I am glad to return to this Adventure Activities Standards Authority Bill. I had just referred to the issue of the membership of the authority and I will continue to discuss the function of the activities standards authority. The authority will cross quite a number of divides with the promotion, encouragement, fostering, facilitation and the regulation of safe operation of adventure activities. As the Minister outlined it will be empowered to administer schemes and grants to procure and provide educational training or advisory services and to carry out research. That broad scope is extremely important. It will advise the Minister on other matters relating to adventure activities and he will be able to confer additional functions on the authority by way of order, after consultation with the authority. That flexibility is very important.
I disagree with Deputy Dukes when he says the authority has too many roles. I come across groups all supposedly looking after a similar issue but they often fall between stools when looking for support. A group might look for funding from one agency which will say it gives advice but not funding and another which will say it gives training but not advice. That is how it happens and groups may have to go from agency to agency seeking support. That this authority will have so many roles looking after many aspects of the one issue will overcome some of the problems we have had in other agencies to date. To have one agency for all aspects is good, in terms of co-ordination, for the true development of activity centres. If it was not to be so broad, then surely it would have come under the Health and Safety Authority and we would not need a new organisation at all. Perhaps the Minister will have a view on that when he replies at the conclusion of Second Stage. If, as Deputy Dukes seemed to say last night, we only want an authority to deal specifically with the safety aspect then surely we do not need this authority as we already have the Health and Safety Authority.
This authority will oversee adventure activities in 13 activities. I see that the definition includes hill-walking in areas higher than 300 metres, orienteering in areas more than 300 metres above sea level, caving, dinghy sailing, kayaking, canoeing, surfing with a surfboard, wind-surfing, scuba diving, snorkelling, abseiling, archery and rock climbing. Is that all embracing in terms of the activities that could be included? Things like jet-skiing, water-skiing and raft racing are much more related to the things that are there than what we mentioned last night. Bungee jumping was mentioned then and I was indirectly asked whether I had participated in it. There are other marine activities that would be related to the activities there but they will be excluded under this. Are they already included under some existing authority? If not, why are they not included? Will the Minister look at this in relation to what he said concerning the facility to expand the scope of the authority by adding or deleting items from the list? He should perhaps look at all water based activities as one thing. That brings us to my original point that if we are to have one group looking after all aspects of these 13 activities then associated activities not coming under the remit of the authority will defeat the whole purpose of the authority.
I am glad that under the role of the authority it will be mandatory for all adventure activity operators within these specified adventure activities to register with the authority and the authority will develop codes of practice for the specified activities. It will be mandatory for the operators to abide by the codes that will be introduced. It is very important that the operators are inspected by the authority and that there is scope, in cases of non-compliance with the code, for the authority to direct an operator to suspend or cease the provision of the activity or to remove the operator from the list. The mandatory aspects of registration and the code of practice and inspections are essential. Last year I pressed for the mandatory training for fishermen, because I believe it is not right to have only a voluntary code in an area with the potential for loss of life. Voluntary codes will not always be followed. People can lose lives unnecessarily and just as in leisure activities, it is important to have mandatory codes in commercial fishing. I welcome the introduction of codes of practice as they improve standards and standardisation.
I spoke on the Agriculture Appeals Bill on Tuesday. This was a long awaited opportunity for farmers to put their cases on many schemes beyond the two schemes being discussed under the Bill. Only now are we bringing in a facility for appeals on a wide range of agriculture schemes. It is already in operation for social welfare. It is just a matter of time before people will ask for an appeals system in relation to this Bill. Can there be an appeals system for genuine cases where people are closed down? Just as in agriculture cases, there will always be a genuine case.
Who will inspect the inspectors and what qualifications will inspectors have? On the issue of charging for inspections, if the Health and Safety Authority does not charge for its inspections why is there a charge being proposed here? Something more constructive would be to link grant aid, particularly now at the start, to bringing people up to a particular standard. That would be more welcome than the threat of inspection fees. Which comes first the inspection or the opening of a centre or what is the time scale? I assume it is like a Bord Fáilte approval and that within a certain amount of time one's premises must get accreditation.
