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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 May 2001

Private Members' Business. - Adventure Activities Standards Authority Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

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.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I recognise the commitment of the Minister and Deputy Finucane's involvement in activating the interest in the Bill.

Throughout the debate, Members on all sides have recognised its importance. It has been drawn up following recommendations in the report of the interdepartmental working group on a review of the safety regulations of adventure activity centres. The consultation and most importantly interdepartmental co-operation and planning will ensure the Bill's effectiveness in implementation.

It serves the needs of providers by giving them a framework for co-operation and protects citizens who embark on the named adventure activities covered in the Bill. It also protects a broad range of people, who will come under various provisions of the Bill and this will be welcomed by representatives of those interests. It embraces the many needs and interests of these named activities.

Will the Minister establish a rescue service consultative forum whereby the new authority can learn from the vast experience of the rescue ser vices? Before I came into this House, I worked as an air traffic controller and was quite aware of the importance of the search and rescue services.

I commend the Minister for the clarity of this Bill which encompasses the interests and needs of so many. The initial list of adventure activities is quite comprehensive and the Bill clearly demands a mature regard for the safety of practitioners of these activities.

Over the past few days I have heard people ask whether the penalties are a sufficient deterrent. For the safety authority to be effective it must have teeth through having available to it, where necessary, draconian powers of seizure and closure. We must keep to the forefront the fact that people's lives as opposed to operators' livelihoods are at stake. Fines do not deter unscrupulous operators. Often their attitude is based on the court case being weeks or months in the future and they think they might as well squeeze as much money as possible out of the unsuspecting public while they can.

The Minister has given inspectors considerable powers of inspection, including search warrants, rights of entry and inspection. These should be backed up with readily available sanctions, including naming and shaming, seizure and even closure. If adequate safety standards are to be maintained, we must ensure rogue operators do not feel it is worth their while to flout the laws. While the authority will no doubt in time introduce certification procedures, there should be provision in the legislation ensuring operators must display prominently at all times the relevant safety and operating certificates. A blue flag type system should also be developed so members of the public can clearly see what safety procedures are required to be in operation. If they can see that an operator is not maintaining adequate standards they are in a position not to use their facilities. Ultimately, people must take responsibility for their own safety, irrespective of legislation, and they should be assisted in every way through guides, notices and other materials.

This Bill is not about being a killjoy but about ensuring people can enjoy adventure sporting activities in comfort and in the knowledge that those who sell or hire the activity or equipment are complying with the best practice and safety standards laid down by the State regulator.

Tragically, too many lives have been lost because even minimum safety requirements were not met or were not known of in some cases. A few years ago young lives were lost off the Wexford coast because lifejackets did not have reflective strips. These simple stickers could have enabled the rescue services who were quickly on the scene to identify the canoeists quickly in the dark waters. Such a simple low cost measure could have made a difference. There are too many other examples of simple precautions not being taken with disastrous and tragic consequences.

I also welcome the Bill as a member of the Committee on Tourism, Sport and Recreation. Often regulations are seen as getting in the way of the operation of a business, with regulators often being seen as killjoys. Regulations do not stop people doing the things they want to, but can slow people down and help to take away the danger. Regulations exist to ensure people's safety and not to act as an impediment to the enjoyment of their chosen activity. The Minister and every Deputy wants the spirit of adventure which those who participate in adventure sports to continue. It is to the legislators that the parents and families of those who lost their lives turn when tragedy strikes. Relatives of the bereaved seeking answers for their loved ones' deaths are too often appalled by the laxity of current regulations, and the Bill is primarily focused on addressing this issue. It demands investigation of incidents, tragic or potentially so, and calls people to account, one of its most important features. It demands that those who set out to participate in sports know exactly what they are doing.

If we can establish a reputation for operating to the highest international standards we will become an attractive option for participation in these activities for our own citizens as well as for overseas visitors. Operating within clearly defined safety standards enhances our reputation both at home and abroad. Ultimately people involved in delivering services in the area will find their livelihoods enhanced and participation more rewarding. We have unrivalled natural resources for such adventure activities, from Atlantic waves to the rolling hills of the Slieve Blooms. The authority proposed in the Bill will further enhance the reputation of this country as a holiday destination for great safe fun amid beautiful surroundings. The Bill is about ensuring people have fun in a safe and secure environment.

