres be established by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources in conjunction with the Health and Safety Authority. However, that Bill was confined to watersports, and the general view of Members of the Dáil was that while regulation was necessary, any new legislation should extend to all adventure activities, not just water based activities. During the Dáil debate, my predecessor, Deputy Woods, stated that the Government intended to bring forward a Bill of this kind as soon as possible. As part of this process, Deputy Woods set up an interdepartmental working group to undertake urgently a detailed examination of the issues and to consider the possible regulation of adventure activities. It was therefore agreed in the House that the Private Members' Bill would stand in abeyance until the results of the interdepartmental working group examination were known.
The setting up of this group was an expression of the importance which we in the Department attach to tackling this issue. The working group was representative of Departments and agencies and was charged with making recommendations aimed at enhancing safety in adventure centres. In accordance with its terms of reference, it was to consult with those with interests in the sector, examine models in other countries, assess current safety arrangements in Ireland and make proposals based on the findings.
The working group consulted widely, meeting all the main representative bodies in the sector in Ireland. It also consulted with neighbouring jurisdictions in the UK, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, to ascertain their views on the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the recently introduced UK legislation in increasing the safety for participants in commercial adventure centre activities. The group received submissions from a number of persons and organisations with an interest in the subject and it sought and received the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs in ascertaining whether other EU countries, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada operated safety licensing of adventure centres or other suppliers of adventure activities. The working group also enlisted the help of a consultancy company to assist it in ascertaining the nature and size of the sector in Ireland and the likely impact of the introduction of legislation akin to that envisaged in the Private Members' Bill and to that operating in the UK.
The interdepartmental working group completed its examination with commendable speed and submitted a detailed report of its deliberations in June 1999. In its report, which was published immediately by my Department, the group outlined its findings and made a number of important recommendations. It found that safety standards in the sector are generally high with little risk to the participants from the activities themselves. The evidence gathered suggested that the active combination of highly professional and safety conscious providers create a safe environment for most persons using the services of the providers. However the group found that there was a case for a form of statutory regulation of safety in adventure centre activities in Ireland and recommended that a statutory authority should be constituted to manage the regulatory scheme and to advise the appropriate Minister on all aspects of its set-up and operation. The working group recommended that the aim of the regulatory regime should be to encourage high safety standards, particularly in that part of the sector which has not participated in the existing voluntary inspection and approval scheme for providers of adventure activities established by the Association for Adventure Activities, the co-ordinating body for most of the national governing bodies for adventure sports. This scheme, along with the Irish Sailing Association's independent scheme for recognised teaching establishments, has been the primary mechanism for establishing standards of safety at adventure centres and is mainly based on the qualifications of the staff working at the centres.
The scheme is voluntary and provides an inspection, approval and spot checking system. However there are no sanctions available to force the inclusion of centres in it and a sizeable part of the adventure activities sector has opted to remain outside of the scheme and is not subject to close governing body control and approval. The working group was unable to gather sufficient information to draw conclusions on the danger or risk to persons using providers who operate outside the voluntary scheme but noted that below standard procedures, practice or management can often only come to light in the context of a serious accident followed by an inquiry and investigation. It took the view that there may well be provision of adventure activities on a commercial basis in Ireland which is not in accordance with accepted safety practices and which poses an undue risk to participants. It is to be expected that greater dangers to public health and safety occur in sectors or parts of sectors which are not subject to some form of external scrutiny or monitoring, either through statutory control or voluntary safety standards.
The working group recommended that regulation should take the form of compulsory adherence to a set of safety codes in centres which would be required to notify or register with the statutory authority as providers of certain specified adventure activities. The statutory authority should in turn oversee an inspectorate which would visit and inspect all notified or registered centres, initially focusing on those which did not participate in the voluntary scheme and those which cater for children and young people. Significantly, the group proposed that the inspectorate would be entitled to direct centres which do not demonstrate adherence to the safety codes to cease providing activities.
The group concluded that the sector encompassed by the current voluntary approval schemes probably does not require regulation as standards and internal safety ethos are high and are likely to remain so in the future through the current approach of standards setting, implementation and monitoring through the joint involvement of the national governing bodies and providers. However, the group pointed out that centres and providers who are outside the current voluntary schemes might well operate at less than adequate safety standards thereby exposing participants to unacceptable risk. It was for these reasons that the working group recommended that a statutory authority with responsibility for drawing up safety guidelines or codes for prescribed providers of adventure activities and for enforcing these guidelines should be established. In July 1999, the Government accepted in principle that there was a need for a statutory regime to regulate safety in adventure centres and agreed that the development of this regime be progressed by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources. The Government also agreed that procedures be put in train to establish a new unit within my Department to deal with marine leisure and tourism, which includes this issue.
In the interim, my Department provided grant-aid to the Association for Adventure Sports (AFAS) to enhance and extend the centre standards board (CSG) scheme of inspection of adventure activities providers' facilities. AFAS was also tasked by my Department with undertaking a wide-ranging consultation process amongst adventure activity centres and providers with a view to drawing up a blueprint for an inspection on which the new statutory authority could base its operations when established. The blueprint document was presented by AFAS in July 2000, and many of both the blueprint recommendations, and those of the interdepartmental working group, have been taken into account in the Bill while others are issues that the new authority can consider for itself when it is established.
First and foremost, the Bill provides for the establishment of the Adventure Activities Standards Authority. The authority will have 15 members comprising of an independent chairperson, nominees from the Minister for Education and Science, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, my own Department, the Health and Safety Authority, four nominees from recognised national governing bodies for adventure activities, four nominees from adventure activity operators, and one nominee who shall be appointed on the basis of his or her knowledge, skills or experience as is considered appropriate for membership. After consultation with the authority the number of members, or the number of members that can be nominated by a person, or the persons who can nominate members can be varied. It is to be hoped that the inclusion of nominees from all of the areas mentioned will continue the teamwork approach that developed over the history of bringing this Bill before the House and carry forward the momentum towards a better safety environment in the adventure activities sector.
