Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 20 Jun 2000

Vol. 163 No. 19

Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Minister of State at the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources (Mr. Byrne): Molaim an Bille beag tábhachtach seo don Teach. I commend this short but important Bill to the House. I propose to deal first with aquaculture licensing, to which provisions of the Bill directly relate, before broadening my remarks to cover my vision for the sustainable growth of aquaculture.
A solid licensing framework is in place to facilitate the sustainable development of aquaculture to its full potential. I am determined to ensure the licensing framework works as effectively and speedily as possible in the interests of both the industry and the public whose support is essential. Since I spoke here in December 1998 on the Fisheries and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill, 1998, I have secured very substantial progress in processing the huge arrears of licence applications which had built up over years while the licensing law was being reformed and made operational. A figure of 294 licences, comprising 272 aquaculture and 22 trial licences for aquaculture purposes, have been granted as compared with an annual average of about 70 licences granted for aquaculture purposes in previous years. Licensing decisions have been made in a further 28 cases, of which 15 await the end of the one month appeal period before licences can issue in any event and 13 await the determination of the independent Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board on appeals.
There are about 300 applications on hand which my Department aims to progress to decision in 2000 after completion of the necessary consultation and assessment procedures. Processing about 20 applications for finfish culture will have to follow publication of the necessary comprehensive environmental impact statement in each case. The more complex or controversial the application, of course, the longer it must take to process to decision. In straightforward new cases, usually small in nature, a decision is made within three to four months and sometimes earlier if no objections or concerns emerge in the necessary consultation process.
My Department, in consultation with the aquaculture industry, is keeping licensing procedures under close review so as to ensure good practices continue to prevail both in the preparation and processing of licence applications and necessary supporting documentation. A suite of detailed monitoring and other protocols for matters such as water quality, benthic monitoring and amelioration, audit of farms, sea lice monitoring and control and fallowing of sites has already been devised for the marine finfish sector in consultation with the industry and other interested parties and made part and parcel of aquaculture licences. Work is proceeding on devising further protocols for both the marine finfish and marine shellfish sectors, with priority for visual impact assessment, lighting and marking of structures and benthic monitoring and amelioration for intensive shellfish operations.
The industry and my Department intend addressing priority licensing issues concerning freshwater aquaculture later this year in consultation with other permitting authorities in order to streamline the permitting and monitoring procedures and allow the sector develop to its full potential in a sustainable way.
The Bill concerns two priority matters relating to the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board. The provision of an independent statutory appeals mechanism as well as a mechanism for public consultation and consultation with expert organisations is a key feature of the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1997. It is essential that the board performs its duties efficiently and effectively and has the necessary powers to do so. It has dealt with a substantial caseload since it was established on 30 June 1998, with 48 cases already determined. As of now, 13 cases await determination, three finfish and ten shellfish.
The board has pointed to the lack of power or obligation in the 1997 Act for its refusal to explain determinations made, in contrast to the specific statutory obligation on An Bord Pleanála under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts. This has created obvious difficulty for licence applicants and for me as Minister with responsibility for national policy for aquaculture licensing, and so calls for early remedy via this Bill. It is only proper in the interests of transparency and fairness of procedures that all future determinations of the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board shall be explained when made and that the board shall, on request, give a summary of the main reasons and considerations for past determinations. That is the purpose of section 2 which inserts a new subsection (8) in section 40 of the 1997 Act dealing with appeals to the board.
The other priority matter concerns inspection powers. The Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board requested a clearer statutory statement of its own power and the power of a consultant or adviser engaged by it to visit any land, foreshore area or water to which an appeal relates, regardless of whether an oral hearing of the appeal is to be held. There is doubt that the current inspection power may be limited to appeal cases where an oral hearing is held, which was not the intention. I am delighted to be able to accede to the board's request in a timely way via section 4 of the Bill which provides comprehensive inspection powers for the board and any consultant or adviser engaged to perform functions on its behalf. A number of consequential amendments to the 1997 Act are provided for in sections 3 and 5.
My Department is keeping the 1997 Act under review in the light of ongoing operational experience and changes proposed in other relevant legislation, notably that relating to planning. I will carefully consider suggestions which the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board, the industry or third parties may make for improving the 1997 Act to better serve its purpose and operation. Legislative proposals will be made to the Houses of the Oireachtas as and when the need therefor is clear.
The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources and I will review the staffing and funding arrangements for the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board at the end of 2000 in light of its operations, costs and prospective business in the medium to longer term.
The aquaculture licensing framework in place and the important provisions of the Bill are an essential element of our strategy to develop aquaculture as a high quality and high value contributor to local and national development as soon as possible. My vision is of a major premier class industry competing successfully in international markets.
The Government is committed to the further sustainable development of aquaculture, for which it has earmarked £25 million in the National Development Plan 2000-06. That is more than double the funding made available under the last round of Structural Funds. More than a doubling of annual aquaculture production is projected in that period, that is, to over 95,000 tonnes, as compared with 41,000 tonnes in 1998. The detailed operational aspects of the national development plan are being negotiated with the European Commission and my Department is keeping in touch with the industry on the progress of these negotiations. A strong partnership between my Department, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the Marine Institute, Udarás na Gaeltachta and, more importantly, the industry will ensure we achieve our objectives for the aquaculture sector and position the industry to compete successfully in growing international markets.
I wish to refer to the recently published CIRCA report which we commissioned last year to provide a major strategic analysis of the future directions and opportunities for aquaculture. The report concludes that sustainable development of the aquaculture industry is in the national interest and vital for our coastal communities. The report recommends that the industry must achieve critical mass in production terms, diversification into new species, best practice in line with stringent environmental guidelines and high standards of quality assurance. These are the key challenges we must address to position the industry internationally over the next decade.
The report recommends the achievement of annual production of at least 150,000 tonnes by 2015 by adopting the following four strategies: quickly build critical mass in salmon, sea reared trout and mussels and increase the level of value added in the production chain; create additional peripheral coastal income and high quality jobs in species with lower capital costs and less potential value added; enhancement of State services underpinning quality, sustainable development, regulation and other technical and policy areas; greater support for innovation-led development, which ensures research and development, technology transfer and technical services will better meet the needs of the industry. The CIRCA report clearly puts a tough ambitious agenda before us and I assure the House of my total commitment to work with all concerned to make it happen.
I commend the Bill to the House.

