This Bill sets out to create a new framework for inland fisheries. Our inland fisheries resource is a precious national asset in its own right and in terms of the social and economic benefits it brings to local communities and to the country as a whole. The inclusive management, conservation and development of the resource to the highest standards is my overall policy objective.
This is a forward-looking agenda for change reflecting the interests and responsibilities of all concerned. It is a carefully balanced package designed to empower all concerned at local and regional level. It will deliver on the accepted need for new directions in the management, organisation and service delivery of the Central and Regional Fisheries Boards. The new framework for the boards and the co-operative societies, combined with the establishment of the National Salmon Management Commission, is the most significant initiative for the inland fisheries sector for 20 years. The reform of the structures reflects the process of change in the public service and local government. It also reflects the evolution in thinking in recent years about inland fisheries development and conservation, and recognises the importance of environment, regional development, tourism, heritage and biodiversity.
The framework will devolve responsibility to local level through the regional fisheries boards, the co-operatives and clubs. It underpins the vital contribution of all local fisheries interests to the development of the resource. The philosophy underlying my approach, therefore, is firmly based on the principles of devolution, subsidiarity, partnership and quality service delivery.
I wish to outline for the Seanad the substantive provisions of the Bill and the thinking which underlies my proposals for change. The Bill provides for clarified and enhanced functions for the Central and Regional Fisheries Boards. The need to re-define and clarify those roles has been obvious for many years. It is first and foremost in the interests of the boards, their committed staff, and all who have a stake in inland fisheries.
The Central Fisheries Board will have a pivotal national role in policy advice, strategic planning and development and in providing specialist co-ordination and support services for the regional boards. It will have explicit responsibility for the co-ordination and delivery of multi-annual strategic plans, the overall supervision of EU and other funding schemes, and in co-operation with Bord Fáilte, the delivery of overseas marketing and promotion strategies for tourism angling. The central board will, therefore, deliver on the national policy dimension of inland fisheries. It will also ensure delivery of crosscutting services to ensure optimum resource deployment, accountability and corporate governance. The central and regional boards collectively employ over 400 people and are funded largely by the Exchequer and EU to the tune of over £16 million per annum.
I have also secured in the national development plan £24 million for the development of inland fisheries for tourism and also for recreational purposes. This is a significant funding envelope for the period of the plan. The involvement of the regional boards, angling clubs and co-ops in the planning and expenditure of this funding will be critical to its success. The Bill provides for that. New standards of service delivery, reporting and accountability in line with modern public service norms are also provided for in the Bill.
The functions and roles of the regional fisheries boards are significantly enhanced in the Bill. The boards will have front-line responsibility for management, conservation, protection and development of inland fisheries and angling in their regions. They will have a new pivotal role in leading a voluntary process of inland fisheries catchment management with angling clubs and other interests. This reflects new thinking about the integrated nature of fisheries with the environment and local activity generally. I will expand further on this point later. The boards will also have explicit responsibilities for sustainable development, biodiversity and heritage, which again reflects the evolution of thinking at national and international level. The boards will work together in a new form of regional co-operation and shared responsibility. This reflects the essential shared nature of the resource.
I am providing for a new role for the regional boards in the acquisition and management of State fisheries subject at all times to ministerial approval. Senators will recall that earlier this year I oversaw the transfer of the Moy fishery to the North-Western Regional Fisheries Board. This was the first practical step towards the new model of subsidiarity which will ensure management of our valuable State fisheries assets is undertaken by those best placed to manage and develop them. I include the long established network of salmon, trout and coarse angling clubs in that context.
Overall my proposals deliver the correct balance between national and regional priorities. The Bill will empower the regional boards, their executives and local fisheries interests with exciting new remits which reflect the latest thinking on sustainability, responsive and answerable to local priorities and needs.
The Bill provides for revised composition of the regional boards to achieve a more appropriate balance of fisheries and other relevant interests. My proposals on membership were designed to underpin the new functions and reinforce the links with other local stakeholders. They are also designed to maintain the local democratic nature of the boards. My proposals therefore continue the system whereby local fisheries interests elect representatives to the boards in addition to appointment of agriculture, tourism, aquaculture and other relevant interests.
