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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 1 Dec 2009

Vol. 696 No. 3

Inland Fisheries Bill 2009: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to have this opportunity to present the Inland Fisheries Bill 2009 for consideration by the House. The main purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the restructuring of the inland fisheries sector through the establishment of a new national inland fisheries body, which will be known as inland fisheries Ireland. This body will replace the existing central and seven regional fisheries boards established in 1980. The status quo is no longer valid almost 30 years after the design of the current structures was put in place. Too much has changed in the intervening years, such as our understanding of the environment, the complex interplay of habitats and species, ecological biodiversity and the status of our inland fisheries stocks. Equally, too much is set to change to allow the continuation of the existing regime without modification.

The restructuring now proposed is in line with the programme of rationalisation of State bodies generally announced by the Minister for Finance last year during his budget day address. By way of background, freshwater lakes cover approximately 2% of the area of the State. There are also in the region of 13,840 km of main channel rivers. These freshwater systems are inhabited by a variety of fish species. They include game species such as salmon, sea and brown trout, as well as coarse species such as pike and bream.

The State's role in the inland fisheries resource is concerned with the protection, management and development of freshwater fisheries throughout Ireland, including the management and surveillance of stocks listed in the habitats directive. In addition, the remit covers certain activities at sea, including protection of salmon and sea trout, and the support of sea angling.

It is widely acknowledged that the inland fisheries resource, across all species, is under serious threat from environmental factors, including pollution, habitat degradation, water quality factors and over exploitation. The Government has faced up to hard decisions in recent times in the interest of conserving our salmon stocks, including closing the commercial mixed stock salmon fishery, the creation of a salmon hardship fund at a cost of €30 million to provide relief to those affected by the closure of the mixed stock fishery, the unequivocal adoption of scientific advice in the management of the salmon fishery and measures to protect our stocks of European eel. There is more to do, however, so it is imperative to put the right structures in place now, which will ensure the conservation and sustainable exploitation of our inland fisheries resource in the future.

While the Department has overall policy responsibility for the conservation, management, regulation and development of the inland fisheries resource, it is assisted in its mission by the central and regional fisheries boards. Other agencies such as the Marine Institute, the Loughs Agency, An Bord lascaigh Mhara and the ESB also play an important role in the sector.

In cognisance of the growing obligations on Ireland under European law and, in particular, responsibilities under the habitats directive and water framework directive, the Government has decided that inland fisheries Ireland should manage and report on its operations on the basis of the river basin districts established for the implementation of the water framework directive. This directive sets a framework for the comprehensive management of water resources in the EU, within a common approach and with common objectives, principles and basic measures.

Aligning the management of inland fisheries Ireland in this way will enable an integrated ecosystem approach to be adopted, which will be fully co-ordinated with the structures already in place for the implementation of the water framework directive for environmental and habitat protection across all animal species.

It will also better enable those matters to be dealt with on a co-ordinated North-South basis and will be beneficial in terms of implementing future EU-sponsored measures in the sector. Between them, the central and regional fisheries boards are made up of over 150 board members, with each of the regional boards having up to 23 members per board. Such numbers are unwieldy by any standard and can lead to divergent interests and competing aims between different stakeholders.

As we have seen in other areas, there is a need at board level for a high-level focus on corporate governance and strategic issues. This is best achieved by putting in place a small, focused board in State bodies. Accordingly, it is proposed that the board of inland fisheries Ireland will consist of nine members. This does not mean there will be no role for existing board members who have a genuine interest in inland fisheries and wish to make a legitimate contribution to the future development of the resource.

The Bill requires inland fisheries Ireland to establish a national inland fisheries forum, which will provide stakeholder input into policy formulation. It is envisaged that there will be representation across the spectrum of stakeholders on this forum.

I am aware that stakeholders have been championing the establishment of regional advisory committees effectively replicating the existing regime. Stakeholder involvement is vital at a local level. However, it needs to be properly structured and channelled to ensure that the input from diverse and sometimes competing stakeholders can be utilised to best effect. Such mechanisms should be operated by inland fisheries Ireland through the national inland fisheries forum. I would expect the new body to put in place local advisory structures, which will ensure that the expertise and goodwill that exists in the regions will not be lost.

As part of its remit, the national inland fisheries forum will replace the national salmon commission in providing advice on the management of the national salmon resource, while extending its competencies to other species also.

Following on from the approach adopted in the Broadcasting Act, I have made provision for the involvement of the Oireachtas joint committee in the appointment of some of the members to inland fisheries Ireland. This continues a positive practice in the appointment of persons to State bodies and I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the House as part of this process.

Following the resolution of the rod licence dispute in the late 1980s, eight fisheries co-operative societies were established. The principal function of those societies was to participate in the development of trout and coarse fisheries by raising funds through the issue of share certificates and making grants available for the development of trout and coarse fisheries for the benefit of the public. Their performance has varied considerably and, while recognising the huge commitment and effort on the part of the existing membership, it has proved difficult to improve the societies' accountability.

In considering options for the rationalisation of the sector, it will be more beneficial for the co-operative societies to cease and for resources currently deployed through them to be used as a basis for a grant scheme for local development groups. Such a scheme will be developed and operated by Inland Fisheries Ireland.

There are more than 400 staff currently employed by the fisheries boards. The staffing needs of the new structure will be met through existing resources and, in keeping with the Government's commitment to optimise the use of resources, there will be no increase in the overall staff numbers in the inland fisheries service.

There is no decrease, either, since the Government is supposed to be rationalising it.

No, we said there would be no increase in staff numbers in the inland fisheries sector. Given the embargoes in place at the moment, it is quite likely that there will be fewer people working here than more.

I take this opportunity to stress that the terms and conditions of existing staff will not be lessened and the House will note that there is specific provision in the Bill to ensure that this is the case. I recognise the energy and commitment of the competent inland fisheries workforce. It is important that this energy is harnessed to enable the sustainable exploitation of the resource.