Molaimid ar an dtaobh seo den Teach an Bille tábhachtach seo freisin. I also welcome the Minister of State who said that this is a short Bill. We recognise that it is short but its contents are of vital importance. It is recognised in the CIRCA report that the aquaculture industry is part of our economic development, particularly in the west where opportunities for industry or other job opportunities are severely limited and where the attraction of industrial jobs in towns often means the population along the coast is decimated, apart from people with second houses as holiday homes.

The potential of the aquaculture industry is enhanced by adding value to product and looking at new ways of producing and selling it. I recently came across a company which has developed a product which before this I would not touch in one million years – rollmop – as I always found it sickening. It has however been able to remove the oily slink. As a consequence I can see the product taking off. I can see the same thing happening in the aquaculture industry.

I commend the Department on increasing the number of licences. Up to last year approximately 70 licences per year were issued. Last year 294 were issued, of which 272 were aquaculture licences and 22 were trial licences for aquacultural purposes. This acceleration is be to welcomed if we are to achieve the critical mass recommended by the Minister of State and the CIRCA report. It is critical that we do this sooner rather than later. It is important that we create an identity for Ireland as a place which produces a high quality product and enter the European market as quickly as possible.

The Bill gives the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board the same authority and responsibilities as An Bord Pleanála has under the Planning and Development Bill which is due to come before the House again tomorrow. This is to be commended. Anything that will show why a particular decision has been made is to be welcomed. I have expressed the fear, however, that Governments often hand over authority or responsibility to outsiders who are not accountable to the people. I said this about An Bord Pleanála and I would hate to have to say it about the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board. There should be another avenue of appeal which should not cost an individual too much to overturn a decision of the board without having to go the High Court or Supreme Court.

