After a lot of pressure over a long number of years, the then Minister for the Marine, Deputy Wilson, established the Commercials Harbour Review Group in October 1990. Its task was to identify those aspects of existing legislation which constrained a modern port. The structures of harbour ports needed to be examined as to the extent of ministerial and departmental control on the day to day activity of ports.
The review group included a broad representation of interests associated with ports — the Irish Ports Authority Association, IBEC, a transport economist, a port user, a local authorities representative, a SIPTU representative and representatives from the Department of the Marine. The group presented its report and recommendations in July 1992.
The key recommendation of the review group was that, to facilitate commercialisation, commercial State companies should be set up to manage certain ports. The group also recommended that the commercial mandate on which the new port company would operate should give it flexibility to operate as a truly commercial enterprise.
This Bill is based on the main recommendations of the review group. It provides for the setting up of commercial State companies to manage and operate the ports of Arklow, Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Dundalk, Foynes, Galway, New Ross, Shannon, Waterford and Wicklow. At present these ports are managed by harbour authorities in accordance with the Harbours Act, 1946.
I wish to refer to the setting up of a State commercial company to manage and operate Dún Laoghaire harbour, which is at present managed and operated by the Department of the Marine, the functions of the company so established and the revision of the law relating to pilotage. It is important that ports are viable and represent the regions in which they are situated. Because of industrial relations and other problems in ports like Dublin, they have not operated as they should to our advantage and many firms export through Northern ports which are considerably cheaper. The Minister should examine this because it does not make sense for exporters from Wexford to haul their produce through Dublin and Louth to Belfast but, unfortunately, this is happening at present. The setting up of the new boards should see a change in this area.
I have spoken to people about the ports in Northern Ireland. They have claimed that there is a certain amount of subsidisation which, as far as competition is concerned, is in their favour. It does not make sense to haul produce from Wexford to Larne. What is the position in respect of the subsidisation of these ports which gives them an advantage over our ports?
While I accept and commend the Bill to the House, I have difficulty barring MEPs — although they are never available — Senators and TDs from membership of the new port companies. We are always biased against Senators and TDs. By and large, Senators and TDs, particularly backbenchers, provide an important link between the ports and departmental officials because they are on the spot.
We talk about accountability and transparency. Who is more accountable than a TD, Senator or county council member? TDs and Senator must go before the electorate every five years. I have always said, even when I was a Minister of State, that the Department of Finance seems to interfere in this area, and I object to that. Why should a Senator or TD not be a member of these boards?
Section 13 deals with light dues and harbour charges which affect ports in County Wexford and, to a lesser degree, in County Waterford. Ships bound for the port of New Ross must pass through part of Waterford harbour. At present these ships are charged light dues at the same rate as vessels which proceed to Waterford, despite the fact that the New Ross ships use less than half the lights in the estuary. Waterford Harbour Commissioners collect £45,000 per annum in light dues from New Ross bound ships. This charge is excessive and does not relate to the cost of providing the lights; it is making New Ross uncompetitive. There is no basis for these charges and I will seek an amendment to this section.
The amendment made by the Minister for the Marine to section 13(8) on Committee Stage in the Dáil allows this inequitable situation to continue. We accept that if a port provides facilities or services which are of benefit to ships going to another port, then the first port should be able to recover a fair proportion of the capital and operational costs of providing them. However, these costs should be recovered from the other port company rather be levied on each ship. This would result in an equitable and transparent situation between the two ports. In my view, section 13(8) as it stands should be deleted and the following inserted:
If, by reason of the situation of any harbour, it is necessary for a ship proceeding in such a harbour to enter or anchor within the harbour of another company, then, where a ship enters or anchors within the harbour of such a company for that purpose, and the purpose only of proceeding to the first mentioned harbour, the said company may not impose any harbour charges in respect of such entry or anchoring by that ship, provided that where the said company provides services or facilities which are utilised by such ships, it may recover a fair proportion of the capital and operational costs incurred in providing such services or facilities from the first port company.
I ask the Minister of State to consider deleting section 13(8) and replacing it with my amendment. This would be a most fair and equitable system. The Waterford Harbour Commissioners would probably argue the opposite. However, in fairness, New Ross is a small harbour and an annual payment of £45,000 to Waterford Harbour Commissioners is over and above the real cost of providing these services. We know that and they know it too.
Section 60 deals with pilotage. We carefully examined this section and while we agree with some parts we disagree with others. Pilotage is compulsory for in bound vessels in the Waterford Estuary. In many cases ships proceed to Ballyhack-Passage East before a pilot embarks. This practice is especially prevalent in poor weather which prevents pilots boarding at Dunmore East. Pilotage outward from Ballyhack-Passage East is not compulsory for coastwise vessels. I ask the Minister of State to consider the following points.
Pilotage should be optional for vessels of less than 8,000 tonnes deadweight from Dunmore East to Ballyhack-Passage East. Current practices indicate that compulsory pilotage in this area for ships of certain sizes is unnecessary. The review group is prepared to put this argument forward. New Ross pilots should board at Ballyhack-Passage East and proceed through the Barrow Bridge to New Ross.
This move would improve safety by giving New Ross pilots a chance to become familiar with the handling characteristics of the ship before the Barrow Bridge, which is the most dangerous and challenging area of navigation in the entire passage. The current position is unsatisfactory as the New Ross pilot boards just as the ship approaches the bridge. The pilots are boarding far too close to the bridge and it is more dangerous to do this than not to board at all. I ask the Minister of State to consider this point.
