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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Jun 1998

Vol. 155 No. 21

Merchant Shipping (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1997: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This is a necessary and important item of legislation. It is also particularly urgent for two reasons. First, there is an immediate need to give the Commissioners of Irish Lights the legal powers to secure financing facilities for a new vessel. Second, the enactment of certain provisions will trigger EU Commission approval for the implementation of two important support measures for the merchant shipping sector — the refund of employers' PRSI payments in respect of seagoing employees to key Irish ship operators and the introduction of a new personal income tax allowance for certain seafarers. I will deal with each of these matters in more detail in my outline of sections 3 and 5 of the Bill.

When I was before the Seanad dealing with the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill, 1997, since enacted, I indicated to the then Senator Seán Ryan that I would be taking action to deal with outmoded provisions affecting merchant seamen in the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and elsewhere. I am pleased to be before the House fulfilling in part that pledge with regard to certain legislation. As a wise Cork journalist put it, "Walking the plank is to become a thing of the past." The Bill is part of my effort to modernise the legislation dealing with our seamen and to respond to the changing requirements of our maritime sector.

I take a personal interest in underpinning our merchant shipping industry with appropriate legislation. This Bill not only repeals out of date 19th century penal sanctions for merchant seamen, but, importantly, increases penalties for breaches of safety regulations, allows EU nationals and corporate bodies to register ships in Ireland, provides limited special exemptions for certain classes of small passenger vessels and introduces a provision to provide a legal basis for the borrowings of the Commissioners of Irish Lights.

The Bill is not intended as a comprehensive effort to modernise shipping legislation. It repeals what would now be considered inappropriate, offensive and outdated penalties for certain behaviour by merchant seamen and introduces certain provisions into Irish law which are necessary immediately. I propose to outline the Bill's provisions in some detail, putting before the House the reasons for the amendments I have made to the Bill since its publication.

Section 1 repeals section 16 of the Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act, 1875, thereby ensuring that seamen cannot be indicted for conspiracy in furtherance of a trade dispute. Despite the fact that such a provision might never be used, its existence on the Statute Book is clearly undesirable. The existence of the provision has been criticised by the International Labour Organisation and the Council of Europe.

Section 2 of the Bill removes the offence of desertion from the Statute Book by deleting a subsection from section 221 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and repealing sections 222, 224, 225 and 238 from that Act. As well as removing the offence of desertion and the 19th century penalties attaching to it, other general offences such as wilful disobedience and combining with others to disobey are also repealed. Section 2 updates the penalties for offences under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and under subsequent merchant shipping legislation, except where specific penalties apply. Examples of the types of offence involved would be breaches of section 428 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, which requires a ship to be provided with lifesaving appliances such as lifeboats, life rafts and life buoys and breaches of collision regulations. The maximum fine on summary conviction is £100 at present and it is proposed to increase this to £1,500, which is the level generally applicable at present. The wording of section 680 of the 1894 Act is archaic and section 2 of the Bill includes a provision for its complete rewriting in terms which would appear in current legislation. The section as redrafted provides for prosecution on indictment instead of as a misdemeanour and includes a standard provision for offences by bodies corporate.

On Committee Stage in the Dáil I undertook to take legal advice on the consequences of repealing in full section 221 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, to remove not only the offence of desertion as the Bill proposes, but also that of absence without leave. I am aware that Senators may wonder why the provision is being retained. On the basis of legal advice from the Attorney General's office to the effect that the removal of an established system of penalties could have unforeseen and undesirable consequences if undertaken without proper consideration and full consultation with all relevant parties, I will leave the absence without leave offence on the Statute Book until such time as a more comprehensive revision of merchant shipping legislation can be undertaken. This Bill is focused primarily on matters requiring speedy attention and is not, therefore, a suitable vehicle for a comprehensive revision of maritime law.

Section 3 of the Bill provides for a matter which requires speedy attention. The European Court of Justice ruled in June 1997 that the operation of the Irish Ship Register infringed EU Treaty provisions. The Irish authorities' view was that the requirements of EU law were satisfied because all EU citizens and corporate bodies were entitled to enter the Irish Ship Register following incorporatisation in Ireland. However, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Irish register must be opened to direct access without the prior need to incorporate in Ireland. This legislation is, therefore, urgently needed so that we may comply with the court's judgment. However, I intend to seek Government approval as soon as practicable to further modernise the legislation dealing with the Irish Ship Register. This will, of course, be done in full consultation with all relevant interests.

Widening the nationality provisions in the Mercantile Marine Act, 1955, to enable all EU citizens and corporate bodies to have direct access to the Irish Ship Register will enable support measures for seafarers introduced by 1997 Social Welfare Regulations and the Finance Act, 1998, to be implemented. The Commission has already approved the wording used in section 3 of the Bill to bring the operation of the Irish Ship Register into conformity with EU Law. Any delay in the passage of this Bill will, by delaying the enactment of the provision dealing with the Irish Ship Register, postpone the repayment to certain Irish ship operators of refunds of PRSI paid by them in respect of seagoing employees. The implementation of this benefit will be worth over £2 million a year to these employers. Also dependent upon the passage into law of this section of the Bill is the provision of a new £5,000 personal income tax allowance for seafarers who work outside the State for at least 169 days in a tax year. This provision, for which I argued strongly, was introduced in this year's Finance Act. I am sure the House will agree that these benefits should be brought into operation without delay.

In section 4 I propose a number of amendments to the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992. This Act established a system for the licensing of boats carrying fewer than 12 passengers for reward and thus made such boats undergo a system of survey to ensure their suitability to transport passengers. However, the practical implementation of the provisions of the Act with regard to certain classes of boats has proved difficult. For example, I refer to boats which carry employees or inspectors from time to time as part of their work rather than "to or from their place of work", as defined in the 1992 Act, and to boats such as pilot boats where the personnel are experienced and trained in maritime matters. I propose to exempt such classes by regulation and subject to such conditions as will ensure there is no consequent reduction in safety.

Another class which lends itself to exemption, again under conditions as regards best practice in safety, are boats used in certain sporting activities where people are under instruction. One must accept that the problem here is one of interpretation and that a small dinghy, for example, cannot be subject to the same stability and lifesaving requirements applicable to large passenger boats as, for example, there is physically no room for the requisite equipment.

Many of the sporting activities to which I refer are conducted at adventure centres, and, while I accept that water sports constitute only some of a wide spectrum of activity sports conducted at such centres, I am nevertheless concerned that there should be a co-ordinated approach towards ensuring greater safety in all adventure sports, with particular reference to the monitoring and control of adventure centres which provide facilities for young people. I have in this regard recently taken up with my colleague, the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, the possible introduction of a system of mandatory regulation of adventure centres. A high level meeting between our two Departments will be held shortly to examine how this matter might be progressed.

In this section I am also making provision for exemptions, again by regulation, in certain exceptional circumstances, for classes of boats operating from inhabited islands where there is no regular service by a licensed boat. This provision addresses a social need for residents of islands where there is a small population. I see this measure as a pragmatic, temporary solution to problems encountered by inhabitants of small islands without a regular ferry service. However, as Minister with responsibility for safety of life at sea, I would not like to see this situation continuing for an indefinite period.

As a result of my concerns, I have recently asked my colleague with responsibility for the islands, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, to examine the situation with a view to providing a long-term solution to the problems of inadequate landing facilities, both on the inhabited island and at the appropriate mainland point of departure, and to ensuring that safe access to inhabited islands is not compromised by the absence of suitable facilities. Such infrastructural development would, in my view, serve to encourage the establishment of regularised passenger boat services to these islands.

While exemptions may not be an ideal solution, they are, nevertheless, necessary in certain circumstances. I assure Senators that these exemptions will only be applied as is the case with other exemptions already provided for, in limited situations and only where I and my Department are confident that they are appropriate.