There are no Exchequer costs associated with this Bill. The reduction in board members alone, which I mentioned earlier, will bring about initial and immediate savings of some €300,000 per annum. Furthermore, there is potential for additional savings and a better use of existing resources as a result of the replacement of the Central Fisheries Board and seven regional fisheries boards with a single body and the elimination of the National Salmon Commission and eight fisheries co-operative societies. The House will appreciate that it is difficult to quantify these saving as they will occur over time. I expect them to be delivered.

The McCarthy report suggested potential for savings of €4 million from this restructuring and while it does not set out a detailed regime for bringing about such savings, this new body will, from the outset, have a clear focus on efficiency and value for money.

I now propose to outline the main provisions of the Bill. For the convenience of the House a detailed explanatory memorandum has been published and this provides a synopsis of the provisions. The Bill consists of 80 sections and five schedules. Its single purpose is the establishment of Inland Fisheries Ireland. However, for the purposes of better regulation, a number of existing provisions of the legislation governing inland fisheries management are restated.

The restated provisions are unaltered apart from changes to ensure that they apply to Inland Fisheries Ireland and some minor drafting amendments. This ensures that as many provisions as possible pertaining to the new body are contained in a single statute to make it easier for those referring to the legislation. Part 1 contains standard provisions dealing with definitions, repeals and expenses connected with the Bill. Section 5 provides that Inland Fisheries Ireland will be established on a day determined by the Minister by Order.

Part 2 sets out the provisions governing Inland Fisheries Ireland and transitional arrangements required to ensure the smooth changeover to the new structures. Inland Fisheries Ireland will assume the functions of the existing central and regional fisheries boards and in addition will undertake a number of new functions which are set out in section 7.

The principal role of Inland Fisheries Ireland will be the protection and conservation of the State's inland fisheries resource. It will also be required to promote, support, facilitate and advise the Minister on the conservation, protection, management, development and improvement of inland fisheries, including sea angling. In addition, Inland Fisheries Ireland will be expected to take a greater role in the development of policy and national strategies relating to inland fisheries and the implementation and delivery of such strategies.

In recognition of the need and the value of stakeholder participation in the sector, provision has been made in section 7 for the establishment of a national inland fisheries forum. Inland Fisheries Ireland will also become responsible for the establishment of a standing scientific committee which will advise on technical and scientific matters relating to the management of the State's inland fisheries resource. This replaces the standing scientific committee established by the National Salmon Commission. Section 7 also ensures that Inland Fisheries Ireland has the necessary powers for the continuation of the issuing of licences and striking of rates in accordance with the existing fisheries legislation.

Section 8 ensures that all of the functions conferred on the central and regional fisheries boards under the existing statute are transferred to Inland Fisheries Ireland on the establishment day. Section 9 provides that Inland Fisheries Ireland will manage and report its business on the basis of river basin districts defined for the purposes of the European Water Framework Directive. This section allows for the modification, by order, of this arrangement if necessary. I have already set out the reasoning behind this approach.

Section 12 sets out the membership and method of appointment of members to Inland Fisheries Ireland. The Bill provides that it will have a board of nine people. The chairman and two others will be appointed on the Minister's nomination, two will be appointed on the nomination of the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, while one will be a staff representative appointed following an election process. The remaining three will be appointed having regard to the advice of the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. This follows the approach adopted in the Broadcasting Act 2009. In addition, it is proposed to include the CEO as an ex officio member of the board as is standard practice in State agencies.

I have long maintained that the board should be small and contain a strong focus relevant to the business of Inland Fisheries Ireland and to the general issue of good corporate governance. The provisions in the Bill achieve this. This is of particular importance given the significant annual budget for which the new body will be responsible. The Bill provides that potential appointees to the board must have had experience of or have shown capacity in one or more of a number of areas, including recreational fisheries, angling, commercial fishing and ownership of fisheries.

These competencies are no more or less important than the other competencies listed in the Bill, such as business or commercial affairs, environmental or biodiversity matters and legal or regulatory affairs, all of which are essential to effective stewardship of a State-sponsored body. It is my intention that members appointed to the board will have the necessary expertise and competencies to lead Inland Fisheries Ireland to fully deliver on its potential.

Section 13 sets out the procedures for the election of a staff representative to the board of Inland Fisheries Ireland. Section 14 makes provision in relation to the term of office of members to Inland Fisheries Ireland and provides for a system of rolling appointments. This should ensure that the corporate knowledge of the board is preserved at all times while also bringing fresh ideas and faces to the boardroom. Sections 15 to 22 set out the usual best practice procedures in relation to the board including, conditions of office, removal of members from office, resignations, casual vacancies and meetings and procedures of the board. Sections 23 to 27 make provisions with regard to the CEO of Inland Fisheries Ireland and provide for the delegation of the functions of the CEO to other staff members and the further sub-delegation of such functions. Sections 28 and 29 provide that the CEO shall be accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts and to all other committees of the Oireachtas.

Section 30 makes provision in relation to the appointment of employees to Inland Fisheries Ireland. Section 32 contains standard provisions relating to superannuation. Section 33 restates the equivalent section of the Fisheries Act 1980 and provides for the preparation by Inland Fisheries Ireland of a staff scheme for the regulation, control and management of its staff. Sections 35 and 36 contain standard provisions dealing with standards of integrity and unauthorised disclosure of confidential information. Standard provision is also made in sections 38 to 44 in respect of corporate plans, estimates, grants, accounts and audits applicable to Inland Fisheries Ireland.

Sections 45 to 53 set out the transitional arrangements for the changeover to the new structure and provides for the dissolution of the central and regional fisheries boards. Provision is made for the transfer of property, assets, rights and liabilities, including superannuation liabilities, to Inland Fisheries Ireland and to ensure that existing contracts, agreements and arrangements remain in force.

Section 46 facilitates the transfer of employees of the existing boards to Inland Fisheries Ireland on terms and conditions of employment no less favourable than those enjoyed immediately prior to the transfer. Employees of Inland Fisheries Ireland will be covered by a broad range of employment protections under employment law. Sections 52 and 53 require Inland Fisheries Ireland to prepare final accounts and a final annual report in respect of the central and regional fisheries boards.