I hope the Government will increase the amount of £25 million earmarked for aquaculture in the national development plan. I am aware that this represents a doubling of the funding available but if we are to achieve the critical mass recommended by the Minister of State it is essential to accelerate faster. While some of the Bill's provisions will allow this, we can do a little better. I am not suggesting automatically as the Opposition is inclined to do that we throw more money at the industry, but the sooner we achieve the critical mass recommended by the Minister of State the better for everybody concerned.

Many years ago when the original aquaculture fisheries were being established there were complaints about the visual effect. In this context I am glad that certain aspects are being enhanced. It should always be taken into account by the Minister of State that there are people who make a living from tourism which has to be balanced with aquaculture to ensure the visual amenity is not disturbed.

The Minister of State referred to freshwater production. I look forward to debating that issue with him. There will be statements on water quality later today. The two go hand in hand. We want to ensure freshwater fishing is good and that the after effects are also good and do not add to pollution. I commend the Bill and thank the Minister of State for introducing it.

Ba mhaith liom ar dtús báire fáilte a chur roimh an tAire Stáit go dtí an Teach.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne. This is a small Bill, but from where I come and given its effects, it is very important. It is the second Bill of its kind to be introduced to the House within the past 18 months. The Fisheries and Foreshore (Amendment) Act, 1998, introduced to the House on 18 December 1998 amended the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1997. The amendment provided for under the 1998 Act was needed to get the licensing structure up and running as things had been at a standstill. Changes provided for in the Act ensured that existing aquaculture licensing arrangements will endure and will withstand legal challenge. Sections 74 and 75 of the 1997 Act were revised by sections 2 and 3 of the 1998 Act to remove any doubts in this regard.

For many years, up to 1997, many operators had been operating without licences pending receipt of them. This continued up to early 1998 because of delays. Section 11 of the 1997 Act was also amended so as to prohibit from December 1998 operators from commencing aquaculture operations pending the granting of licences after due process.

The operation of many unlicensed operators due to the ineffectiveness of the legal structures and their acceptance by the Department, which helped the industry to develop at the time, caused many disputes which only came to light when the proper legal structures were put in place to grant licences. The 1998 Act was needed to protect the rights not alone of the licensed aquaculture farms but also third party rights. It was intended to ensure a proper process with regard to proposals for new aquaculture operations fully in accordance with the spirit of the 1997 Act.

Many of the problems in the aquaculture industry have simmered for years, with no redress possible by genuine applicants or by third party objectors. It was only after the passing of the 1998 Act that the proper legal development of this very important industry to many coastal areas took place. Many of the problems over disputes about sites only came to light with the establishment of the appeals board structure and decision-making process, which commenced in early 1999. These problems only became apparent when the Department commenced advertising its decisions and the appeals board mechanism started operating. While there were always disputes regarding local difficulties, the location of sites and specific bays where certain operators with long established rights curtailed their use to new operators, many new problems arose, especially with environmental considerations, where new environmental groups were established to oppose the granting of licences to operators, even those who were on sites for many years.

A new problem has arisen where many people are unhappy with the decisions of the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board. They consider that insufficient information has been available on decisions made. This is the reason for this Bill. Its main purpose is to correct continued inefficiencies and inadequacies in the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1997, which have come to light since the appeals board commenced its work.

Section 2 obliges the appeals board to state the main reasons and considerations on which determinations are based on appeals against ministerial decisions to grant or refuse aquaculture licences under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1997, as subsequently amended by the 1998 Act. Some disquiet has been expressed that insufficient information has been available regarding decisions made by the appeals board. Objectors are not only determined about their objections, they are also very inquisitive about how decisions are made. Consequently, the Minister is not only prepared to provide for more accountability and transparency in the future, he is also providing by way of a supplementary provision a requirement on the appeals board to provide, if requested, a detailed summary of the main reasons and considerations on which it based its decisions on appeals heard by it before the enactment of this Bill.

