Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to introduce the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 for the consideration of the House. The primary purpose of this Bill is to give effect to certain aspects of the Government's ports policy statement launched in 2005. In line with the objectives contained within the ports policy statement, the Bill seeks to further underpin and enhance the commercial freedom conferred on our State commercial port companies under the Harbours Act 1996. Our commercial ports have played a key role in facilitating economic growth in the State and, notwithstanding the current economic difficulties, as an island nation we remain dependant upon seaborne trade to drive economic growth. To facilitate such growth, it is crucial that our ports remain capable of responding to the commercial challenges they face.

The development of this Bill has been shaped by an extensive consultation process and builds upon not only the recommendations and proposals contained in the Government's ports policy statement, launched in January 2005, but the work carried out by the high level review of the State commercial ports in 2003 and the statutory performance audit of the port companies carried out by Jonathan Packer in 2001-2002. A number of the objectives contained in the ports policy statement require legislative change and the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 is designed to incorporate these important recommendations into primary legislation. The Bill also seeks to address certain anomalies in respect of the Harbours Act, which have come to light since its enactment.

As Deputies are already aware, the explanatory and financial memorandum accompanying the Bill provides a concise summary of each section. However, I would like to take this opportunity to expand on a number of areas of the Bill that I believe are of particular importance and to refer to some amendments made arising out of the Bill's passage through the Seanad.

One of the fundamental areas for reform of the sector, as identified in the ports policy statement, was the need to enhance the commercial mandate of the port companies by facilitating improved port company board performance through the reform of board structure. The Harbours Act 1996 provides for port company boards to consist of 12 members comprising of three directors appointed on the nomination of the relevant local authority, one or two employee directors, depending on the size of the company, either directly elected by the employees or appointed by the Minister to represent employee interests, and a chief executive officer. The remaining directors are appointed at the discretion of the Minister. Twelve directors is considered excessive for the State port companies. In the case of some of the smaller companies, the number of directors exceeds the total number of employees and has the potential to create an additional financial burden on those companies. Section 8, therefore, amends the articles of association of each port company to provide for a total of eight directors on each board. This reduction will ensure that port companies are better equipped to respond rapidly in a focused manner to any commercial challenges that may arise. To achieve this reduction, section 11 amends the 1996 Act by removing the statutory representation of local authority directors on boards and by standardising the number of employee directors at one per port company.

Notwithstanding this proposed overall reduction, it is intended that all current directors will serve out their full terms of office. I recognise the significance of these proposals and, in light of this, I would like to outline the rationale behind these amendments and the policy context in which they are made.

As Deputies are aware, the State commercial port companies emerged with the enactment of the Harbours Act 1996. Prior to that date, the sector was characterised by harbour boards with representatives from various interest groups, ministerial nominees and a number of local authority representatives. These harbour boards were characterised by unclear mandates, public utility ownership, a localised perspective and local monopolies.

While the commercial harbours review group, whose findings helped shape the Harbours Act 1996, recommended the removal of local authority representation and a streamlined corporate governance structure for the new companies at board level, the 1996 Act allowed for the continued statutory representation of three local authority directors on each company board. It should be noted that the port companies are alone among the State commercial sector in continuing to have this statutory provision for local authority representation. Since its enactment in 1996, the Act, and the sector, has been subject to a number of reviews, including the statutory performance audit of the port companies undertaken by Jonathan Packer in 2001 and 2002 and the high level review of the State commercial port companies in 2003. Both of these studies recommended the removal of the statutory representation of local authority directors. The developments that have occurred in the sector since the enactment of the 1996 Act have resulted in a major organisational and cultural change within the ports. While I acknowledge the substantial and valuable inputs over the years from local authority directors, I am satisfied the rationale for this continued statutory representation is no longer evident.

In line with the recommendations contained in both the statutory performance audit of the port companies in 2001 and 2002, and the 2003 high level review of the State commercial ports, I believe it appropriate to grant our port companies the same freedom as that conferred on other State commercial companies and remove this restrictive position as regards board membership. However, it is my intention to continue to appoint a local authority director from among my own nominees. This should help alleviate the understandable concerns of those who feel that this removal of the statutory provision represents an unwelcome break from tradition.

Does he need to be a member of Fianna Fáil?

Section 11 also proposes to standardise the number of employee directors at one per port company. The current provisions allow for two employee directors being appointed at just three ports — Dublin, Cork and Shannon Foynes. The other seven ports either elect one employee director or have an employee director appointed to the board by the Minister. In the context of the overall reduction in board numbers from 12 to eight directors, it is considered that one employee director is appropriate to represent employee interests at board level. This representation ensures that port company employees will continue to make a valuable contribution to the strategic decision-making processes of the port companies.

While it may seem incongruous to talk of additional port capacity in the current economic climate, a cornerstone of the ports policy statement is the need to ensure that our commercial port companies are encouraged and equipped to provide adequate and on-time port capacity. It is vital that our ports are capable of responding to the needs of enterprise so as to facilitate economic growth into the future.

Section 3 has specific implications for the proposed development of a new deep water facility at Bremore by Drogheda Port Company and its partners. This section will amend the 1996 Act and insert a list of principles and policies a Minister shall have regard to when considering an application to alter a company's harbour limits. The insertion of such principles and policies is in line with advice received from the Attorney General and is consistent with the rulings given in the Mulcreevy and City View Press judgments. These principles include planning applications or planning permissions under the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2006, various regulatory processes under the Foreshore Act 1933, navigational safety as well as the current and expected capacity of the harbour.

The Bill will further enhance the capabilities of port companies in providing additional port capacity by introducing a greater degree of flexibility into a port company's borrowing capabilities. My Department's study of national seaport capacity issues in 2006 identified a number of significant infrastructural investment proposals. The development and successful completion of these projects may require significant borrowings by the port companies concerned. Currently, the 1996 Act restricts the port companies to borrowing a sum up to 50% of the value of their fixed assets, subject to the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance. Section 9 of the Bill allows for a port company, or a subsidiary, to borrow up to €200 million or 50% of the value of its fixed assets, whichever is higher. The borrowings will of course remain subject to the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance. In addition, section 9 will insert the principles and policies a Minister shall have regard to when making an order to vary the 50% limit, which is also in line with the judgments I mentioned.

The Bill also seeks to enhance the ability of port companies to invest outside the limits of their harbours. Currently, port companies are restricted under section 11(4)(d) of the 1996 Act from investing outside the State unless such investment would “promote the interest of trade or tourism in the State”. Section 4 of the Bill will delete this restrictive provision and section 5 provides for port companies to invest outside their harbour limits, including outside the State, provided consent from both the Minister and the Minister for Finance has been granted. The removal of this restrictive limitation is in line with the strategic objective of enhancing and underpinning the commercial ethos of our commercial ports sector and brings the sector into line with other State commercial bodies such as the ESB and the Dublin Airport Authority.

Section 7 pertains to the transfer of certain ministerial responsibility regarding the compulsory purchase of land by port companies to An Bord Pleanála. Currently, port companies seeking to make a compulsory purchase order must apply for a ministerial acquisition order under the Fourth Schedule to the Harbours Act 1996. While this function has been exercised only once since its enactment, it is felt more appropriate that this power be transferred to An Bord Pleanála given its role, pursuant to the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006, as the determining body in respect of planning consent for strategic infrastructure developments at commercial ports. With the new role conferred on the board since 2006 with regard to strategic infrastructure, it is anticipated that An Bord Pleanála will over time acquire and build up a body of expertise and experience in the planning aspects of major infrastructural development generally and particularly, in this case, on port projects. In these circumstances, a strong case can be made that the board would be better placed to adjudicate on port company applications for the compulsory acquisition of land rather than the Minister of the day.

In light of these considerations and that similar functions with regard to the compulsory acquisition of land by Aer Rianta were transferred to the board under the Air Navigation and Transport (Amendment) Act 1998, I believe this proposal is the correct approach to take with regard to the State commercial ports. Similar transfers of ministerial functions have taken place in respect of compulsory acquisition of land by local authorities under the Roads Acts and Housing Act. As I have already mentioned, while there has only been one such application under the Harbours Act in the past 13 years, it is felt appropriate in the interests of best practice and consistency that these functions regarding the commercial ports sector be also transferred to An Bord Pleanála.

While the Bill is primarily designed to address issues identified in the State commercial port sector, I have no doubt that Deputies are aware of the vigorous debate that took place in the Seanad regarding section 18 of the Bill and its potential implications for two of our regional harbours. The proposal sought to provide a legislative basis for the recommendations contained within the 1999 review of the State's regional harbours, and reiterated in the 2003 high level review and the 2005 ports policy statement. It introduced an enabling provision allowing for a ministerial order to be made transferring Tralee and Fenit Harbour to the control of Shannon Foynes Port Company and Bantry Bay to Port of Cork Company. This is a third option in addition to the two options that already exist under the 1996 Act, that is, establishment of a private company or transfer to local authority control.

Arising from the debate on the provision, I was happy to accept an amendment to the section to provide for a statutory consultation period prior to any order being made to transfer these particular harbours to port company control. A local consultation period such as that now included in the section will ensure that all stakeholders will be given an opportunity to present their opinions as to the future status and management of these two important regional harbours.