Since I published the Bill on 5 November there has been a generally positive response to the strategic concept, including the clarified functions and roles of the regional boards. There is general agreement that the direction is broadly the right one. As public debate on the Bill developed it became clear that there were six key areas which gave rise to particular concerns – the levels of elected fisheries representation on the boards; the balance and mix of ministerial appointments to the boards; the place of angling organisations within the new framework; the future of the fisheries co-operative societies; the mechanisms for consultation on the introduction of salmon tagging and the concept of inland fisheries catchment management.
In recent weeks I have met and received submissions from all the angling organisations, commercial fishing interests, central and regional boards and other interests. This consultative phase has been very productive. All the various interests clearly set out their views on changes which they wished to see. There has been close liaison with all the groups in working to reach agreement on a number of key improvements to the Bill.
The Bill has been amended in a number of respects. It now maintains existing levels of representation for salmon, trout and coarse anglers and life members of the Inland Fisheries Trust on the regional boards. It will also maintain the current level of representation for commercial salmon interests. This will ensure the necessary fisheries focus at regional board level.
The chairpersons of the regional boards will continue to be elected by all board members. This in line with the clearly expressed preference of the majority of those concerned. The Bill now provides for the prescribing of organisations representing agriculture, aquaculture, the environment, regional tourism, the natural heritage and regional/local development. These organisations will nominate members for appointment.
I have inserted a provision which uniquely recognises and copperfastens in statute the particular role and contribution of angling clubs and associations in inland fisheries development. The Bill also provides for an enhanced public consultative process on any scheme for salmon tagging which the National Salmon Management Commission might recommend.
The existing arrangements for the fisheries co-operatives whereby trout and coarse angling share certificate holders elect five members to their committees are being retained. There will be one nominated regional board staff member and one ministerial nominee to the co-operative committees. Making share certificates compulsory will remain an option for co-operatives to decide on themselves.
The provision in relation to catchment management has been amended to clarify comprehensively and ensure confidence in what is intended. The lead role of the regional boards in encouraging catchment management plans with local fisheries interests has been made explicit. The provision also spells out clearly that catchment management is a voluntary and incremental process which must take account of specific and unique factors or circumstances pertaining in each catchment area.
Catchment management has stimulated a great deal of discussion and debate in the last two weeks. Much of the debate has been positive but concerns have been expressed by some angling groups. The Bill sets out to facilitate a catchment management process where and when it is agreed to be potentially beneficial. Catchment management is a simple practical concept. It brings together all the local stakeholders to work in partnership, overcome problems and improve the resource. Catchment management is still at an embryonic stage, although well developed abroad. I have made it clear that catchment management in the Irish context must take account of the highly complex factors which have traditionally characterised our inland fisheries ownership management and access. The difficulties which have arisen in the Killarney pilot project exemplify the need for an open, patient and facilitating approach to developing a range of future options. This will be the approach across the board.
These readily agreed changes to the Bill will deliver confidence and certainty about the overall directions. This is a framework for positive change and empowerment all the way around. Everyone agreed on the need for new directions. The Bill delivers those new and positive directions to the benefit of all.
The Bill provides for a modern rebalanced structure for the Central Fisheries Board reflecting its national role and the norms on State boards. A direct link with the regional boards will be maintained through the nominations of a chairperson and a chief executive of a regional board. Two members will be nominated by the Ministers for the Environment and Local Government and Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. This reflects the links between fisheries, the environment and heritage and biodiversity. Three ministerial nominees with relevant professional or business expertise will contribute a new focus to the board's work. Central board staff will nominate a board member also. The board membership is designed to position the board and its executive to deliver on its core mandates of policy planning and advice and specialist services.
The trout and coarse fish co-operative societies review group report made wide ranging recommendations for change. It is now clear that a majority would prefer to continue the existing structures. I am happy to respect their view. The funding and accounting mechanism will channel matching Exchequer funding for co-operative projects through the regional boards. This will facilitate better administration and accountability. It will also help to integrate the co-operatives more closely with the mainstream of regional fisheries development.
The Bill provides for the establishment of the National Salmon Management Commission in line with the recommendations of the task force. The commission will advise on salmon management policy and strategies and will take forward the detailed work on the salmon tagging scheme. The commission will have 16 members nominated by the relevant organisations and four other nominees. The angling organisations have already sent in their nominations for the commission and I will shortly confirm nominations from the commercial salmon netting interests. The commission will ensure consensus on future national salmon strategies. This new consultative and advisory forum will directly complement the work of the central and regional fisheries boards as well as the Marine Institute.