The function of the Adventure Activities Standards Authority will be to promote, encourage, foster, facilitate and regulate the safe operation of adventure activities. To this end it will be empowered to administer schemes and grants, to procure or provide educational, training or advisory services and to carry out research. It will also advise me on matters relating to adventure activities. I will be able to confer additional functions on the authority, by way of order after consultation with the authority.
The Bill provides a definition of adventure activities and 13 activities are covered by this definition. These are: hill-walking in areas more than 300 metres above sea level; orienteering in areas more than 300 metres above sea level; caving; dinghy sailing; kayaking; canoeing; surfing with a surf board; wind-surfing; scuba-diving; snorkelling; abseiling; archery and rock climbing.
Provision has been included to cater for the amendment to the definition of adventure activities, in consultation with the authority, by adding or deleting items from this list by Order. This procedure will follow a risk analysis of the relevant activity by the authority.
The Bill provides for a definition of an adventure activities operator as meaning a person who provides to members of the public for payment or reward: (a) training, instruction, supervision or leadership in an adventure activity; (b) facilities, including equipment for hire at a specified location, for the carrying on of an adventure activity, or (c) any two or more of the services specified previously at (a) and (b). Again, provision has been included to cater for amendment to this definition if necessary.
Under the provisions of the Bill, it will be mandatory for adventure activity operators to register with the authority in respect of specified adventure activities. The authority will develop codes of practice for specified adventure activities and it will be mandatory for adventure activity operators to abide by these codes. It will also introduce a regulatory scheme for specified adventure activities. This scheme will include the carrying out of inspections of operators by inspectors authorised by the authority. In certain circumstances, including non-compliance with a code of practice, the authority will have the power to direct an operator to suspend or cease the provision of specified adventure activities. It will also have the power to remove an adventure activity operator from the register of operators.
It should be noted that the definition of a provider in the Bill covers only those who provide adventure activities on a commercial basis. It does not cover schools or other educational establishments, which is a complex area. Schools do, in some instances, engage in adventure activities, but on an individual, local or preparatory level rather than a commercial basis. It has been agreed with the Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Health and Children that, at this stage, the direct provision of adventure activities in schools to schoolchildren would not be included in the definition. This matter will, however, require further detailed investigation and it is proposed to leave this to the authority to examine after it has been established. New regulations would perhaps make schools, particularly the less well off ones, unwilling to undertake adventure activities. However, even though they are not covered by the Bill, it is anticipated that such institutions may wish to voluntarily adhere to the codes of practice the new authority will develop.
The Bill provides that the authority will be able to investigate any accident, incident, occurrence or any other matter related to the general purposes of the Bill. The investigation will be conducted solely to establish the cause of such acci dents and the adequacy of any codes of practice published or approved under this Bill with a view to recommending changes where appropriate. The authority will not have the power to direct an investigation into an accident at work, as this is covered under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, or into an accident in Irish waters, as this is covered under the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act, 2000, without my consent, given with the agreement of any other appropriate Minister. The purpose of the investigation will not be to attribute blame or fault but rather to produce a special report on the matter, however the authority will have the power to establish a tribunal of inquiry, with my consent, where it considers that such an action is necessary.
The Adventure Activities Standards Authority will have the usual powers and duties regarding recruitment, salaries, superannuation and other financial matters relating to its proper functions as have other statutory authorities. In this regard it should be noted that the operation of the authority will involve a cost to the Exchequer, as any possible income it will receive from inspection fees will be limited and will not be sufficient to cover its costs. It is estimated that these costs could be in the region of £300,000 per year, for staff, agency payments, board expenses, promotion and lease of premises. Income will depend on the nature and format of the regulatory scheme developed or adopted by the authority.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Mr. Michael Davies who, following the death of his son Ros, campaigned to have a statutory safety regime in place for adventure activities in the hope that other parents would not have to suffer such a tragic loss. It is because of Mr. Davies' dedication that this Bill is now before this House. It was a sad and poignant occasion for me to meet Mr. Davies and to hear the details of the accident in which his son was lost. There is no question but that it was a life lost through carelessness. It is as a result of his dedication and his campaign that this legislation is before the House.
I would also like to thank all of those who took part in the consultation process in the lead up to this Bill for the enthusiasm and commitment they have shown over the course of the entire process. There are far too many persons, clubs and organisations involved for me to name them all individually. However, I would like to acknowledge the work of the centre standards board and say a special thanks to the Association for Adventure Sports, for the diligence and dedication that they showed while undertaking, on my behalf, a wide ranging consultation process amongst adventure activity centres and providers on how the new authority should operate. This consultation process, which was conducted simultaneously with the legislation being drafted, considerably expedited the publication of the Bill.
I am acutely aware that regulation on its own cannot and will not address all of the safety issues in the sector. In the final analysis, good and enduring safety practices can only be achieved, not by the authority, but by the people who provide the adventure activities on a day to day basis throughout the country. Everyone involved in the adventure activities sector must aim to make the prevention of accidents their top priority. Regulation must not be seen to in any way diminish the individual or organisational responsibility to at all times keep safety as their foremost priority.
This legislation to establish a new authority to regulate adventure activities from a safety perspective is vital to the well-being of not alone the participants but to the sector as a whole. I hope that the good work undertaken to date by all interested parties, in a spirit of co-operation and partnership, will continue when the Bill is being debated in this House and in the Seanad. I look forward to the speedy enactment of the Bill and the establishment of the Adventure Activities Standards Authority as soon as possible.
I commend the Bill to the House.