Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 Jul 2001

Vol. 167 No. 12

Adventure Activities Standards Authority Bill, 2000: Second Stage.

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

The purpose of the Bill before the House is to provide for the enactment of new legislation to establish an independent standards authority to regulate the safety of adventure activity centres and providers. Specifically, it will allow for the establishment of the Adventure Activities Standards Authority; mandatory registration of adventure centres and providers with the authority for specified activities; mandatory codes of safe operating practice for specified adventure activities; implementation of a regulatory scheme, involving inspection of centres and providers for adherence to safety codes and powers for the authority to order cessation of the provision of any or all adventure activities in the case of failure to observe safety codes.

The origins of the Bill lie with the canoeing accident that took place on the evening of 18 February 1995 at Dunmore East, County Waterford where two young people tragically died when they were swept out to sea in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions. The group of individuals involved in the canoeing expedition were under the unofficial leadership of a trainee adventure centre instructor. My Department carried out a review of the accident following which an intensified safety awareness effort aimed at the marine leisure sector was launched by the Department and organisations involved in water sports safety. Mr. Michael Davies, the father of Ross Davies, one of those who lost their lives in the accident at Dunmore East, campaigned intensively since the tragedy to have the activities of adventure centres, which operate on a commercial basis, regulated from the safety perspective.

In August 1998 Deputy Finucane introduced a Private Member's Bill, Adventure Centres (Young Persons' Water Safety) Bill. That Bill, which was debated in the other House at the end of March 1999, was based largely on the legislative framework introduced in the United Kingdom in 1995. It proposed that a new licensing and policing scheme for adventure centres be established by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources in conjunction with the Health and Safety Authority. The general view of Members of the other House was that regulation of the sector was necessary. However, it was felt that the Adventure Centres (Young Person's Water Safety) Bill did not go far enough as it only referred to water based activities. It was believed that any new legislation should extend to all adventure activities. The former Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, undertook during the debate in the other House to bring forward such a Bill as soon as possible. As part of this process, Deputy Woods, established an interdepartmental working group to undertake a detailed examination of the issues and consider the possible regulation of adventure activities. It was, therefore, agreed in the House that the Private Member's Bill would stand in abeyance until the results of the interdepartmental working group examination were known. I compliment Deputy Finucane who spent a lot of time working on and researching this issue. He, more than most, was responsible for bringing the Bill to the House.

The working group was representative of Departments and Government agencies and charged with making recommendations aimed at enhancing safety in adventure centres. The group consulted widely and received submissions from a number of interested persons and organisations with an interest in adventure activities. It employed a consultancy company to ascertain the size of the sector in Ireland and the possible impact any safety legislation would have on it. It also investigated the safety systems governing adventure activities in operation in other countries.

The interdepartmental working group completed its examination and published its report in June 1999. It found that there was little risk to participants from the adventure activities themselves due to the generally high safety standards in operation in the sector in Ireland. The evidence collected suggested that a safe environment for those availing of their services was provided by a combination of highly professional and safety conscious operators. The group, however, found that there was a case for the statutory regulation of adventure centre activities in the country. It recommended that a statutory authority should be established to oversee the regulation of the sector and advise the appropriate Minister on all aspects of its set up and operation.

The group recommended that the encouragement of high safety standards should be the aim of the regulatory regime. It felt this was particularly true in respect of that part of the sector which had not participated in the existing voluntary inspection and approval scheme for providers of adventure activities established by the Association for Adventure Activities, AFAS, the co-ordinating body for most of the national governing bodies for adventure sports. This scheme, with the Irish Sailing Association's independent scheme for recognised teaching establishments, has been the primary mechanism for establishing standards of safety at adventure centres and is mainly based on the qualifications of the staff working at the centres.

However, the scheme is voluntary and there are no sanctions available to force the inclusion of adventure centres in it. This has led to a sizeable part of the sector opting to remain outside it. The working group was unable to draw conclusions on the danger to participants of this part of the sector, but it is to be expected that greater dangers to public health and safety occur in sectors or parts of sectors not subject to some form of external scrutiny or monitoring, either through statutory control or voluntary safety standards schemes.