Section 4 makes two further amendments to the 1992 Merchant Shipping Act to make it more workable. First, it enables ferry boats working in chains, which were excluded from the passenger boat and passenger ship provisions of that Act, to be brought into the system for survey and licensing and certification. These vessels use traction power based on land and cables or chains to draw themselves across narrow sections of waterway. Second, it allows the use of unlicensed boats to carry passengers in genuine emergencies where it is necessary to secure the safety of a vessel, safeguard life at sea or otherwise prevent a marine accident.

As I indicated earlier, section 5 is required in order that the Commissioners of Irish Lights may make financing arrangements for a new ship for which they have already placed a contract with a Dutch shipbuilding company. The vessel contract price is £15.6 million pounds sterling, or approximately IR£17.9 million. However, I am pleased that I managed to secure EU grant aid of a little over IR£1 million towards the cost of the vessel. I am very grateful to the European Commission and, in particular, Commissioner Neil Kinnock, for their assistance. The Commission has indicated that we can also apply next year for further EU funding which, if successful, would result in an additional grant of IR£675,000. In addition, due to the fact that the ship is to be built in Holland, the Dutch Government has agreed to pay a grant of IR£800,000 on delivery of the vessel. If these real and potential grants are taken into account the net cost of the ship would be approximately IR£15.4 million. If anyone would like me to negotiate major purchases for them we can proceed along the same lines.

There is a whole new profession opening up for the Minister.

I was afraid that at the end it would cost us nothing. The Commissioners of Irish Lights, an all-Ireland body, have statutory responsibility for the provision and maintenance of aids to navigation around the coast of Ireland and its adjacent seas and islands. They are one of three general lighthouse authorities in these islands. The Trinity House Lighthouse Authority has responsibility for England and Wales and the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses service Scotland and the Isle of Man. All three lighthouse authorities are financed from a single source — the General Lighthouse Fund, which is administered by the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions. This fund derives its income principally from light dues levied on commercial shipping at ports in Britain and Ireland. Light dues collected from shipping traffic at Irish ports are, however, insufficient to meet the cost of the elaborate system of lights required by Ireland's geographic position. Under an agreement reached between Ireland and the UK in 1985 the Irish Exchequer pays the General Lighthouse Fund an annual contribution towards the cost of the service provided by the commissioners in the State.

Having regard to the new vessel it has been agreed with the UK authorities that the General Lighthouse Fund will meet 65 per cent of its cost, with the remaining 35 per cent to be paid by the Irish Exchequer. It was decided, with the agreement of the Department of Finance, that the most appropriate means of financing the ship would be through bank borrowing by the commissioners. The terms of the vessel contract require the commissioners to make six stage payments in sterling over the build period up to December 1999 when the ship is due to be delivered.

The commissioners have had discussions with a commercial bank with a view to entering into agreements for the financing of the vessel. They intend to, first, secure a short term loan facility for the construction period of the ship. When the vessel is delivered the commissioners will convert the initial loan to an Irish tax based lease with a primary term of 15 years. However, in the course of the commissioners' negotiations with the financial institution the question arose as to their authority to borrow money. The Attorney General's Office advised that there are no existing legislative provisions which would allow the commissioners to enter into financial agreements to borrow money. In the absence of legislation to rectify this deficiency the Exchequer is exposed to certain ongoing and potential further costs.

The first stage payment on the vessel contract has been made out of the UK managed General Lighthouse Fund as an interim measure until the loan facility is put in place. In the meantime there is a loss of interest from fund investment and it has been agreed that the Irish Exchequer will meet a proportion of this cost. Moreover, bank interest rates are currently very competitive and it is most desirable that the commissioners are empowered to enter into financial contracts to avail of these rates as soon as possible. Furthermore, the second down payment on the vessel will arise around the end of this month when the ship's keel is due to be laid. It is, therefore, very important that the commissioners are legally empowered to borrow money in time to fund this and subsequent contract payments.

The commissioners already have such powers in respect of Northern Ireland, under the UK Merchant Shipping Act, 1995. However, it is not feasible for the commissioners to avail of these borrowing powers in respect of the new ship as they are domiciled in the Republic of Ireland. It is, in any event, considered appropriate to confer these powers on the commissioners in the State in the interests of legislative comparability and having regard to the commissioners' responsibilities in both jurisdictions.

I wish to elaborate a little on the new vessel itself. The new 80 metre ship will replace the existing light tender Granuaile which is now almost 30 years old. The vessel will have the primary purpose of servicing offshore aids to navigation. The commissioners currently operate and maintain some 170 lighthouses, light vessels and buoys located off the Irish mainland. The state of the art ship will be equipped with the very latest manoeuvring and positioning technology, allowing it to hold position very precisely for safe and accurate placement of floating aids. Its design ensures multi-functional capability which will enable it to play an important role in search and rescue and pollution response. The vessel has been specifically designed to meet the challenges of the north west Atlantic, and helicopter and refuelling facilities will be incorporated.

I am sure Senators will be aware of the critically important part that aids to navigation play in vessel safety and in safeguarding life at sea. The ever increasing volume and speed of shipping traffic around our shores unfortunately brings with it a greater risk of accidents. Ireland's extensive coastline and geographical position at the hub of transatlantic shipping means that aids to navigation provided by the Commissioners of Irish Lights are used not only by vessels plying to and from Irish ports, but also by a considerable volume of passing international trade. It is essential, therefore, that our seas are protected by the best available equipment. I believe the new vessel, which is both a timely and shining example of North-South as well as Irish-UK co-operation, will enhance the Commissioners of Irish Lights' ability to meet their servicing requirements into the new millennium, thereby further reassuring seafarers that their safety is in good hands.

While I am on the subject of the Commissioners of Irish Lights, I would like to briefly refer to an issue raised by Senators Taylor-Quinn and Bonner on Committee Stage of the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Bill, 1997, since enacted. The Senators expressed some concerns regarding the future use and preservation of lighthouses.

I have looked into this matter, as promised, and can advise that the Commissioners of Irish Lights, in common with the other general lighthouse authorities in these islands, acknowledge they have a legal and moral responsibility to preserve the cultural significance of lighthouses and to enable their conservation, both for aids to navigation use and as historic structures. Other lighthouse properties, such as adjoining land or dwellings, when of no further use to the Commissioners is offered for sale where appropriate, or leased or transferred to interested parties. We have an interest in some of that land and buildings from the point of view of the Irish marine emergency service because they could be very valuable and appropriate in developing our coastguard service, of which I hope to be able to announce further details later in the year.

I have, in this regard, written to the chairman of the Commissioners of Irish Lights to highlight my strong view that every effort should be made to preserve and maintain the historic and heritage value of lighthouse property for the benefit of the local community and for future generations.

I should mention that the commissioners have already done some great work in assisting with heritage projects. Surplus property at Mizen Head has been operating as a heritage centre for a number of years and it is proposed to operate a similar facility on lighthouse property at Hook Point. In addition, property at the Skelligs has been transferred to the Office of Public Works. Examples of other projects are the leasing of buildings at Wicklow and Minehead to my Department for VHF radio communications stations.

I have also written to my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, asking her to liaise, if she has not already done so, with relevant non Governmental organisations, at both national and local level, with a view to generating interest in the future of Irish lighthouses and developing a policy with regard to their maintenance as part of the built environment. I trust this information and the steps which I have taken provides assurance to the Senators in relation to this matter.

Section 5 amends the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Act, 1997, to insert a new section to allow the commissioners to borrow money, including money in a foreign currency, subject to the consent of the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources and the Minister for Finance. The total amount of moneys borrowed at any one time may not exceed £25 million. This figure allows the commissioners some scope to borrow further moneys at some stage in the future if this is required.

The section also provides that the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources may, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, pay to the commissioners certain sums in respect of moneys borrowed by them. Such amounts must be paid from moneys voted by the Oireachtas. The section further provides that the equivalent in the State of moneys borrowed in a foreign currency shall be calculated by reference to the prevailing exchange rate at the time the moneys were borrowed.

