Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal gairid a rá mar gheall ar an mBille seo. Any time I say that I ramble on for a good while and therefore I will be watching Senator Coogan, who can give me an odd wink.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Byrne. Often Bills to do with the east containing 50 or hundreds of pages are taken in this House, but this is an important Bill to amend the Fisheries and Foreshore (Amendment) Act, 1998, which deals primarily with the west. The two Senators who spoke are from the west also. We come from a Gaeltacht area where, as the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, will be well aware, there is a shortage of jobs and therefore we might as well return to where we all started, that is, sea fishing.
Like other Senators, I congratulate the Minister of State and his Department on the number of licences which have been processed to date. The Minister of State has cut the backlog in the issuing of licences by a huge amount. In a climate when one often gets criticised for doing nothing, I hope this will be recognised.
In conjunction with the Department, the other agencies like BIM, the Marine Institute and Údarás na Gaeltachta are ensuring that all the Minister's objectives will come to fruition. Mariculture has not been forgotten in the national plan in that over the next five or six years up to £24 million will be invested in it. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, has done a great job with this Bill.
Like other Senators, occasionally I receive a certain query and I might as well ask the Minister of State about it while he is here. Does the harvesting of seaweed come under the aegis of the Depart ment? If so, who owns the rights to the seaweed? Are there special designated areas where harvesting is allowed and others where it is not? Although I suppose everything is parochial, I raise this because there is a fairly big development starting in my part of the country and the developers approached me to find answers to these questions. They wanted to know whether licences were necessary and if they were issued by the Department. They also wanted to know the landowners' entitlements and whether these relate to the high-water or low-water mark. These are matters which always cause great difficulty.
The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, would know my part of the country as well as I do. For years they have been harvesting seaweed in Magharees on the Castlegregory side of the peninsula without equipment, cutting it with whatever implement they find and putting it in heaps along the shore before taking it away. Someone had the idea that there might be a mechanical means of collecting the seaweed and they asked if grants were available. Asking about this now will save me the trouble of writing a long letter to the Minister of State to raise all these points.
I hope the Minister of State continues his good work which is definitely appreciated. It means a great deal to the people of the west, especially those south of the Shannon. One often thinks of Donegal or Galway when one speaks of the west, but it also includes those areas south of the Shannon and Gaeltacht areas. I wish the Minister of State well and hope he can answer some of the questions we asked him. I welcome the Bill and the amendments contained in it.
Minister of State at the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Byrne): Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeachas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir nua, Seán Ó Fearghail. Tá súil agam go mbeidh sé sa Teach seo nó b'fhéidir sa Teach eile sna blianta amach anseo. I wish Senator Ó Fearghail well. It seems, after recent GAA results, he and Senators Tom Fitzgerald and Coogan will have a busy summer whereas both Senator Bonner and I will not. We will say no more about that.
I thank Senators for their contributions which were very positive. I expect positivity from the Government side of the House, but it is pleasant to hear it coming from the other side of the House. This is an industry which deserves support. I note that Senator Coogan made no attempt to make a political football of it. He should be commended on that and I thank him for it.
Many valid questions have been asked. I will try to deal with them as quickly and fully as possible. Senators Coogan, Bonner and Fitzgerald mentioned jobs in coastal communities. This is the one magnificent feature of aquaculture, that we can create jobs in remote rural areas. As most people will know, I live in such an area, namely, the Hook peninsula in County Wexford, which is the remotest part of that county. The nearest town is 20 miles away. When a famous politician came to visit, all he could see was water all around. He said he did not know how I would get elected because 95% of my constituents were fish. He also threw in an adjective or two which might not be appropriate to this House.
I know how important it is for my constituents, people, friends and neighbours, who are, by and large, people with seawater in their blood, to remain in the local community, whether it be just playing with their local GAA club or being with their family. As the saying goes, the savage loves its native shore. There are not many savages in Wexford, but the people want to be there in any event. It is important for the country as a whole that people are kept in rural areas to stop pressure being placed on cities. There are many pressures on Dublin, so we should definitely keep people employed in remote rural areas. Such pressures include roadways, social welfare services, housing and other services. From an economic and social point of view, it is important to keep people in their own areas.
I will deal with what is proposed in the CIRCA report to which all Senators referred. It is intended to increase the number of jobs, between the support industry and the industry itself, to about 10,000 from the current position of about 1,300 full-time equivalent jobs in the industry and 2,000 jobs in the support industry. If we can keep people living and gainfully employed in rural areas, we are doing them a big favour. I want to develop the industry and that is why I commissioned this report. It is not an ad hoc business. We do not move from day to day. We have set out a plan and we intend to follow it. I believe that what I have set out is achievable. The figures mentioned in the report are a little greater than those I mentioned. I am a realist who wants to achieve the targets set out. I thank the three Senators for the gratitude they expressed to me in my working with the industry. I want to work with the industry and the agencies because we are a team. If a team works well together, which did not happen in Wexford's case last Sunday, it can win, and that is my intention.