Furthermore, and consistent with the recommendations of the ports policy statement which called for the transfer to local authority control of regional harbours with little or no commercial traffic, the Bill also provides for the future transfer to local authority control of Arklow Harbour. At the time of drafting the 1996 Act, consideration was being given to establishing a commercial port company in respect of Arklow Harbour. Therefore, the harbour was not included in the list of regional harbours listed in section 87(2) of the 1996 Act that may, subject to a ministerial order, be transferred to a relevant local authority. Since Arklow Harbour no longer has any significant level of commercial traffic, it is considered appropriate that the harbour should appear in this list, which will permit its transfer to local authority control along with other similar harbours across the country.

Accordingly, section 17 will delete it from the list of harbours to be established as commercial port companies and include it in the list of harbours in section 87(2), which may then be transferred to local authority control subject to ministerial order. While the section will remove Arklow Harbour from the list of harbours to be established as commercial port companies, inclusion in the list referred to above will also mean that a company could be established in respect of the harbour subject, once again, to ministerial order. That provision has never been invoked since the enactment of the Harbours Act in 1996.

The Bill also contains a number of amendments to the Harbours Act 1996 regarding pilotage and pilotage services. These changes address a number of issues identified since the original Act was passed and changes that are required on foot of the separate provision to alter harbour limits. It is my intention to introduce a further amendment relating to pilotage on Committee Stage to raise the upper age limit for retirement of marine pilots from 60 to 65 years of age. This has been the subject of extensive consultation between the Department and the Association of Marine Pilots of Ireland, as well as the Irish Ports Association.

The overriding objective of the Bill is to improve and enhance the commercial ethos of our State port companies so that they can continue to serve as facilitators of economic growth. It is self-evident that a vibrant, dynamic and competitive commercial ports sector is vital to our future economic growth and prosperity. The Bill builds upon the important provisions contained within the ports policy statement. As well as enhancing the corporate management structures of the port companies, the Bill will aid port development plans. It will further enhance the commercial ethos conferred on our ports by the Harbours Act 1996 and ensure that they are positioned to respond to the challenges they will face.

If Deputy Broughan wants to submit an amendment whereby only Fianna Fáil members can be appointed to these boards, I would be delighted to accept it on Committee Stage.

The Minister would have no problem with County Louth.

No, I would like elections. Let us have some democratic control.

This important debate has national and local implications for harbour authorities and boards. While I support some important elements of the Bill, I do not support others that are at serious variance with the current period. We are about to elect people to local bodies to effect the changes and policies wanted and needed by their communities. At the heart of the Bill is an anti-democratic principle, in that it will replace three publicly appointed local government representatives with an individual nominated by the Minister of the day. This is a serious error, given that we are discussing local democracy and people's expression of the opinions of their communities and businesses. Local authorities bring together development plans and the forces of development in an economic balance, but that knowledge is to be removed from harbour authorities except where the Minister or his successors appoint someone. This is a core issue.

I have met a number of local government members and the General Council of County Councils, which represents all parties. The collective wisdom of the elected local representatives is such that they should be able to retain their memberships on the boards in the same manner as has been the case to date, that is, they nominate their own members. Louth and Meath county councils and the Drogheda borough council appoint people to the Drogheda Harbour board. This has an advantage and I am sure that it is the case in other counties. Where there are adjoining local authorities, yet the Minister only selects one of the three bodies in question to be represented, problems will arise. For example, will the representative have the combined wisdom of the local authorities concerned? Clearly not.

Will the Minister reconsider the matter and, on Committee Stage, table amendments to retain the elected local representatives on the harbour authorities as they currently exist? It would help the Bill, in that all government concerns communities and their members' involvement. As elected Members, we collectively represent the country. On harbour authorities, people would represent their local communities.

I agree with much of the Bill's content. For example, harbour authorities have changed over the years. I fully support and subscribe to the principle of dynamic, modern, efficient and effective harbour authorities. An authority must be business-like and as competitive as possible. I support the question of commercial freedom and competition between ports. I also support new management structures and maximising private sector involvement in our ports. Over the years, the Minister has consulted widely on this legislation and many important players in the public and private sectors have commented on it.

I accept the principle as it relates to the Drogheda Port Company, which is an important part of the Bill if we are to facilitate the proposal to build a new port at Bremore. I am happy to support it. The Attorney General has advised that there are not sufficient principles and policies in the 1996 Act to allow such an alteration of the harbour limits. Therefore, an amendment is considered necessary. The Bill will facilitate the modern and dynamic development of Drogheda Port at a new location at Bremore. I welcome that it will also facilitate the Drogheda Harbour authority's commercial activities and excellent plans, to which everyone looks forward.

The question of ancillary movements in connection with the new port at Bremore arises. On several occasions I have made a point to the Minister regarding the new Drogheda Port's connectivity with the Leinster outer orbital route to facilitate the movement of products into the market. The current road network, the M1, is chock-a-block, particularly early in the mornings, as the Minister knows. After nearing the airport, one can be sitting in one's car for up to an hour before entering or getting around the city. While I welcome the changes made to the M50, a proper distribution network from the new port at Bremore will require the construction of the Leinster outer orbital route as soon as possible. It does not form part of the national development plan or Government proposals, but it should do. If the new port at Bremore is efficient, there will be a greater amount of traffic on the current road network. Therefore, the port will be less efficient without the essential road network.

While my next questions are more pertinent to Committee Stage, I will put them on the record now. The Minister's briefing document refers to how the Harbours Act provides for port companies to have regard to any relevant Government policy or guidelines on the acquisition of land.

It states, "It is considered appropriate in the interests of consistency and best practice that this provision should apply also to the disposal of land by such companies". Have issues arisen in respect of port companies not having due regard for Government policy or guidelines regarding the disposal of land? Are some authorities disposing of land improperly or not according to the wishes of the authorities as such in contravention of Government policies or guidelines, as that would be a highly significant issue? The fact this matter is placed first in the list of the Bill's objectives means this point must be of some significance. In his response or on Committee Stage, the Minister should have regard to this matter.

I note the commentary on the Department's website includes comments on the pension funds of some port companies. While I wish to make a carefully constructed point in this regard, it relates specifically to three port companies that do not have the same pension funding arrangements as do other ports. The Minister should explain the implications and what this means because this also is a significant comment. Are adequate pension arrangements in place in those authorities and if not, will the Bill regularise the position?

Another issue that arises concerns the proposal to allow port companies to borrow money and to invest, which I greatly welcome. The Minister mentioned a limit of €200 million or of 50% of the value of a company's fixed assets, subject to the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance. I refer to the present economic climate and value of properties as obviously the economy was in a completely different mode when this provision was drafted. The value of the fixed assets of port authorities that wish to borrow money may be significantly less at present and consequently, they may not be able to borrow as much. What implications, if any, will this have for the operation of port authorities?

I wish to ask a second question on an intriguing issue. This legislation will allow port companies to invest outside the State and it is fine if a company wishes to do so. In his reply or on Committee Stage, the Minister should tease out the reason this provision is necessary and what implications, if any, it might have in the future. I do not have a problem with the Minister empowering the port authorities to borrow the money themselves, which means such investment will come out of the public purse. However, given the history of the present economic crisis and because of the mismanagement of resources by banks and other financial institutions, how will the Minister ensure that any investment made will be based on the value of the fixed assets? In addition, what criteria, if any, will apply to borrowing for the purposes of investing outside the State? In other words, will due diligence be performed on their activities and how will the Minister make them accountable? While I appreciate the purpose of this Bill is to make the port companies more independent and more commercially inclined, how will the Minister ensure that such investment is done wisely and well? The key point is that without interfering too much with any such investment decision and given the alacrity with which such decisions must be made at times, the Minister must ensure there is a balance between the business plan and the realities on the ground.

I agree with the Minister regarding the transfer of functions from the Minister for Transport to An Bord Pleanála in the context of the compulsory acquisition of lands by port authorities and do not have a problem with that. Ultimately, the net point reverts to the directors of the company and I refer to the excision of local authority members from these bodies with the exception of the Minister's appointee. I ask the Minister to reflect on this issue.

I have read the Seanad debate, in which this issue was much discussed. On full examination of the issue, I do not discern a reason local authority members should not remain as members of the board. One of the arguments made by the Minister in favour of removing them pertained to a reduction in time for port staff and a reduction in administration costs arising from a decrease in the number of board members to be serviced. This would be of minor benefit and I cannot imagine that sending out four additional notices to board members would constitute a significant financial imposition on anyone.

The removal of public involvement of public representatives in harbour authorities by this legislation will have a significant and adverse impact on planning in the area and on the information the board will have when it makes a decision. There is an informal accountability at present in respect of public representatives nominated by county or borough councils. While they are not obliged to account for what they say or do or how they vote on such bodies, what requirement is the Minister placing on the new boards of harbour authorities to ensure full and proper consultation in respect of local authority development plans?

I wish to ask the Minister a question on the Bill itself to which he may respond at the appropriate time. I refer to the proposed changes to the limits of Drogheda Port Company. The Minister or one of his departmental officials should identify the reason for this. I do not have a problem with changing the limits as the harbour board must be dynamic, practical and business-like. I understood the prime purpose of the Bill in respect of County Louth was to change the location of the port. However, the Bill also extends its present limits "along the Baltray Road to the village of Baltray, from there ... to Duff's Farm". It encompasses a significant area in County Louth and goes from thence in the direction of County Meath, "to the southern limits of the townland of Bettystown" including "the high water mark of the eastern shore of the townland of Mornington" and so on. What is happening in this regard? I acknowledge this is a local issue. This involves significant communities in County Meath, as I am sure the Minister is aware because he was the Deputy for that area. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Kirk, and I now represent it.