The working group recommended that regulation should take the form of compulsory adherence to a set of safety codes in centres, which would be required to notify or register with the statutory authority as providers of certain specified adventure activities. The statutory authority should, in turn, oversee an inspectorate which would visit and inspect all notified or registered centres, initially focusing on those that did not participate in the voluntary scheme and those that cater for children and young people. Significantly, the group proposed that the inspectorate would be entitled to direct centres which do not demonstrate adherence to the safety codes to cease providing activities. If common sense was applied, there would not be any necessity for legislation. By introducing this Bill, we do not wish to be spoilsports, but we must take account of the fact that the regulations for activity centres, whether land based or water based, must be tightened up.

The group concluded that the sector encompassed by the current voluntary approval schemes probably does not require regulation as standards and internal safety ethos are high and likely to remain so in the future through the current approach of standards setting, implementation and monitoring through the joint involvement of the national governing bodies and providers. However, the group pointed out that centres and providers outside the current voluntary schemes might operate at less than adequate safety standards ,thereby exposing participants to unacceptable risk. It was for these reasons that the working group recommended that a statutory authority with responsibility for drawing up safety guidelines or codes for prescribed providers of adventure activities and enforcing these guidelines should be established.

In July 1999 the Government accepted in principle that there was a need for a statutory regime to regulate safety in adventure centres. The Association for Adventure Sports was in August 1999 tasked by the Department of Marine and Natural Resources with undertaking a wide-ranging consultation process among adventure activity centres and providers to assist in formulating the relevant legislation. The blueprint document was presented by AFAS in July 2000. Many of both the blueprint recommendations and those of the interdepartmental working group have been taken into account in the Bill.

The function of the Adventure Activities Standards Authority will be to promote, encourage, foster, facilitate and regulate the safe operation of adventure activities. To this end, it will be empowered to administer schemes and grants, procure or provide educational, training or advis ory services and carry out research. It will also advise me on matters relating to adventure activities. I will be able to confer additional functions on the authority, by way of order, after consultation with the authority.

The Bill provides a definition of adventure activities and 13 activities are covered by this definition. These are hill-walking in areas more than 300 metres above sea level; orienteering in areas more than 300 metres above sea level; caving; dinghy sailing; kayaking; canoeing; surfing with a surf board; wind-surfing; scuba-diving; snorkelling; abseiling; archery and rock climbing.

On Second Stage a number of Deputies referred to the definitions of adventure activities included in the Bill and questioned the absence of certain other activities from these definitions. In response on Committee Stage, I provided clarification that the definitions in the Bill reflect only those activities which are widely provided in activity centres and for which approved standards have been established. I accept the point made by many Deputies, however, that there are other activities which could be covered by this legislation and I have noted, in particular, their suggestions for the inclusion of certain types of activities such as raft building, mountain biking, gorge walking and equine-related pursuits.

As I have said, activities are being provided which can reasonably be described as adventure activities and which could, in time, be included under this legislation. The current difficulty, however, is that many of these activities do not have recognised standards and it is my intention to ask the authority immediately on its establishment to review the range of adventure activities, current or in prospect, in adventure centres and to carry out appropriate professional risk analysis and assessment, following which it might recommend the addition of the relevant activity to the definition.

I assure the House that where further activities are proposed, following thorough and professional assessment by the authority, I will act immediately to have such activities included. It is for this reason that a provision has been included in the Bill to cater for the amendment to the definition of adventure activities, in consultation with the authority, by adding or deleting items from this list by order.

The Bill provides for a definition of an adventure activities operator as meaning a person who provides to members of the public for payment or reward training, instruction, supervision or leadership in an adventure activity or facilities, including equipment for hire at a specified location, for the carrying on of an adventure activity. Provision has been included to cater for an amendment to this definition, if necessary.

It should be noted that the definition of a provider in the Bill covers only those who provide adventure activities on a commercial basis. It does not cover schools or other educational establishments, which is a complex area. In some instances, schools engage in adventure activities, but on an individual, local or preparatory level rather than a commercial basis. In my area of south Wexford, many schools have visited the outdoor activity centre in Ramsgrange. It has been agreed with the Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Health and Children that at this stage the direct provision of adventure activities in schools to school children should not be included in the definition. This matter will require further detailed investigation, however, and it is proposed to leave this to the authority to examine after it has been established. New regulations would perhaps make schools, particularly those less well off, unwilling to undertake adventure activities. However, even though they are not covered by the Bill, it is anticipated that such institutions may wish to adhere voluntarily to the codes of practice the new authority will develop.

