Topical Issue Debate

Mortgage Interest Rates

I thank the Minister for being here in person to discuss this issue with me. As he will be well aware, Allied Irish Banks is 100% in State ownership. Yesterday it announced it was adding 0.4 percentage points to its standard variable mortgage rate and raising variable rates at EBS by 0.25 percentage points. As the Minister will know, this move by AIB will adversely affect 70,000 AIB variable rate mortgage holders and put struggling households under further pressure. AIB's average variable rate mortgage is around €130,000 and this rate increase will mean an increase of almost €300 annually for its variable rate mortgage holders. AIB's standard variable customers absorbed a total increase of 1 percentage point in their mortgage rates in 2012. AIB will say that the decision to raise its variable rates is driven by the need to ensure that the bank's lending is at a sustainable level long-term. However, this is the same bank into which the taxpayers of this State have pumped €21 billion during the past four years. It is true to say that AIB has been at the lower end of mortgage lending but there is a genuine concern that it is the variable rate mortgage holder who is being asked to pick up the tab and is being unfairly hit. There is obviously a connection between this announcement and the expected announcement next week from the ECB of a reduction in interest rates, which will be welcomed by those on tracker mortgages. However, it is clear that what AIB and other banks are doing is robbing Peter to pay Paul, and that in order to absorb whatever move the ECB makes, variable rate mortgage holders will be asked to pick up the tab.

Considering our relationship with this bank, the €21 billion we have put into it, the level of resentment in Irish society about what the Irish taxpayer has had to do to save it and the amount of pressure mortgage holders are under, any mortgage holders who listened to radio reports or read newspaper articles on the rate increase this morning would have got a cold shiver down their spines when they realised that mortgages they find almost impossible to service will be even more difficult to service as a result of this announcement. Is there a plan to break the toxic link between the pressure faced by those on variable mortgages and those on tracker mortgages? There is obviously a connection between what the ECB will do next week and what AIB did yesterday. Does the Minister have any words of comfort or a direct message of comfort to offer to those who are paying variable rate mortgages and who will do so for the foreseeable future? Mortgage holders who heard yesterday's announcement will have thought about the 1% they were asked to contribute last year. There is a further increase now and they are wondering what is around the corner in terms of what more they might be expected to contribute. Every time there is word from the ECB about a lowering of interest rates, they will expect an increase in their variable mortgage rate.

I ask the Minister directly if there is a plan to break this link. Is there some effect he can have on the situation? What words of comfort can he offer those mortgage holders who are literally terrified not just about yesterday's announcement but about what is to come in the coming months and years?

While the Government is acutely aware of the increasing financial stress that some households are facing in the current environment, ultimately, the pricing of financial products, including standard variable mortgage interest rates, is a commercial matter for the management and the boards of the institutions concerned. As the Deputy will be aware, the relationship framework with the bank provides that the State will not intervene in the day-to-day operations of the bank or its management decisions. These frameworks are published on the Department of Finance website. I must ensure that the bank is run on a commercial, cost-effective and independent basis to ensure the value of the bank as an asset to the State, as per the memorandum on economic and financial policies agreed with the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF.

Neither the Central Bank nor the Department of Finance has a statutory function with regard to interest rate decisions made by individual lending institutions at any particular time. While this decision by AIB is regrettable, it is strictly a commercial decision by the board of AIB and I understand that the increase brings AIB in line with the market average. The standard variable rates charged by the Irish banks are significantly below the equivalent rates charged by banks in the rest of the euro area, even though many of these banks have far lower funding costs.

It must be remembered that in order to fund mortgages, the bank must borrow at current wholesale rates, which are higher than the ECB base rate, and must ensure that the rate at which it lends is economically sustainable and provides a return for the bank and, ultimately, the State as its shareholder. It would not be fair for 2.1 million taxpayers to subsidise 138,000 owner-occupier mortgages, especially when the vast majority of these mortgage holders can afford to pay their mortgages.

I understand that the Central Bank of Ireland pays attention to the effect of any increases in the standard variable rate on mortgage arrears, and would no doubt be concerned if banks were exacerbating their arrears problem and, as such, impairing their ongoing viability by such actions.