The Deputy should look after them as well as I did.

The Minister's party did well there at the last election. Nevertheless, will this now mean that Mornington, Baltray and Termonfeckin, if Duff's Farm is located in Termonfeckin, are, by definition, harbour or port areas? If so, what does this imply in respect of local development plans? A High Court case was taken arising from the limits of the Drogheda harbour authority some years ago and its limit was fixed to a particular location. I wish to make clear that I do not oppose the new location of the port at Bremore. However, how will the new designation as a harbour area affect Baltray, the area around Termonfeckin, around east Meath and Mornington and Bettystown in particular, where thousands of new houses have been built and in which people are living in an area that is zoned residential at present? Has this been done in consultation with local authorities? I ask this question because when one no longer serves on a local authority, one is not fully familiar with what is happening in respect of such issues. However, it is an important point that I must make. While I have an open mind on the answer, this will affect two aspects. The Minister is extending the existing boundaries and changing the location. There is support for the new location at Bremore but there will be total opposition to extending it to residential communities, whose amenities will be under significant and serious threat, particularly in the areas of Baltray golf course, Laytown, Bettystown and Mornington.

There are positive aspects to the Bill. I accept the bona fides of many of the principles but what is at the core of the Bill is the effective removal of public representatives from harbour authorities and we do not accept this. I support the Minister's point that at present, commercial operators in the port can be on the board. This legislation will disbar them specifically but it is the intention that the business community will be part of the membership of the harbour authority. My colleagues have points to make about different locations.

It is our intention to debate these matters fully on Committee Stage. I ask the Minister to reconsider the removal of public representatives. The worst of all worlds is that, if the Bill is passed, the Minister will appoint one member and this creates problems where there are adjoining counties and local authorities. It may help the Minister if someone in his Department examines this. If one of three local authorities is selected, the other two will not be represented even though they have a significant and real interest in the development of the authority.

Ports form a vital part of the economy and society. Some 99% of our total trade imports and exports go through national ports. Mariners in my home port of Howth and the ports I visited as spokesperson on this subject, from Greencastle to Castletownbere, use the phrase, "If you bought it, a ship brought it". The critical nature of ports to the Irish economy is self-evident. In 2005 a ports policy statement was released by the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Government. I welcome the focus on the ports, which had been disgracefully neglected in policy development, particularly in the past 12 years.

However, there are still worrying questions about the 2005 policy document and whether its key underlying agenda was for a privatisation of the network of national ports. The Harbours (Amendment) Bill has been brought forward to give effect to the ports policy statement of 2005. Why has it taken so long to produce this Bill from the 2005 document? The unacceptable slowness in this legislation, which has meandered for the past 10 months since it was launched on a bank holiday weekend, is typical of the lethargy of the Government over the past 12 years.

I welcome aspects of the Bill with regard to strengthening commercial facilities at our national ports but it lacks ambition and is not thorough enough. We clearly need to facilitate our ports to be as dynamic and strong as possible given their massive commercial mandate but major issues of port governance remain. There have been outrageous episodes at Dublin and Shannon Foynes ports that have never been transparently and publicly addressed. As the objective of the Bill is to strengthen the commercial ability of the national ports to function it should have been accompanied by stronger and more accountable structures of port governance.

This legislation does not enhance the governance and running of our ports. Many of the measures contained in the Bill will make our ports less democratic and less accountable and will increase the ability of the Minister to stack port boards with Government cronies who may not provide the commercial leadership and drive that our ports need in these challenging economic times. In this context, the dropping of the statutory provision to provide for local county councillor representation on the boards of ports is appalling and is something the Labour Party will continue to bitterly oppose. Ports are embedded in the local community. To therefore remove the input of the democratically elected representatives of the community from the board of the port when any port development will have a massive impact on local people's lives is a retrograde step.

This legislation proposes a similar outrageous reduction in the role of worker-directors in our ports, which the Labour Party has already strongly opposed through my colleagues in Seanad Éireann, Senators Michael McCarthy and Brendan Ryan. I urge the Minister to withdraw these unacceptable legislative provisions in the Bill on Committee Stage.

Other critical issues for ports and maritime transport, some of which are key aspects of the Government's 2005 ports policy statement, are completely ignored in the legislation. The Bill does not advance the full integration of the ports into the national transport system, even though this was a key reason given at the time for the cannibalisation of the Department with responsibility for the marine and the subsequent transfer of marine transport and ports into the Department of Transport. We have had discussions on integrated transport recently and the importance of facilitating port traffic. Why did the Minister not take this opportunity to lay down some basic statutory guidelines for the full integration of transport systems? This applies particularly to rail freight systems for our national ports. We see the great problems the port of Cork had in its development. The Cork board and the NRA seemed to be singing from different hymn sheets in respect of the development of the N28. We need integration, a matter to which the Minister referred in his smart travel document. He had the opportunity to give it a statutory basis in respect of heavy goods movement and he has not done so. There are other glaring omissions in the legislation, including issues of overall port capacity, competition, costs and regulation, which was highlighted in the 2005 document and to which I will return. It is also very disappointing there was little or no consultation on important measures including the significant mergers that are proposed in this Bill, particularly those of Cork and Bantry, and Tralee and Fenit pier, the harbour to Shannon Foynes Port Company and on the series of amendments to maritime pilotage.

This Bill has been many years in gestation and then nearly ten months in legislative limbo while it worked its way through the system. I sympathise with the loss of Deputy Noel Ahern's role as Minister of State yet, given his baffling lethargy on road safety matters, it is very strange that he did not drive this critical marine transport legislation through the Oireachtas as a matter of priority. The Bill was launched on the Friday evening of a bank holiday weekend, a style of launching major documents to which the Minister seems attached, compared to a more democratic style where the Opposition spokesperson would have an opportunity to comment on major developments.

I cannot help it if Deputy Broughan is on holiday every bank holiday weekend.

The Minister could have done it in July and I would have come to the Taoiseach's office and received a briefing at first hand. One of the primary objectives for this legislation is to protect the legal entity and commercial dynamic of our ports. I therefore welcome sections 3 and 9. Section 3 deals principally with the limits of a company's harbour and clarifies the law on the power of the Minister to change the limits in the light of the City View Press and Mulcreevy court rulings, to which the Minister referred. The section clearly specifies and provides absolute legal clarity on the geographical limits of the Dublin and Drogheda port companies. I note the comments of my Fine Gael colleague, who is a representative from Drogheda.

Section 9 amends section 3 of the 1996 Act and allows for the ports to have greater flexibility to borrow money. Given the vital role of ports, it is important that we allow the port companies sufficient commercial flexibility to operate as successfully and dynamically as possible. I therefore welcome these changes to enhance the borrowing powers of national ports, with reference to the figure of €200 million with the consent of the Minister and that 50% of the company or subsidiary assets can be treated as fixed assets. These financial changes are also necessary for the Drogheda-Bremore development but the integration of rail freight and critical transport issues such as the long-promised outer orbital ring road, about which we have constantly asked the Minister on Question Time, are not addressed anywhere in this legislation. It is clear that the Government must provide further policy guidelines, and perhaps even legislation, to enable the Drogheda-Bremore development to go ahead.

There are also huge residential districts in Balbriggan in north Dublin and surrounding areas. Little thought seems to have been given so far to the massive transport, environmental and other impacts of the development of Bremore port on these communities. My colleague referred to the communities in the Meath and south Louth area, where we must also be careful in protecting residential communities.

It is unquestionable that there will also be significant gains for landowners around Bremore Point as a result of planned construction at that location. There is no indication in this Bill of any mechanism to ensure community planning gains for Drogheda or Balbriggan and their environs. I strongly support the redevelopment of Drogheda but it is important that we protect public money and ensure that development is carried out in a sustainable and commercially viable and responsible way. In particular, it is important we act in this manner for the thousands of residents in Balbriggan, Drogheda and the surrounding district.

One critical aspect of the legislation relates to mergers and I have referred to a number of smaller mergers. Was any consideration given at this stage to any kind of linkage or strategic coming together of the ports in Dublin and Drogheda? Given that the economic hinterlands of the Drogheda and Dublin region already meet, in many respects, and there is a merging in activities, has the Minister given any consideration to the viewpoint sometimes expressed by people in both Dublin and Drogheda that some sort of linkage between these two ports could be a valuable development for the economy and the societies around the ports?

In the previous Dáil, the marine committee under the chairmanship of Deputy Noel O'Flynn, visited Buenos Aires. Although I did not accompany the committee representatives, they told me in their report to the committee that the Buenos Aires city port continued to develop but a further port for heavy goods had also developed further down the coast. There seemed to be a linkage between the new port and the older city port. Has the Department given any consideration to kinds of strategic linkages between Drogheda-Bremore and Dublin?

Dublin Port is the country's premier port and one of the key economic engines of the greater Dublin region, east Leinster counties and the entire country. In 2007, trade went over 13 million tonnes for the first time and 42% of the 90% of GDP which we export goes through Dublin Port. Dublin Port is the second-largest industrial estate in Ireland, with 4,000 workers, and it is a very important driver of economic development for this city and region.