Turning to the Bill's final section, section 6 deals with the Short Title and collective citation. I amended this section on Report Stage in Dáil Éireann to remove the Bill's commencement provision. This now means that all sections of the Bill will come into effect with the Bill's enactment, that is, immediately.

I commend this Bill to the House and request Senators' co-operation and support in its speedy passage.

I was going to ask the Minister how the commissioners are going to repay the money but he referred to that at the end of his contribution.

Sorry about that.

Everyone will agree that shipping and the fishing industry are in decline in Ireland. However, I welcome the Minister's commitment to bringing some of our shipping laws out of the 18th century and into the present one. It is remarkable that we have survived for so long with such archaic laws governing our seafarers. Given all the restrictions imposed on seafarers over the years, the industry was more like a prison regime than a commercial operation. I am glad the Minister has removed many of the restrictions governing seafarers and the laws governing shipping in general. I thank the Minister for his initiative in this regard.

It is in all our interests that Ireland and the EU have a common approach to safety standards and the conditions of vessels etc. We are often not competitive because people employed in the industry were forced to work in appalling and uncivilised conditions prior to this. Those who wish to use our ports should be forced to adhere to the standards we set and to eliminate the possibility of all slave and cheap labour, especially coming from other countries.

We all have an interest in safety at sea. The environment must also be protected from the possibility of disasters at sea. During the House's recent discussion of the Oil Pollution of the Sea (Civil Liability and Compensation) (Amendment) Bill, 1998, Senators outlined many of the eventualities which could happen at sea. The Minister has taken some steps to safeguard our environment from such catastrophes, for which he is to be commended. Some EU applicant countries are now being monitored by the EU Commission in this regard. Some of them have very large shipping registers and it is important that they be obliged to comply with EU laws before they can gain membership.

We are all conscious of the need for safety, especially with smaller vessels. An aspect of the Bill with which I do not agree is the allowing of vessels capable of carrying one to 12 passengers to be registered, which is rather ambiguous. What about vessels which can carry 14 or 20 passengers? Is the life of a person who pays to be transported by sea more important than that of a man or woman working by the sea? The Minister has a responsibility to address that ambiguity. The provision is too ambiguous in its present form.

Training is another important issue. The shipping sector and those employed in it have suffered in the past through a lack of adequate training. Seafarers often come from low income backgrounds and have no training in seafaring. Many vocational education committees and third level colleges are anxiously seeking courses to compliment their curricula and the Minister should give serious consideration to establishing a training course in seafaring. County Mayo and other areas on the western seaboard would provide a natural base for such training to take place. I am sure Mayo VEC, which is one of the most imaginative and progressive vocational education committees in the country, would give careful consideration to a programme which would incorporate training for those interested in seafaring. I am aware that sea cadets are trained in County Cork but the training of seafarers is equally important and vocational education committees could play a role in this. Most vocational education committees run plc courses but none of these offer the type of training to which I referred.

The shipping sector is perhaps the only area where employment would be virtually guaranteed if proper training was provided. There is a great shortage of suitably trained individuals in the merchant shipping industry. That is why European shipowners are obliged to seek labour outside the EU. At a time when the EU is promoting employment as a key target — this is stated in the Treaty of Amsterdam — we should examine the entire shipping sector in this regard. We are aware there is a shortage of labour and that job opportunities exist. Ireland can lead the way by setting standards and forcing the issue. The Minister has gone some way towards addressing this matter.

I welcome the Minister's efforts in securing the £5,000 personal income tax allowance for seafarers. This is long overdue and it will do much to help seafarers and those involved in the shipping industry in general. Far too many penalties were imposed on seafarers in the past and there was no incentive for young people to take up seafaring as a career. The new £5,000 allowance will provide a great incentive and many young people who heretofore saw a career on the sea as a penal proposition will now see it as a commercially viable career opportunity. The Minister has done good work in convincing the Department of Finance, which is no easy task, to part with money in this regard. I am sure his efforts will be reflected by an increase in the number of young people who will take up a career on the sea.

A number of Irish shipping companies have been successful and are expanding. In my opinion the future of transport lies on the sea. When driving to Dublin recently I was struck by the volume of commercial traffic on the roads. When pondering alternatives I arrived at two conclusions. The first would involve encouraging all commercial transport to travel at night which would leave the roads clear during the day for other road users. The other alternative would be to transport more commercial produce by sea. Consideration must be given to the latter proposal because ships travel at night and they transport their loads from port to port in record time without inconveniencing people. If we are to resolve the serious problems affecting our roads, we must consider better ways to transport more commercial produce by sea.

In that context, additional and better ports are needed. For some time I have advocated the provision of extra ports on the west coast in particular where produce must be transported 150 miles to the nearest commercial port. This places an added burden on our infrastructure and, as many Members know, the roads in the west are not capable of taking an added burden. Will the Minister give serious consideration to improving our marine infrastructure? I am sure such improvements would pay off in the long term.

In respect of section 4, which amends the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992, the Minister referred to various companies transporting employees to their place of work, dredging operations, etc. I return to the criteria laid down in the Bill which will be used to licence ships and which are somewhat ambiguous. These should be reconsidered in the interests of clarifying the position.

We must be conscious of the need for ongoing inspections and the provision of safe vessels to transport passengers. Safety standards should not be lowered regardless of whether someone travelling on a ship is an employee or a passenger, but particularly if that person is paying for passage. That should not be a factor. I do not understand the necessity to include this provision in the Bill.

In respect of people who own vessels used for dredging operations or dumping at sea, I presume the latter will no longer be tolerated and I am glad the Minister has increased the penalties to be imposed on those who offend in this regard. This development is long overdue.

The Minister referred to sporting activities at adventure centres and other water sports which usually take place during the summer months and are not subject to strict controls. The provisions governing these activities are somewhat slack, and when personal safety is at risk legislation should contain no loose ends. We should not send out a message that vessels used to transport paying passengers must be registered and inspected while those used to transport employees do not.

With the exception of the reservations I have outlined, the Bill will take the shipping sector out of the 18th century and allow it to enter the modern era. I know the Minister is conscious of what must be done to bring the industry further along the road to modernisation.

I welcome the Minister on the occasion of the introduction of the Merchant Shipping (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 1997. It is only seven months since I made my maiden speech on the Merchant Shipping (Commissioner of Irish Lights) Bill, 1997, and a section in this Bill relates to a section to be added to that Bill. On that occasion I invited the Minister to Burtonport and highlighted the need for funding for dredging there. I thank him for visiting within such a short time and also for announcing the funding for the dredging.

Before I deal with the sections in the Bill, I wish to refer briefly to another maritime matter which the Minister dealt with recently. I refer to the EU ban on drift net fishing for tuna and swordfish which, despite his arduous negotiations in the lead up to last Monday's meeting, only received the backing of our French counterparts in efforts to block it. The result is another defeat for our fishermen and fishing industry, on this occasion due to the pressure from the Green agenda and its concern to save dolphins, whales and other preserved species. I congratulate the Minister on succeeding in having the ban phased in over four years instead of the intended two. It will take effect on 1 January 2002, a date on which the euro becomes the common currency. On the same day we lose the punt we could also lose a valuable industry for many of our small fishermen, especially in the south-west.

The Minister was given an indication that some extra EU fisheries reserve funds will be available. It is essential he continues to fight for additional funds for costly adaptations and compensation for loss of income to many small fishermen. While the industry had to live with curtailment due to scientific data and conservation in the past, the latest European initiative presents a dangerous precedent for our coastal communities which make their livelihoods from the sea. They must not be allowed to suffer or possibly disappear due to political games. Our fishing industry has not been treated fairly since the first day we entered the EEC. We must prepare within our national plan to at least protect what we hold in the renegotiation of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2002.

