Minerals Development Bill, 1999: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Section 1 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Ryan

The Minister said the provisions in section 2 were part of his commitment on the lease for Lisheen, that is, the clarifying of ownership of the Land Commission. A very forward looking part of the minerals policy document is its view on the need for environmentally sound mining. Unfortunately Lisheen was not required to ship its ore by rail, which is one of the recommendations of the review group. There is a fair case made in this report for using rail rather than road for the transportation of large volumes. It is a pity this issue was not sorted out when Lisheen was negotiating its lease which I suspect happened before the Minister's time. This is something that should be considered where possible – obviously if there is no rail link near, it would not be possible. The prospect of 20, 30 or 40 trucks a day trundling from Lisheen to Tivoli and back – and I confess to a special interest in this because I live about half a mile from Tivoli – will mean that the people living in the area will have yet another traffic burden landed on them. In this case there was a rail link that could have been used.

I recognise the point made earlier by the Senator. I meant to refer to it. Obviously it would be preferable to transport such goods by rail. The Senator is suggesting that it be a condition. The company considered rail and was encouraged to do so, but found that it was more feasible to transport by road. The company worked on the basis of the planning permission it got. The Senator's point is that we should have tighter control, and it is a reasonable one.

There was also intense competition between the ports in that area, and it was left to them to decide what to offer and how to attract business. Cork managed to attract the company there in an open competitive market. Whether it should be so fully open and competitive is another question from the point of view of the State, of the people and of the planning authorities. The company got planning permission for its developments in Cork and that was a matter for the local planning authorities.

From the point of view of the State there would be an advantage in getting more rail linkages and utilising them more fully. It would also mean investing in different kinds of rolling stock. I am very interested in rail linkages for other reasons in the context of the ports. From Belfast to Waterford, the volume of traffic on the roads is increasing enormously. Given that 90 per cent of business goes through the ports and the bulk of that is transported by road, it is very important to get much more of it on to the rail links. However, the carriage sizes are not right and investment in different types of rolling stock is therefore necessary. That is one of the big issues that needs to be addressed broadly and in the Structural Fund reviews with European Commission backing.

I understand the Senator's point. It has to be looked at by the Department of Public Enterprise which is concerned with rail linkages and by my Department in the context of mining and activity through the ports.

Mr. Ryan

I thank the Minister for a much more forthcoming response than I deserve, given that the topic is probably out of order. The point is that road transport will always appear cheaper to a commercial operator because he does not have to pay for the cost of the permanent way. If Iarnród Éireann provides a service, it incorporates into the charges the cost of maintaining and perhaps upgrading the permanent way, whereas, when companies run trucks they pay whatever the road tax is. Everybody acknowledges that the cost of road transport is not reflected in the charges imposed on road transport. It is another area of "corporate welfare", a term I have used frequently here, where we are actually subsidising road transport. Heavy juggernauts do enormous damage to roads. If there are 40 of these trucks coming from Lisheen to Cork every day, the roads will be worse off. Unless it is imposed by regulation, there will never be a situation where rail will be cheaper. There will be competition between various ports. Unless they are told they have to use rail wherever it is feasible, they will go for the cheaper option, and that will always be the road.

The Senator's point is an important one. There is some recognition of it in that Lisheen had to contribute £4 million towards roads. That meets the principle, but it is local and there is the broader question of roads versus rail. The inconvenience, congestion on roads, and the increasing volume of traffic cannot continue, given that we have now passed the point which the experts forecast for 2011. On the island of Ireland, North and South, 99 per cent of traffic goes through the ports, and it is the roads that take the increasing volume with rail taking a very small proportion. We will have to look carefully at that. It is not acceptable that transport coming from the North and heading for Waterford gets lost in Dublin for some time. We have had some negotiations which have made it possible to get an efficient run-through by moving some of the traffic to rail, but much more needs to be done in that area, and it should be given priority in the next round of EU funding.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 3 stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Ryan

On the issue of the gap, essentially this anomaly was not adverted to from 1979 to 1999, during which time there has been a considerable number of transfers of ownership of land, some of which, sooner or later, will to turn out to have minerals underneath it. Since we cannot make this legislation retrospective, has the Minister any proposals to deal with this? I am sceptical as to whether the Constitution is explicit about not making legislation retrospective, but that is the conventional advice. This is a problem now, but the problem will get worse in 20 years' time, and I am not sure that this section will solve it. We have changed the situation as of now, but the problem arose in 1979. Even if we can say in two years' time that there has been no problem since 1999, we would still have to search back 20 years. The existence of this gap undermines the attempt by the Minister to deal with the problem.

We are left with that difficulty but we are clearing up many that date back to 1903. The Senator is right, but it depends on what parts become areas of interest for the future. There might not be many and it might be possible to deal with them on an ad hoc basis.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 4 stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Ryan

Can I do the usual trick of an Opposition speaker who does not know much about something and ask the Minister to what do the sections mentioned in section 4 refer? Are they environmental or procedural matters? I am not trying to trip up the Minister but the section refers to sections 11(3), 27(3), 32(3), 75(5), 76(2) and 74(1). To what do they relate? It is my duty to ask these questions.

I have a high regard for a Deputy or Senator who performs his duty so strictly. Section 4(1) enables the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources to prosecute for the following summary offences under the 1940 Act: illegal working of minerals by a prospecting licence holder – section 11(3); illegal working of State minerals generally – section 74(1); contravention of the requirement to furnish certain information – section 27(3); obstruction of an authorised person – sections 32(3) and 75(5); contravention of obligations in relation to sinking of shafts – section 75(5) and contravention of obligations to allow an inspector access to workings – section 76(2).

Subsection (2) allows up to 12 months rather than six months after the commission of an offence, to which subsection (1) applies, for prosecution to proceed. This will provide time for detection and collection of sufficient evidence. Subsection (3) permits the Mining Board to prosecute for the following summary offences: first, obstruction, etc., of a board member in relation to entry on land under section 36(2) of the 1940 Act and, second, breach of obligations of witnesses, etc., in relation to proceedings of the board under section 5 of the 1979 Act.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 5 and 6 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Senators for an interesting and thought provoking discussion on this subject. I will bear in mind the points raised during this debate.

I thank the Minister for the efficient way he handled this legislation and his effective manner in answering questions. I also thank the Minister's officials. I am grateful to the Opposition Members for their co-operation in allowing all Stages of the Bill to be taken today. It is not the usual practice but as this is a short Bill and all Members are satisfied with the answers given by the Minister, it is right that it should pass all Stages.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 5.35 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.