The Government has recently set out targets for banks regarding offers made to customers in arrears. The insolvency service was launched last week and has issued relevant guidelines ahead of the acceptance of applications in the future. I understand from AIB that in the course of quarter one, nearly 8,000 customers who were in arrears were cured out of arrears via a combination of business-as-usual arrears management activity and the completion of permanent restructures and that circa 1,400 split mortgage offers have been made by the bank to its customers.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He states in his reply: "It would not be fair for 2.1 million taxpayers to subsidise 138,000 owner occupier mortgages, especially when the vast majority of these mortgage holders can afford to pay their mortgages." It is unfair that variable rate mortgage holders are asked to subsidise those on tracker mortgages. Those on tracker mortgages are protected by contract yet nobody in this House can speak up for those on variable interest rates. It is our responsibility to do that. Would the Minister commit to coming before the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform to offer us a three to five year plan to deal with those on variable interest rate mortgages because this situation will get worse? If we are serious about tackling the mortgage crisis we must have a three to five year plan because every time the ECB decides to decrease interest rates that has a positive effect on tracker mortgages but it is being subsidised by variable rate mortgages. That is not sustainable. In order to be proactive and constructive will the Minister come before the committee and offer us a plan to deal with those variable rate mortgage holders?

The insolvency legislation is very welcome. It is a first step in tackling this problem. It will be of great benefit to those in mortgage difficulties but we cannot deny that the variable rate mortgage issue is gathering momentum as a problem and it will continue to be a problem unless we have a three to five year plan in order to deal comprehensively with it.

As I said in my initial reply neither the Department of Finance nor the Central Bank has any statutory power to direct lending institutions on the interest they charge on any particular mortgage. Debate, however, is always worthwhile and if there is to be a debate at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform the appropriate invitations should be issued to the lending banks and to the organisations that provide mortgages. The committee can ask them if they are linking trackers with variable rate mortgages and what is their future plan.

The Government has set out its plan for dealing with impaired mortgages. That is pretty well known now because it was announced in great detail and already we can see from the 8,000 offers made by AIB in the first quarter of this year that the plan is being put into effect. It is of much shorter duration than that suggested by the Deputy.

Primary School Enrolment Process

I do not want to labour my point because it is straightforward and I am conscious that it is not within the remit of the Minister for Finance. I have a problem in my constituency which probably exists in many constituencies. I am sure that Deputy Kevin Humphreys, who is present, gets the same phone calls as I get about the enrolment process in primary schools. I received a telephone call a few evenings ago from a young mother whose daughter is due to start school in September. She is worried sick because the child has not yet been offered a place. There are plenty of very good primary schools in the constituency. The problem is that the child has been on a waiting list since she was five weeks old. There is a problem in the system. One of the schools told the mother that it would not take her child because the mother does not speak Irish well enough. Another school refused her on religious grounds. She could not get into a third because it is so popular. Then the parents thought that if they could put the money together with help from their parents they might get the child into a fee-paying school but it turned out that she could not get in there. When I say the child was refused I mean that she was put on waiting lists but she was so far down that the schools told the parents informally not to hold their breath.

I have had this conversation many times with parents but never in September which makes me believe that children get school places eventually and not always in their locality. There is a real problem in the system and we need to address it in a comprehensive way because it causes worry for families. Parents then put their children's names on many lists to be sure of getting into a school, which is understandable. The schools are not sure how many pupils are coming in the following September so they cannot plan ahead. The system is inefficient and is wasting money and causing unnecessary stress in the community for many young parents and their families.

I will be interested to hear the plans of the Minister for Education and Skills and when we will see them. This week we heard proposals from the Irish Primary Principals Network to address this problem. It spoke of a centralised web-based system with an agreed deadline for applications for primary schools and an agreed response time from those primary schools telling parents whether the child had been accepted. Parents would rank the schools by preference and hopefully in a fair system children would get into schools that way and everyone would know in plenty of time where the child would be going to school and come September the schools would know how many pupils they would have. That in turn would affect class size and teacher allocations. I am not advocating the idea as a whole. I do not think the Department should be given power but there is a more efficient community-based way to approach this problem and I will be interested hear the views of the Minister for Education and Skills on the issue.