The Bill deals with miscellaneous matters and it contains four sections which amend four Merchant Shipping Acts. The changes are necessary due to the passing of time and matters arising due to events which were not legislated for in them. The provisions in the Bill take effect immediately on its passing and not by ministerial order as was originally intended. I welcome the contents of the Bill. It updates 19th century legislation with amendments that provide for 20th century circumstances. It includes provisions to allow EU nationals and corporate bodies to register ships in Ireland, something which was not envisaged in 1955 when the relevant Bill was enacted. The Bill updates the Merchant Shipping Act, 1992, which dealt with safety aspects of certain types of ferry boats. It increases the penalties for breaches of safety regulations and also provides for special exemptions for certain categories of small passenger vessels.

Section 5 contains a provision to empower the Commissioners of Irish Lights to borrow money for current or capital expenditure while the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Act, 1997, empowers the commissioners to continue to provide modern technology aids in the interest of maritime safety. It does not provide powers for them to borrow necessary funding to provide such aids or other related matters as stated in this section. Section 1 repeals section 19 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875. This section left open the possibility that seamen could be indicted for conspiracy in the furtherance of a trade dispute.

Section 2 repeals part of section 221 and sections 222, 224, 225 and 238 and part of section 680 of the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. It mainly deals with desertion from ships and compulsory detention and forced labour of merchant seamen in certain circumstances. This is contrary to the European Social Charter and has been condemned by the Council of Europe. The section repeals and amends out of date penal provisions in our general maritime law to reflect relevant International Labour Organisation Conventions and the Council of Europe Social Charter. Section 221(a), to be deleted, deals with punishment of desertion by seafarers with penalties involving imprisonment with or without hard labour. Sections 222, 224, 225 and 238 provide penal sanctions in respect of absence without leave, desertion and other offences by seamen. Section 221(b) of the 1894 Act is not being repealed. This deals with absence without leave. The Minister received legal advice from the Attorney General on this matter and intends to deal with it possibly in the context of a comprehensive revision of merchant shipping legislation.

The Minister was influenced by the 1995 UK Merchant Shipping Act which still provides penalties for absence without leave. This indicates the continuing relevance of such a provision for a maritime nation. Amending section 680 of the 1894 Act brings the penalties provided in line with present day norms. The maximum fine will be £1,500 on summary conviction. The current Bill replaces conviction as a misdemeanour by conviction on indictment. Section 2 provides for offences committed by a body corporate and its relevant officers or others acting on behalf of it.

Amendment of section 3 of the Bill is necessitated by a judgment in the European Court of Justice in 1997 which found that the operation of the Irish shipping register infringed EU Treaty provisions. It will bring Irish law on the registration of ships and recreational craft in line with European Treaties. It amends the 1955 Act to allow nationals of other member states of the EU or companies established in other EU countries to register on the Irish register on the same basis as Irish nationals or companies. The amendment will also ensure EU approval for the implementation of the support measures introduced by the 1997 social welfare regulations where certain employers in the shipping industry claim refunds of employer social welfare contributions in respect of seagoing employees. It will also ensure EU approval for the introduction of the £5,000 seafarers' tax allowances introduced in this year's Finance Bill for seafarers who are out of the State for more than 169 days per annum.

Section 4 amends the 1992 Act which dealt with the safety aspects of passenger ferries and other such craft. It provides for the inclusion of ferry boats working in chains which were not included in the definitions of passenger boats or ships. It brings this category of vessel into the licensing and certification process that applies to other types of passenger vessels. I welcome this because the type of exercise carried out by these boats could be dangerous, especially as most of the vessels are very old. The section also allows for the use in genuine emergency circumstances of unlicensed vessels in the interest of accident or pollution prevention or in a situation where members of An Garda Síochána or medical personnel need transport for urgent reasons.

The section also allows certain categories of passenger boats to be exempted from the requirements to be licensed in certain circumstances. This could include pilot boats, tugs and certain small vessels which transport small numbers of islanders from isolated inhabited islands. This may be necessary due to no landing slipways and where introduction of licensing requirements would cause abnormal costs. There are many small islands off our coast to which this would apply. The regulations specified under this section will lay down conditions with regard to the suitability of the type of craft to be used and the requirements necessary in regard to safety equipment. Safety will still be a priority where boats exempted from licensing regulations will be used. Provision is being made for penalties for non-compliance.

Section 5 was introduced on Committee Stage when the Bill was before the Dáil. The Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, and the Merchant Shipping (Commissioners of Irish Lights) Act, 1997, did not provide for borrowing powers for the commissioners. This was the opinion of the Attorney General.

The Bill provides that the commissioners can provide for capital or current expenditure by raising or borrowing money that includes currencies other than the currency of the State. This can only be done with the consent of the Minister for Finance and upon terms and conditions allowed by the Minister. The total borrowings cannot exceed £25 million. All money shall be paid from money voted by both Houses of the Oireachtas. Money raised or borrowed in a foreign currency can only be the equivalent amount to that allowed in the State's currency.

This legislation arises from the need by the commissioners to secure financial facilities to purchase the new vessel referred to by the Minister. It will cost approximately £18 million and will replace the existing vessel, the Granuaile, which is now 28 years old. As the commissioners is an all-Ireland body, the vessel will be jointly funded by Ireland and Britain. Our Exchequer will finance 35 per cent of the cost and the balance will be met by the general lighthouse fund administered by the British Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Due to the signing of the contract to build the ship, the need to protect against currency exchange rates in relation to sterling and the availability of favourable interest rates, it is urgent we pass the legislation today. The first progress payment has been made by the lighthouse fund and we must now honour our portion of the commitment.

The primary function of the new vessel will be to service navigational aids under the control of the commissioners. It is equipped with the latest manoeuvring and listening technology and will assist in servicing offshore navigational aids, buoys, beacons and lighthouses. It will have ground facilities and its design ensures a multi-functional capacity that will enable it play a part in search and rescue operations and in responding to pollution incidents.

The Minister told the other House his Department is reviewing the state of the overall prevention and control facilities in dealing with oil pollution and hopes to acquire a separate oil pollution vessel. There is much excitement and activity regarding the potential oil and gas finds off the west and north-west coasts in the Rockall basin and I compliment the Minister's efforts to have the Minister for Finance and the Cabinet approve funding for the development of Killybegs Harbour, which is the preferred onshore base of the exploration companies who are exploring for oil and gas off our coast.

I commend the Bill to the House, especially in view of the urgency in implementing sections 3 and 5. I appreciate the Minister's comments regarding the preservation of the lighthouses for heritage purposes. There are a number of one man lighthouses in County Donegal which were not referred to.

I commend the Minister's co-operation with his colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. The Minister of State at that Department is in contact with the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources regarding the provision of facilities for the offshore islands. In this regard I refer to the necessary extensions of the slipway and the deletion of rock in front of the slipway for the ferry service operating between Aranmore and Burtonport.

I compliment the Minister for introducing this consolidation legislation. I was unable to read the 1894 Act because a copy was not available. I compliment the Department's involvement in changing the use of old lighthouses and surrounding buildings around the coast to heritage and interpretative centres, especially the one in Mizen Head, which I have not visited but which I have read about. It is hugely important. This development needs greater public attention. It would be of great use in the teaching area. It is an important part of our heritage and history. Even to understand the basics of navigation would be hugely interesting in mathematical and scientific terms. It would give people an understanding of the great feats of navigation undertaken daily by our ancestors in fishing boats. I still do not understand how people in those days went out in small boats and in fog were able to return to the point of their departure. They appear to have acquired a sixth sense.

I commend the Government for taking an interest in the preservation of our built heritage, which, in terms of local history, education and understanding our maritime past, has been neglected in our history books and in social commentary. It is a part of our life which we miss, apart from Tom McSweeney's excellent programme "Seascapes" on RTÉ, which is about the only time our maritime history and tradition are brought to our attention.