The appeals board has dealt with 48 cases since 1999, against which I understand there were up to 90 appeals. I also understand there was only a very small rejection rate of decisions made by the Minister. The appeals board has fully confirmed the Minister's decisions in up to 30% of cases before it. In most other appeals it has left licences in place but has altered the conditions on which they have been granted.

The membership of the appeals board is set at seven and it comprises respected members of society. Both the chairman and deputy chairper son have considerable legal backgrounds. The other members have backgrounds in the marine, aquaculture, industry and food sectors. Even with this expertise, it is right that people who feel aggrieved should know the full facts on which the appeals board has made its decisions.

The second purpose of the Bill is to clarify the power of the appeals board, or any expert employed by it, such as consultants or special advisers, as they relate to inspecting land, foreshore and any other sea areas relative to appeals. This removes any doubt that the inspection powers under the 1997 Act were confined to appeals which are the subject of an oral hearing, which was not the intention. Section 57(2) and (3) of the 1997 Act referred only to the powers of the appeals board where appeals were subject to an oral hearing. Inspecting powers of any consultant or expert are comprehensively provided for in this Bill.

Section 4 also makes it an offence to obstruct the appeals board or its agents from carrying out inspections necessary in relation to an appeal. Penalties are laid down in the 1997 Act. Section 5 makes clear the obligation of any consultant or adviser engaged by the appeals board to provide it with a written report with recommendations on any inspections carried out in relation to a relevant appeal which he or she carries out on behalf of the board.

The obligations imposed under this legislation are similar to those already imposed on An Bord Pleanála, where the board, on request, will provide not only a copy of its decisions but a full copy of the report written by its inspector. In many cases the board goes a long way towards explaining the decision it has made and the justification for it. It can soften the blow to the objector if the objection is not successful. It also works the other way where planning decisions are overturned. I have seen cases where the board has overlooked the inspector's report and made a decision opposite to that proposed by the inspector. It will be interesting to see how this new system is operated by the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board. If the appeals board goes against its inspector's report I doubt if matters will be dealt with more severely by the public than has been the case under the planning process.

The Bill is a short technical Bill with two main purposes. However, when passed it will provide information on how aquaculture licences disputes are resolved. While it does not require additional staffing or additional costs to the Exchequer, I am glad the Minister of State intends to review the operational costs of the projected workload of the appeals board before the end of the year and, if necessary, provide extra staffing and funding.

Until recent years the aquaculture industry has been underdeveloped. Nevertheless, its output is worth over £60 million per annum and it employs more than 3,000 people. The recent legislation has safeguarded and will consolidate the industry. Its potential growth is enormous, especially along the west coast. The industry must continue to apply the highest standards possible to all areas of fish farming. Secure aquaculture licensing arrangements that can withstand legal challenges will play a very important part in the development of the industry.

I congratulate the Department on the amendments to the legislation it has made over the past two years to improve the environment in which the industry operates. We need the support of other Departments to ensure the quality of the seafood being processed along the coastline. I encourage the Minister of State to put pressure on the Department of the Environment and Local Government to address the quality of water in many bays where aquaculture operations have commenced. There is an urgent need to provide funding to upgrade treatment plants in coastal towns where waste water goes into the bay.

I know the Minster of State's Department has been in contact with Donegal County Council with regard to an upgrading of the sewerage scheme in my town of Dungloe, where the waste water goes into the bay and where a number of operators use the bay. I understand there are five licensed operators in the bay and two others who were refused licences because the water quality on the side of the bay where they operated was not up to the highest standard. I raised the issue at local level and succeeded in having the scheme raised from 11th on the country priority list last September to 4th at present. The matter is now with the Department of the Environment and Local Government. I argued the case primarily for the development of aquaculture in the bay. I pointed out to the Minister that the lack of adequate treatment of sewage entering this bay must be addressed urgently. I am particularly concerned at the low priority which the Department has placed on the construction of an appropriate sewage treatment plant. The local authority, through our efforts at local level, has brought the matter to the attention of the Department.