Responsible members of the industry will respond well to the authority and will seek to make it an effective regulator. They will see the advantages of having an effective standards authority which will enhance the image of their activities both at home and abroad.

Again, I ask the Minister to increase the sanctions available to the authority to ensure irresponsible operators do not go about their business unhindered and unimpeded. People's lives are at stake and no measure is too draconian in tackling rogue traders. They will not shirk when it comes to dodging their responsibilities, and the authority must have the power to ensure they will face the full rigours of the law.

The authority must be adequately staffed to ensure its main work is preventative. There are important provisions in the Bill which give the authority powers to investigate accidents and bring prosecutions where necessary. The old cliché that prevention is better than cure must be a core value of the new authority. Many of the activities of the authority will be seasonal which will put a further drain on staffing resources. In this regard the Internet, telephone and television cannot replace the work of the inspectorate. There is no substitute for an inspector's visit on site, expertly observing, checking and challenging. On-site visits can be of great assistance to the operators who wish to improve their service.

There is a provision in the Bill to allow experts and others to be engaged when required. This will ensure that an organisation which is small in terms of human resources can reach a long way in an effective manner. The focus of the authority must be accident prevention and the improvement of safety standards. While accident investigation is necessary and can be a useful learning process, we must try to ensure we learn from past mistakes.

I agree with the broad representation allowed for on the authority and I ask the Minister to consider allowing representation from the rescue services who sadly see the tragic results of poor safety standards. Their experience and advice could be invaluable. If things go wrong, it is their lives that are put at risk. The forum would give them a say in accident prevention. Full representation from all the relevant rescue services would make the authority unwieldy. A rescue services consultative forum should be established whereby the authority could learn from the services, including air rescue, fire, ambulance, marine and coastal rescue, Civil Defence, mountain rescue, cave rescue and RNLI to name but a few who have been at the front line of tragedy for many years. There is a wealth of experience available to the authority which has a huge task ahead of it. The forum could work as a valuable sounding board. The rescue services have a vested interest in the success of the authority and could provide it with a huge database of practical knowledge. Even at this stage I ask the Minister to consider putting such a forum on a statutory footing. There is too much to be learned from the rescue services to leave it to chance, and seeking their views must be a continuous process. The safety of all those who take to the sea, air, mountains, lakes or caves is at stake and we must learn from past mistakes.

This is a very important Bill which allows for the establishment and funding of the adventure activities standards authority. It has huge implications for the safety of all those who participate in adventure sports and will, I hope, ensure those participants live long, happy and adventure filled lives. I commend the Minister, Deputy Fahey, for bringing to the House this long overdue Bill which will have unforeseen benefits for thousands of adventurous people.

I welcome the Bill. I am pleased we are at last discussing it on Second Stage because I thought it would not be discussed before the next election. However, I am pleased we have advanced to this stage. I am particularly pleased because it is not often a Member of the Opposition gets an opportunity to introduce a Private Members' Bill, which I did when I introduced the Bill in March 1999.

The Minister and his officials were correct because it was restricted exclusively at the time to water-based activity centres. I recognised that this was a start but it could be broadened out afterwards. I accepted the arguments put forward by the Minister and his officials that, based on the Bill I presented, they would broaden it further and carry out a lot of research to ensure the legislation would encompass all adventure centres, whether inland or along the coastline. I welcomed the commitment given by the Minister to establish an interdepartmental working group to carry out research into the whole safety aspect of adventure centres. Obviously they had the benefit of being able to research what happened in the UK and took trips to both Scotland and England in this regard. That was important because we did not vote on the Bill at the time. I was very impressed with all the tributes paid to me at the time in moving forward the legislation.

I was motivated to introduce the legislation as a result of a series of meetings with Michael Davies who has been referred to on many occasions. The Minister also referred to Mr. Davies from Waterford. From the first time I met him, I was very impressed by his commitment and desire for legislation to underpin these activity centres. This man tragically lost his son, Ros, and another young man, as a result of what happened in Dunmore East which proved to me that there was a deficiency in the operation of adventure centres.