I welcome the Minister's comments on island inhabitants. I share his concern that the legislation will allow for the use of unlicensed ferries to carry people from certain inhabited islands from which there is not a licensed ferry service. We need to consider this carefully. If we attach a value and importance to the lifestyle of people living on these small islands we need to invest money in them. That is not happening at present. It is over two and a half years since I last visited Inishturk, which, at approximately 13 miles from the mainland, is probably the most remote of the inhabited islands. There is no easy access to and from the island. If I recall correctly, the jetty is not accessible at low water. Although the island is developing its tourism, the only living for the inhabitants is in fishing. In view of this, people cannot complain about providing the kind of investment which is needed and I ask the Minister to proceed on that basis.

The Bill goes a long way to helping the Commissioners of Irish Lights in terms of developing their new support vessel and I wish them well. I last debated the role of the commissioners here in connection with the unfortunate proposal to build the Loran C mast on Loop Head. While I had a difference of opinion in my dealings with them I found them an extraordinarily impressive group who were very committed to their work. They were the kind of public servants we would be proud to have represent us in any area. I am delighted the Bill allows them to develop their work a little further.

I note part of the work of the commissioners is not included in this Bill. With regard to the buoyage used along our coasts, there appears to be a lack in the application of the European Convention. While there are certain general signs which are the same in England and Ireland, such as cardinal marks, the colours of buoyage on entering harbours and practical matters, such as safe water marks at harbour entries, have not been synchronised in European terms. Those at sea will appreciate the work of the commissioners in keeping the buoyage up to date. Yet, there are differences in colourings and markings when one travels, say, from Kilrush to Beleek through the River Shannon and the Erne waterways. If I recall correctly, three different systems of buoys are used. While port red and starboard green are used at the mouth of the River Shannon, a different system is used at Lough Erne.

Similarly, there are different approaches to the management of boats in most parts of Europe. I cannot glean from the legislation the type of licence a person requires before he or she can take control of a boat such as a cruiser. The cruising fleets on the Shannon have been developed and their activities are highly valued. On the Continent people are required to have licences before they can take control of some boats. Do any issues in this area need to be considered? I do not suggest the capacity of this business to develop should be reduced. However, a life was lost in a tragic accident on Lough Derg recently and such events bring these matters to mind.

In terms of the European approach to this area, there is close co-operation between Ireland and England regarding lifeboats, coastguard services and other areas. This is most impressive. However, I am not aware of the same level of contact among the European partners. I recently cruised along the English Channel but I was not aware of close contact between the French and the UK coastguard services. They appeared to work separately, although there is regular co-operation between other services. Will the Minister outline the position?

Regarding the registration of ships, will the Minister explain the position in terms of flags of convenience? Large merchant ships fly the flag of the port of registration. However, what is the position regarding smaller boats and ferries? The convention in this area is that the vessel flies the flag of the owner's country. For example, an Irish person sailing into a UK port should fly the Tri-colour. I presume the reason for this is that the vessel may be subject to checks by the customs authorities. If an Irish person can register a boat in another European country and he or she registers it in Poole in the south of England or Southampton, what flag should be flown on the vessel? Will the Minister explain the position? It is probably easily understood but I am a little at sea about it.

I welcome the provision that people working at sea will be brought into a more modern industrial relations ambience. Up to now people taking usual industrial relations action could have been charged with conspiracy and probably mutiny. People were not aware of this and I am sure my colleagues in the seamen's union will be pleased that this legislation will allow them to do their work. However, this move raises particular issues in terms of the activities of certain groups controlled by the law at present. Does the Minister have a record of the last time a person working at sea was charged with conspiracy?

Although I did not read the original Act, I listened to the Minister but I am still unclear about the difference between desertion and absence without leave. I presume absence without leave implies that a person intends to return at some stage. One wonders what the position would be if they were picked up a year later. The action regarding desertion, mutiny and conspiracy is being taken approximately 200 years too late. When one considers "Mutiny on the Bounty", the legislation probably should have been rearranged a long time ago.

It is always useful to tidy up legislation and I compliment the Department in that regard. On this occasion the push undoubtedly came from the decent people in the Commissioners of Irish Lights who found, for the third year in a row, that they did not have the authority to do what was required of them and a change in legislation was necessary. The role of this House will soon be discussed. Part of the original intention of the Seanad was that it would be a reforming institution. Perhaps the Minister's Department might consider that old legislation in various fields could be dealt with effectively by this House.

I welcome the Bill and support its enaction. One cannot object to tidying up legislation. My heart skipped a beat when the Minister mentioned Senator Taylor-Quinn because I assumed he would refer to Loran C. I was recently at sea, out of sight of land, and I attempted to get my GPS location. I looked through some cruising notes which referred to the Loran C chain. Regarding the Kilkee side, the notes stated that the system was to be in operation by 1997. I wondered if I was in trouble but, thankfully, nothing happened. The Minister is as good as his word.

The Senator should beware of Greeks bearing false gifts.

I am glad the Minister held his position on that matter, although I suspect his personal view is different.

The House has discussed on many occasion in recent months the Shannon River Council Bill. This matter has been brought to the Minister's attention, but this legislation passed Second Stage in the House last year with the support of the Fianna Fáil Party, the Progressive Democrats and the Independents. All sides are committed to the Bill and the Minister should trust Members to move it forward in the way he wants. Nobody suggested that the Bill should not be amended. It fits in well with the tidying up work the Department is doing in other areas.

The River Shannon features in the news almost every week in relation to issues such as mussels, drainage problems and the quality of the water. It is obvious that a council is required to deal with the entire river. This must be attractive to the Department because it would refer to the Department but also end the position where many Departments are responsible for different interests. The Leas-Chathaoirleach is becoming uneasy because this matter does not relate to the Bill. However, I urge the Minister to consider reintroducing the Shannon River Council Bill which has the support of all sides. The Leader said he intended to reintroduce the Bill but we do not know when that will happen. I ask the Minister to clarify the position.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire. Aontaím leis an mBille seo. Aontaím freisin le a lán de na rudaí atá ráite ag na Seanadóirí eile.

Senator O'Toole's contribution was most interesting. The Senator is now the proud owner of a boat and he will take on a major adventure in the near future when he sails from Kinsale to Dingle. He will be welcomed by the local pipe and drum band.

I hope I will also be welcomed by the chairman of the Harbour Commissioners.

The Minister will note that the Senator is concerned about the colour of buoys around the coast. However, I wish the Senator every success with his boat. I hope he will enjoy himself.

I compliment the Minister on the number of times he has come to the House, the number of Bills he has introduced and the announcements he has made for the benefit of the fishing industry and the marine sector in general. It was good to see the Minister in full flight on television recently, along with people from my town, fighting for the rights of tuna fishermen in Brussels. He was in consultation rather than in confrontation with them, fighting together as best they could. The outcome was not to the satisfaction of either the Minister or the fishermen but it must be adhered to. It was ironic that a scuffle broke out between Greenpeace and the Dingle fishermen because, for the past 14 years, they have protected a dolphin, the very creature which Greenpeace claimed they would destroy. As I have said many times in the House, the fishermen respect the dolphin and have protected it with their lives.

I welcome the changes in the Bill; there are many amendments to be made to other legislation but this is a start. There is a lot of outdated legislation. I remind the Minister of the differences between the penalties which can be imposed by me, as chairman of Dingle Harbour Commissioners, and by the major ports for the same offence. It is hard to understand why a person who breaks the law in a harbour commission area can be fined between £10 and £100 whereas the same offence under another authority, but tried in the same courts and under the same laws, can be fined anything from £1,000 to £10,000. If that cannot be changed by this Bill legislation should be introduced, either by this Minister or the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to provide that the penalty for an offence should be the same throughout the legal system.