The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, has asked me to reply on his behalf to Deputy Eoghan Murphy's query. He said that he spoke about the need for a fair and transparent enrolment process at the teacher union conferences that were held at Easter. I will quote from the Minister's speech in responding to the points raised by the Deputy:

The Education Act of 1998 set out quite clearly that schools are required to operate admissions policies that provide for maximum accessibility to the school. Put simply, schools should be inclusive.

Most schools in Ireland, most of the time, are inclusive and welcoming of all children. The Education Act, however, is light touch in terms of providing ways and means of ensuring that all schools welcome all children.

Other than Section 29, which has become cumbersome for schools and parents, the current legislation does not include provisions for resolving problems when they arise. At present in legislation we do not have any tailored measures that deal with different admission issues that can arise. For example, there is a difference between dealing with oversubscription which means that all simply cannot be accommodated in the school of first choice, and a situation where an individual child can find no place at all.

The Minister said that he will shortly bring to Government draft heads of the Education (Admission to School) Bill 2013. He said he will be publishing the Bill in draft form to allow a full public discussion, including inputs from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection and the education partners. He also plans to publish alongside the Bill the draft regulations that he plans to make when it is enacted. We do not want to intrude unnecessarily into how schools do business. The only policy objective is to ensure that the way in which schools decide on applications is more structured, fair and transparent.

The draft legislation will make it clear that some methods of controlling admissions will no longer be permitted. For example, the first come, first served basis for selecting students might look reasonable to some but it can mean that children who move to an area from other parts of the country, or from other countries, can be effectively excluded from schools that have more applicants than places. That situation, according to the Minister, cannot be allowed. The draft regulations will radically alter the operation of waiting lists, while accepting that schools need time to implement such change.

Schools will no longer be permitted to charge parents simply to apply for a place in a school. We have seen an over-use of preferential treatment for the children of past pupils, or more insidiously, the requirement for children and their parents to attend compulsory open days or be interviewed. These practices will be curtailed.

Any school that is faithful to the Education Act in providing maximum access will have nothing to fear from these proposals. He also wishes to clarify the point that schools will still be able to give priority to applicants whose siblings attend the school.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. It is the Minister’s intention to publish the heads of a Bill and accompanying draft regulations to cover this area. These will then be referred to the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, while the various interest groups will be invited to make submissions on the Minister’s proposals. We are at the start of the process and the Minister has set down the main tracks along which he hopes the discussion will run.

I thank the Minister for his response. He is correct that we do not want to unnecessarily intrude in the operation of schools, but I am glad he recognises that this issue needs to be addressed. I support his proposals in this regard. The sooner we can get the heads of the Bill drafted and the committee working on them, the better. Certain plans are welcome and I agree that it makes sense to allow siblings to go to the same school.

I raised this matter as a Topical Issue because this week the Irish Primary Principals' Network proposed a centralised admissions system. I was hoping to hear the Minister’s response to that particular proposal and see if it would feed into his own framework. As he is not here, we are not able to probe that matter. I appreciate the time given to the debate by the Minister for Finance on his behalf.

Road Projects Status

I am seeking an update on the actions taken by the Government so far in reconfirming its commitment to the A5 road project between Derry and Aughnacloy. As the Minister of State knows, this is a project that emanated from the St. Andrews Agreement in March 2007. The British and Irish Governments, with the Northern parties, agreed to jointly fund this project. Unfortunately, due to a court decision in the North last week, planning permission for the project has been overturned and the project will be delayed for up to a year. We need a reaction from the Irish Government, similar to the partnership-type approach in 2007, to liaise with the Northern Ireland Executive and the British Government to ensure the funding earmarked for the project continues to be assigned to it and that the Irish Government continues to maintain its commitment to the project, which was clear from the start.

Since the Government came into office, the commitment to the funding assigned to the project has been reduced. Once, we were co-funding the A5 road and were committed to having it in operation by the end of 2015. Now, the Government will give £25 million to the project in 2015, followed by another £25 million in 2016. It is essential that the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport meet with their Northern counterparts to show an urgency and respect for the significance of this road to Donegal and the north west, as well as the east of Northern Ireland. They must re-emphasise the fact that they will work together to have this road finished.

The Northern Ireland Executive has committed to spending £100 million this year on the project, followed by another £100 million over the next two years. It is crucial that the Irish Government work with the Executive to ensure no question arises over the project’s funding, which is essential for the completion of the road.