There has been intense speculation over the past number of years about the future of Dublin Port. Former Senator Tom Morrissey of the thankfully now extinct Progressive Democrats visualised his now discredited dream of Dublin Port being turned into "a Manhattan on the River Liffey". There is clearly an essential need for reform of the corporate governance in our greatest port, given the litany of errors and scandals that have bedevilled the Dublin Port Company in recent years, particularly relating to sale of lands in the vital land bank of almost 600 acres.

For example, there was the 2005 sale of 27 acres at Dublin Port near East Wall Road and the Point Depot to the Anna Livia consortium, which was sanctioned by the Minister without a tendering process, despite the value of the land at this time being put at a staggering€270 million. At one stage there was a ludicrous suggestion that the new national conference centre would be built on stilts to allow ships and boats to carry on their activities underneathit.

In the 2005 Irish Glass Bottle Company debacle, South Wharf plc tried to buy lands at Dublin Port and State lands for a fraction of their true value due to a loophole in the Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) Act 1978, which Dublin Port and successive governments failed to address. This loophole allowed tenants to create a sub-lease, whose holders could then acquire the right to buy the fee simple of the property for a multiple of only 15 times its annual rent. This meant that South Wharf would have been able to buy that land for €20 million, just 5% of its then estimated €300 million value.

The Minister remembers that we had to rush through in a couple of hours the emergency Landlord and Tenant Act on 19 May 2005. As a result of the incompetence of the Minister and the then Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, all Irish ports were not included in the exclusions contained in the emergency legislation. The port and harbour lands were finally included in the Maritime Safety Bill, which was passed late on the night of 21 June 2005.

Given the importance of Dublin Port to the local region and national economy, Dublin's long-term future still hangs in the balance, somewhat unfairly. Over the past two years I have forwarded a number of submissions on behalf of the Labour Party on Dublin Port to different bodies, including the Department of Transport, An Bord Pleanála and the Dublin Bay task force. One of the worrying aspects of all these consultations and reviews is the ongoing tug-of-war between the Green Party with their leader and Minister, Deputy John Gormley, on one side and the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, on the other over the future of Dublin Port and Dublin Bay. This ongoing tug-of-war is disastrous for the port in all its uses, both commercial and recreational.

At the moment, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is carrying out one consultation process and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, is carrying out another. The Minister made special arrangements for a particular local election candidate in the Clontarf ward who was the chairperson of one of those consultation bodies but, unfortunately, even she got sick of the Green Party's behaviour in government and is now running as an Independent. The Minister got no benefit for all his efforts on her behalf.

Who speaks for the Government on this matter and who will make the final decision on the future of Dublin Bay and Dublin Port? On behalf of the Labour Party and local colleagues, including Councillors Anne Carter and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and local election candidate Brian McDowell of Raheny, I sent a strong objection to An Bord Pleanála in October 2008 on the Dublin Port Company's plan to infill 52 acres of Dublin Bay, given the serious environmental, traffic and hydrology deficiencies in the proposal, the lack of consultation with the local community, and the bypassing of normal democratic planning procedures through the use of the Strategic Infrastructure Act. There is also the fact that Dublin Port already has so much valuable land at its disposal.

In submissions to the Dublin Bay task force and the Department of Transport's sustainable Dublin Bay development consultation process, I outlined the Labour Party's vision for Dublin Bay and Dublin Port, which fully supports the core function of Dublin Port as a mercantile, commercial and economic hub of this country, as well as ensuring the maximum environmental protection for all areas of Dublin Bay and its hinterland so as to ensure the sustainable and long-term development of this unique asset. The Minister has responsibility, as does the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to sort out the medium and long-term vision for the development of Dublin Port and end the confusion which this Bill will in no way assist today.

The Port of Cork has also made major advances in the past decade and remains one of only two Irish ports which can facilitate all five shipping methods, including lift on-lift off, roll on-roll off, liquid bulk, dry bulk and break bulk. We heard recently a first-hand report from the board of the Port of Cork at the Oireachtas transport committee about its plans and its difficulties with developing the Ringaskiddy facilities. It is clear that the Port of Cork also needs a sustainable future development plan while at the same time preserving the wonderful natural assets of Cork Harbour.

There are many similarities between Cork and Dublin and the economic importance of both — including the 2,000 jobs in Cork — are equally significant. As with Dublin Port, the Minister has again showed no strategic vision or leadership for the long-term sustainable development of one of our premier national ports.

Some of the other great ports, including Shannon Foynes, also face major challenges. For example, there has been a litany of alleged criminal shenanigans at Shannon Foynes Port over a number of years and the Minister should urgently investigate and report on these.

A shocking article published in The Sunday Business Post on 29 March last details how an internal review carried out by Deloitte found numerous breaches of the legislation governing the sale of State lands and tendering services on the part of the Shannon Foynes Port Company. However, further action has not been taken. The Minister appears to believe it was sufficient to replace the chairperson and directors of the company without carrying out a more thorough investigation of the past performance of the Shannon Foynes Port Company. I understand the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation is examining further allegations in respect of the Shannon Foynes Port Company. In response to a citizen’s request, I have already asked Mr. Paul Appleby of the Office of Corporate Enforcement, the Committee of Public Accounts and the Joint Committee on Transport to investigate the current and previous allegations.

The legislation does not refer to the port of Rosslare. The 2005 policy review strongly suggested that the legislation which governs the status of Rosslare — which comes under the aegis of Iarnród Éireann — be modernised. In light of the importance of Rosslare to our national transport infrastructure and to commercial and passenger traffic, why is the recommendation relating to it in the 2005 policy review not included in the legislation. Will the Minister be bringing forward specific legislation in respect of Rosslare?

There have also been significant developments at the ports of Waterford and Galway. A number of months ago, I was privileged to meet the members of the Galway harbour board in the company Deputy Higgins, and other colleagues from the Galway West constituency. Deputy Higgins wishes to make a number of comments on the discussions which took place at that meeting.

Reports in the media have referred to possible future links between the ports of Waterford and New Ross. Will the Minister indicate his position in respect of such reports?

I welcome section 5, which establishes legislative basis for harbours to invest outside their current limits, both inside and outside the State. Dublin Port has, for example, already been very successfully involved in ventures with other ports outside the State. I refer, in particular, to ports in Indonesia in this regard. Given the outstanding track record of other commercial and semi-State companies such as ESB International, ESBI, in overseas ventures, investment of this nature by the national ports — as publicly owned semi-State bodies — should be encouraged. However, it is vital that a clear statutory basis be established in this regard and that is what is being done in the Bill.

Sections 6 and 7 make amendments to the method through which ports can sell, lease and acquire land and propose to transfer certain ministerial functions in this regard to An Bord Pleanála. I have already referred to some of the serious problems that have arisen in this regard in the past. What is proposed is a political measure aimed at passing the buck away from the Minister and using An Bord Pleanála as a mudguard to avoid his being damaged by any difficult political fallout which might occur. Were these sections partly inspired by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, who has shamefully discarded a long series of commitments to his constituents in Dublin South East in respect of the proposed incinerator and who does want to be obliged to take any decisions that may cause him any further local difficulties?

As already stated, major changes are proposed in respect of the governance and board structure of our ports. I welcome the provision in section 10 which stipulates that each port must provide a statement to the Minister on an annual basis. However, I have grave difficulties with sections 8 and 11, which provide for the deletion of the automatic nomination of local authority directors and will, regardless of the size of the port, confine the number of worker directors to one. There has rightly been major opposition from Labour and other councillors throughout the country in respect of this matter. I was delighted to meet representatives of the General Council of County Councils to discuss this matter. The basic point they made is that the track of councillors on port boards is impressive. Councillors have served on such boards with great distinction for many years. They argue that any deficiencies which may have arisen were not caused by the presence of democratically elected local representatives.

While suggesting a reduction in the number of local authority members on the boards of ports, the Government's 2005 policy statement did not propose such a draconian abolition of all statutory representation on the part of county councillors. This appears to be another milestone in the political career of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, who has again taken an extreme approach in respect of a suggestion put forward. We will be obliged to pay back the €60 million relating to the electronic voting machines he commissioned over a long period. The latter episode represents perhaps the high point of his disastrous performance in ministerial office.

The Minister has claimed that he will appoint a local councillor to the board. Why abolish the statutory provision which connects the structures of governance and local democracy? As already stated, ports have a unique relationship with their hinterlands and it would seem reasonable to ensure that people would be represented on their local port boards. The Minister may argue that a similar mechanism should be used in respect of airports and other similar semi-State enterprises. I agree that this should be the case. There could be local representation on airports that have a profound impact on local areas. What could be better than including locally elected representatives — the next generation of whom are due to be elected in four weeks' time — on the boards of such enterprises?

It is clear this measure will result in an increase in the number of ministerial protégés and stooges appointed to the boards of ports. When contributing to the Second Stage debate on the Bill in the Seanad, the former Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, stated:

. . . a performance audit of the companies in 2001-02, undertaken by Jonathan Packer, recommended that the statutory provision for local authority directors be abolished. The 2003 high-level review of the State commercial ports concurred with this recommendation and concluded that the practise of appointing port users, local councillors and those without relevant experience should cease.

However, it appears that one needs few maritime qualifications to be appointed to the board of a port by the Minister. The only qualification one needs to be appointed to the board of the Shannon Foynes Port Company is membership of the local Fianna Fáil cumann. Our ports are too important to be used for political patronage and to provide jobs for friends and supporters of Fianna Fáil. Under section 3 and the new harbour limits, Dublin Port will now clearly come within the remit of three local authorities, namely, Fingal County Council Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Dublin City Council.