Senator O'Toole mentioned Mutiny on the Bounty and I did not think there were still laws governing people who mutinied or jumped ship. Perhaps I should have examined the Minister's contribution more closely — he said there would be no more walking the plank because it was outdated. During the debate in the Select Committee, the Minister quoted from a provision which stated:

if the desertion takes place abroad, of the wages he may earn on any other ship in which he may be employed until his next return to the United Kingdom .

Why was the reference to the UK rather than Ireland or Europe?

There may be a reason for jumping ship or absconding. Over the past few years I have heard of seamen who worked under dreadful conditions and were not released from their contract although they wanted out. Also, in one of the greatest shipping disasters off the Canadian coast, the master of the ship was found to be drunk. If a person who absconds had to work under such conditions, will he get an opportunity in court to say why he jumped ship? The same law should apply to him as to everyone else.

I welcome the tax concessions the Minister will give to seamen. It was unfair that people working out of the country and away from their families for long periods had no concessions, so the £5,000 personal tax allowance is a welcome change. I thought it might be even more than that because there is a cost factor. Not many people know how long people work at sea but hardly anyone on land would be willing to spend long periods under those conditions. They are entitled to taxation and social welfare concessions.

The licensing laws for ferry boats are good. In Dingle 12 boats ply for hire every day, carrying between 12 and 50 people. Our harbour-master is quite rigid — if the boat's licence is not in order it cannot go out. Until such time as the inspector has examined the boat to ensure the life rafts, flares and lifejackets are in order and fire safety regulations are complied with, the harbour-master will not permit the ferry to operate. On occasion the ferrymen put the equipment on board for the inspection day but may not have them two or three months later. I have given instructions to our harbour-master to do a spot check on all boats, which he does on a regular basis to ensure all requirements are met.

The Bill mentions the registering of ships; the last time the Minister was here I expressed my disappointment about a large Irish company which registered its boat in Holland, because it would be a pity that an Irish owned boat would come into harbour flying a foreign flag — I thought that a ship had to fly the flag of the country where it was registered. I asked the Minister to consider setting up a proper shipping registry in Ireland, which would give certain concessions and attract ships from other countries, along the lines of the International Financial Services Centre. I have no doubt this would be a huge gain to our economy and would be no loss to the Exchequer. If an incentive is given nothing is lost, because the country would not have the business without it, so anything we get would be a gain. It would build up the insurance trade and would increase business for ships agents. On the last occasion I mentioned the other island nations whose economy is almost totally based on ship registration. With the Minister for Finance we should try to devise a scheme which would comply with EU laws but would provide an incentive such as that provided in the Isle of Man.

The traditional regattas such as the blessing of boats have been hard hit. It is hard to get insurance for these events. One of the biggest days of the year in my town is the traditional blessing of the boats. Last year we had to curtail it when order was issued by the harbour board that the fishing boats were not allowed to take people on board for the trip out to the harbour. Now the blessing consists of the life boat coming with the clergy on board to bless the boats as they circle outside the harbour mouth so there will be another good year's fishing. There used to be up to 100 people on board the fishing boats. We have had to curtail that because they were not covered by insurance. A way to exempt this tradition from insurance through legislation should be found so that we can enjoy that day. There are similar activities throughout the State but the cost of insurance for a regatta is now so high that you take a chance or forget about it.

The Minister mentioned forthcoming discussions with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. I remind the Minister of the predicament in which the Blasket Island ferrymen find themselves. The men invested in two ferries and they now find that the landing facilities will not be built because of a court case. I would like to see the Departments of the Marine and Natural Resources and Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands provide some funding to alleviate the problems these men have regarding landing facilities on the mainland.

The Granuaile is a grand old ship — I thought she was older. I often watched in awe as she anchored off the Tearach lighthouse in heavy seas, landing fuel and supplies and I admired the expertise of those on board as they unloaded heavy material to be hooked onto a lift to the lighthouse. The weather never stopped them. I welcome the fact that a new boat has been provided. We are an island nation and these facilities should be provided by the EU to help us to look after these matters with modern vessels. The Granuaile still receives 35 per cent funding from the Exchequer. The EU was not overly generous in granting £1 million. It should have given much more than that. Not alone is the service provided by the Granuaile and the Commissioners of Irish Lights of benefit to our country, it is of benefit to all of the EU. The EU should help out.

The Minister mentioned that many of the redundant lighthouses would probably be offered for sale. There is history attached to these buildings. I ask the Minister to ensure that it is stipulated that the lighthouses should not be sold to speculators. Local community groups should be approached to see if they could buy them to keep them as part of the culture and heritage of the island.

I welcome the Minister to the House and welcome the general tenor of the Bill. Most of the sections are welcome improvements to existing legislation, such as those dealing with seamen and trade disputes, registering of ships and the removal of the Victorian offences of desertion and wilful disobedience.

I am, however, a cynic as far as Bills dealing with merchant shipping are concerned. It struck a note of panic that the Bill allows the Commissioners of Irish Lights to raise £25 million. The Minister made a convincing presentation and one could be lulled into a sense of false security. I am not prepared to fall for that. I would like the Minister to clarify the Loran C issue. The Commissioners of Irish Lights may require a new ship but I do not understand why when in the past the commissioners had facilities which required the provision of finance. The finance was secured and there was no need for legislation.

The Minister may argue that because of the increased cost of ships, £25 million is a realistic figure. That is so if you deal with the situation as the Minister presents it, but I would like a categorical assurance from the Minister that this Bill will not be used to enable the Commissioners of Irish Lights to raise funding to proceed with an £8 million development on Loop Head in the form of the Loran C mast. That is my fundamental concern. The Minister may classify the Loran C mast as a navigation aid and this Bill would enable the Commissioners of Irish Lights to raise money for it. I would like an assurance that the Bill will not be used to empower the commissioners to seek permission from the Minister for Finance to raise funding through any mechanism for the building of a Loran C mast on Loop Head. I hope the Minister will be in a position to give that assurance before the conclusion of the debate in this House this evening.

I appreciate that this Bill will benefit employers and employees under its PRSI regulations. It is welcome that PRSI returns can be made to employers to the tune of £2 million. That is laudable and I commend the Minister for it. There are aspects of this Bill which are highly commendable and most welcome. I ask the Minister to assure the House that this Bill will not be used to raise £8 million for Loran C.

I am delighted the Minister responded to the concerns expressed by Senator Bonner and I about the heritage value of our lighthouses when we spoke on the Merchant Shipping Act, 1997. I commend the Minister for raising this matter with the Commissioners of Irish Lights and I appreciate the response he has given us today.

The Minister mentioned leisure craft. Last Monday Clare County Council was advised that it was not legally empowered to introduce by-laws to deal with the use of jet skis on beaches in County Clare. They are one of the biggest dangers along the coast. I hope the Minister will urgently consider this matter, in conjunction with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, with a view to introducing legislation so that local authorities can introduce the necessary by-laws to protect people using the beaches and waters around our coasts.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that ferries will be registered and brought within the control net. Many ferry companies have operated successfully in this country for over 25 years. They have an extremely fine record of service and safety with no reported accidents or dangerous activities. These ferry companies and operators must be commended for the tremendous work they have done.

I know of one ferry company which was recently approached for £40,000 or £50,000 a year. This is serious because these ferry companies provide a living for people and they operate without any State assistance as they are privately owned. Government agencies now regard it as appropriate to seek to extract money from them in the form of a licence or taxation. This is extremely wrong and short-sighted. Successful ferry companies have generated considerable money but they have reinvested it in improving the quality of service, vessels and landing facilities they provide. They have continued to improve their immediate infrastructure and to provide an excellent service to the user. They are a wonderful example to the State sector. I ask the Minister to ensure that these companies are not looked upon as another source of money but as companies which are providing a service in deprived and disadvantaged areas. They are of great benefit to communities in tourist areas.