I have increased the allocation of licences in the past year from the annual average of about 70 to 300 at present. I am being pressed on this matter by my Department officials and I thank Thomas Tobin, who is with me today, for maintaining the pressure. Decisions on about 60 licences have been appealed and it is a compliment to my officials and me, even if I say so myself, that only one of the appeals did not coincide with the decision I made. Needless to say, I am pleased about that and it is a great compliment to my Department.
The Bill is necessary because, where decisions are made by the appeals board, it is right that anyone questioning such decisions should have an explanation as to why such decisions were made. Above all, I want to ensure transparency. I want the public to feel happy with decisions because it is suspicious of various structures and activities on our coastline. I want the public to feel comfortable with decisions I make. Consequently, I will invite members of the public to talk to me if they have any doubt about what is happening. The Bill opens the door to that a little more.
I recently unveiled a sign in Mulroy Bay in Donegal, which is a beautiful part of the country. The sign is interpretative, which means that anyone, be they tourists, locals, environmentalists, inshore or shipping people, can look at the sign and see what is happening in the bay and the location of activities there. Again, it is an example of transparency. To complement that, I am introducing a programme called CLAMS, which is the short name for co-ordinated local aquaculture management systems. Many different groups have an interest in a bay, such as inshore fishermen, shipping interests, environmentalists and others who are concerned about the look of the bay, such as retired people living on the shoreline, aquaculture people, boating enthusiasts and swimmers.
When I make decisions on activities within a bay or draw up a development plan for a bay, I invite those people to discuss with each other what they want to achieve. It has happened successfully in a number of bays where we have designed a plan of which all groups are agreed that aquaculture should be an element and the shipping channels should be kept open, which means environmentalists are happy with the visual impact and inshore fishermen can continue to do their business as before. This is an effort to generate more transparency because past suspicions have often festered and grown to a degree that spread into the wider world. Consequently, when applications were made there was a sudden rush of objections which were, perhaps, unnecessary. However, people are entitled to transparency. In the development of the industry I want to have people brought on board and for them to feel comfortable. That is the reason for the introduction of the new element in the Bill.
I thank the appeals board for its work to date. An appeals board has a difficult job, by any stretch of the imagination. Some people say only cranks make appeals, but I do not believe that. I would like to think that the people who make appeals do so for good and genuine reasons. When appeals are heard fairly, people are pleased. If the appeals board requires further assistance, be it by way of additional funding or staff, I will ensure that they will be provided with same. The board is necessary and functional and it sends out the right signal to the public.
I thank the Department for its performance in having the Bill ready in a short time and for the work done on the licensing system but, more importantly, for the development of the industry. I have given much of my time to aquaculture. I visited almost every county to date in supporting the industry and encouraging people to develop it to grow from the present income of £60 million per year to £450 million per year in 15 years' time. That target is achievable during my time in office, the likelihood of which is about 20 years. When I retire it will probably be the same Government which will continue. Whatever time it takes, I intend to continue with this drive, as my predecessor did and as I am sure my successor will do.
Senator Coogan referred to the question of additional money. Wherever a line is drawn with regard to money people will suggest there should be more. I agree with the general tone of what the Senator said, but I assure him that although £25 million has been included in the plan, if in my term of office more money is sought and the industry is dependent on it, I will put a strong case to Cabinet. I commend Senator Coogan on raising that issue.
I will answer as best I can the question raised by Senator Fitzgerald regarding seaweed. I am delighted this question was raised because it is an industry which should be developed. As the Government has more money to spend and with modern technology we should certainly take this route which will create jobs in remote rural areas. Seaweed rights differ from place to place. It goes back to the original land titles in some cases. We will not go down that road because we are all aware of the great difficulties in that regard. The Department of the Marine and Natural Resources has granted foreshore licences for seaweed harvesting. The legal position is being reviewed in the context of the National Seaweed Forum. I agree with the setting up of this forum and people with interests should have a say. Dúchas and environmental groups have concerns with regard to seaweed harvesting not being done correctly. We should try to ensure that everything done relating to the seashore is done correctly so that nobody will feel ill at ease with it.
My Department is in discussions with Dúchas in the context of future licensing. It is not just a question of asking Dúchas to become involved to the degree that it will prevent this from happening but we want to achieve consensus so that we can progress. It is my intention to push the growth of this industry to achieve about 1,000 jobs and to increase the income from £60 million at present to £450 million. This target can be met. The industry wants it and the agencies and I support it.
I thank Members for their positive contributions.