The Bord Fáilte marketing brochures describe Ireland as a holiday destination and encourage people to avail of adventure centres. It also states in its literature that it is up to individuals to take out appropriate insurance. I do not think this is right because in many cases people as young as six use these adventure centres. Parents who send young people to adventure centres deserve to know whether legislation underpins the performance and activities of these centres. The legislation will help in this regard.

I would like to pay tribute to the Association for Adventure Sports, AFAS, for the standards it sets down for the different adventure centres. It set down these standards and regulations on a shoestring budget but there was no compulsion on people to comply with the regulations. Not only were adventure centres operating under VEC control, but some commercial centres took guidance from AFAS and others operated on their own. I do not think people who use adventure centres would be aware of the difference or discriminate accordingly. There was always a degree of comfort in relation to centres which operated under the vocational education committees because they came under the Department of Education and Science and, God forbid, if anything happened, one would probably feel there were controls in place and one would be covered by insurance.

The legislation will broaden and enhance considerably the whole area of adventure centres. When the legislation is in place I would encourage the promotion of these centres in tourism brochures in order to encourage people to use more of these facilities. We are very fortunate to have 2,000 miles of coastline, including many wonderful locations, unused inlets and attractions for foreign visitors, marvellous lakes and so on and no crowding as such. We have a great country and that is why these adventure centres will be improved under the Bill.

In relation to commercial ventures where vocational education committees are involved, there are inherent advantages in their education centres. While we must recognise that commercial ventures operate in the world of reality, the legislation will require them to adhere to certain standards. I am concerned about section 20 in relation to the imposition of various charges, which is different to those operating under the Health and Safety Authority. I would like that aspect to be considered further. Perhaps there could be other minor modifications on Committee Stage.

The legislation covers a wide diversity of activities on which I do not intend to elaborate. There have been representations in regard to raft building and gorge walking. Another aspect which should be considered is field studies. This activity was mentioned on television yesterday where young people were allowed to take part in the activity as a result of a partial easing of the foot and mouth restrictions in England. These young people heard a person who had fallen down an old mine shaft shouting and saved his life. I would like to see that activity included in the legislation because it is carried on in leisure centres.

The Minister spoke about different aspects and I mentioned earlier the interdepartmental working group. I had a number of earlier consultations with Michael Guilfoyle on the issue and I wish to compliment him on the work he has put into it. As a result we now have very good legislation which will be accepted by those involved in adventure centres and in these activities. I wish the legislation well. It has vindicated the approaches to me by Mr. Davies which helped me to introduce my Bill and get the legislation moving. We needed to be galvanised into taking action in this area. I am pleased this has happened and I welcome the Bill.

I would like to refer to other provisions which are not in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will comment on this aspect because other legislation may have impacted on it. Jet skiing was referred to earlier and if we get a fine, blissful summer we will all become conscious of this activity around our coastline. Many young people with high levels of testosterone and a macho touch will be using these jet skis which I would classify as aquatic motorbikes. They will cause a lot of fear and trepidation among people living and visiting these areas along the coastline. I understand that controls were supposed to be introduced but this was to be by way of self-regulation by local authorities. I do not know how far this has advanced. The recent introduction of lifejackets was extremely important. Tragedies have taken place in the past due to the absence of lifejackets.

The sad loss of four Air Corps personnel on the coast of Waterford occurred after they had responded to an emergency call-out, where people were using a vessel which did not have life rafts, which should be standard equipment for anybody going out to sea but are often neglected. This should be covered by compulsory legislation, as also should be the case with regard to flares. Power boats can be highly dangerous, particularly going from inshore out to more choppy waters, and fatalities have also occurred in that context.

This Bill will help people to focus more on safety issues which they may have previously tended to ignore and I therefore welcome it. Having inquired about it on numerous occasions on the Order of Business and in questions to the Taoiseach, I was disappointed that it had not been introduced earlier, though I accept that much work was required on it. I hope that Second Stage will proceed swiftly and Committee Stage should not take very long. The legislation should be in operation this summer.