The measures in section 11 to slash the number of worker directors on port boards from two to one is one of the most reprehensible and retrograde elements of this legislation. The suspicion remains that the decimation of the representation of councillors and worker directors on the boards of ports is being done to facilitate an easier path for the Government's ultimate objective, namely, the privatisation of our ports. As a number of their representatives strongly argued last year, worker directors have made an overwhelmingly positive contribution to the development of the commercial State-owned ports since the introduction of the Harbours Act 1996. Worker directors tend to be people who have a deep and profound knowledge of the ports at which they work and who are overwhelmingly committed to maximising the development and potential thereof. Worker directors also have a sound track record in the context of supporting the commercial and overseas roles of our ports. The timing of this measure is very disturbing, particularly in view of the fact that many ports, including Dublin, Cork, Drogheda-Bremore and Greenore, are all in the midst of major expansion.

Worker directors are also obliged to take part in the democratic process and are elected by their colleagues. I do not, therefore, understand the logic of reducing the number of worker directors on the large port boards.

I have always been a strong supporter of business models under which workers have a strong role. I refer here to companies that are run by their own workers. One example in this regard is the John Lewis Partnership, which has been enormously successful and which has 70,000 employees. I do not understand why the Minister is proceeding with the proposal to reduce worker director representation.

I generally agree with the provision in section 11 relating to the removal of port users as a result of possible conflicts of interest. However, why does the Bill allow chief executives and managers to remain on port boards? The stipulation that there must be a maximum of eight directors on the board of a port is surprising. One could extend the logic of this provision to the Government itself and ask why it is necessary to have 15 Ministers or 15 Ministers of State. If the Minister really wishes to reduce the number of board members, he should reduce the number of those he is empowered to appoint. I intend to introduce a series of amendments in respect of this matter. The Minister should move urgently and reconsider that, both in terms of councillors and workers.

It is bizarre that there has been so many errors regarding the sale of lands at Dublin Port and the allegations about Shannon Foynes when the 2005 ports policy estimates an astonishing capacity shortfall of 12.2 million tonnes by 2014 across all the ports. According to the ESRI we are in an economic depression. We have left the recession and entered a depression, with a 10% fall in GDP, but there will be recovery, as always happens in an economic cycle, and I hope that will take place under a new Government.

We need to re-examine capacity issues, which are not mentioned at all. One must ask the reason for the attempted sell-off of lands in Dublin and Shannon when we knew there were capacity problems. In addition to the necessity to examine the capacity issues, there are other matters in the 2005 report which are ignored in the Bill, for example, the question of competition between and within the ports. The Minister, in his reply, might report on the operation of the EU directive on market access to port services and whether any further studies have been commissioned on competition issues, as recommended by the 2005 ports policy.

There was a critical discussion about port regulation in the 2005 document but no fundamental answer was given on that. I again ask the Minister whether he intends to appoint a port regulator, based either inside or outside the Department, given the appalling track record of this Government in regulating other sectors including finance, planning, construction and housing. The Minister must urgently provide a full account on port regulation and outline the reason he has ignored all of those important issues that arose in his own report in 2005.

I will refer briefly to some other questionable aspects of the Bill, in particular sections 12 to 16. The Minister is aware that many maritime pilots are concerned that the amendments to the pilot exemption certificates being proposed in section 15 amount to the outsourcing of pilotage services and would facilitate inexperienced and novice officers taking a key role in navigating vessels in and out of Irish ports. I am aware the Minister has had some discussions with the pilots but it is an issue on which he might report to us.

The Irish Maritime Development Office is an important planning body in the maritime area. Is the Minister planning any legislation in that regard? I ask him to give the House an update on the Irish shipping register.

In general terms I welcome some aspects of the Bill but I intend bringing forward a number of critical amendments, particularly on the representation of employees and local councillors. I ask the Minister to re-examine that area. I hope the Bill will not be used as a vehicle to privatise critical port assets.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important legislation. This Bill is necessary, as the Minister has identified, to ensure that our port companies are allowed to develop in a commercial manner, recognising the strategic importance of our ports to an island nation such as ours. The Bill is also necessary to give effect to certain aspects of Government policy set out in the ports policy statement launched in January 2005. It complements the original ethos given to the ten port companies by the Harbours Act of 1996 and deals with the objectives of that Bill in the following manner.

The Harbours Act of 1996 provides for port companies to have regard to any relevant Government policy or guidelines on the acquisition of land. It is considered appropriate, in the interests of consistency and best practice, that this provision should apply only to the disposal of land by such companies. It is clear that the provision for the transfer of functions from the Minister for Transport to An Bord Pleanála, in the context of the compulsory acquisition of land by port companies, is important. It is necessary that a statutory agency like An Bord Pleanála is seen as somewhat more independent than assigning it to the political head of a Department, and for that reason I welcome that decision.

There was much discussion by a number of speakers on the provisions in the Bill which set forth to alter the provisions of the membership of the boards. It is welcome that the size of the boards will be reduced from 12 to eight. Those of us on this side of the House are regularly lectured by the Members on the opposite side about the necessity to control the size of Government, control public spending, increase efficiencies and reduce the unnecessary burden of members of various boards. Some refer to important State boards as quangos, a term I reject, in regard to much of the good work done by State agencies. It is important that we identify areas where savings can be made. In a modern environment it is important that we bring efficiencies to such entities as the boards of these harbours, put in place a rationalised approach and deal with unnecessary duplication where that occurs. It is important to have all the relevant stakeholders involved in decision making and setting out the corporate policy of the various boards but there is not a necessity to have unnecessary duplication of representation. For that reason it is sensible to reduce the size of the board to eight as it will be more efficient.

We are all members of various committees in our constituencies and of working or policy groups and committees of this House and it is often the case that the larger the committee the greater the talking shop it becomes. I am a great believer in the notion of efficiency and brevity, keeping the board to a workable size and ensuring it has the broadest level of representation, while at the same time not overburdening the running of the company. For that reason, this provision is a sensible one.

The Minister's decision in regard to dealing with the local authority component is sensible. In earlier conversations and in other legislation that has come before this House there was an effort to exclude people from various State boards simply because they were members of local authorities. That would be a retrograde step were it to be allowed to continue. I recall objecting strenuously to a number of items of legislation coming before the Seanad where I served prior to entering this House.

There are some very talented people seeking public office at local authority level who have a great deal of knowledge, understanding and ability which they can bring to boards such as the harbour boards and for that reason it is important they would not be excluded by statute. The Minister has indicated that it is his desire to appoint a county councillor representative on the various boards and that an individual will not be excluded simply because he or she is a member of a local authority. That is welcome.

There is no necessity to have more than one county councillor represented on the boards. A councillor will bring a unique insight to the board from a local authority perspective but there is no necessity to have it on territorial grounds. I speak with some knowledge of the Shannon Foynes board.

There are and have been some fine members of local authorities who have represented the overall local authority structure on those boards extremely well but the same insight will be brought by more than one representative if the Minister so wishes. The same applies to worker-directors. That is not to take from the outstanding input we have had from worker-directors and county councillors but there is a level of duplication in having more than one. Their unique insight and understanding of the workings of the port, particularly from a worker-director's perspective, is brought to the table but having two, three, four or five representatives is unnecessary duplication and may not be conducive to the smooth working of an efficient and appropriately sized board. For that reason the proposals as set out are the most appropriate.

There are also important provisions for a clear legislative basis to underpin investment by port companies outside their current harbour limits. Deputy Broughan rightly identified Dublin Port's investment in Malaysia. I am familiar with a number of executives of that company and I have spoken to them in the past about their vision for Dublin Port. The move the company has made is a particularly bold one. It is the right move and we are making the right connections in that area of the world by linking with Malaysia. I just wish that more port companies had taken the same aggressive approach to development and a much broader view than merely being seen as managers of a facility. For that reason Mr. Connellon, as the chief executive of the company, and people like Mr. Kevin O'Driscoll and others, together with the current chairman, and, indeed, the previous chairman, Mr. Burke, played an active role in broadening the base and, obviously, increasing the capacity of Dublin Port to continue to evolve and develop for many decades to come.

Such a strategic approach is perhaps lacking in some of the other State agencies. There has been almost a comfort zone in some State agencies on the basis that they were just managers there to respect Government policy rather than to take the bull by the horns or to take the ball and drive forward. That commercial ethos, as recognised by those executives in Dublin Port, is something I want to see emanate from the others. That is not to suggest that the other port companies have not made good efforts in their own regard. They certainly have, but we need to ensure that it is expedited.

The board representation is vitally important. There has been a suggestion by Deputies on the other side of the House that the Government would use the opportunity to stuff the board with members of parties on this side of the House. If one goes through many of the State boards, one will see little, if any, of that approach. People are appointed for their ability, understanding, knowledge and capacity to discharge the duties as set out in legislation governing the various companies. Many give freely of their time. The remuneration these people receive for membership of State boards is small by comparison to the time they put in. These are people from various backgrounds who give substantially of their time for the greater benefit of the State. They receive little remuneration and, obviously, it is costly in terms of loss of input into their own companies or lives. Often they receive a level of criticism from the media because of the work they do. That is somewhat regrettable but, nonetheless, there are people prepared to take on the task.