Part 3 restates existing provisions of fisheries legislation which deal with the administration of inland fisheries. These provisions remain unchanged apart from some minor drafting amendments and necessary changes to ensure that they apply to Inland Fisheries Ireland. In section 54, which restates provisions dealing with the by-law making powers of the Minister, the value of fines applicable for breaches of by-laws have been increased in accordance with the consumer price index to bring them into line with current values.

Part 4 restates a number of provisions of the Fisheries Act 1980 dealing with offences and legal proceedings under existing fisheries legislation. Again, monetary penalties have been increased in accordance with the consumer price index to ensure they are in line with current values.

In most cases, the fines were set in 1980 and have not been changed since.

Section 77 restates the equivalent section of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2000 which put in place a regime of on-the-spot fines for minor inland fisheries offences. The existing provisions have been amended slightly in order to allow that different amounts can be prescribed in respect of different offences. Part 5 restates certain provisions of the Fisheries Act 1980 that deal with miscellaneous matters, including powers of the Minister in operating a fishery. There have been no changes introduced other than to ensure the provisions apply to inland fisheries Ireland.

There are five Schedules to the Bill. Schedule 1 sets out the repeal of existing fisheries legislation. Schedules 2 and 3 detail amendments to existing statutes and statutory instruments, which ensure that references to the central and regional fisheries boards are appropriately changed. Schedules 4 and 5 restate the Fifth Schedule to the Fisheries Act 1980 and the schedule to the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2000, respectively.

In conclusion, this Bill is an important measure in delivering new management structures for the inland fisheries resource. The inland fisheries management must be equipped for the challenges of the future at a time of public sector reform. I am determined that every opportunity must be availed of to effect economies and attain efficiencies from within the system to deliver further value for money against the significant Exchequer investment in this resource. That said, I wish to safeguard the inland fisheries resource in the face of significant upheaval caused by demands of contemporary 21st century society for spatial development and economic progress, past excesses in exploitation of stocks and impending climate change factors.

I wish to take this opportunity to put on the record of the House my appreciation for all those who have served on the existing boards and for their dedication and commitment to our national resource. I am sure they will continue to play a valuable role and know we all share the best interests for the future of the sector.

It will not come as a surprise to the Minister of State that one reason a division took place in the House earlier today regarding this legislation was because its handling, in respect of the length of time it has taken to bring it to the House, has been farcical. For the past three years in a row and more, Members have been obliged to extend the regional fisheries boards as currently constituted. Each time, they have been told by the sitting Minister, who, to be fair has not always been the current incumbent, that by the following summer or by this time next year, new structures would be in place and, therefore, new elections to the regional fisheries boards were not required. Each time, however, nothing has happened. Each time, Members waited for another year when, through ministerial order, the request again was made to postpone elections to fisheries boards.

While I am unsure whether there is anything to be gained by harping on about this issue because Members are getting on with the task now, it is important to note when one has made a bags of something. Although the legislation's content looks pretty good, it is clear there has been no ministerial drive or priority accorded to this issue. Consequently, the Bill has only reached the House two weeks before the Dáil is due to break up and it is clear that Members will not complete their deliberations on it before the end of the year either. As a result, I expect the Minister will be obliged to return to the House in ten days or less to ask Members to postpone the elections to the regional fisheries boards yet again, in order that they can conclude the debate on this legislation early next year.

This is no way in which to do business, particularly when Members have listened repeatedly to the same mantra to the effect that this issue would be dealt with by the following year and that Members should work with the Government on it. Last year, out of frustration, the two Opposition spokespersons refused to work with the Government on this issue and opposed the deferral of elections to regional fisheries boards. They again were promised that this issue would be dealt with by the end of the summer but, again, that did not happen and Members find themselves back in the same position once more. I acknowledge the risk of boring the House and I will not go on about this subject for too long. I commend those who have worked on the legislation as they appear to have put together a comprehensive Bill. However, it contains a number of items that I wish to discuss.

I recognise and commend the work that has been done by many people in both the Central Fisheries Board and in regional fisheries boards, some of whom I have got to know through correspondence during my time as a public representative. It is not easy for people who are in an existing structure to adapt to an entirely new structure that is being set up. I recognise this has been a difficult change to accept within some of the regional boards in particular. However, I believe the Minister is correct to press ahead with his proposals and that it should have happened before now.

I believe that people who do not fish often do not appreciate the resource the inland waterways of Ireland constitute in respect of tourism potential, commercial fishing potential and aquaculture. Ireland is blessed with a fantastic network of natural resources in the form of its inland waterways and these resources should be exploited to the full in a sustainable manner that can ensure that, in 50 years' time, people still will be able to enjoy them. Unfortunately, there have been examples of overfishing, collapsed fish stocks within certain rivers in particular and of mistakes that have been made. I believe it probably makes sense that with a single co-ordinated body, the risk of making such mistakes in the future will be minimised.

As for the new structures, it is proposed to amalgamate the Central Fisheries Board, seven regional boards, the national salmon commission and eight fisheries co-operative societies into a single new body to be called inland fisheries Ireland. Lessons must be learned and although it is overused as an example, I refer to the establishment of the HSE, whereby regional health boards were abolished and a single centralised body was set up. This has not worked in respect of understanding and developing proper health plans on a regional basis. The concern among those who are involved in this industry, as well as among the many board members who no longer will be involved formally in the structures, is that the issues which are specific to their regions will not be catered for in a detailed way by a single centralised body, which will receive advice from a standing scientific committee and will receive policy suggestions from a national inland fisheries forum. Although not ideal, the manner in which current structures work provides a real voice to local anglers, fishermen, angling clubs, draft net users and a whole series of other local interest groups because in a very Irish way, people get to know who is locally responsible for the management of inland waterways in their region.

The idea of holding a national inland fisheries forum in the midlands or elsewhere is unlikely to attract a level of interest to encourage people to make representations or provide the financial supports for them to travel to it. We need to ensure those who cannot afford the time or costs to travel a relatively long distance to a meeting are catered for by moving the forum around the country. It must focus on different regions at various meetings rather than having a centralised meeting room outside of Dublin. Many local anglers have limited resources but feel their local concerns are being listened to under the current structures. It is important, therefore, that they are catered for in the proposed restructuring. I note the Minister of State has taken on board this point and hope he will consider it between now and Committee Stage.