I too welcome this Bill for the establishment of the Adventure Activities Standards Authority, which many people would say is overdue. I commend the Department personnel, the working group who did an excellent job, and the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources for the effort which has been made to have a very comprehensive list. While many of the activities to be regulated are within the Minister's remit, quite a few activities are not.

On the establishment of the authority, there will be a mandatory registration procedure and mandatory codes for specified activities. Many people will be surprised to learn that this was not already the case, as there is a high level of risk attached to some of the activities concerned. The authority will, of course, be charged with implementing the regulatory scheme and with the important function of inspecting the various operators. In the event that an operation does not meet the standards, the authority will have the power to shut it down. That may well be the most important feature of the entire Bill.

There is provision for the authority to make recommendations to the Minister for regulations which may be introduced by him. I particularly welcome the provision for additional activities to be added on. Indeed, some of the activities are relatively new to me. The move towards adventure sports is welcome for many reasons. This Bill goes considerably further than the UK model, which I believe is a 1995 Act dealing only with water sports. This Bill is all the better and more efficacious for having taken on a much wider remit.

The working group undertook extensive consultations with the adventure sports sector and I understand that it got excellent co-operation from both the public and private centres involved. Although there was an existing code for voluntary inspection, I was surprised to note from the report of the interdepartmental group that so many operators were outside of that voluntary code. The Association for Adventure Activities and the Irish Sailing Association had done great work in setting up codes of practice as, in a sense, forerunners to the provisions of this Bill. However, it is much better to have a mandatory system. It appears that, heretofore, anyone was entitled to set up a commercial operation, offering training and participation in water sports and other activities, which are inherently quite dangerous if not conducted in accordance with a good code of safety. Apart from the risk to participants and to people in their vicinity, there was also a risk to those who might be called on to assist them in the event of something going wrong, as in the Tramore incident to which Deputy Finucane has referred.

In the Minister's introductory remarks, he mentioned that the campaign for this legislation goes back to an unfortunate accident some years ago. One of the great benefits which will flow from the Bill is that it will force people to be safety conscious. It will introduce a safety conscious ethos among people operating these activities. In fairness, most of them already come prepared and have the right frame of mind. However, in view of the substantial number of people now involved in these sports, it is essential to have a mandatory code.

Other speakers have referred to the submission from Outdoor Education Ireland, which is the association of public outdoor education centres. One of the activities which they suggest including in section 8 (1) is raft building, of which I had no knowledge until my attention was drawn to it while passing an activity centre in Killaloe recently. The definition of the activity which the association suggested is "the construction of a vessel from ropes, spars and buoyancy tanks, for the purpose of supporting crew members above the waterline, which is capable of being manoeuvred along a waterway." Apparently, it is a hugely popular activity with young people attending camps. The association has indicated that virtually everybody attending an adventure camp, either public or private, is likely to be involved in this activity at some stage. Since the participants construct the raft as well as try to sail it, there is considerable opportunity for things to go wrong. I believe the Minister is well disposed towards including it.

Gorge walking, which I cannot attempt to define, was also mentioned. It could well be an activity which should be included in the definition. The association suggested, in relation to section 20, that no fees or charges should be made on operators, in the way that the Health and Safety Authority operates. I ask the Minister to take that on board.

A very strong case was made on behalf of the public outdoor education centres that, in the case of the four nominees from adventure activity operators, there should be two each from the public and private centres. They appear to be under the impression that there is an agreement, at least in principle, that one of the public centre representatives should be from the chief executive officers' organisation and one from the Outdoor Education Ireland body. As these are the people with the greatest expertise in running adventure centres, there is a good case for giving them that level of representation.

They also raise what seems quite a sensible query in relation to the definition of hill walking and orienteering. They suggest that, rather than the 300 metre contour level, remote wilderness areas should be included in the Bill. Their suggested definition is "an area five kilometres from the nearest access road, or roadside help being more than one hour away." That seems to be a sensible suggestion, which I feel sure the Minister will consider.

They also mention a need for clarification in section 9(1)(f2>c). I suggest that the case is well made that it should read "any two or more of the activities in (f2>a) or (f2>b)." It is not the intention that someone operating only one such activity should be exempt from registration and compliance with the Act. There are two different sorts of definitions in A and B and that needs to be clarified.