Members on all sides will be aware that it is often difficult now to get people to serve on State boards because of what they see as the level of nuisance associated with it, and that there is no real gain or benefit to them. However, they then obviously attract unhelpful press from time to time for which they do not see the benefit.

That is only the Fianna Fáil ones.

Deputy O'Dowd will be well aware that members who were appointed to boards by his side of the House would readily give the same viewpoint.

We can declare it heard here.

Those I know certainly would.

Deputy Dooley wants to be a Minister of State.

We owe them a great debt of gratitude. It behoves all of us on whatever side of the House, regardless of the voting intentions of persons on State boards, not to seek to undermine their work and input on behalf of the State.

The important aspect of the Bill is to ensure that the commercial ethos to which I referred develops. Of the various ports, the port with which I am most familiar is the Shannon Foynes Port Company where there is considerable potential for development. Notwithstanding the recent difficulties which the Minster referred to and which have been alluded to by others, the potential for development in and around that port is great. It is a particularly deep port that has not been utilised to the fullest extent possible. There is great potential in the future and this is clear because of the current economic situation in which we find ourselves. It is often difficult for some to understand why we should be making provisions for increased activity or usage. However, as Deputy Tommy Broughan stated, our current economic situation is very much part of the cyclical approach to the economy and I have no doubt that over time it will emerge again. It is important that we are putting in place the foundations and the legislative framework to allow these companies to seek and develop that commercial mandate.

On the Shannon Foynes Port Company, there is great potential usage not only from a freight perspective, but also from tourism which has largely been unexploited. There is an opportunity to develop a much greater working relationship between the Shannon Foynes Port Company and Shannon Airport. The two, working together, could put in place the necessary infrastructure to allow the mid-west region to be seen as a hub for the distribution of cargo.

Up until recently a significant amount of freight has emanated from Asia, particularly from China, and entered both Europe and the United States. There is, in my view, potential for the Shannon Foynes Port Company to provide a significant resource to accept the freight inwards from Asia and be part of breaking down the cargo, either for onward shipping to Europe or the United States or, more particularly, for onward air transfer using Shannon Airport. There is the potential to develop a significant hub in the region and that will require vision. It will require the involvement of the various stakeholders. I would hope that over time the passage of this legislation will allow the board of that port to work with the Shannon Airport Authority on how the significant infrastructure of the port can be best utilised not just to generate business, but also to reach the tourism potential of the region.

As I stated, it is a deep port. Its access to the west and the mid-west could provide a useful base for the further development of tourism. Over the past number of years Dublin has seen a significant growth in the number of visits by various cruise liners. There is no reason the west coast, and the facilities it provides through Limerick and Ennis, and, indeed, further south into Kerry, could not be appropriate locations to provide the various requirements of people who travel on cruise liners. The fact that the region includes the Cliffs of Moher, one of the finest tourism spectacles anywhere in the world, would make it an attractive offering to people who use these cruise liners or travel on such holidays. It is an area which needs to be exploited.

However, that will only come about if we can put in place the necessary incentives to allow the boards of directors of the various harbours to think outside the box in a way which enables them to develop their businesses along commercial lines and not see themselves as merely operators and stevedores, and also to develop a much greater level of commercialism. In doing so, Shannon Foynes Port Company can become part of another stated Government policy, that of balanced regional development. While there has been considerable investment in infrastructure in recent years, particularly in roads and rail infrastructure, the Minister has also played a major role, together with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, in the reopening of the western rail corridor. This is another significant piece of infrastructure which could go hand-in-hand with the development of the Shannon Foynes Port Company and that type of approach has the capacity to allow the mid-west and west to act as a counter balance to the east coast. It would also assist in achieving greater balance of development across the country, taking away some of the pressures on the east coast's port infrastructure. It would put in place a necklace of critical infrastructure on the west coast, allowing the region to develop. This would also assist in the country's social and infrastructure development becoming more balanced and cohesive. The Bill is important in addressing these issues.

It is important the port companies work together. Although the Minister referred to competition, it must be noted that the island is relatively small and we must ensure the ports co-operate with each other. I am interested in the make-up of the port boards. Many of those on the boards have done sterling work in developing various ports. It is important that we continue to appoint the right people. It is their qualities and standards that will develop the ports.

I welcome the Bill's changes to pilotage districts and charges which were necessary for some time. This will facilitate the successful completion of proposals to other investments in the port companies outside of their existing harbour limits and outside of the State. The tie-up of various harbours with ones outside of the State has the potential to develop a much greater level of business than before. It was good to see Dublin Port's approach to this and I hope others will follow suit. Through these strategic partnerships, they can make various different contacts to develop ports.

Will the Minister examine a proposal from the Institute of Engineers in Ireland in its blueprint, Looking Towards 2030, to build a bridge from Shannon Foynes Port to Shannon Airport. It is appropriate to give such large scale projects consideration in these economic times, when we are seeking various initiatives to stimulate economic growth and to reduce costs in the economy. They have several benefits, creating jobs and providing infrastructure for future development. A development of this nature between Shannon Foynes Port and Shannon Airport could develop a significant hub for freight and tourism.

I hope the Bill will have a safe passage through the House.

I do not have any problems with many of the provisions of the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2009. However, I must speak out on behalf of the people of Bantry, south-west Cork and south Kerry, and their right to own and operate their own harbour board. Section 18, in a cursory manner, dismisses the Bantry Bay harbour commissioners with a sleight of hand. I speak with an inner knowledge of this harbour board having had the honour to serve on it for more than 20 years following its formation by the then Minister for Transport and Power, Mr. Peter Barry, in the Harbours Act 1976. I attended each of its monthly meeting religiously. No member claimed expenses then but it is a different situation now.

Peter Barry, a public representative of distinction from Cork city, had the insight and vision to see its importance to the locality. He ensured the local population and businesses were involved in the ownership and running of Bantry Harbour. Local commercial and industrial sectors each had two members on the board while Cork County Council had two representatives. Two other representatives were ministerial appointments.

The advantages of Bantry as a harbour were first recorded from the sea by a French trading vessel in 1253. Bantry Bay is located in the south-west corner of Ireland. The bay runs approximately 35 km from north east to south west into the Atlantic Ocean. It is approximately 4 km wide at the head and 10 km wide at the entrance. The bay is a deep, approximately 40 m in the middle, and large natural harbour with one of the longest inlets in south-west Ireland. It is bordered on the north by Beara Peninsula, separating it from Kenmare Bay. Its southern boundary, Sheep's Head Peninsula, separates it from Dunmanus Bay.

The main islands on the bay are Bere and Whiddy. Prior to the start of World War I, the British admiralty boasted that Bantry Bay had the capacity to hold the entire British fleet. Whiddy Island, which is located half way down the bay near its southern shore, is Ireland's main petroleum terminal. The harbour is ideally suited to large ocean going tankers. The biggest tanker afloat docked at Whiddy Island and unloaded its cargo. No other harbour in the world has the capacity of Bantry Bay or the capability of its harbour authority. It is important the authority remains in operation. ConocoPhillips maintains a single point mooring at the Whiddy Island oil terminal.

I guarantee the House that Bantry Bay is no pond. Its entrances do not need dredging, although the inner bay around Bantry town needs to be dredged. A promise was made many moons ago on dredging but was never met. Bantry harbour is sound commercially and financially. It is not a burden on the State and, indeed, contributes its rightful share of taxes. This was recognised by a previous Fianna Fáil Government when it gave a solemn commitment in the week preceding the 2002 general election to invest £9 million to extend the pier and dredge the inner harbour. It was no joke to face that kind of promise one week before an election but it was yet another unfulfilled commitment. The harbour authority is a self-supporting and viable body which enjoys a sound turnover.

We have seen the effects of this Government's previous decisions to amalgamate small local and democratic bodies into autonomous organisations. Do we want another disaster like the HSE when we replace our small harbour boards with two or three huge authorities? This is an unwise decision and I advise the Minister to reconsider because otherwise we will be forced to submit amendments. This type of thinking has passed its sell-by date and we need to go back to the drawing board. The Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners were put in place following the 1976Betelgeuse disaster. The explosion of the Betelgeuse tanker caused the loss of a number of lives and inflicted significant damage to the harbour’s jetty. The Minister should examine the recommendations of the Costello inquiry before he even dreams about abolishing the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. I want the commissioners to be retained as an autonomous authority in view of their capabilities and potential for future generations who will live in south-west Cork and south Kerry.

Does a conflict of interest arise in that oil terminals are located in both Cork and Bantry harbours? If investment is needed will the new board based in Cork invest in Whitegate or Whiddy?

The arrival in Galway at the end of this month of the round the world yacht race is expected to bring millions of euro to the western region. I understand that more than 100 harbours around the world are bidding to host the race when it is next held. Bantry harbour would be ideally suited to hosting this international event, which could bring significant benefits to a tourism starved area of south-west Cork. Cork Harbour rather than Bantry Harbour will make the bid if the harbour authorities are amalgamated.

Section 18 of the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 states:

(1) The Principal Act is amended by inserting the following section after section 87:

"87A. — (1) In this section—

‘relevant harbour commissioners' means—

(a) in relation to the Port of Cork Company, Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, and

(b) in relation to the Shannon Foynes Port Company, Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners;

‘relevant port company' means—

(a) in relation to Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, the Port of Cork Company, and

(b) in relation to Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners, the Shannon Foynes Port Company;

‘transfer day' means the day appointed by the Minister under paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (2).