The focus of the interdepartmental working group was to examine the safety of adventure activity provision where facilities are provided for younger people in particular. It noted that the conduct of adventure activities is complex and wide-ranging in terms of participation, activities and mixes of activities, locations, objectives, formats and contexts. It ranges from limited solo excursions on land or at sea by individuals to fully developed, highly structured participation on a commercial basis in which the activity is overseen by instructors and an adventure centre management. In its report, the group recommended that the definition of providers in the legislation should primarily include those providing activities on a commercial basis.

I assure the House, however, that the protection of young people has been a priority of mine in promoting this legislation. It was the loss of two young canoeists which, tragically, prompted the preparation of a statutory framework for safety in adventure centres. Living on the Hook peninsula, I had a very personal interest in the tragedy that brought about this Bill because when the canoe overturned, the people involved swam towards the shore just below my house. While the instructor made it to the shore, tragically one of the young boys was about 100 yards offshore when he felt he could do no more. The tragedy happened in the dark of night. They could not see where they were going and this boy just gave up. It was with great sadness that I had to report that accident. I have a very personal interest in that incident. Had this legislation been in place at the time, the lives of those two boys, and indeed many others, would have been saved. This Bill will be regarded as one of the best Bills to come before these Houses in the lifetime of this Dáil, and perhaps others.

I share the concerns expressed by several Deputies on Second Stage that school children should have access to the best possible safety practices where they engage in adventure activities. The House will be aware that where a school contacts an adventure centre to provide adventure activities to its pupils, the provision of such activities will be covered by the statutory safeguards in the Bill. I accept some situations will arise where school staff will provide adventure training or instructions to pupils directly and that currently this provision is outside legislation. However, where a commercial transaction is involved, that is, where the pupils pay the school, an individual teacher or other staff member directly, or through the school management, such provision comes within the scope of the Bill. In effect, the school or staff member becomes an adventure activity operator for the purposes of the law. I assure the House that I will ask the authority, which will include a representative of the Department of Education and Science, to consider as a matter of priority the way to ensure that school children have access to the highest safety standards either through this legislation or other statutory provision.

Under the provisions of the Bill, it will be mandatory for adventure activity operators to register with the authority in respect of specified adventure activities. The authority will develop codes of practice for specified adventure activities and it will be mandatory for adventure activity operators to abide by these codes. It will also introduce a regulatory scheme for specified adventure activities. This scheme will include the carrying out of inspections of operators by inspectors authorised by the authority. In certain circumstances, including non-compliance with a code of practice, the authority will have the power to direct an operator to suspend or cease the provision of specified adventure activities. It will also have the power to remove an adventure activity operator from the register of operators.

As the Minister of State with responsibility for this matter, I am concerned that every feasible measure is introduced to ensure the safety of all persons who engage in adventure activities. I am confident the provisions of this Bill and the establishment of the Adventure Activities Standards Authority will enhance safety standards throughout the sector.

The voluntary inspection schemes operated by the central standards board of the Association for Adventure Sports and the Irish Sailing Association have served the participating section of the adventure activities sector well. It is clear, however, that a sizeable part of the sector has opted to remain outside the schemes and is not subject to any form of outside scrutiny. It is to be expected that this part of the sector is of greater danger to public health and safety. There is, therefore, a need to establish a legal framework to place the entire sector on an equal footing and to provide for the safety requirements a modern society demands.

The establishment of the Adventure Activities Standards Authority is a key and innovative step, designed to lead to the desired safer environment for all involved in adventure activities. I am confident the mandatory registration of adventure activity operators and the mandatory requirement that operators abide by any codes of prac tice developed by the authority, along with the regulatory scheme for specified activities and the inspection scheme, will meet the required need for giving safety top priority.