I am very disappointed that education is not being covered. It is noted in the Minister's speech that the Bill only covers those who provide adventure activities on a commercial basis. It does not cover schools or educational establishments and the Minister has said that it is a complex area. Schools get involved in adventure activities but far too little is done. The Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Health and Children are talking about looking at having schools included in the definition. This cannot happen soon enough. While the matter will probably require detailed investigation it should really have been taken on now and should not be something to be considered after the authority has been set up.
The new regulations will perhaps make schools, particularly the less well off ones, unwilling to undertake adventure activities. I am very worried about this. The point was made that disadvantaged schools would lose out because of the cost of inspections. I look at that from the angle that we may compromise safety where it is needed most, if we do not include schools. Schools will provide activities, not on a commercial basis, so they will not have to comply with the safety standards prescribed for commercial activities. Is a death worth a break in safety provision? Is it not worth bringing these people in under the regulations? We compromise safety where it is most needed if we exclude schools and it is exclusively our young people in the school environment who will suffer rather than the commercial operators whose very existence is based on displays of safety. Any cross-departmental review must happen soon.
Schools should engage in more adventure activity. Seaside schools should have access to marine adventure facilities. This should be looked at by the Departments of Health and Children, Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Education and Science, and the Marine and Natural Resources. For safety purposes, they should be run on a commercial basis as those concerned maintain their name by ensuring good standards. When I was at school, our annual adventure day was a ten mile walk to Creagh for charity. Most participants avoided the full walk by taking a short-cut when the teacher was not looking. That is no longer the case in schools. I was involved in Healthy Eating Week and believe that we should look after our children and their health by encouraging them into action. We are aware of the statistics on obesity and that people complain about the lack of facilities for children. However, many children are not culturally attuned to existing sports and recreational facilities.
When I taught in England, the teaching year started on the last day in August and ran to the last week in July. A week was designated in June or July for all children and teachers to be involved in adventure activities. Depending on their means, they went skiing, hiking or engaged in equestrian, marine or other activities. It was healthy because the children learned teamwork. They worked together and got to know the teachers in a different light.
The cross-Border aspect is important. The June 1999 report examined facilities in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. I taught in Coleraine where there were good facilities and the school used the nearby outdoor adventure centres. I live close to Coleraine and once the car ferry to Magilligan, for which I thank the Minister, is operational next Easter, we can be there in 20 minutes. The location of County Donegal shows that we need all-Ireland links on safety. People living in my region do not recognise borders, just distances to the nearest facilities. I live on the Foyle, which is administered by both jurisdictions. There must also be plans for rivers on which so many activities take place, such as angling, boating and yachting and which are used by adventure centres, commercial traffic, cruise liners, rescue boats and so on. Plans must include all interests. The Foyle is a good example of the need for co-ordinated regulations. I suggest that the authority becomes an all-island one.
On the question of facilities, there are opportunities in Inishowen for hill walking, swimming, raft racing, water skiing, jet skiing, canoeing and yachting. Many happen haphazardly and would benefit by being co-ordinated with hotels to be sold as packages alongside equestrian activities and golf. I thank the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources for the leisure study and the infrastructural development. The Ministers, Deputies Woods and Fahey, were the first to invest seriously in infrastructural development in County Donegal for decades.
Council studies show that there is an interest in public-private developments. On the Swilly, Foyle and north coast, perhaps at Bunargy Harbour, marinas should be utilised to generate employment and money. A focus is needed. We suffer from chicken and egg syndrome – without facilities we have no tourism and without tourism we have no facilities. However, Gartan is a good example of what can be done. Water based activities are a healthy option for all ages.
Life is unhealthy for many who have no peace of mind, let alone physical well-being. The legislation is important because physical activities must have standards. The loss of Mr. Davies and the subsequent campaign must lead to some tangible benefit for other families committed to outdoor pursuits. We can introduce regulations but only the operators of adventure centres and participants can ensure safety. We cannot force them but can assist with regulations. It is unfortunate that it requires a stick and not a carrot but the authority will play a major part in the development of adventure activities.