In the whole area of health and physical education we have become more conscious and aware of the need to involve young people. Many of us did not have the opportunity to involve ourselves in any of the activities listed here and provision cannot be made for them in the normal second level education system. The VEC system provided outdoor centres with all these activities and allowed access to second level students and other groups. We have perhaps made the mistake of assuming the activities of these centres are activities for children and teenagers and we tend to exclude ourselves from them. One of the benefits of the enactment of this legislation might be that older people will opt to take part in some of these healthy activities. They give people a new experience and access to a new environment. If people embrace these activities and if they are delivered in a more regulated and organised way they have the potential to impact positively on the health status of our population. That will bring all kinds of benefits such as reducing the need for health care and will make people more conscious of the benefits of such activities.

A factor that inhibited the development of these centres was the remuneration package available to instructors in the public centres. I suspect the pay of many in the private centres was even worse. The Department of Education and Science, which effectively controls the running of the VEC centres, should address, as a matter of urgency, the pay of instructors in these centres. The people who work in them have an enormous commitment to making the activities safe and enjoyable for the participants. They go to great lengths to encourage people to take an interest subsequently and to take a long-term interest. Nothing destroys the capacity to survive of an individual, or of a service, as quickly as poor pay and conditions. If the kind of pay and conditions which pertained when I was chairman of a VEC some years ago still apply then they need to be addressed urgently. That can only be done in the public centres by the Department of Education and Science. If the public centres addressed it, the private centres would be forced to follow and the whole area of the standards of instructors could be addressed with it. Standards of instruction and safety would be raised generally and that would benefit everybody involved.

There are two centres operated by the VEC in County Clare, both in the Burren. The original outdoor pursuit centre is now joined with the UCG research centre and they operate in tandem. They provide a wonderful level of service for the people with access to them, not just schools but youth groups and sometimes adult groups. They provide a tremendous resource to people in the county and throughout the country.

Besides the health benefits of such centres there is tremendous potential in the area of tourism. The damage our industry sometimes suffers due to inclement weather conditions would not be a problem in the area of adventure activity. Many people, particularly those involved in water based activities, consider such inclement conditions to be an advantage. If, as a result of this legislation, we raise the standards in the area of adventure sports we will see great benefits in the tourism area. We have a long coastline, a lot of rugged countryside suitable for rock-climbing and many areas with accessible caves that would encourage visitors. We should look on it as a specific area of tourism open for a huge level of development.

Interestingly, it does not need a large level of capital investment and it has the capacity to enable areas, which in the past did not benefit greatly from tourism, to become beneficiaries. In my county the entire west coast area, and to some extent the Burren in the north, have benefited enormously from tourism and areas such as the Cliffs of Moher and created activities such as those at Bunratty folk park attract huge numbers of visitors. Other areas in east Clare like Mountshannon and Killaloe already have the capacity to enable people to participate in these sports but there is a huge area of the county where activities such as hill-walking and rock-climbing could be developed. These areas have traditionally depended on the limited amount of angling tourism which has not had the benefit of huge growth in recent times.

Perhaps I should refer to other adventure activities not suitable to be covered by this legislation but which need to be examined and if there is existing legislation in this area it needs to be tightened. I refer to funfairs, playgrounds and car racing which take place in semi-controlled conditions. These activities do not involve the participant in any meaningful activity that would carry a health benefit. They can, however, be the occasion of horrendous accidents. The area does not seem to be controlled as it should be. Another fact is that anybody could come along to almost any of our public beaches or waterways and set up a commercial activity such as canoeing, surfing, etc. without reference to any controlling authority or any code of safety. That must be cause for considerable concern and should be the first area addressed by the authority.

The authority should also address the qualification of those involved in running and directing the centres. Arising from that, there will be a need to provide training centres. We may be pleasantly surprised by the number of people prepared to take the opportunity to work in and operate these centres. The level of care and professionalism they will bring to them will enhance the entire area of activity sports and will lead to more involvement by the people and the natural resources of the countryside will be used in a more pro-active and meaningful way.

I commend the Minister for having introduced the Bill and the Department for embracing and including activities which might be sometimes considered outside their remit. I look forward to the establishment of the authority and its operation.