I appeal to all involved in adventure activities to ensure that common-sense is applied at every opportunity. When people visit the seaside during the summer, they may be tempted to put to sea in calm and serene surroundings. Unfortunately, one does not need a certificate of competence to hire a boat. All too often, a day of fun ends as a day of tragedy. Anyone engaging in such activities, at sea or on land, should apply common-sense and ask questions which may seem embarrassing of those who know better. This Bill resulted from a tragedy at sea, but tragedies also occur during land-based activities. People should ask questions – many an embarrassing question saved a life.

I thank all involved in search and rescue on land and at sea. A former member of the coastguard centre at Kilmore Quay is in the House. I thank the RNLI, the volunteers, the Garda and all involved in life saving and search and rescue. There is great appreciation for the work of these people, even if it involves finding a body rather than rescuing an individual. I thank these people for the selfless, wonderful work they do, have done, and will continue to do. I commend the Bill.

I welcome the Minister of State and commend him for introducing this legislation. In particular, I welcome his focus on safety which should be a priority in all spheres of activity on land, at sea or in the air. We cannot over-emphasise safety in all aspects of life, particularly in leisure activities.

However, the Bill has missed an opportunity to encompass all adventure activities within the proposed legislative framework. The Minister of State referred to the provision whereby the authority will examine areas excluded from the ambit of the legislation and which may, or may not, be brought within the safeguards provided by the statutory framework at some point in the future. I am referring to schools, educational establishments, including third level institutions, societies and amateurs. Many of the aforementioned are well meaning, but indulge in high-risk adventure activities. Such organisations and individuals will be outside the statutory safeguards provided by this legislation.

The emphasis of the Bill is rightly on commercial operations. There are some tremendous such operations, the largest of which is the Delphi Adventure Centre on the Galway/Mayo border. This centre employs 100 people at peak periods and contributes substantially to the local economy and to tourism in the region. The managing director of the centre has no quibble with this legislation, which is welcomed by most commercial operators. Commercial activities must have standards if they are to survive in the business world. Such operations cannot apply sub-standard or doubtful practices.

Commercial operators are not concerned about the implications of this Bill in so far as it does, or does not, effect them. However, my concern is that too much activity will take place outside the statutory safeguards provided by the Bill. If a hill-walking club decides to go out on a Sunday, it will not be concerned whether a peak is 300 or 350 metres above sea level and will climb it in any event. Such clubs are not covered by the legislation.

I am aware of a case in which a member of cycling club was thrown from his bicycle due to an accident and was paralysed for life. Accidents do not happen; they are caused. In this case the accident was due to an insufficient emphasis on safety. This incident could have been worse as the man could have been killed, but such accidents will continue to happen. It is unfortunate the enforcement provisions in the Bill will not provide for such occurrences.

I suspect the Department of Education and Science played a major role in framing this legislation and the cost implications were a significant factor in excluding schools from its ambit. Where public safety is at issue, cost should not come into the equation. Voluntary and amateur organisations should be funded to meet whatever costs are involved in meeting the criteria outlined by the legislation. It is not valid to say that less well off schools may be deterred from participating because of the cost. If we are trying to bring schools in disadvantaged areas up to a standard that is acceptable, we cannot have such schools placed in a position where they will continue to be disadvantaged. It was a mistake not to include schools and institutions in this Bill.

I am sure the Minister is aware of the many vocational education committees operating PLC courses that have neither the equipment nor staff to meet the criteria involved. They should have been supported financially within the terms of this Bill to enable them to get on an equal footing with the commercial operations. The cost would not be prohibitive and would be insignificant when compared to Exchequer surpluses of £2 billion or higher every year.

These are fringe activity events, not spectator sports and there are relatively few of them. People are only involved because they have a passionate interest in them. We have serious problems in the west with jet skiing. The county council seemed to have a function in controlling it, but it is beyond the capability of local authorities to enforce any kind of restriction on jet skiers. It is an issue that should have been looked at.

There are well meaning amateurs involved in fishing on lakes and rivers who have insufficient regard for safety regulations. About two years ago there was a serious accident on one of our major fishing lakes, Lough Conn, involving two men who were eel fishing. Seemingly for the purpose of eel fishing, a tank of water is required on board. This tank upset the balance of the boat and it overturned at midnight and both fishermen were lost. These are areas that are not covered in the legislation and these tragedies unfortunately will continue.