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Arising from the St. Andrews Agreement, the Irish Government gave a commitment to co-fund the construction of the A5 through Northern Ireland to Derry, thus improving access to Letterkenny and north Donegal. The Government's original commitment was to have been a contribution of £400 million for investment in roads infrastructure in Northern Ireland, which was included in a joint infrastructure investment package announced in March 2007 by the British and Irish Governments in the lead-up to the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive.

As the planning process for the A5 progressed, the Irish Government contributed £22 million to the project. It had been envisaged, subject to the outcome of the planning process, that the balance of the Irish Government's contribution would be paid between 2013 and 2016 in accordance with the achievement of specified milestones during the construction phase of the project. However, following an extensive capital review conducted in 2011 by the Government and in view of the current economic position, it proved necessary to defer the funding commitment to the A5. At the North-South Ministerial Council plenary on 18 November 2011, it was noted that the provision of further funding by the Irish Government for the A5 road was being deferred but that the Government would provide £25 million per annum in 2015 and 2016 towards the project.

In February 2012, the Northern Ireland Minister for Regional Development announced the Northern Ireland Executive's plan for funding two significant sections of the A5, between Derry and Strabane and between Omagh and Ballygawley, at an estimated cost of £330 million, which included the £50 million to be provided by the Irish Government. Following publication of the necessary statutory orders in advance of construction, the decision by the Northern Ireland Minister for Regional Development to proceed with the two sections of the A5 was challenged by a group known as the Alternative A5 Alliance.

On 12 March 2013, the Northern Ireland High Court rejected the overwhelming majority of the applicants' grounds of challenge. One of the applicants' grounds was, however, upheld, as the judge held that an appropriate assessment under the habitats directive should have been carried out on the scheme. On that basis he indicated he was minded to quash the decision of the Minister to approve the scheme. At a further hearing on 8 April 2013, the judge confirmed he would quash the orders relating to the A5 scheme.

The outcome of the judicial review is disappointing, as we had hoped to see early progress on a project with so much potential for cross-Border co-operation and development of the north-west region. The project was discussed at the North-South Ministerial Council transport sectorial on 17 April and the Minister for Regional Development now plans to the undertake the environmental assessment required under the habitats directive. This is a necessary first step to progress the project. The project will be delayed but the Irish Government remains committed to the A5 project, which it fully recognises as being of strategic importance to the north-west region and the island as a whole.

I thank the Minister for his response. I thought it might have included an explanation as to why the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is not here to take this important Topical Issue. We have not heard any public comment from him, the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste since this project was delayed over a week ago. The least the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, could have done was to come to Chamber to address the issue. I did not table this question to hear the story of the A5 to date. I tabled it to hear what the Government intended do to ensure the project stays on track. Its response - to put it over to the Northern Irish authorities to drive the project forward - is not good enough. We need to see the Irish Government step up to the plate and take on the partnership approach, which was key in ensuring the project got off the ground in the first place. Leaving the project to the Northern Ireland authorities alone is not good enough. Key to its future is the partnership approach remaining between the Irish and British Governments and the Northern Ireland parties.

A serious situation has arisen because, as I outlined earlier, there are time conditions attached to the money the Northern Ireland Executive is spending on this project. In the past year £10 million a month was transferred to other projects because this project was being delayed. Unless we see the political will and effort to address the issue of this funding, which was coming primarily from Westminster, it will be further eroded.

Instead of a fob-off, which I believe I am getting from the Minister of State, I want to see real political resolve from the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to ensure we are partners in this project and that it goes ahead. If a dual carriageway from Dublin to Cork had its planning permission overturned last week and there were time conditions attached to its funding, we would not see the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, not coming into the Dáil today or the lack of comment in the past week from the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister.

There is political support for this project in Northern Ireland. I want to make sure that overt political support is given by our leaders. I accept that the financial commitment from the Irish Government is as stated last week, but I want to see a partnership approach and political leadership given by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and our other political leaders to ensure we play our part in getting this important and crucial project for the future of the north west delivered.