Section 29 provides for waiving of the payment by An Bord Iascaigh Mhara of interest unpaid, including interest on interest unpaid, under sections 20 and 21 of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1952. These technical provisions will enable interest charges payable by BIM as a result of bad debts associated with loans to fishermen in the past to be waived, thus addressing the long standing imbalance on the balance sheet of BIM. The oil crises of the late 1970s and early 1980s and high interest rates caused severe financial difficulties for fishing vessel owners. Many found themselves unable to make repayments on BIM loans. In certain cases loans were deemed irrecoverable. While the level of irrecoverable debt was revised substantially upwards in the late 1980s, the necessary waivers were not provided in order to balance BIM's debt position. The BIM balance sheet at 31 October 1999 shows a large technical imbalance between repayments due to the Exchequer on advances made to BIM and the value of loans due to BIM by fishermen. The sum of £13.6 million is technically due by BIM to the Exchequer, while the value of loans is just £3.9 million. This leaves an imbalance of £9.7 million. Finance sanction was granted last month to waive the repayment of advances amounting to £9.7 million.
Existing legislation can only be used to waive the repayment of future interest and does not provide for the waiver of interest arrears. Approximately £4 million in interest arrears is now due by BIM. As interest is charged on interest arrears, the latter will continue to accumulate substantially unless action is taken. This provision will clear these interest arrears once and for all.
Section 30 amends the Marine Institute Act, 1991, to extend the institute's functions to include matters relating to shipping and shipping services. I am also establishing, within the Marine Institute, the Irish Maritime Development Office as a development and promotional agency for the Irish shipping and services sector. Locating the office initially within the Marine Institute is a highly cost effective option, as well as providing major strategic opportunities for both organisations.
The establishment of a dedicated development agency for the promotion and development of our shipping industry and onshore shipping services sector, is a milestone for the industry. With 95 per cent of our trade carried by sea, there are real opportunities to develop the Irish fleet, consolidate and develop employment at sea and onshore, attract ships to the Irish Ship Register and improve the shipping services sector.
It is forecast that there will be a major growth in world shipping over the next 15 years. Seaborne trade is set to expand exponentially. Much of the world's shipping tonnage is due to be replaced over the next ten to 15 years. Corresponding increases in related services are also predicted.
Ireland is well positioned to take advantage of these trends. These opportunities include acquisition and operation of additional tonnage, and financing new and second-hand ships, building on the proven success of the Irish Financial Services Centre.
The remit of the office will be to promote and assist the development of Irish shipping and Irish shipping services, in conformity with the EU guidelines on State aid for maritime transport, to promote Ireland as a centre for ship registration, to develop and implement a strategic framework for the shipping industry and its ancillary services sector, and to liaise with and support the industry, and advise on policy initiatives and the overhaul of the legislative and fiscal framework for merchant shipping so as to underpin development and generate employment.
There will be full consultation with the shipping and shipping services industry in the formulation and implementation of the development plans. I am setting up an advisory group to the IMDO and I will shortly appoint its chairman and members, including representatives from the shipping and shipping services sector and the IDA.
I want the IMDO to be fully operational by the millennium. I will work closely with the Marine Institute to deliver jobs and create a new confidence within the shipping industry to encourage investment and innovation.
The Bill has been further amended to underline, for the avoidance of doubt, that seafarer training may be one of the policy matters for implementation by the IMDO. This is a necessary adjunct to the IMDO's remit, given the critical importance of seafarer training in shipping development and the upcoming development of a new national maritime college.
I commend the Bill to the Seanad and look forward to hearing the views of the Senators. I wish to request that a clerk's correction be made to the Bill as passed by Dáil Éireann. Section 2 of the Bill deals with interpretation and provides that the "Act of 1980" means Fisheries Act, 1980. Unfortunately, an error has occurred in the Long Title of the Bill whereby the Act in question is referred to as the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1980. In view of the urgency of this legislation I wish to request the Chathaoirelach to direct the Clerk of the Seanad under Standing Order 121 to make the necessary corrections to the Irish and English Long Title of the Bill.