I accept the whittling down of 150 members of the central and regional fisheries boards to a nine-member board of IFI makes sense. However, regional representation will need to be considered in this context. While the legislation has catered for gender balance on the board, it should also ensure regional balance. Section 12(5) states, "a person shall not be appointed by the Minister to be a member of IFI unless he or she has had experience of or shown capacity in agriculture, aquaculture, business or commercial affairs" and so forth. The management of waterways in various areas can present different issues concerning types of fish stocks, challenges and risks from aquaculture and commercial fishing, factors which will be known only to regional representatives. As important as it is to have a balance of skill sets, it is also important to have a balance of regional representation on the board.

The new districts being defined under the European Communities water policy negotiations 2003 roughly represent the regional fisheries boards areas of the past. This is important because people are used to the management of their region, its skill sets and resources.

Will the Minister consider the involvement of the new body in monitoring and being responsible for sea angling? Sea angling, of which I have much experience in Cork Harbour, increasingly involves travel to reefs, offshore areas and fish-breeding areas. It tends to transcend the set borders of regional fisheries board areas. Inland fisheries tend to be defined specifically by rivers and riverbanks while sea fisheries are more of a grey area. Often there is no direct relationship between the fish that come out to sea at river mouths and those caught by sea anglers off the Old Head of Kinsale, for example. Sea angling is not as regulated or monitored in the same way as angling in inland waterways. The IFI, when established, should consider some measures for sea angling. We do not want to over-regulate the activity since the whole idea of going fishing centres on the freedom it involves. At the same time, safety standards need to be ensured and the type of fishing monitored. Will the Minister of State clarify the Bill's intentions in this regard?

Another issue concerns the linkage between other bodies involved in inland waterways such as the Marine Institute, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the ESB. Work needs to be done on an ongoing basis, particularly with the ESB, concerning stocking levels such as ensuring salmon can return to spawning grounds over ESB dams in, for example, the River Lee basin catchment area. Saying that, it would be some salmon to get back up the Lee dams at the moment with the amount of water coming down. Does the Minister intend to include these bodies, as well as other representative groups from the aquaculture industry in the proposed national inland fisheries forum?

The aquaculture industry has enormous potential in Ireland. We have some of the most ideal inlets, bays and harbours for aquaculture in the world, particularly in Cork and the south west. I am not sure we have got it right to date, however. It must be developed in a sustainable manner sympathetic with the management of harbours and other inland waterways.

Regarding the proposed procedures for appointments to the IFI board, it must be remembered that any organisation is driven by its board. The quality of appointees to the IFI board will be extremely important. There was recently a long debate on the appointment of the board for the new Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The same principle of asking an Oireachtas committee to become involved has been employed in this Bill. The committee proposes names to the Minister which, unless for some extraordinary reason, he or she will accept.

I wish to share some of the experience the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources had in this process. We have taken legal and human resources advice, advertised and invited expressions of interest. We have gone through an initial interview process with a view to narrowing down the choice. A total of 140 people applied and we want to narrow it down to a much smaller number for secondary interviews. Then we want to narrow it down to 12 people, of whom we will choose four. It has been, and continues to be, a long, tedious process, which, I hope will produce a good result.

The quality of the candidates is extraordinary in terms of their background and past success. The message is that there are many talented people seeking to be on such boards who have lots to offer, are highly qualified and are not seeking financial return. They wish to be part of a State body that is running a sector of the country. Many of them have never even considered the option in the past because they assumed they had to be preferred by a Minister, have political connection or be recommended by a Department. When one advertises and seeks expressions of interest, one gets an entirely new type of person applying for this type of role.

The irony of what we are doing currently is that the Minister's process for choosing his nominees for the board is one that has always been in place; he asks his officials to recommend names and he chooses them according to his own reasons and is not answerable to anyone. On the other hand, the committee is trying to do everything perfectly; going through the processes, narrowing down the list on the basis of the criteria in the legislation, trying to achieve gender balance and giving everyone a fair opportunity. Canvassing would virtually result in a candidate being eliminated. There is a gaping difference between how, on the one hand, the Minister is putting his people on the board and how, on the other, the committee is behaving. It is only nominating candidates for the Minister to choose.

I commend the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on being willing to do things differently, but I am not sure we have got it right yet. Perhaps when the Bill advances to Committee Stage we can have a detailed debate on how we put the boards together and select them and how that process works, learning from the lessons of the process that is being adopted and the successes and potential failures we are currently experiencing with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. We will have time to do it because, realistically, the legislation will not be in place until well into the new year.

What is being attempted is to have one board member nominated by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and one by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The staff, as is correct, will have a nominee, the Minister will nominate three and then the committee will go through a long process to ensure that it is seen to be getting it right and that it is done in a fair and transparent way to make its three suggestions. I have made the case many times that I would be happier with a system that would require all of the ministerial and staff nominees to come before an Oireachtas committee and that it would have the right of approval rather than trying to find candidates. The role of an Oireachtas committee is to hold the Minister and the Government to account, to test the systems and ensure that they are robust.

To be frank, it is the role of the Minister to make those choices, not to give away that power to a committee. We have differences of opinion on the issue but my role as an Opposition spokesperson is to ensure that the decisions the Minister makes are the correct ones based on the right criteria. That is why I prefer the concept of the committee having a vetting role rather than asking the committee to give three names. We could have a hearing system that would approve the choice of Ministers and in this case the staff to ensure that there is an appropriate balance on the board. Instead, what we have is six board members being selected in the old way, which needs to change, and three people going through an intensive process in the manner I have outlined. There is something wrong with that. Everyone appointed to the board should go through approximately the same process, with the exception perhaps of the staff nominee in terms of his or her background, qualifications and what he or she has to offer.