There are other anomalies in relation to the Department of Education and Science, schools and institutions. I know of a canoeing club run by a third level institution with 100 members and no qualified instructor. That is not catered for under the statutory safeguards of this Bill.

In the other House considerable attention was devoted to sections of the Bill dealing with the Minister's capacity to dismiss a director or a chairman of the authority. I am not unduly concerned about that aspect of the Bill. If a director or chairman deserves to be dismissed, he will be dismissed. The media and natural justice come into play and should ensure that no Minister would dismiss any chairman or director without due cause.

If I am reading it right, Oireachtas Members and MEPs quite properly are excluded from membership of the authority. I welcome the fact that for once local authority members are not excluded. Some local authority members have considerable knowledge of seafaring and adventure activities because the nature of politics at local level is an adventure activity in any event.

By and large I welcome the thrust of the Bill even though I was disappointed that it does not encompass the areas I have mentioned. When the new authority is established I am sure that it will take a while to come to grips with this very complex area involving 13 or 14 adventure activities.

Within rock climbing and hill climbing, the technology is evolving constantly and new techniques are coming into use. An instructor who qualified a year ago may not be qualified in a year's time because of the nature of developments. The Delphi Centre in County Mayo, which is up to date in most of its training techniques and has qualified instructors, nevertheless has to keep abreast with developments abroad in hill climbing and rock climbing. These commercial operations will have to keep up with the times if they are not to fall foul of the new authority.

One of the purposes of the authority is to promote and foster public safety in all areas of adventure activities. I hope it will bring about a new ethos and culture and influence people who may be lax about rules and regulations in this area. As the Minister said at the end of his speech, it is not possible to enforce the law in every aspect of life.

We have an example of it in the carnage that takes place on the roads. I urge the Government to show same sense of urgency in bringing legislation forward on road accidents as they have shown with this legislation. That is not to downplay the trauma caused by the tragedy the Minister referred to which prompted this legislation in the first place. Road safety is a major issue. I do not want to link it with this legislation but it has an impact in so far as the public perception of safety is concerned. The public is clamouring for new legislation in all areas of safety and that is why this Bill is timely.

I would have liked to see the Bill encompass the whole spectrum of leisure activity rather than have a two-tier statutory system governing the commercial sector. It does not govern the well-meaning amateur, voluntary organisations or whatever co-operative or society wishes to form a group for the promotion of these activities, which are all high risk. I look forward to the authority developing a culture of safety in all these areas. I hope that culture permeates the whole sector and we reduce the incidence of tragic accidents that continue to take place as a result of carelessness and laxity. I welcome the Bill in so far as it goes but I would prefer it to go further.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Byrne, to the House. I pay particular attention to his warning that we are now coming into the summer season and all sorts of activities, particularly water sports, and many of the sports referred to in this Bill will be taking place. People can become a little careless and I ask the public to pay attention to the Minister of State's words.

This Bill establishes an independent standards authority to regulate the safety of adventure activity centres and providers and to promote and enhance the safety of those who engage in adventure activities at these centres. I particularly welcome the provision in the Bill for mandatory registration of such centres and of those who own them. I also welcome the implementation of a regulatory scheme of inspection of the centres for adherence to safety codes and the power of the authority to order the closure of any centre not observing the safety standards required.

The background to this Bill was an unfortunate accident in the Minister of State's area in which two young men lost their lives. I praise the father of one of the boys for his tenacity and insistence in pushing for this Bill which, though deficient in many ways, is at least a start. There was an earlier attempt at such a Bill by the Opposition in the other House but that did not proceed as Members felt that, while regulation was certainly necessary, any legislation should extend to all adventure sports, not just to water sports as was recommended.

I welcome the introduction by the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, as and from last Sunday, of two new sets of regulations to govern the safety of personal water craft – commonly known as jet skis – fast power craft and other mechanically propelled water craft. Previous legislation in this House paved the way for these regulations. While the regulations are now in place, many local authorities are having difficulties with water sports coming into the summer season, particularly in the areas of blue flag beaches. I trust and hope that these authorities will have the power to implement the regulations and ensure that those who act in a careless and inconsiderate manner will be brought to task.