I also welcome this Bill. Its purpose is to establish a new legislative regime to promote and enhance the safety of all persons engaged in adventure activities. The Minister stated that its key purpose is the establishment of an independent adventure activity standard authority, and that is important. The need for such an authority was highlighted by Deputy Finucane when he introduced a similar Bill taking in part of this issue in August 1998. When it was before the House, Deputy Woods gave a commitment to establish an independent working group whose report would be followed by legislation. While the Minister said it worked speedily, such work takes time and we were waiting some time on this side of the House. The group was charged with making recommendations to improve the safety of adventure centres. It consulted widely with the main representative bodies in the sector in Ireland and in the UK to ascertain the effectiveness of UK legislation. It is important to learn from others.

The group submitted its report in June 1999. It found there was a case for reform of statutory regulation. It is important, bearing in mind the dangers to young children, that parents, teachers and all involved ensure that children are as safe as possible and that the regulations are met. We all know of accidents and the Minister referred to some in his speech. They occur too often and this area needs proper regulation.

The function of the adventure activity standard authority will be to promote, facilitate and regulate the safety operations of adventure activities. It will administer schemes and grants. Grants are important to procure or provide educational training and advisory services, or carry out research. The Bill defines all the adventure sports and some are dangerous. Yesterday, there was the case of an Englishman trapped in a cave who was found by accident, illustrating how dangerous these sports can be. Under the Bill, adventure activity operators must register with the authorities. Importantly, there will be inspectors authorised by the authority.

All this will add to the cost of running these centres. The Minister does not mention a commitment to cover the extra costs. Insurance is already dear and meeting the regulations will add to costs. We must make sure the young who benefited from these places will continue to do so. If costs are increased dramatically, they may lose the chance. People who are healthier than I am will appreciate that the young should be taught and encouraged in these activities.

The Bill provides that the authority will investigate any accident, incident or any other matter related to the general purposes of the activities. Investigation will be solely to establish the cause of accidents and the adequacy of the published codes of practice. If there is an accident, it is important that there will be a proper follow up and measures put in place to ensure a similar accident does not occur.

My main reason for speaking tonight is the Tannagh outdoor pursuits centre, at Dardry, near Cootehill on the Cavan-Monaghan border. It has been there for nine years, employing eight people. The chairman of the Tannagh pursuits body, my fellow councillor, Hugh McIlvanney, said that it lives on a wing and a prayer. As Oireachtas Members, we got a briefing from its committee a couple of years ago. It is difficult to accept that a centre so close to the Border, with the EU INTERREG and peace and reconciliation funds, and money available for other projects such as the National Stadium, is not properly funded. Thousands of young people from the area and other counties, like Monaghan and Meath, and north of the Border benefit from this centre. It is in an old building owned by the White Fathers, which was used for many years as a seminary and then as an Army barracks. The White Fathers lease the premises for a small sum to the VEC, a gesture from them towards not just the young of the region but towards peace and reconciliation as groups from all backgrounds meet there, have fun and get involved in activities such as water sports and forest walks. The VEC subsidised the income from the participants. It has the opportunity to acquire six acres of Coillte land if it were not in its interests to buy the Tannagh centre itself.

The VEC has to buy or lease the centre long-term because Government and other institutions will not give major grants to rented property. We appreciate this. Whenever the VEC sought funding to buy the Coillte land, it was told it could not get money for that. This Coillte land is just across the road from the centre, it is right along the lake, in the middle of the forest and is along a quite a large river. It is has all sorts of potential. It is within a couple of miles of the Cavan border and the town of Cootehill would benefit greatly from it – a town that needs this sort of structure.

Under the new regulations being brought forward under the VEC (Amendment) Bill, Cavan and Monaghan vocational education committees could work together on this and make sure it is a major project. It is not sufficient to talk about regulations and so on. In a Border region that has suffered so much over the last 30 odd years and which has the goodwill of the White Fathers and others to provide the facilities at reasonable cost, I urge the Government to make an effort to make sure something is done now. In case the Minister thinks this is the first time this has been raised here, I assure him it is not and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle can verify what I am saying. I picked a few letters from the file and I have one here from the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, dated 30 November 1997. In answer to a number of questions I had asked about VEC issues, the query relating to the Tannagh outdoor education centre—

Deputy Crawford, the Chair has been more than lenient in allowing you to wander a little from the substance of the Bill before us.