I welcome the arrival of the Bill in the House. I thank the Minister's officials who took the time to give a personal briefing on it. The legislation is substantial even though its purpose is straightforward and simple. The Bill consists of 94 pages, which is a lot. I accept it takes time but the long time the Bill has taken reflects the priority it had within Government. I do not accept that the genesis of the Bill only dates back to last year's budget when the Minister announced a rationalisation of quangos programme. The Bill was promised five years ago. It is in the House now and we will work with it. I support its main principle but I hope the Minister and his officials will take on board some of the concerns I have expressed.

When I was preparing for this debate I came across an old briefing from the Department outlining the timeframe for the legislation. It set out that the heads of the Bill would be finalised by 2 November 2008. After consultation, the Bill was to be drafted by April 2009. It was to be enacted and commenced by July and vesting day for the new company was to be 1 August 2009. That is telling in terms of how we have veered off the estimated timeframe.

Yet again, we had the farcical situation whereby as a result of the delay an order had to be made to postpone the elections to the regional fisheries boards. That is the fifth time for that to happen. In 2005, the then Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, made an order. In 2006, the then Minister of State, Deputy Browne, made an order. In 2007, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, made an order. In 2008, it was the then Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power. Now we are being asked to go around the roundabout again.

One could argue that I am labouring the point, but it is important to remember that this is set against a background of severe economic recession. The context in which we are debating the Bill is one where we have got to see restructuring and rationalisation of the plethora of State agencies that have mushroomed during the years of plenty. If it is going to take this long to do, what is, relatively speaking, a straightforward task of rationalising in this area, it bodes ill for the kind of major restructuring and rationalisation that is required, both from the point of view of the efficiency of Government, but especially to ensure that we get value for money, as we simply cannot afford to keep going the way we are.

I wish to underline the unacceptably slow pace of the process. I would like to know exactly why it has taken so long. Perhaps the Minister would address that simple question. In 2005, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, voted against the postponement when he was in Opposition. He said ensuring that we keep in office the same elected people was a poor start to the process — the process being the making of the new Bill — and on that basis he was opposing the motion. By 2006, he was getting even more impatient. He described the postponement as a shocking indictment of the Government's inability to prioritise the environment and wild fish stocks. He went as far as to call it a cowardly act. By 2007, he was in Government and signed the order without a whimper. It would be salutary to know how it has taken so long to get from A to B, particularly when the process essentially had all-party support and even had the blessing of an bord snip nua.

The restructuring of the fisheries boards is a necessary step to ensure that the inland fisheries sector reaches its full potential. It is vital that we harness and encourage local expert knowledge, while at the same time providing a coherent overall strategy to help the sector thrive. We all recognise that there are threats to the sector, and the Minister has outlined them. The Bill aims to establish a single national inland fisheries board to replace the existing structures. It will be called inland fisheries Ireland, IFI. It is proposed the new authority will have strengthened powers in terms of development and implementation of national policy. Overall, that is sensible. The Bill also recommends the elimination of the national salmon commission and the eight fisheries co-operative societies.

Our freshwater systems comprise 2% of the area of the State. I am not sure what the percentage has been over the past week but we must be conscious of the fact that we now have a new landscape in terms of flooding, potential flooding and the frequency of flooding. That must be reflected in all policy we make. I recall that when a flood protection scheme for my constituency was being designed, the regional fisheries board was immensely helpful in ensuring that the needs of fishing and angling were taken into account in the design of that project. That type of relationship will be far more evident in the future as we adapt to climate change. I note that under section 80 the IFI would be protected, in effect, from liability for any flooding caused by a structure it owns. It might be a very small thing and it might never arise, but we should scrutinise that section. We cannot presume that the old ways will continue in the new scenario we now face and of which we have had a little experience in recent weeks. There will obviously be a role for the IFI in the development of a national adaptation plan to deal with the flooding.

The consolidation and better use of resources proposed in the Bill is welcome. There must be more efficiencies in the sector and a more streamlined approach. That would be good for both the sector and the Government. Mr. Colm McCarthy's report pointed out that €30 million of the expenditure on the programme for inland fisheries relates to the central and seven regional fisheries boards. The merger of these fisheries boards into a single national authority with regional operations was announced in the budget of October 2008 but, as has been said, it was in gestation long before that. It has been estimated that approximately €300,000 per annum would be saved by reduced board membership. However, it is important to find out the likely costs of the transitional arrangements and how they might negate the savings. There is nothing about it in the Bill; it simply states that there will not be any additional costs.

This raises the question of how to ensure that we are more streamlined in our approach to agencies such as these. The Minister referred to the embargo. I can understand it and do not have a great problem with it. However, there are dangers in using the very clumsy instrument of natural wastage within this structure, in local authorities or in other bodies through people taking early retirement and so forth, in terms of ensuring that we get the right people into the right posts. That is my concern. One can already see at local authority level really good people taking early retirement, particularly ahead of the budget. They are afraid of what might be in the budget. Their jobs are being spread among other people, which might make sense but it is a pretty arbitrary way to manage human resources within these organisations.

The high number of board members has been raised. There are representatives among the board members who have an important role to play and we must recognise that. I do not argue with the fact that the nature of the boards has become unwieldy and the current structures require restructuring. The Farrell Grant Sparks review made it clear that comprehensive restructuring was required. Work has been done since 2004 on how that restructuring should be designed, and now the Bill has been produced. It provides that the existing boards are to be replaced by a single national inland fisheries authority. That is good from the point of view of both conservation and development. There will be nine people on the board and they will mainly be ministerial appointees. Three members are to be appointed following consultation with the Joint Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

Deputy Simon Coveney eloquently made a point about the experiences we have had. I was spokesperson on health when the HSE was being established. At the time, I described my concern that we were replacing one monster with another. Frankly, that is what we got, the old structure of the health boards overlaid by the new structure of the HSE. It is quite dysfunctional and has been a great disappointment to people. Most importantly, it has denied local people the type of representation they had at health board level. Even the experts who were brought in to advise on the restructuring pointed out that there had to be a voice for local people. The Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, simply disregarded that call. In an area involving angling and fisheries local knowledge is of major significance and importance. It is a pity the arrangements that will be made for an advisory forum are not set out in the Bill. The legislation is a little vague on the matter and we must acknowledge, in some statutory way beyond what is in the Bill, the importance of local accountability and knowledge.