I am somewhat shocked by Deputy McConalogue's overall assessment of this issue. This viewpoint is representative of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, who has clearly stated that the Government is committed. We cannot interfere with the court in Belfast. It has made a ruling and the project has been deferred. Does the Deputy expect the Irish Government to overturn that decision? He should come back into the real world. The Deputy must remember that in 2007 the country was awash with money. We know what we inherited from the previous Government. We should call a spade a spade. This Government is committed to the project and, with limited resources, is making the funding agreed at the last Council meeting available. Is the Deputy implying that that is not the case? Is he implying that we can interfere with the court in Belfast?

No. I am saying we must show leadership and commitment by being partners in this project.

There is no doubt about leadership in this country; it is quite definitive compared to that of the previous leader.

Will the Minister of State keep to the important point?

I will keep to the point, but the Deputy made a point about leadership. There is no doubt about leadership in this matter. There is no ambiguity, and the Taoiseach has stated that categorically. We have committed the money but we cannot interfere with the planning process in Northern Ireland. When that is resolved the Government's commitment of financial support will still be in place. I am speaking directly on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, who is one of the most hard-working Ministers in this Government. It is not an indication of lack of interest that he is not here. He apologises that he cannot be here, but that is the clear message the Deputy will get from him. I have no doubt about this issue. The Government is clear on it. The Taoiseach is clear on the commitment given by the Government and the Deputy is being political in coming in here and insinuating something different. I am more than surprised by the Deputy's attitude with regard to the political certainty surrounding this issue. We do not interfere - nor does the Northern Ireland Executive - with-----

It is not interference. It is a partnership approach and we need to see the political priority being given-----

There is no partnership approach when it comes to the habitats directive. This is-----

There is in terms of the overall project.

There is a commitment. At the last ministerial meeting there was an agreement. The reply clearly states: "The project will be delayed but the Irish Government remains committed to the A5 project which it fully recognises is of strategic importance." That is the Government's commitment. We have committed the money. That is an extraordinary commitment in these difficult times with the legacy Fianna Fáil left us, which is no money for anything.

Parking Charges

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I would have preferred to see the Minister, Deputy Coveney, but I am aware the Minister of State has some knowledge of and interest in this matter.

This weekend the Howth business and wider community will host the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival, which has an outstanding programme of activities including food tasting, cookery demonstrations, live music starting tonight with The Luke Kelly Experience in the Abbey Tavern, walking tours, fireworks and children's activities. The Acting Chairman is welcome to come over from his southern fastness and visit us out in the peninsula for this annual festival. Unfortunately, the Ministers, Deputy Coveney and Deputy Bruton, are planning to spoil all the fun. There has been a tremendous effort - as the Minister of State is aware, because he attended our chamber of commerce - on the part of the business and community organisation, in hosting events such as the prawn festival and many other activities, to develop, maintain and expand leisure activities, and particularly marine tourism, in the entire peninsula area.

People are devastated by the proposal to introduce paid parking charges in the harbour. As the Minister will be aware from his portfolio, local businesses are struggling to keep people employed, including one of the businesses on the pier, Doran's, which employs 62 workers. Many of the jobs in the wider restaurant business are threatened if the two Ministers go ahead with this proposal. As the Acting Chairman is aware, Howth is a unique tourist and leisure destination for all of Dublin and the wider Leinster region, but visitors will be discouraged from visiting the peninsula if these charges are introduced.

I first raised this matter with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, last autumn. In the intervening period I have been contacted by hundreds of local residents, neighbours and community and sporting organisations which are bitterly opposed to this proposal because they believe it will inevitably lead to paid parking through the town and across the peninsula. Incredibly, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has refused to meet some of the key stakeholders and, as the Minister of State is aware, he launched this proposal without meeting anybody. The Minister told me in reply to a parliamentary question recently that he had received a good deal of correspondence from a wide range of harbour users and workers and the local community. He also mentioned the website, which is howthharbourparking.webs.com. All of our community leaders and groups in Howth are more than willing to meet the Minister of State and the senior Minister but they want a commitment today that the Department will engage in a proper consultation process, examine the economics of this proposal and determine, as we see clearly, that it is ill-judged and should be withdrawn.

There was some indication in previous replies from the Minister that the Garda had been contacted about parking and safety issues in the harbour, but I was assured by our local superintendent that no such complaint was made and no such problem raised.