Dungloe Bay is currently the largest production area for gigas oysters in County Donegal and supports up to seven operators. However, these operations, the jobs they provide and the substantial funding, both private and public, which has been invested in them are now at serious risk because of the increasingly poor water quality within the bay. Under the shellfish water directive, member states have an obligation to ensure that waters in which shellfish are cultivated are improved and not allowed to deteriorate. Unless urgent action is taken to reduce the outflow of sewage in my town, the Department may need to prohibit the sale of shellfish from the bay on public health grounds or face infringement procedures by the Commission under the directive.

In the event of the closure of the bay there will inevitably be legal claims for compensation by those whose livelihoods will be affected. It is also the case that the adverse publicity arising from such actions would seriously undermine the repu tation of the aquaculture industry. We must ensure that the current and future potential of the industry in this bay is protected. I trust the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Byrne, will raise the matter on my behalf with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government.

Another matter which causes concern is the necessary approval, both by the Department and the local authority, for the development of facilities for operators along the coast. The 1998 Act amended sections 12 to 14, inclusive, of the Foreshore Act, 1933, to update the protection of aquaculture and the foreshore generally from unauthorised development. For many years there were no obvious controls regarding the foreshore and activities along it. The legislation was necessary and more is needed for better coastal zone management. All of this involves more consultation with other Departments and statutory bodies.

The growth of aquaculture in general and the expeditious way many aquaculture licences have been issued in the past 15 months will lead to much more activity in coastal regions. Many operators require working structures on the coastline. There are many sites available along the coast which are suitable for such development but it can be stalled by unnecessary delays in certain organisations such as the Valuation Office. I have noticed a huge change in the past year in the approach of the consumer section of the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources regarding the provision of information and the speed with which it reaches decisions on granting licences. Continued improvements are necessary to enable the mariculture and aquaculture industry to develop to their full potential and to provide employment and a livelihood for those in many coastal regions which have suffered in recent years due to the decline in the fishing industry. This decline is due primarily to the reduced quotas. Suggestions have been made in the past week that we may have to suffer further fleet reductions.

I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Fahey, on his stance on this issue since becoming Minister and also on the issue of the re-negotiation of the CFP. I also congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, on the efforts he has made regarding the aquaculture industry. It has been a pleasure to work with him. On any occasion on which I approached him I received his full co-operation. That is appreciated not only by me and the other public representatives but by the many operators on whose behalf we approached him.

I was glad the Minister of State was able to come to Mulroy Bay last week to launch the Mulroy Bay interpretative sign and to open an exhibition of results from an environmental education project run by the aquaculture initiative in conjunction with the three local primary schools. The installation of the sign was part of a countrywide initiative by Bord Iascaigh Mhara to improve the knowledge and awareness of the public regarding aquaculture. As the Minister of State will be aware, over many years great development has taken place in Mulroy in the mariculture and aquaculture industries. There are many other bays in County Donegal and along the west coast involved in similar developments such as Trai Beaga Bay in Inisowen, Sheephaven Bay off Arranmore Island, Traighheanagh Bay which is the next bay adjacent to Dungloe Bay, Loughros Point and Inver Bay.

There is an active fisheries and coastal committee in Donegal County Council and it is most anxious to meet the Minister of State. I trust that when he is in Donegal in the next two weeks he will be able to meet the committee. It is supportive of the development of aquaculture, but it also has concerns and wishes to address various problems, particularly regarding the development in Lough Swilly and other matters such as the effect of the large increase in the number of seals on the inland waters and fisheries. I trust the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, will be in a position to meet the committee and hear our views.

I commend the Bill to the House. I am delighted at the speed with which it has reached this House and I hope it will be taken in the other House and passed before the recess.

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.

Question put and agreed to.