This is only the initial phase of regulations to be developed by the Department based on the report of the ministerial action group on small, powered, recreational craft. These regulations are a top priority, as is this Bill, particularly as more and more young people are involved in water-based activities. The new regulations implement the recommendations which have been made in relation to the wearing of life jackets. This seems to be a chore for many people and many craft do not have life jackets on board. While the Department has provided funding for safety on fishing boats, many young fishermen feel that they are so used to the sea and have so many years experience of it that they do not need to use these jackets. We all know the power of the sea and the unfortunate accidents that can happen.

The regulations also state the minimum age at which people are allowed to use jet skis and other power craft and provide for prosecution and on the spot fines for who operate them in a dangerous and careless manner. The regulations set a minimum age of 16 for operating jet skis, though had I been dealing with it I would have raised it to 18 years of age. It is 12 years of age for other power craft. Other recommendations on insurance, training and recreational craft registration and use will be addressed by the Department at a later date.

While the operation of personal motorised craft and power craft is generally carried out by individuals on the sea, they must be encouraged to look to their own safety and be respectful of the safety of others. I was in Bordeaux last week at a meeting of the committee for peripheral maritime regions. Proposals were put forward to Commissioner Fischler by the peripheral maritime regions and the islands in relation the Green Paper on the review of the Common Fisheries Policy. While there, the organising region used the opportunity to show those in attendance the aquacultural development at the mouth of the Garonne river. They showed us how aquaculture, leisure craft and ordinary leisure facilities can all use the one bay. The Minister is aware from his Department of the many objections there are to these aquacultural licences. Those who object should visit this bay and see how things work. What is happening in some of our aquacultural developments is minor visual obstruction when compared to what I saw there, yet they have no difficulty in operating.

The bay was also used by sunbathers, on golden sandy beaches, and there was a designated section on its outer part for use by power craft. It was cordoned off approximately 50 metres from the beaches by a system of buoys. It was a very simple system to ensure power craft were kept separate. We need to do the same here, particularly at blue flag beach areas, to provide safety for the general public and those who wishing to use such craft.

In 1998 the then Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, set up an inter-departmental working group which presented its report in June 1999 on the safety standards in adventure activities and the regulation of such activities and centres. The Association for Adventure Sports undertook to consult and establish a framework for the relevant legislation. Many of the recommendations of the group are included in this Bill. Part of the remit of the inter-departmental working group was to examine models in other countries, particularly the recent UK legislation. It also looked at the likely impact of similar legislation in this country and recommended that regulations be introduced. Such regulations should take the form of compulsory adherence to a set of safety codes and provide that centres be required to register with the statutory authority as providers of specific adventure activities.

The Bill provides for the establishment of the standards authority with 15 members and an independent chairman. I welcome the composition of the board. It includes the providers and members of national organisations for the different sports as well as one person with expertise in the sector. I also welcome the fact that an inspectorate will be established to ensure these centres, when registered, are operating to proper standards.

While the authority will have nominees from the Departments of Education and Science, Tourism, Sport and Recreation and the Marine and Natural Resources and from the Health and Safety Authority, it will also include representatives of the providers, the people on which the Minister is relying to co-operate and ensure the standards are being adhered to by their colleagues. The idea is to promote and encourage facilities and regulate the safe operation of all adventure activities.

The Bill defines an activity centre and the operators of these centres. The activities mentioned include certain types of hill walking, orienteering, caving, dinghy sailing, canoeing, windsurfing, scuba diving, snorkelling and rock climbing. All these sports are routine for experienced practitioners but can lead to life and death situations when risks are taken and the participants are only beginners.

It should be noted that for registration purposes a provider is somebody who provides adventure activities on a commercial basis. The Minister and Senator Caffrey pointed out that schools will not come under the remit of the Bill. I initially thought that was a bad idea but most of the activities in schools are basically physical education and sports. As these activity sports are not generally carried out within the school perimeters but at these activity centres, most of the activities provided by schools will be covered by the legislation.

Senator Caffrey referred to vocational education committees. Many of the vocational education committees provide adventure activities. The VEC in County Donegal does and one of the most famous is Gartan. I hope these will come within the ambit of the legislation. There have been many incidents in which children suffered only minor arm breaks and so forth but some incidents can be more serious. Last year, for example, a young boy in a school in Donegal swung from the steel goalposts which came down on top of him and hit his head. He died some time later from damage to his brain caused by the goalposts. Institutions or schools may voluntarily register; the Bill does not oblige them to do so.

