On 18 February 1995 two young people died in a canoeing accident at Dunmore East. Subsequently, not long ago, a similar accident occurred at Dunany, County Louth. Since then it has been acknowledged by all parties in the House that legislation to govern safety standards in activity centres is needed. Michael Davies, the father of one of the young boys who died in the tragedy at Dunmore East, has been to the forefront of the campaign to progress this issue as the Minister rightly pointed out.
In March 1999 the House debated a Private Members' Bill introduced by Deputy Finucane. entitled the Adventure Centres (Young Persons' Water Safety) Bill, it was approved by all Members, although it was accepted that broader legislation, that dealt with issues beyond water safety, needed to be put on the Statute Book. Deputy Finucane deserves to be congratulated on his initiative in March 1999 and the manner in which this House handled that debate was a credit to all involved.
Subsequently, the former Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, established an interdepartmental working group to consider the regulation of adventure centres. This group reported in June 1999 and advised that legislation, along the lines of that which has been introduced to the House today, was necessary.
Following a consultative process with the various interests in the adventure centre industry the Department moved forward with drafting the Bill. The Labour Party welcomes the broad thrust of the Bill and will support it on Second Stage. While this Bill is comprehensive, on Committee Stage the Labour Party will bring forward amendments to strengthen parts of it. Safety and high standards must be at the forefront of the minds of people who operate adventure centres and, while the track record of Irish adventure centres is very good by international standards, it is important to have a regulatory authority that can establish and monitor standards across the country.
Section 8 includes the 13 categories identified in the Bill as "adventure activities". More than half of these activities are water-based sports such as surfing, scuba diving and dinghy sailing. There is one water-based activity which I know has given rise to concern among many coastal communities which is not included in this list and I urge the Minister to include it. I am referring to the increasingly popular use of jet-skis, small motorised craft that are used close to the shore. In the wrong hands, and without proper supervision, these machines are a danger both to the user and to other people in the vicinity of the beaches.
I know the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources will have received representations on the use of these craft from many Members of the House and from members of the general public. This activity should be included in the list of adventure activities and subject to the regulation and supervision provided for in this Bill. It is an issue to which I am sure we will return on Committee Stage.
The Minister should indicate the reason certain activities were omitted. For example, mountain biking is not included in the list. While nobody would contend that the popular "rent-a-bike" operators are engaged in adventure activities, there is a growing interest in people cycling off-road, often on mountain tracks. Without the necessary equipment and training this can prove a dangerous pursuit and there may be a case to include this activity in Section 8. The representative bodies have pointed out that rafting is not included either and I am sure that we will return to that on Committee Stage.
The later sections deal with the establishment of the adventure activities standards authority. I welcome the definition of the functions of the authority in section 14. This section states that the function of the authority will be to "promote, encourage, foster, facilitate and regulate the safe operation of adventure activities."
From this wording it is clear the main aim of the body will be to work in partnership with this growing sector of our tourism industry to promote the highest standards. It is the right way to proceed and I believe the vast majority of adventure centre operators will work positively with the new authority.
As a Deputy for a county, part of which has been hit hardest by the recent foot and mouth disease crisis, I am only too aware of the support and assistance the tourism industry needs to recover from this body blow. State agencies, including the new authority, which will be established under this Bill, must work in partnership with the industry to recover the ground that has been lost.
I am disappointed there is not a reference in the Bill to cross Border co-operation with similar authorities in Northern Ireland; although the Minister referred briefly to that in his speech. Tourism was one of the areas identified for cross Border co-operation between the Stormont executive and our Government. However, it appears to me that this aspect has not been developed in the Bill. It would be eminently sensible for adventure centre operators on the island as a whole to operate to common standards. I hope the Minister will have talks with his colleague, Deputy McDaid, to ensure that, after the passage of this Bill, the Northern Assembly Minister, Sir Reg Empey, is fully briefed on devel opments in this jurisdiction so that they can be co-ordinated in the future.
Section 27 refers to the production of an annual report, which the Minister will lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas. I urge him to forward a copy of this report to the Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation for consideration. As we increase the number of statutory bodies, it is important that their annual reports are debated and scrutinised within the committee system. It is good for accountability and democracy and assists Committees in understanding the developments in specific areas as new bodies embark on their work.
Part III refers to the regulation of operators. Section 33 outlines the regulations on compiling, and maintaining the register. Section 33 (5) refers to making the register "available for inspection by members of the public at reasonable times during normal working hours". Does this preclude or allow the publication of the register on a website, where it could be accessed by the public at any time and with the greatest of ease?
I again welcome the introduction of this Bill. I know a large number of Members have an interest in seeing legislation to regulate this area. Through the debate here this evening and the previous debate in March 1999, we have explored many of the issues surrounding this legislation and I look forward to the passage of this Bill.
The question of how and why organisations will go on the register and co-ordinating activity concerning that register will be very important. Like much other legislation in the marine area I have to ask the Minister how he proposes to police the terms of this Bill. Where will the manpower come from? He mentioned a figure of £300,000 but this will not go far in supervising this on a national basis.