(2) (a) The Minister may, subject to paragraph (c) and after consultation with Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, the Port of Cork Company and such other persons (if any) as the Minister considers it appropriate in the circumstances to consult, by order appoint a day as the transfer day for the purposes of this section in respect of Bantry Bay Harbour and, with effect from that day, the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners are dissolved.

This is incorporated in this Bill, which was passed by Seanad Éireann. It copperfastens the Minister's authority to proceed and transfer the responsibilities of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners to the Cork harbour board. The section contains many hidden agendas but the transfer is a fait accompli.

An Oireachtas Member boasted that the insertion of the provision would underpin the principle of Bantry harbour authority operating as an independent authority. There is no reference to an independent authority in the legislation nor is there evidence of preserving the rights of Bantry harbour to have its own board, as it has had since 1976. The Member to whom I refer filibustered for seven hours in the Seanad and nothing resulting from his actions is incorporated in this section. Bantry's opportunities will be denied again.

As Bantry is 220 miles from Dublin, it is 220 times harder to create a job there. The public consultation process provided for in this section is a complete joke. Not alone is it not worth the paper on which it is written, it is not worth the paper that will be wasted going through this process. It took an Oireachtas Member five days of stonewalling and filibustering to have this worthless amendment accepted but he wasted his own and the Seanad's time, and he is fooling nobody.

I will table a number of amendments on Committee Stage to secure the independence of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. The Bill has been described as a further nail in the coffin of Bantry harbour authority but, if the Bill is passed, the Minister will allow the harbour to silt up through neglect, lack of investment and the abandonment of the people of south west Cork.

Tourism is a major asset in west Cork. In the past, passengers on international cruise liners would disembark at Glengarriff in Bantry Bay. Let us hope the day is not too far away when the same will happen again and such liners will not have to visit a port that does not have its own independent authority. We cannot live on fresh air and cold water in west Cork but we can live if we are given the right and opportunity to do so. The Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners must be retained. I will table amendments on Committee Stage.

I wish to share time with Deputy Blaney.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. It is always a demanding exercise to follow the previous speaker on any subject, but my knowledge of Bantry Bay and Cork Port is not as strong as his. It is a long time since I visited the area but I recall looking at the wonderful natural beauty of Crosshaven from Camden Fort. In three years we will commemorate the terrible tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic, which sailed from Cork harbour.

When I told other Members I was contributing to this debate, they wondered what I might have to say about Tallaght. However, when I contributed to the debate on the fisheries Bill, I reminded the House that I eat fish. I visit harbours and it is important to take an interest in these issues. We should not be categorised and I do not claim to be an expert on anything but I have an interest in the natural beauty of our country.

I refer to a link I can make to Tallaght. The Square opened there 19 years ago and one of the initiatives management took over the years to attract visitors from the UK and, in particular, Wales was to promote the Stena Line ferry crossing between Holyhead and Dún Laoighaire, with passengers being transported to Tallaght through the city by bus. In these bleak and challenging economic times, we should be innovative as much as possible in job creation. If jobs can be created in tourism and related industries, we should do that. The lack of a second Stena Line daily sailing is an issue in my constituency and this could be examined and highlighted in the context of the Bill. I expect my colleagues, the Minister, Deupty Mary Hanafin, and the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, would want us all to support that. I hope Members will do so, as it is of concern and interest to people in my constituency.

The Bill is considered necessary to give effect to aspects of the Government's policy set out in the ports policy statement launched in January 2005. It complements the commercial ethos given to the ten port companies by the Harbours Act 1996. Among the principal objectives of the Bill is the provision for the transfer of functions from the Minister for Transport to An Bord Pleanála in the context of the compulsory acquisition of land by port companies. The Harbours Act 1996 provides that port companies have regard to any relevant Government policy or guidelines on the acquisition of land. It is considered appropriate in the interests of consistency and best practice that the provision should apply also to the disposal of land by such companies. The number of directors on a port company board is being reduced from 12 to eight. The statutory representation of local authority directors on boards will cease and the number of employee directors will be set at one per company. It is also proposed to cease the practice of appointing port users to port company boards to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. I suspect that change will be welcomed.

The Attorney General has advised that there are not sufficient principles and policies in the 1996 Act to allow for future alteration of the harbour limits. An amendment is considered necessary to address that issue. The Bill makes provision for a clear legislative basis to underpin investment by port companies outside the current harbour limits. The amendment is considered necessary to facilitate the development and successful completion of proposals relating to investment by port companies outside existing harbour limits and outside the State.

The provision for widening the borrowing powers of certain companies to facilitate port capacity expansion is also included. The Bill also amends a number of provisions relating to pilotage. It also introduces an enabling provision to allow for the potential transfer of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners to relevant port company control in line with the Government's ports policy statement. I already made reference to Deputy Sheehan so I will not rise him any further. He has expressed views on the latter issue and I expect the Minister will take account of that.

I should have said at the outset that I welcome the attendance in the Chamber of the new Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Áine Brady. She is a former neighbour on my corridor. I wish her well. Her appointment is a progressive one and I hope she does well.

I wish to be associated with those remarks.

Perhaps she will inform the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, that I have an interest in all the things he does, including the Harbours (Amendment) Bill. If he was here I would probably talk more about the Luas line to Tallaght. I would tell him what I come across as I go about my business in the context of the forthcoming elections. I am sure Deputy O'Dowd welcomes the imminent announcement of the candidature of Deputy Thomas Byrne.

I will be as pleased as he will be.

We all wish him well. In the context of the elections I have received many calls from taxi drivers——

The Minister is destroying the taxi system, he will not get a vote from taxi drivers.

I am taking the example from other Members. Many taxi drivers have told me that if I meet the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, I should tell him that they have concerns that need to be addressed, not only at election time. I am bringing those representations to the Minister, Deputy Dempsey.

Deputy O'Connor is not getting through.

Many things take time to get through.

Deputy O'Connor should use the bush telegraph.

Deputy Higgins was a Minister. In fairness to him he was a fine Minister but we had to keep pressing him on certain issues. Things take time.

There is a beautiful theatre in Tallaght. It is highly successful.

I could mention all of that too. If my colleagues want me to make a speech about Tallaght I could rise to that. Tallaght is a great place. It is the third largest population centre in the country and it has great facilities it never had previously. I only wish we had the capacity to have a harbour facility. Deputy Blaney suggested to me earlier that perhaps we could find space in Tallaght for another lake close to Blessington and perhaps we could have a little harbour there.

I wish the Minister well with the Bill. Colleagues around the House have a great interest in the matter. It is good we are discussing it. Everybody in the House should have an interest in all legislation. Just because there is no harbour in our constituencies does not mean we are not interested or that we do not have strong views and are not prepared to make those views known. I will continue to do that. I look forward to supporting the Bill.

I thank my colleague, Deputy O'Connor, for sharing time. I, too, am on the same corridor as he is and where our new Minister once was.

Deputy Blaney must be at the wrong end of the corridor.

There are a lot of promotions from our corridor and more to come.

There will be when the Deputies opposite lose their seats.

I am sure Deputy O'Dowd wishes he was there.

Not on Deputy Blaney's corridor.

I extend my best wishes to the Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady. I have no doubt she will do well in her portfolio. I look forward to working with her. It was mooted on the corridor this morning that there was a new man-made lake on the way for Tallaght along with a new harbour if Deputy O'Connor spoke on the Bill. Time will tell whether that is true.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. It is worthwhile acknowledging the contribution harbours have made to the success of the State in recent years. The Bill enhances the commercial ethos conferred on ports by the Harbours Act 1996. The Bill is necessary to give effect to certain aspects of Government policy, as set out in the ports policy statement launched in January 2005.

The principal objectives have been outlined by the Minister, namely, to introduce the enabling provision to allow for the potential transfer of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners to port body control in line with the Government's ports policy statement. There is also provision to widen the borrowing powers of port companies to facilitate port capacity expansion and to amend a number of provisions relating to pilotage.

The Attorney General gave advice on insufficient principles and policies in the 1996 Act to allow for future alteration of the harbour limits. An amendment was deemed necessary to address that issue. There is also provision for a clear legislative basis to underpin the investment by port companies outside their current harbour limits. That amendment is considered necessary to facilitate the development and successful completion of proposals relating to investment by port companies outside existing harbour limits, and outside the State.

The Minister is also transferring powers to An Bord Pleanála in the context of the compulsory acquisition of land by port companies. The Harbours Act 1996 provides for port companies to have regard to any relevant Government policy or guidance on the acquisition of land, as considered appropriate. In the interests of consistency and best practice that provision should apply also to the disposal of land by such companies.

The Harbours Act 1996 provides for the boards of port companies to consist of 12 members, comprising three directors appointed on the nomination of the relevant local authority, one or two employee directors, depending on the size of the company, either directly elected by employees or appointed by the Minister to represent employee interests. The chief executive officer and the remaining directors were to be appointed at the discretion of the Minister.

The amendment proposes to change the number of directors on the port company boards from 12 to eight. That is a necessary and welcome change. The statutory representation of local authority directors on boards will cease and the number of employee directors will be set at one per company. In addition, it is proposed to cease the practice of appointing port users to port company boards to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.

It is worth noting the amount of money that has been spent on piers and harbours in recent years. Much development work has been done and I would like to put a few items on the record, as these issues do not arise very often in the House. I refer specifically to a number of piers and harbours in my own constituency in Donegal.