It is unwise that people can hire a boat and sail up the Shannon without having to show proof of their experience, expertise or knowledge of seafaring or of handling a leisure craft. This situation must be reviewed because it could lead to serious accidents. I appreciate the fact that the Minister has made an exemption for small islands and islands which do not have an official ferry service. I am delighted the Minister said he was in contact with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands with a view to providing better infrastructural facilities on the islands because they are necessary. The sooner there is a proper infrastructure on these inhabited islands, whether it is a slipway or a pier, the better. The Minister can then introduce more stringent rules and regulations. Tragedies have occurred in the past as people traversed between the islands and the mainland. There is an onus on the State to give priority to disadvantaged areas. The last Government appointed a Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht with responsibility for the islands who focused on this area with a view to providing a proper service. I hope the Minister ensures that work is successfully continued.

I welcome the Bill, which gives great power to the Commissioners of Irish Lights. While the Commissioners of Irish Lights are an all-island body, their headquarters is in Trinity House in London. The Government gave a subvention to the Commissioners of Irish Lights to conduct their business in this country which they have successfully done. The way they maintain their properties is a credit to them. However, given that their headquarters is in London, where there are many commercial banks, and that Trinity House is providing the initial payment for this vessel, it is surprising that they need this power in our legislation to raise funding. Perhaps I am being cynical when I suggest that the section of the Bill which relates to the powers to be conferred on them will enable them to raise £8 million to construct Loran C. I hope the Minister will reassure the House that that will not happen. His case for the boat was well presented and highly convincing. However, one cannot help but think there is another agenda. I ask the Minister to confirm that there is not another agenda, that this funding is only for the boat and that the Department officials will ensure that this section of the legislation is not used to raise funding to build a Loran C mast at Loop Head.

I welcome the Bill which seeks to regulate some aspects of the fishing industry. All the guidelines in the surveys office in the Department of the Marine are only in draft form. It is up to each surveyor to interpret the draft guidelines for the fishing fleet. The Central Fisheries Board has asked on a number of occasions since 1992 that the Department clarify the safety regulations for the sea angling charter fleet because these regulations are also in draft form. I ask the Minister to clarify the position. Will he be introducing licensing for the sea angling charter boats? The previous Minister, the late Deputy Coveney, promised that he would do so. I ask this Minister to give us the up to date position in this regard. At present it is up to the surveyor in the surveys office to interpret it and different people make different interpretations. If the guidelines are only in draft form, different surveyors will take different interpretations from them. That is unfair to the surveyors also. I am only asking for what the Central Fisheries Boards have sought already — that the Minister clarify the safety regulations for the sea angling charter fleet.

I thank the Senators for a broad ranging debate covering many of the areas in the Bill and a few other issues.

Senator Caffrey welcomed the updating measures in the Bill. He was concerned with the shipping industry generally and felt that it needed support, and I would agree with him. We are trying to tackle those issues. He was also concerned that vessels using Irish ports had safety standards similar to those we are discussing here. More needs to be done in that area but there is a procedure for what is called port state control. In other words, once a vessel comes into the port of a state, the state has control over it. If the state is not happy with something, it can insist that certain things are changed. Obviously that relates to serious matters.

I appreciate the Senator's point that we should try to have similar standards around Europe for anybody using the seas and the ports. This might come down to things like the degree of training for the people who are operating the vessels because many vessels are now using staff who have very little training and would not be up to the standard to which we would be accustomed. There is much to be done in that area. However, I want to make it clear that we have control over vessels if we are unhappy about the safety measures on board or about their seaworthiness. Staffing matters are fairly loose still from the point of view of third countries and that is something which needs to be developed.

Various questions were raised about the smaller vessels carrying fewer than 12 passengers and the vessels carrying more than 12 passengers. The passenger vessels carrying more than 12 passengers are already covered under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. They are required to be surveyed and to have a passenger ship safety certificate.

On the question of boats used by employers, etc., I do not propose to exempt regular passenger boats carrying passengers to and from their place of work. Instead, with regard to vessels owned by the passengers' employer where separate special arrangements apply — I am thinking here of special instances, such as pilot boats used by the harbour authorities and vessels used by the Commissioners of Irish Lights — we had to make provision that the Minister could introduce specific regulations to deal with those cases. Since these are specialists, trained people, and there is no need to be concerned about that aspect.

Senator Caffrey also raised issues relating to the exemptions, such as the exemption for dredgers and other work boats. That is a practical measure and it will, of course, be subject to conditions, such as those which ensure that the requirements of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, are complied with. I can guarantee that there will be no diminution of safety, which will be assured through the imposition of regulations specifying safety equipment to be carried, etc. There are specific strict penalties in this Bill for any breach of the existing regulations.

Senator Caffrey raised an important issue, that is training. Training is one of the key issues. The introduction of the £5,000 tax incentive for young people to enter the merchant navy is one of the incentives offered. There is also the need to provide good training courses. This needs much attention. This is something which the industry takes seriously and about which it is concerned. The Director of the Irish Chamber of Shipping, Mr. Brian Kerr is chairman of the Task Force on Seafarer Training and Employment. The task force is tackling this issue now as a matter of urgency. Later in the year we will have its views and recommendations and we will be anxious to pursue them. I agree with the Senator that the vocational education committees could play an important part in this regard. I have a high regard for the work they have done over the years but they just did not get the necessary support.

Senator Caffrey also raised the issue of the crowded roads. That will become a more prominent issue not just here but all over Europe. As our roads are becoming very crowded, one can only imagine what the roads are like around Europe. That is a major problem there. Coastal delivery and access to ports will become more important there as it is here. The Senator's two solutions were commercial transport at night and transport by sea. Transport by sea will become increasingly important.

Between 80 per cent and 85 per cent of the volume of goods are transported by sea. If one takes into account the island of Ireland, the volume of goods transported by sea increases to 99 per cent. When one looks at the whole island one sees the impact the airports have on this area. A huge volume of our exports is transported by sea — this is not really recognised — and the volume will increase.

Senators Bonner and Taylor-Quinn raised the question of some inclusions which I have kept in mind and have included and I have, as promised, done something about the question of Burtonport. Senator Bonner also expressed concern about the ban on drift net fishing. This situation is quite difficult. An overall decision was taken by the Council of Minsters in March to ban drift nets. At that time I persuaded the Council of Ministers to delay the measure to allow us to have discussions with the Commission with a view to finding measures which might be helpful to Ireland's position. The matter was, therefore, postponed until the June meeting. At the June meeting a two year transitional period was proposed. This was not very helpful to us because the two years would include 1998 and 1999 and the 1998 season is already well under way. A majority of 23 opposed our point of view. Ireland, with France and Italy, was in a minority of three. We did not even have enough support to constitute a blocking minority. If we had we could have delayed the decision until some satisfactory arrangement could be arrived at. We did manage, through long discussion, to have the two years transition extended to three and finally to four years. Our Spanish colleagues were particularly upset by this because they have been pressing for this development and felt that the overall majority in favour of a two year transitional period should have stood. However, the European Union must recognise that the livelihoods of fishermen are more important than simple overall majorities. Germany, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom were, in fairness, prepared to look at compromise measures.

In the course of the negotiations we succeeded in including an addendum providing for money for technology transfer and research to be given priority in the funds which the Commission has at its disposal. We have committed all our own European funding for fisheries and the marine for this period. We needed a commitment of funding for the period after 1999 to cover the later stages of the four year transitional period.

From those points of view our negotiations were quite successful but we were trying to solve a problem which should not have arisen in the first place. There is no scientific evidence to support a claim against Irish fishermen in this situation. As Senator Fitzgerald pointed out, Irish people — and particularly in Dingle — are very friendly with dolphins and they with us. Senator Bonner may be interested to hear that when I visited north Donegal at the recent bank holiday weekend I saw 20 dolphins leaping in the sea outside my window.

Perhaps they follow the Minister around.

They may have been communicating a message to me that they are quite happy and not at all worried. The fishing vessels were alongside the dolphins and not causing them any concern. We conform to the UN resolution in this regard.