Enactment of the legislation is necessary to provide the regulatory framework to encourage safety in adventure sports. However, ensuring safe practices cannot be left solely to the Minister or the operators. The individuals who participate must take a responsible attitude to what they are doing. Many of these activities are dangerous and participants need to be experienced.

The report of the interdepartmental group referred to the excellent safety record of adventure centres in general. I am glad that the initial concentration will be on centres that did not self-regulate, particularly those dealing with young people. Many risks can be taken when participating in the activities covered by the Bill. It is the nature of the participants to take risks; they like to defy the odds and take on nature.

The activity centres can contribute a great deal to tourism development in counties such as my own and Senator Caffrey's. I am forever preaching that the way forward for some counties is more tourism product. I hope when the Structural Funds and operational programmes are introduced there will be grants, tax breaks and tax reliefs available for counties where little employment is produced from any other source but which have natural beauty in their landscapes, beaches and hills.

County Donegal has developed hill walking activities in recent years but many other activities could be developed. Unfortunately, however, funding is required to get them off the ground. Despite the bad weather we experience for most of the year, there is great potential for marine sport and activity centres to attract tourists and give them something to do when they cannot see the scenery with the mist and the rain. Our own population is also becoming more health conscious and people are participating in adventure activities and sports for fitness purposes. This is particularly the case for those whose football days are over. The easy option is to go on the golf course but others progress, for health and fitness purposes, to adventure activities.

What is the situation with insurance cover under the regulations? Senator Moylan asked me about an activity that might be started on somebody's land. Caves, for example, might be found on somebody's land and people might come on to it to explore and use them. As the farmer is not operating an activity, where does he stand? Does he need to have insurance? Will the Department and the inspectors pursue him in this regard? The people concerned are going on the land on their own initiative and not being encouraged by the farmer.

There is also the issue of the sports which have been omitted. I consider many of them to be dangerous. They include horse riding, pony trekking, showjumping, parachuting, gliding and hang gliding, even sea angling. There are regulations which apply to those who operate sea angling craft. They must have licences and so forth and when they seek grants for the boats they must adhere to certain standards. However, many people operating these boats are not being monitored. Bungee jumping is another dangerous activity. I cannot understand the reason anybody would wish to do it but the operators – I will not call them fly by night – only come to an area with the apparatus for a few days, after which they are gone. There are no controls on them. It is one of the most dangerous activities I have ever seen.

Reference was made to boats being used on lakes. Many of our lakes are being developed for trout and salmon fishing and people tend to simply hire a boat and go out on the lake fishing but accidents happen in calm conditions on lakes and rivers.

If an inspector visits an activity centre and judges it not to be up to standard, is there an appeals system? Will the operator be able to put his case or will the centre be closed down? There is another aspect to the appointment of inspectors. Thirty odd years ago we did not have physical education instructors in our secondary schools. The system only developed during the years. Are there criteria or standards which the inspectors should have achieved in training in relation to these adventure activities? The Minister said further measures can be introduced. It is the type of legislation that can be added to from time to time as different matters arise.

People do not realise the power of the sea, which is probably the greatest power in nature. It is necessary always to be wary of it. What can appear to be calm and docile water can turn into a ravaging force, destroying families and claiming the lives of many. Hill climbing, too, is a dangerous activity and I urge people to be careful.

When the Minister spoke on this Bill in the Dáil, he referred to the unveiling of a monument in Kilmore Quay commemorating those who lost their lives in many tragedies. Some of those lives were lost at sports, but most who died were fishermen. When the Minister was in Donegal at the launch of a boat, a gentleman from Inver asked him if he would look at the possibility of providing such a monument in Inver Bay. That is the home town of the Minister of State, Deputy Coughlan, in case the Minister had forgotten.

The Senator should be careful.

I remind the Minister of this because each time I go to a fishery and coastal meeting of Donegal County Council, that same gentleman, who is on the committee, keeps asking me whether there is progress on this issue. I ask the Minister to look into the matter.