We have a pier in Rathmullan that is one of the deepest sea ports in the country, but that pier is currently in a very poor state, and heretofore was never a funding priority. While I know that times are tight at the moment, it now is a priority with Donegal County Council. When we are in such a position to provide funding for piers and harbours again, this pier should be made a priority. While Killybegs at the other end of the county is a very important pier and harbour for Donegal and the country as a whole, much of the trade there comes through Rathmullan. However, in its current state, Rathmullan cannot do the business of which it is capable. If we got the required funding to upgrade the pier — currently estimated at €2.4 million, but it could be less if it was reviewed in a few months — then it would add greatly to the area by way of jobs and activity on the pier.

There have also been developments in recent years on ferry services in my constituency that link us with Derry, particularly the Greencastle to Magilligancar ferry. While it has been up and running for a number of years, finance is an issue just as it is with so many other things recently. As it is a cross-Border ferry, there are security issues involved which mean it costs much more to run than is deemed necessary. In light of the peace process and developments in Northern Ireland, there needs to be a review between the Minister for Transport and his Northern Ireland counterpart regarding security on this ferry service. At present, the service is in doubt and if this issue was addressed it would continue for some time to come.

I again welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It will enhance our piers and harbours and the commercial traffic in the harbours, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Like most speakers in the House, I welcome the general thrust of this Bill. It seeks to allow port companies to invest, develop and expand to their maximum potential in a range of ways which allow them go outside their own areas. The harbour limits enhance their ability to borrow and develop. However, there are a few fundamental amendments tacked onto the Bill which are certainly a cause of concern, including the amendment that seeks to reduce the number of members from 12 to eight. While I would agree with that in principle, it would be better if there was an odd number for the purposes of achieving vote results. By allowing the Minister appoint the members from the local authority, it bypasses the role of the authority. Any local authority that is properly elected should be in a position to nominate its own members. It would be preferable if there were two members from each party. That is a personal opinion, but I believe it is important.

I am not sure about the role of section 20, which amends the Irish Maritime Development Office of the Marine Institute, and which substitutes the "Minister for Transport" with "the Minister". Does that mean that some other Minister at some stage may be responsible? While it is commendable that the Minister for Transport is the initiator of this Bill, we still should have a full Cabinet position for a Minister for the Marine.

There are currently nine different Departments with a toe in the marine sector. It is not the best way to run that sector. Deputy Dooley spoke about critical infrastructure and mentioned a bridge. When he went over his time allocation, I thought he had strayed over to speak on behalf of the Opposition, as that is what we have been saying for so long.

Like every other Deputy, I must focus on amendment No. 17, which will have major implications for the future development of Arklow Port. Why is this amendment being included to address the situation directly at Arklow? It is basically because there is not enough commercial activity taking place, which justifies the downgrading of the port. Will the Government let an ancient thriving port go to the wall, purely due to a lack of interest? It is true that the level of activity has decreased, and the RNLI lifeboat has had to move from one side of the pier to the other because there is sand silted in the harbour that does not allow it get in and out safely. This is an example of inertia and an unwillingness to address a critical piece of infrastructure for the marine sector, as it has been left there to hang for so long.

The dredging of the harbour has been held up for ten years, while the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government determines how to dispose the contaminants from the mine further up the Avoca River. Commercial traffic involving fishing, the fertiliser business, marine transport and boat building have all but ceased for one reason or another. The ancient tradition of fishing out of Arklow has been gutted by reductions in quotas for east coast boats. Tyrells boat builders operated since the last century and built the recently ill fated Asgard in 1981, and this represented a tradition and expertise that is being lost. Arklow Shipping, a very successful shipping company, is now based in Holland, even though it still has an office in Arklow.

The marine tradition in Arklow still lives on. The commissioners have been developing the harbour and docks for the 21st century, including facilities for marine leisure and support facilities for the new wind farm on the Arklow bank, which is expected to grow when access to the grid is accommodated and newer wind turbines become available. The new low VAT rates for shipping companies is a positive incentive for investment.

Why is there no commercial traffic through the port? There has been a ten year delay in the dredging programme due to new disposal rules that have resulted in part of the harbour being silted. Port business had to be turned away, so it is not that it is not available. Negotiations with the Marine Institute are at an advanced stage and we hope that a new licence to dredge is soon to be issued. The last time it was issued was August 1986 when Hurricane Charlie cleaned it out. Another hurricane like that would take care of the problem.

A 16 year court case concerning the siting of a new sewage works for the town has resulted in development programmes and inward investment being stalled. This matter remains unresolved and on appeal to the Supreme Court. While I appreciate it commenced prior to the enactment of the Critical Infrastructure Act 2006, it being in limbo means Arklow remains in limbo until such time as the matter is sorted out.

What is needed is not, as provided in section 17, the transfer of the harbour commissioners to the local authority — a local authority already strapped for cash and that does not have the wherewithal, interest or money to come up with a plan to redevelop that port — but a ten year plan for development; investment incentives for port and marine services; port and quay access road improvement; an annual dredging programme; and a water treatment plant. A question arises as to why this port has not been designated a commercial port.

The Government is silent on small port management, coastal zone management of recreational activities and other marine activities despite the great potential of every coastal region and harbour to provide economic activity and jobs. I say this in light of the fact that Arklow is perhaps the blackest spot in Wicklow in terms of unemployment, with long-term companies such as Allergan, the IFI and AirGas having left the region. Arklow has great potential. There have been mootings from Cement Roadstone Holdings, CRH, that it is interested in developing the port facilities in Arklow. This would allow the existing port to once again become a fishing and tourist port and a services port for the windfarm project. Why is this not happening? I referred earlier to inertia.

The last move by Minister of State, Deputy Tony Killeen, was the establishment of a co-ordinating group which included the Departments of Transport; Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Defence; the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Arts, Sports and Tourism; and the Taoiseach. We are a country surrounded by water whose first occupants came here by boat. Why is it that nine Departments are required to determine what is best for our ports and harbours? There is no Department or Minister responsible for co-ordinating Government policy on the management of the marine sector despite the coast and oceans being one of Ireland's key natural resources amounting to 220 million acres.

The Marine Institute headquarters in Galway — Deputy Ciarán Cuffe will be aware of this — has on display in its offices a real map of Ireland on which it is difficult to determine the land mass, approximately 97% of which is considered a resource covered by water. We have some of the greatest potential to monitor future trends in climate, in ocean current and weather changes. Also, we have the greatest potential — I have stated this in other contexts — to develop sustainable renewable ocean, wind and tidal energy around the coast of the country, yet no Department has overall responsibility for this matter. Instead, the matter is left to nine Departments that must come up with a plan that suits everybody and works for nobody.

I appeal to the Government, whenever the next reshuffle takes place, to create a full Ministry for the marine, which we had before and which was effective. This requires political will. The Government appears unwilling to take the lead on marine affairs and is content to let the political will drown in multi-departmental co-ordinated talk shops. The Department of Transport is willing to let Arklow port go without a fight despite the fact that the port has the best potential for economic development in the region. Tasks forces are to be set up everywhere jobs are lost. It would be more beneficial if audits were undertaken of the potential for job creation in these regions, taking into account what we have by way of natural resources.

I will be opposing section 17 which proposes to allow the Arklow harbour commissioners to be transferred to Wicklow County Council. I appeal to the Minister to respond positively on this matter. I hope the Minister will see merit in my argument, thus meaning I will not have to table an amendment in this regard. Rationalisation is fine, but rationalisation which seeks to transfer the remit of one authority to another, a move that will sound its death knell and destroy any chance it has of creating employment, is not forward thinking. It is not the type of thinking we need in the current economic climate. We have the potential to develop places like Arklow harbour and port.

As I stated earlier, Airtricity's windfarm at Arklow Bank is to be developed and will require servicing and a host port. The nearest port by far is Arklow harbour. The Arklow life boat plays a critical role and function in this area. It is one of the busiest sea lanes along the Irish Channel. I ask that the Minister reconsider any proposals to downgrade this critical port.

The Bill, as passed by the Seanad states: ". . . to carry out policy, as may be specified by that Minister, . . .". Does this mean it is envisaged that this role and function will be removed from the Minister for Transport and that, as a result of the new talking shop of the Minister of State, Deputy Tony Killeen, some other Minister will be assigned the role? Can we live in hope and assume a Minister for the marine will eventually be appointed?

While the provisions relating to workers do not relate to harbour commissioners, the proposal that staff representation be confined to one regardless of the size of an authority or company is one that appears to have worked in the past. I wonder why it is necessary to introduce this measure? Is it that the Minister is on the one hand trying to completely control the companies while on the other giving them power to determine their own future and is setting them up in a structure that allows them to do so?

The Minister in his press release on 5 August 2008 announcing the publication of the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 stated that the Bill will grant all port companies the power to invest outside their current harbour limits and to pursue opportunities outside the State. He also stated that with this Bill the ten State port companies can pursue a robust, commercial agenda, thereby boosting the commercial mandate given to them by the Government in the Harbours Act 1996. That is all very laudable and worthy. However, some of the amendments seek to undermine these companies. Wolfe Tone would be proud of Deputy P. J. Sheehan's articulation of the importance of Bantry harbour. While we welcome the Bill, some of the amendments seek to undermine its general thrust.

Debate adjourned.