With regard to the system for making appointments, the Bill states that the appointees must have experience of or shown capacity in one or more of the areas of agriculture, aquaculture, business and commercial affairs, commercial fishing, environmental biodiversity matters, fish processing, legal or regulatory affairs, matters pertaining to disability, repairing and ownership of fisheries, recreational fisheries, regional development and tourism. The same type of specific provision is contained in the Broadcasting Act. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, does not do what the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, did when making his appointments to the new broadcasting authority. Essentially, he appointed people who had been on the old authority to the new one. However, in my view he did not comply with the law. The law is very specific that the appointees of the Minister must comply with the requirements of the Act.

Due to the elaborate process in which the committee is engaged, we wrote to the Minister asking him what boxes were ticked by his appointees. He either would not or could not tell us. I suspect he could not because they did not tick any. However, he fudged his answer, which puts the committee in a difficult position. When the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, or other Ministers make their appointments they should put an effort into making sure they comply with the law. For law-makers that should be a self-evident requirement, yet in the case of the broadcasting legislation it did not happen. That is a lesson that must be learned.

A number of anglers and organisations have expressed concern that local knowledge, information and accountability might be lost. What about the role of the anglers and will they be represented on the board? The Bill does not seem to preclude angling interests from having a representative, but we must examine this concern.

Concerns have also been expressed about the forum. It is important, in that its job is to advise and assist Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, in all technical and scientific matters. However, people are concerned about its nature in terms of regional representation and accountability. According to the Minister of State, he will develop the terms of reference. I hope he will do so in an open manner. Anglers view themselves as conservators and protectors of local resources.

I welcome the proposed standing scientific committee, but there must be a guarantee of engagement with the sector's practitioners. Grant aid poses an issue, as the co-operative development societies will be gone and the new development groups will be administered by the authority. People are concerned that there will be no grants and that funding will not be there when they look for it.

I wish to raise two minor points, the first being the hoary old chestnut of the CEO, when appearing before a committee, not commenting on Government policy. This provision is framed in the Bill as though it were an edict from God, but that is not the case. Rather, it has been inserted to protect the Government. From time to time, a CEO may need to advise the Oireachtas that a Government policy made in good faith has not worked and must be addressed as a matter of importance of which the Oireachtas needs to be aware. However, CEOs cannot do this because of the muzzling effect of all legislation on board CEOs.

That is correct.

It is peculiar. Essentially, it means that the Government does not trust a CEO. We should grow up. When one considers how openness can lead to a fresher approach to governance, one should have a certain amount of confidence in oneself and in the people one appoints. Deputy Coveney made a valid point on the type of person who has come forward as a result of advertising for participation in the broadcasting authority's structures. People want to serve and do their best for their country. A CEO appointed to the board under discussion is bound to be someone who will ensure that the best job is done. Otherwise, he or she should not be paid as much as many CEOs.

There must be freedom to advise an Oireachtas committee when something is not working. In a private company, a CEO would be in deep trouble if he or she did not advise his or her board as to what was not working. An Oireachtas committee is not a board, but its authority should be recognised. The muzzling provision means that the Government does not trust the CEO or the committee, which is an old-fashioned view.

My final issue is a difficult one and I do not mean to point the finger, but a property in Glasnevin was vacated for health and safety reasons and was to be included in a social housing scheme by Dublin City Council. We do not seem to provide social housing anymore, even though the need for it is increasing. We must examine this matter to determine what can be done to ensure that the asset in question is realised for public good in some way if it is not to be used as social housing.

I commend the Minister of State and his civil servants for their work in producing this Bill. I hope he will have an open mind to amendments, although I do not envisage that there will be many. I also hope there will be no undue delay, as we have had enough of that. We must have a streamlined structure that is more efficient and cost effective and maintains the best of the old structures, namely, local accountability and the connections comprising a sophisticated network of conveying information that has developed over a long period. I hope the Minister of State is in a position to do this. If so, a good day's work will have been done.

Is Deputy White sharing time?

I will share time with Deputy Cuffe, if he has not gone fishing.

Perhaps I should declare my interest. I live on the side of a great river in Carlow, the Barrow. Its 119 miles rise in the Slieve Bloom Mountains and it passes through Carlow. I spent many years fishing for eels and salmon before stocks got low. I am happy to be a true conservationist now. My fyke nets are hung up in my garage. I am delighted that this legislation is before the House and not before time.

There is a 90-year ban on fishing for eels.

Until the stocks recover.

Exactly. We are in a three-year interregnum.

Ninety years is a long time.

Extinction is forever.

That is debatable.

After many years of gestation, the Bill is before the House and I welcome the opportunity to speak on it. That there would be a new definition of how the boards are run is important. In 1990, I heard with great shock that four officers from the south western fisheries board had been killed in an accident in Ballycotton. I remember thinking what an appalling event it was. At the time, I was involved in life on the Barrow. I have never forgotten their deaths.

I am closely allied with many members of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board in my area, great rivermen who know the river intimately, patrol their stretches and know exactly what is going on. They can tell when the salmon or trout are running, what types of coarse fish are in the river and what types of alien species are growing in our rivers. They know about the lack of stocks in terms of the disappearance of the eels and insect larvae and the declining biodiversity. If one lives near a river and walks it daily, one becomes not only in tune with its wildlife and biodiversity, but with the colour of its waters, the flow of the river and what weirs do. For example, weirs have an important function in holding back waters in floods. The structure of the rivers should be protected by the new Bill.

The proposal to create a single national inland fisheries body is welcome to myself and others in the House and will provide for a more efficient and effective management of fisheries policy and more coherent policy formulation and will allow for the alignment of regional operations of local authorities with river basin districts. I am pleased that there will be a national inland fisheries forum and a standing scientific committee to provide scientific expertise for policy makers, whether it be in stock levels for conservation decisions or pollution monitoring for environmental protection.