One of the extraordinary aspects of this saga is that of the six fishery harbours, only Howth has been singled out for a paid parking regime. I am aware there are some charges in Rossaveal and Dingle but the local businesses in the Rossaveal area are located outside the parking area of the harbour. The users of Dingle have a code that allows them walk through and not pay. The key sister fishery harbours of Howth, two of which I know very well - Castletown and Killybegs - have no such regime and they will not have, as the Minister knows from visiting those areas, because it would not be tolerated. As Mr. Paul Brady, president of our Howth Sutton Baldoyle Chamber of Commerce, reminded me in one of his excellent briefings on this issue, the introduction of paid charges has resulted in business closures at Dún Laoghaire Harbour.

The Minister has told me that the annual income to the Department from Howth is €766,000, €182,000 of which is direct income from the fishing industry. The bulk of the remainder comes from restaurants, leisure and marine businesses, including our world-famous yacht club. Those figures given by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, some months ago confirm the vital importance of the marine leisure sector to the economic vibrancy of Howth Harbour, yet there is no indication that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has carried out even a basic cost-benefit analysis of the costings and the amount of money that would be lost were this proposal to go ahead.

There has been a total failure of public policy formation in this matter. The importance of the Howth Peninsula and Howth town and harbour to the leisure activities of a wide tranche of north Dublin and the wider north Leinster region has been ignored. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, withdraw the proposal.

The Minister of State visited our chamber of commerce and made an excellent presentation on developing businesses in the Howth-Sutton-Baldoyle area. What we should be looking at are proactive ways, such as those he referred to that day, in which we can promote business, rather than destroy it. Residents of Howth are delighted to see visitors arrive, often in their tens of thousands on fine weekends, but this proposal would, unfortunately, be disastrous for them.

I enjoyed my visit to Howth very much at the invitation of the chamber of commerce and I compliment it on the fantastic facility there, the beautiful region and the whole opportunity for business. The Government is very committed to small businesses, which are the backbone of the Irish economy, in particular, restaurants and pubs. We fully recognise that the 200,000 small companies and businesses are the engine that will drive our economy forward. This is the reason we are so concerned and have put so many initiatives in place to support business.

I am taking this issue on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney. The House will be aware that the Minister has been considering introducing a charge for parking facilities within Howth fishery harbour centre for some time. This is being done so as to assist in operating Howth fishery harbour centre on a financially sound basis, to provide a source of revenue for further investments in the fishery harbour centre facilities, as part of an overall traffic management plan to bring order to what has become a source of concern to the harbour authorities and the emergency services and in order to maximise the return on this significant State asset.

Howth fishery harbour centre is first and foremost a working fishery harbour, one of six operated by the State, each of whose primary purpose is to provide facilities and services for the fishing industry and fisheries-related activities. Funding for operating, management and development costs in the fishery harbours is ring-fenced in the fishery harbour centres fund, which is the only source of revenue available for that purpose. Capital investment in the fishery harbour centres in recent years has underpinned both fisheries activities and the harbour's expanding use for leisure and marine tourism and other maritime enterprises. The House will appreciate that, in the current economic climate, the State must be fully committed to maximising the return on that investment. Moreover, the Department is required to ensure that the fishery harbour centres are run on a financially sound basis. Parking fees for the 500-plus parking spaces within the boundaries of the harbour would assist in balancing the books and provide funding for improvements that would not otherwise be possible.

There is a wide range of users of Howth fishery harbour, business customers, yacht club members, sport fishermen, DART users, tourists, walkers and many others. All of these users need to use the parking facilities of Howth fishery harbour centre. This combination of uses and the wide range of users of the harbour brings its own inherent dangers, and safety must be a paramount consideration. There have been a number of occasions where the volume of cars in the harbour and the resultant pressure on parking has led to a situation where emergency access has been seriously compromised. The harbour authorities have received specific complaints from elements of the emergency services in that regard, but, fortunately, no serious incident has arisen yet.

Department officials have consulted with officials of Fingal County Council and with An Garda Síochána about this and other related matters and the Department's engineers have met some of the harbour's business tenants individually about new traffic management and road markings, etc. The Department officials also attended the harbour users forum in February, where pay-parking was on the agenda and there they heard the views of the harbour users at first hand. There was widespread public consultation when pay-parking at Howth fishery harbour centre was originally examined in detail in 2007, in conjunction with Fingal County Council. All of the various views expressed and submissions made then are still available and the Minister is well aware of the concerns and has acknowledged them.