On Report Stage in the Lower House, the Minister of State recognised that pilotage in the Suir estuary should be examined and he announced the establishment of a review group comprising representatives of both ports, an independent expert and an official from the Department. I understand the review group is due to meet before the end of the month and it is envisaged that its report will be submitted in approximately three months. The Minister has powers under sections 43, 70 and 80 of the Harbours Bill to implement the review group's findings without the need for any further legislation. People in the Wexford area are concerned and we hope the review group will examine the argument between the Waterford and New Ross Harbour Commissioners. We hope a satisfactory outcome can be achieved.
The links to Europe, including the southern Irish Sea corridor and the southern land bridge, have not been mentioned so far in the debate. This aspect is most important in terms of exits from ports. Improvements to the road network serving Rosslare, Ferryport, New Ross and Waterford on the Irish side and the ferryports of Fishguard and Pembroke Docks on the Welsh side have been an issue for many years. Some improvements have been undertaken over the past few years but these have been more cosmetic than real. People involved in transport have argued this point for the past ten years.
Such has been the concern that in July 1993 a conference was held in west Wales with the aim of establishing a standing conference to ensure the future development of the southern Irish Sea corridor links to Europe, which includes the southern land bridge concept. Throughout the conference there was great play on the need to urgently improve road communications serving the ferry port of Rosslare, New Ross, Waterford, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock. There has never been parity with the expenditure made available for highway improvements serving the ferry ports in the North, particularly Larne. I do not have the figures but I consulted people in Pembroke and they claim it is far above any amount invested on the Welsh side.
This debate on the need to drastically improve the road network serving Rosslare, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock was carried on in a seminar workshop held in Wexford. There was a consensus that improvements of significance were required to sustain the viability of the southern Irish Sea corridor and the emerging importance of the southern land bridge leading to the English south coast ports which have aligned themselves in support of development of the southern Irish Sea corridor.
The Assembly of Welsh Counties with the support of the Association of Welsh District Councils has produced a Welsh transport strategy to be used to acquaint members of the EU with the strategy needed for Wales. This report emphasised the need for improvements to the trans-European network linking the Welsh ferry ports with Ireland. It contends also that it is equally important to develop a good network of internal roads, including Irish roads. We have some extremely bad routes, such as the route from Enniscorthy to New Ross. The route from New Ross to Waterford has been improved in the last four to five years but there are other routes that require a lot of improvement to reach the necessary standard.
The southern Irish Sea corridor is a vital link in the communications chain joining Rosslare, New Ross and Waterford with the west Wales ferry ports, English south coast ports and the European mainland, providing a direct and efficient trade route between Ireland and the heart of Europe which is where we sell our produce. It is contended that a high quality road system is essential to establish links between the peripheral south-east Irish and Welsh and west coast sub-regions and trans-European networks.
In the west Wales context Dyfed County Council's transport policy programme has made the case to the Welsh Office over many years for major works to be undertaken on the A40 route to Pembroke Dock. The policy programme seeks to make the A40 west from St. Clears a dual carriageway and to have specific schemes implemented along the A477. Providing a dual carriageway west from St. Clears has been consistently refused by the Welsh Office on the grounds that it is not merited having regard to the volume of traffic predictions. It is understood — I do not have the figures — that traffic movements tions. It is understood — I do not have the figures — that traffic movements increased substantially this year and last year.
As to quantifying traffic movements on the roads in west Wales, Dyfed County Council has recently retained consultants to investigate traffic movements between west Wales ferry ports and Rosslare. The aim of the study is to stimulate cross-Border activity which will contribute to the cultural and economic development of the Border regions. It is contended that selective improvements, such as the Whitland bypass, do not address the overall problem of an inadequate west Wales road network.
To address the problem it is necessary for Irish south-east local authorities to join with the local authorities in west Wales to develop a unified road strategy and the study mentioned could be the basis for presenting such a strategy. The findings of this study should be formally presented to the Irish and UK Governments, in particular to the Welsh Office. It should also be brought to the attention of EU Transport Commissioner, Mr. Neil Kinnock. The transportation subcommittee of the west Wales task force discussed the transportation links with Mr. Kinnock who recognised the unfair allocation of resources to west Wales. He recommended that continued pressure should be placed on the UK Government but cautioned that the sovereign states of Europe retain the right to approve or veto plans put forward by the European Parliament. He said he would give all possible assistance in support of improving the transportation system through the west Wales area, which will also serve the Irish side.
When one arrives at the port of Rosslare from Fishguard there is a 60 mile stretch of very poor roads which we wish to have upgraded. Will the Minister of State take a personal interest in this and give us some support? I was chairman of Wexford County Council and the two councils met on a couple of occasions. We went to Wales to meet their council — which has been discontinued with three councils merging — and we are having a further meeting shortly. It is very important for this to be taken into consideration in any future policy.
In addition to seeking the support of the EU Transportation Commissioner, it seems appropriate to make use of the INTERREG II programme as the vehicle to develop cross-Border networks of co-operation between Wexford County Council, Dyfed County Council and, from April 1996, Pembrokeshire County Council. INTERREG II has a transport measure aimed at improving and overcoming the problems related to poor economic development through progressing improved transport communications. There should be a joint aim to ensure the provision of high quality road and rail access to the ports of Rosslare, New Ross, Waterford, the rest of the south-east coast, Fishguard and, in particular, Pembroke harbour.
I have listened to all the debate and I feel it is very important to take into consideration the entrances and exits to the ports. Airports are different as they are near cities but ports have very bad access roads. We are the only island nation in Europe and it is vital to ensure, particularly in the south-east, that the road network is brought up to a reasonable standard as, unfortunately, Larne is taking the business from that area.
I have every reason to believe that this is an exceptional deal for which we have waited for some time — with the exception of the two small points which I mentioned. The Minister has set up a commission and I sincerely hope that satisfactory results can be arrived at in favour of New Ross port, otherwise it will continue to face serious problems in the coming years.