Having gained some concessions from colleagues on the Council of Ministers it was difficult for me to vote against them on this question, but the Irish position continues to be that the decision is wrong in principle. Money should have been provided by the EU for this purpose. Countries were merely given approval to use their own funds. This method suits France and Italy but it does not suit Ireland in our current situation. I think we have achieved a manageable position. I am sorry to digress but the matter is current and I wished to deal with it. As Senator Bonner said, a dangerous precedent has been set. I pointed this out to the Council. The decision was a political rather than a scientific or practical one.

Senator Bonner also pointed out the opportunities for oil and gas exploration and development off the west and north west coasts. This question is topical. An unprecedented number of licences for exploration in that area has been granted and there will be much exploration. We hope there will be finds. The waters are deep and new technology is needed.

Irish technologists, especially from universities like Galway, are learning these new technologies. They are being developed at the Marine Institute. Harland and Wolff are pleased with the deep water research which is being done on their behalf and which will help them in their designs for the world market. Even though no oil has been found in Ireland, Irish technologists and engineers are being asked to advise on installations in the North Sea and in the seas off Norway. There will be extensive exploration. A drilling by Enterprise Oil will commence in the middle of June off Slyne Head. We are hopeful that something will result from that. The Statoil exploration found resources, but of a nature not suitable with present technology. Statoil were disappointed because the resources were quite substantial but there may be further developments. I agree with Senator Bonner that there is a potential for development in the Killybegs area. Killybegs is not only our largest fishing port, but it also has potential as a centre of the oil industry.

Senator O'Toole expressed his satisfaction at the initiatives taken with regard to old lighthouses. I mentioned my concerns regarding the marine emergency services. I will be making sure that some of these facilities are used for the marine emergency services, which is timely. Senator O'Toole also recognised the Government's concern for islanders. He also wishes to see more development on islands. The Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy Ó Cuív, is paying particular attention to that area. He is seeking to allocate the funds as fairly as possible to develop facilities there and we keep in contact with him on that issue.

Senator O'Toole asked about international co-operation for the Commissioners of Irish Lights. It is a member of the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities which deals with navigation issues on a worldwide basis. Buoys in and around harbours are provided by the relevant harbour authorities. However, the commissioners have an overall supervisory role. With regard to the colour of buoys, the commissioners would be experts. They regularly liaise with seafarers in matters related to aids to navigation which they provide.

I noted that at one point the Senator found himself adrift and his navigation system was not doing what he required, so to speak. He suddenly admitted that he might need Loran C after all he had said in debates on that issue. Fortunately, he overcame his difficulties. With regard to Loran C we had hoped matters might have developed differently but they have not.

Senator O'Toole also expressed concern about the River Shannon. Matters related to it are in the remit of the Office of Public Works and I suspect the Shannon River Council legislation will be introduced by another Department. My Department has an interest in the matter and related expertise. We provide the marine emergency service for the country and it would be better if it also covered the rivers and lakes. We provide a 24 hour system which is almost second to none. It would not be difficult for the marine emergency service to cover the major rivers and lakes.

Senator O'Toole also expressed concern about the desertion and absence without leave issues. Employers of seafarers consider absence without leave a breach of contract of employment. We are not removing it at this stage because there are so many international conventions and other instruments and if we remove it willy-nilly we may cause difficulties. The matter needs careful consideration and we will follow it up.

Senator Fitzgerald referred to recent events in Brussels but the meeting took place in Luxembourg. I admit that at times I am unsure where I was — I arrive by plane and go by car to a meeting for the day and when it is over I return by car to the airport to leave for home. It really does not matter where the debate takes place. The presence of the fishermen from Dingle and Castletownbere was of help to us because it allowed me to point out during the negotiations that the only fishermen present were those from the south-west whose livelihoods were at stake. Their representations were appreciated greatly. An extraordinary Dingle versus Greenpeace conflict arose, but I am sure that, on reflection, the Greenpeace protesters may have felt out of place. Dingle is the home of the dolphin and the species faces no threat there.

The Senator raised the issue of regularising fines. We are examining the case of Dingle in particular and I appreciate the general point. With regard to desertion and returning to the UK, the matter is covered by the Act of 1894, at which time Ireland was included. The Senator welcomed the tax concessions and raised the problem of the cost of insurance. He also referred to the heritage value of lighthouses.

Senator Taylor-Quinn welcomed the Bill, but as ever the cynic in these matters——

Just in one matter.

It seems to come up all the time. The problem is that she is not very trusting.

That could be it.

She need not be concerned. The commissioners must have the powers to borrow the money needed and the Bill provides such a facility. The Loran C is a separate issue. It involves Exchequer funds which are included in the Estimates. I would not worry about anything precipitate happening with regard to Loran C because, as I have indicated, there will be a consultation process. I had hoped that other technological developments would have changed the scene positively in the interim. However, that has not been the case. The Americans were considering a commercialisation of their system and we had hoped they would make it widely available on a commercial basis. However, they have backed away from so doing. There had been suggestions that the Decca system might have received investment and been improved but that has not happened.

We have had contractual obligations in this regard since 1992 and we must pursue those matters. We will also pursue the consultation process — one element will be an expert consultation and another will be consultation with people in the area involved and both processes will be public. I have given a firm undertaking that if we decide to go ahead with the project the matter will come back to the Oireachtas for discussion. The money for that project is provided by the Exchequer. It was on advice from the Attorney General that it was found that borrowing powers were not available to the Commissioner of Irish Lights.

I was in the Department of the Marine for a short period in 1992 and brought in regulations regarding jet skis and these regulations were challenged. Our advice is that those regulations are not secure and that something will have to be done about them. We had hoped the local authorities would bring them in for their own areas, but they have run into the same difficulties. It is extraordinary but that is the nature of life nowadays. People challenge everything for every sort of reason. We can control these vessels and those travelling on them, but the real danger in this case relates to people swimming. I am very concerned about this situation, which we are working to put on a regulated basis. People have had their shoulders partly removed by jet skis.

The record of the Tarbert to Killimer ferry——

That is the one I had in mind, though I did not mention it specifically.

Their secondhand ferry was sold off to another location and it has been upgraded there.

That is correct.

They have done an excellent job and I agree with the Senator, who mentioned reinvestment. I immediately thought of the ferry near Dunmore East from Passage East to Ballyhack. I have been around the country.

The Minister is on the ball.

The Senator is quite right. Those organisations deserve credit for doing an excellent, efficient job. Senator Burke raised the point——

What about the £50,000 fee regarding ferry licence fees?

As they say in the fíorGhaeltacht, sin ceist eile.

I remind Senator Taylor-Quinn that we will have the Committee Stage debate shortly.

We are getting on fine.

This is a different question because commercial activity is involved. I will look at this matter, but things are getting more commercial rather than less commercial. This is a matter for the local commercial harbour authorities. I cannot interfere unless there is something extraordinary involved, though the Senator might regard this matter as extraordinary.

The Minister could give an indication as to his thinking.

I would not like them to go overboard because a good ferry service is being provided, which is an important tourist facility. That element should be borne in mind. This is also an issue in Cork.

Senator Burke mentioned the draft guidelines regarding sea angling boats. These guidelines are currently under discussion with the Attorney General's Office, and the Sea Angling Federation has been consulted.

I thank Senators for their contributions. The debate was a searching and wide ranging one and I have noted the points raised. I will keep them in mind when developing policy. While the Bill is a short step in my efforts to modernise and extend maritime legislation, its passage will be of considerable benefit to our maritime industry. It will allow the Commissioners of Irish Lights to proceed urgently with financing their new vessel.

It will be a super vessel with some functions regarding oil pollution at sea that will help our emergency service operations.

I appreciate the goodwill shown towards the proposals in both Houses, and I thank Senators again for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Now. I thank Members of the Opposition for agreeing to take Committee Stage. It is appreciated.

Agreed to take Committee Stage now.