I warmly welcome the decision of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to continue with his approach towards appointments to State boards and the Bill's provision for three of the nine members of the new authority to be chosen by the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, did this successfully in the case of the new Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and I commend him for doing it again. This type of approach is the beginning of political reform in the way in which State appointments are made.

The new body, Inland Fisheries Ireland, will face many challenges as it tries to look after the interests of everyone who uses our rivers. I refer, for example, to those involved in various types of fishing, such as snap net fishing, inshore drift fishing and eel fishing, which is about to be confined to protection measures. The body will also have a role in protecting our weirs and taking measures against pollution. I am glad that section 80 of the Bill relates to the effects of the flooding of rivers, and the streams that flow into our rivers, on biodiversity. We have seen in recent days that rivers and streams can have a decisive impact on flood waters. I am pleased that section 69 of the Bill allows the Minister to prohibit the use of certain nets on rivers. I have often come across stake nets that have been flung across rivers like the Barrow, the Nore and the Slaney. We know that anyone who uses a stake net is up to no good. I would like more patrolling of our rivers and an end to insidious poaching. At weekends, when I walk my dogs along the banks of the River Barrow at night, I often see people using headlights to help them catch fish. That is absolutely to be discouraged. Anyone who fishes by night should not be doing that. We should compliment the private water keepers from the clubs who do a marvellous job to keep an eye out for activities like stake net fishing and poaching on our rivers. I urge those with agricultural interests along our rivers to make sure they maintain the water quality to a pristine level, in the interests of the survival of coarse fish and prime species like salmon and trout. I notice that various species of birds, such as egrets, are migrating from Africa to our rivers as a result of climate change. I have a keen interest in the biodiversity of our rivers.

I welcome this legislation, which is long overdue. I look forward to seeing the new inland fisheries board in operation. It will not work on behalf of any particular group, but for everybody who has a love of the river. I refer to those who walk along the riverbank, fish in the river and row on the river, as well as all the stakeholders in fishing, such as anglers and coarse fishermen. We have a duty to look after our priceless aquatic environment. I am glad there are plenty of provisions in this Bill to ensure that the riverine environment, which many of us live near and love deeply, is protected from the worst aspects of modern life. I refer to the mistakes of local authorities, the actions of industry and the river pollution incidents associated with agriculture. We have to make sure our waters are pristine and uphold the biodiversity of our rivers. The sustainable future for inland fishing involves the development of tourism. When I served on the Barrow catchment committee, someone said to me that every salmon that is caught can be worth up to €1,700 to the local economy. When a tourist catches a salmon, he or she is likely to go to the pub that night to talk about how big it was. Even if he or she does not catch it, everyone will hear about the one that got away. Those who spend the day, or a couple of days, fishing are likely to spend money in local communities at night. I hope stocks will recover so that our rivers will be full of fish again and we will no longer need the ban on salmon and trout fishing that is currently in force. Tourism in this area should be sustainable, in the sense that it should respect the environment. Anglers should respect fish stocks and the countryside surrounding our rivers. We need to protect the great rivers in Carlow-Kilkenny, which is one of the finest riverine constituencies in Ireland, not for our sake or for the sake of any one stakeholder, but for the sake of future generations. The future of our rivers will be secured if we provide for responsible management and leadership. The Bill before the House will facilitate that.

Our fish stocks are in danger. There is an onus on this Parliament to modernise the legislation under which our rivers, which constitute an incredible natural resource, are patrolled and protected. We need to ensure that fish stocks are available for future generations. I said earlier that extinction is forever. Some of the measures that have been introduced in recent years have been criticised. I refer to the end of drift netting, for example, or the introduction of a moratorium on fishing for eels. Such controversial measures were introduced with worthy goals in mind — to allow fish stocks to recover, to protect part of the our biosphere and to maintain fish resources for future generations. One of the saddest aspects of the reduction of fish stocks in recent years has been the manner in which various countries have blamed each other. On this side of the Atlantic, we tend to blame the Canadians and the Americans, or even the Spanish, for the extinction of fish stocks. If one goes to Spain or Canada, however, one will hear people blaming Irish and Scottish fishermen, among others. We have to realise that many fish species are in danger of extinction or are at historically low levels. We need to do something about that in our oceans and rivers.

There is a strong and compelling argument for the amalgamation of the various regional fisheries boards, which employ more than 400 people. We should ensure that certain economies of scale apply. I do not doubt that, as the explanatory memorandum suggests, savings will be achieved and existing resources will be better used as a result of this legislation. I am heartened by that because it is good to do more with less in these difficult economic times. I give credit to the members of the regional fisheries boards who have had the difficult task of policing our rivers over many years. They have encountered threats in many instances and violence in some cases. Many of those who engage in the front-line policing of our rivers have a difficult task. They have responded well to the threats and other problems they have encountered over the years. The protection of our watercourses is a multifaceted task. We need to consider the role of bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Teagasc in applying the EU policy document known as the nitrates directive. It has been far too easy to attribute the blame for difficulties in farming and other sectors on laws that have been decreed in Brussels and to suggest that the EU has no understanding of the challenges faced by farmers and others. If we do not control the use of nitrous fertilisers on our farms, we will end up polluting our watercourses, which will have a direct impact on the number of fish in our rivers. There is a compelling need to control the kind of pollutants that tend to end up in our rivers and to place a strong obligation on farmers to practice good farm management. The EPA should be also subject to strong obligations. Industrial premises have been polluting our rivers for far too long. They have used various techniques and tricks, such as the discharge of pollutants during night-time hours or the use of holding tanks to wait for what the industry might see as the right time for such discharge. As that has a dramatic impact on our watercourses, we need to control it.