The Minister has received new correspondence on the matter from a wide range of harbour users and he is reviewing all aspects of the matter at present. He assures the House that the views of the various harbour users, the potential earnings, the possible impact on the harbour businesses and recreational users, the impact on the local economy and local jobs and the impact on overall traffic management within the fishery harbour are all matters that he will take into account in coming to a decision. He also assures the House and all of the harbour users in Howth that he is committed to continuing to invest in the development of Howth for the future.

The Minister of State has said there have been a number of occasions where the volume of cars in the harbour led to a situation where emergency access had been seriously compromised. I do not accept that. Nobody has complained to me about that and I have not heard of it. I believe it is an issue to do with the management of the harbour and the current management regime, which some people think needs to be drastically reformed so that it operates in the interest of the users of the harbour, visitors and local residents. There is an issue in that regard. I checked with An Garda Síochána and with the local superintendent in Raheny and I was told there had been no complaint nor had a recommendation been made in regard to this. If there was a health and safety issue with regard to parking, it would be at Sutton Cross, because of the significant volume of people - up to 20,000 - trying to drive onto the Howth Peninsula on a very sunny Sunday.

It is astonishing that we have not had a cost benefit analysis of this proposal and that the Minister of State could not tell me the likely impact of a particular regime of charges, or what effect that would have on the number of visitors visiting the peninsula when the weather is fine. One of the astonishing things about the Howth peninsula is that visitors, including overseas visitors, are often advised to visit this part of Dublin. These visitors will be gravely discouraged by the proposal.

The Minister of State did not address the issue of other fishery harbours. I know Castletownbere harbour particularly well and Killybegs and I do not believe it would ever be possible that such a regime would be introduced in those harbours. That will not happen. The Minister of State will remember that in the past he held a brief regarding this area and he is aware of the quality of the fishing industry in both of those harbours. We need to see the basic cost-benefit figures on this proposal, but I believe that however we look at it, they will not stack up and the proposal should be abandoned. I urge the Minister of State to talk to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and to talk to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, who aspires to representing the Howth area some day. He does not represent it currently, but perhaps he will stand for it in the next election. It would be disastrous if he permitted the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to introduce this regime.

I have no doubt that based on the skills and competence of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, when he decides to stand for that area the people will recognise his significant talent and ability and will elect him to represent the area.

I am now operating in his old territory.

I do not see him having any difficulty in that regard in any sense. However, business is business when it comes to State assets and our 68 ports. I know the potential of Rossaveal, Killybegs and Castletownbere very well. In regard to Howth, obviously the 500 car-parking spaces are in a premium location for business. When we go to any town or business centre, parking is generally reasonably priced and is value for money and provides safety for cars. This is reassuring. Wherever one goes, it is hard to expect to get everything for free. The issue also relates to access for emergency services.

Parking in out of town shopping centres is free.

Deputy Broughan must agree that many people use free parking to park for the day. This is not good for business. The ideal for a business is that somebody comes in to do business and only parks for an hour or two, leaving the parking space free for someone else. However, if somebody parks for the whole day because it is free, that is not good for business. If we were to do due diligence and a business EIS on this, we would want to get people in and out and allow new cars in. This is what we want from the point of view of business. If I were a business operator in Howth, I would welcome a well-managed system that would allow better use of the car park rather than a system that allowed people to hog the parking for the whole day for free. From a business point of view, if I was a restaurant owner in Howth, I would not like to think a car was taking up a parking place all day, preventing my customer from coming in and having lunch. We should look at the issue from the point of view of business and value for money.

The Deputy does not know the area. I would not presume to talk about Enniscrone or Sligo.

I would not go down that road. The Deputy would certainly lose that argument.

The Minister of State is making an argument he is not in a position to make.

I believe this is a good State investment. The money is ring-fenced and will go back into the facility's infrastructure. The Minister has taken submissions on this from all the fishery harbours and I have no doubt he will take the Deputy's opinion on board.

He got it wrong in the first instance.

I have no doubt he will take it on board. That is my overview from being in Rossaveal, Castletownbere and Killybegs. These State assets have to stand on their own feet. Value for money has to be provided.