It is still extremely important.

In case you give bad example to other Deputies, I think you should go back to the Bill before us.

That letter said it would be dealt with by the Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation. Other letters said it would be dealt with after a major inquiry. That inquiry was presented on 12 January 1999 and the position of Tannagh centre was to be considered in the context of that inquiry. Another letter dated July 1999 said more of the same, more recently, a letter said it was being investigated and the last letter I have dated June 2000 said inquiries were being made into it.

It is important that this Bill is brought in but it will not be very relevant to Cavan-Monaghan if the funds are not made available soon to a major and very important centre such as the Tannagh outdoor pursuits centre. Never before has so much money been available. The youth should be encouraged to get involved in sport and other activities undertaken at this pursuits centre. It would be better than having longer pub hours. We want to make sure young people get every opportunity and encouragement to become involved in this area and to ensure it is properly regulated, which is what this Bill is all about. I hope that as this Bill is going through the House, the Government will look seriously at the points raised about the need for support and genuine commitment to young people. This is not just a request – I am literally begging the Government at this late stage. There have been so many inquiries and discussions and it is now time for action.

As the purpose of this Bill is to provide for the enactment of a new legislative regime to promote and enhance the safety of all people who engage in adventure activities in adventure centres, I thoroughly welcome it. I also welcome the establishment of the independent standards authority to regulate the safety of adventure activity centres and providers. This Bill has the potential to benefit most age groups and all class divides. It will allow for the establishment of the authority; the mandatory registration of the centres and providers with the authority for specified activities; for the mandatory codes of safe operating practice for specified adventure activities; for the implementation of the regulatory scheme involving inspection of centres and providers and for adherence to safety codes. It will also give powers to the authority to order cessation of the provision of any, or all, adventure activities in the case of failure to observe safety codes. In that respect, it is embracing, although I will address a couple of points as I go along in relation to what it allows for and what it probably does not allow for.

It is very sad that this legislation was moved on because of the death of the young people in Dunmore East. Coming from a coastal community that has experienced a number of casualties and fatalities at the hands of the water, I extend my sympathy, even at this late stage, to all the families who have lost members to the sea, either as a result of adventure activities or a commercial endeavour in which they were involved.

It was important that the Department carry out the review. I am glad to recognise Deputy Finucane's role in this and to see that best practice was sought and looked for not only in the UK but further afield. Listening to some of the more learned contributors this evening, we have surpassed the UK in terms of what is being done in this Bill. The interdepartmental working group, which completed its report in June 1999, found that the safety standards in the sector are generally high and with little risk to the participants from the activities themselves. That is a great testament to the facilities we have around the country.

As many speakers said, adventure centres are only being to happen. We have a tremendous centre in County Donegal, the Gartan centre, which came from basically nothing to become a centre with a great name and reputation. Those in the VEC at the time who asked that it be bought are very proud. Despite the fact many different Departments fought against them at the time, it was a wise, great and important move. Many politicians know Gartan because of the winter school. It is an extremely good example of what the interdepartmental group would have found in terms of high standards in a place that needs them.

Adventure centres are only beginning to happen in Ireland and there is potential all around our coast and throughout the country. It is important that we take a strong line in relation to safety. Everyone deserves a safe environment in which to enjoy themselves and a decent chance to avail of a recreational opportunity. Given that the main provisions in the Bill provide for the standards authority, which will be made up of 15 members, it will be important that there is a variety of interests on the board. I agree a teamwork approach should be taken. I smiled when I heard Deputy Dukes give out, in a sense, that the Minister had taken on a very superior role in that he would be able to fire members of the authority or even its director and not have to explain his actions. Deputy Dukes gave me the distinct impression that he assumed a Fianna Fáil Minister would be in place forever more. I thank him for his commendation of the current Government and his endorsement that we will be in this situation for quite some time.

He was luring the Deputy into a false sense of security.

I am only reiterating what I heard earlier.

Debate adjourned.
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