I alluded to planning, which is another area about which we need to think carefully, during this evening's debate on climate change. We have to realise that the use of septic tanks leads to the pollution of watercourses in the case of a significant percentage of Irish soils. Such pollutants can therefore drain directly into our rivers and cause fish kills. This complex problem cannot be solved if industrial, agricultural and domestic discharges, including discharges from septic tanks, are not controlled. If, however, we can put the right kind of controls in these areas that will allow people to live where they should live, which in many cases is in the countryside, allow jobs to be created in our industries without causing contamination and allow our farms produce good, sustainable local produce, we will be able to do all of that and still protect our fish life. There is a great onus on the new body, inland fisheries Ireland, to control all of this and liaise with the other State agencies, whether Teagasc, the EPA or local authorities that have significant responsibilities with regard to municipal sewage treatment works. If we can control all of this, we will be able to create many jobs in fishing and sustain many more people in the countryside. It can be a win-win situation for all bodies involved.

I commend my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on introducing the legislation to the House. A great deal of it will have to be teased out in detail on Committee Stage but I have no doubt there is a commitment on all sides to improving the water quality of our rivers and their fish stocks and to bringing sustainable employment to our rural areas and on our rivers. That will produce an Ireland of which we can all be proud.

Deputy Perry has ten minutes. The House must adjourn at 11.20 p.m.

It has taken us many years to get to the point where legislation related to the nation's freshwater resources is being introduced by the Government. The primary focus of the proposed Bill is on the problem of structure in the sector. In my view, it is an integrated solution with emphasis on freshwater fish but completely misses the big picture. National freshwater resources have not suffered from a lack of studies, reviews and reports over the years. Many of these studies and reviews in the inland fisheries sector were initiated in response to perceived problems with institutional arrangements such as regionalised management structures, strong involvement of local interests in decision making, complex issues of ownership, reliance on State funding and tensions between different stakeholders. Studies and reviews were also initiated in response to concerns of over-exploitation of fish stocks and threats to fish habitats from a variety of adverse environmental and water quality pressures.

I know that, having been involved with the ban on fishing and drift netting which was very commendable at the time. The ban on nets was very much welcomed and the conservation of salmon stocks was very much appreciated for the future. When one looks at the budget of €20 million for inland fisheries over the years, one sees that almost 95% was spent on administration. This area has been starved of money in many ways for years.

However, many of these studies and reviews looked only at selected aspects or at particular dimensions. Most of the reports encountered difficulty with regard to implementation of significant change because in many cases the different stakeholder interests in the sector are in conflict with one another and, in some instances, are mutually exclusive. Recognising the need for change in the sector, in 2003 the Department commissioned independent consultants to undertake a detailed examination of the State's role and objectives in the inland fisheries sector. The aim was to evaluate the adequacy of the current model for the governance of the sector and to recommend a structure that would contribute to the optimum development of the inland fisheries resource in Ireland.

The terms of reference for the 2003 study were wide ranging. The emphasis was to review the development issues in the sector, including the model for governance of the sector, funding arrangements, sector conservation and development, institutional arrangements, including roles and relationships, performance indicators, etc. The terms of reference also required the consultants to factor into their thinking the implementation of the EU water framework directive and the national spatial strategy with respect to the integration of inland fisheries considerations into land use planning.

This is very important when one considers the massive flooding at the moment, namely, land use flooding. That was the remit of the Farrell, Grant and Sparks report. One sees the devastation in all the counties on the news every evening where land plains were developed and rezoned for planning, including the massive building in Carrick-on-Shannon. It is like Venice there at the moment.

According to the consultants' report, it is clear the intention of the Minister of State and his Department was to commission a holistic, root and branch review of the sector which would lead to fundamental change and that there would be new thinking and innovative approaches in the future. However, this entire review exercise has been a disaster from the start. The consultants' report sat on the desk of the former Minister for the Marine for six months before it was finally published to widespread condemnation in November 2005. Strong stakeholder and industry resistance to the proposals were clearly evident from the beginning and there was little or no willingness to participate in consultations on the actions required to deliver the recommendations of the report. Those were two elements of the Farrell, Grant and Sparks report.

A period of confusion followed, with the development of alternative restructuring proposals to be considered by the Minister of State. These considerations came to an abrupt end with the current Government policy to rationalise State agencies, in particular, the budget day announcement in October 2008 that the existing central and regional fisheries boards were to be replaced by a single national authority.

After a review initiated in 2003, a report published in 2005 and four wasted years later, we are now back to a Government Bill that effectively implements the 2005 consultants' report. The Minister of State referred to the Department's overall policy of responsibility for conservation management, regulation and development of the inland fisheries sector, assisted in its mission by the central and regional fisheries boards, other agencies and the Marine Institute.

I have visited that institute and know it as a very fine development. Perhaps the Minister might indicate what its role in this body will be because it has a significant research facility. It is mentioned only in a small way. I would like the Minister of State to elaborate on the role of the Marine Institute, the locks agency, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the ESB. Perhaps he might get clarification from the ESB and come back to the House with it. He said that organisation has an important role in the sector.

The concerns on the Shannon at present are with the operation of the locks and the water levels. There are so many different agencies involved, the Nationals Parks and Wildlife Service, SSE, HEA and all the different authorities. Very many people deal with this area. Will the ESB have an involvement in the new forum that is now to be established? The Minister of State referred to North-South correlations. These will be beneficial in implementing the EU-sponsored measures in this sector. The Minister might elaborate on what he plans with the North-South development. There is a cross-Border institutional body dealing with this too. What plans has he got and what are the possibilities?

There are 150 members at present and the Minister of State plans to reduce that to nine, a considerable reduction. How will those numbers reflect the interests of the country and the opportunities for development? He stated that stakeholder involvement is vital at local level but must be properly structured and channelled to ensure that input from diverse and sometimes competing stakeholders can be utilised to best effect. He might indicate how that can be done.

One part of the Bill that I wholeheartedly welcome is the section that provides for inland fisheries Ireland to establish and manage a national inland fisheries forum. However, neither the Bill nor the Minister of State's press release provide any indication of the composition and terms of reference for the proposed forum. I ask the Minister to come back to the House on that point. I have long advocated a stronger role for stakeholders in the inland and marine sectors. Concerning tourism, Deputy Simon Coveney correctly stated the potential for development of the rivers must be examined.

I want to see a situation where fishermen, conservationists and all the stakeholders with a genuine interest in the sector are involved.

Debate adjourned.