I welcome the Minister to the House and I welcome the legislation. Other Senators have rehearsed the functions and purpose of the Bill so I do not intend to go into that in great detail. It will suffice to say that the legislation is desirable in that it provides the statutory umbrella under which certain commercial adventure activities will be covered. We hope to ensure the statutory registration of those bodies and functions listed in the legislation and to establish a code of practice for them. The legislation will also establish an inspection process to ensure that proper safety regulations are in operation and that properly trained people conduct courses and activities. That is desirable.

The background to this legislation emanates from a canoeing tragedy in Dunmore East where certain shortcomings existed in the monitoring and conduct of activities. It is appropriate that we have followed up on that, conducted a departmental examination and looked to regulations that cover this area in our neighbouring jurisdiction before coming up with legislation ourselves. The Minister has gone about this the right way and we have come up with reasonable legislation.

Questions exist in relation to the functions of the new independent standards authority and how it will operate. The areas that are excluded is one question. There seem to be as many areas excluded as included. A number of those areas excluded merit inclusion. Some are dangerous, and jet skiing is probably the most dangerous of all. We have heard of a number of accidents that have taken place in other countries. Jet skiing is very much a commercial operation but there seems to be little regulation of it. I do not know if a code of practice has been brought in.

A code of practice has been brought in very recently – last Sunday.

That is good but it should be included in this legislation as part of the overall code of practice. There should be mandatory registration in that area because it is purely commercial and conducted in what can be a dangerous manner.

Other areas mentioned, including biking and equestrian sports, could be included. It is best for me to begin with a list and the Minister will then be able to expand on those matters and include other areas as he wishes. My other concern is that this legislation deals purely with commercial activity. It refers to standards. The authority will inspect the operation of standards only where there is the passage of money between those providing the service and the client. While it is good and necessary that this is the case, it leaves out the area of community and educational activities which are not covered by any statutory standards.

The vast majority of adventure activities do not take place on a commercial but on an ad hoc basis. They are organised by community groups which may be in receipt of an occasional grant. They undertake many activities, be it trekking, angling, canoeing etc. This is done on a community basis and mostly in deprived areas where there are no facilities for parents to pay for commercial activities. Nothing in this legislation covers that area. The Minister should look at groups in receipt of grants that should also be subject to regulatory inspection. Whether this tight regime can be extended is a moot point. However, if it is not, a huge area will not be covered. There will be accidents, fatalities and injuries.

Another major area is that of education, which the Minister dwelt on in some detail in his address. From the tenor of his remarks, it seems the Minister regrets exempting this area. I find it difficult to take that new regulations would make schools unwilling to undertake adventure activities. It is disappointing to see that point made in the Minister's speech. The context is similar to that for the community groups operating in deprived areas where there is less funding to attract recognised commercial ventures. This is particularly true of the vocational education committees which operate mainly in deprived areas. They provide far more activities than other secondary schools, including adventure activities. They do this to ensure that young people who are not keen on academic subjects will remain at school longer.

We should look at this in another way. We should provide the regulations and the standards but also the resources to ensure that these educational establishments are able to provide the service. They will then become the deliverers of the service. There is hardly a VEC school that does not provide an adventure sports activity programme. Under this legislation, they will be able to operate without the stringent regulations which we are imposing in this Bill. We must remember that the greatest number of activities are operated on an ad hoc basis by teachers and schools outside normal school hours to give extra occupation and enjoyment to the children. They would not have this activity in the rather boring, urban ethos in which a lot of their lives are spent. It is not right to exempt that sector.

One set of safety standards cannot be applied to the same type of activity simply because the resources and training facilities are not available. How will training facilities, supports and resources be put in place unless we insist that proper safety standards are introduced? To do so, we must ensure that the Minister for Education and Science, who will be one of the nominees to the new authority, takes action in this regard.

I have grave reservations in respect of this area. I accept what the Minister is doing with regard to commercial centres, but the area that is not included should be included. For the reasons I have outlined, those involved in the area to which I refer will find themselves falling short in terms of the skills, training and protective measures that will be required. Commercial centres will be in a better position to supply these by using the profits they garner from charging people large sums of money to engage in activities.

I accept that in certain instances schools use some of these commercial centres. However, many of them are not in a position to do so because they lack the necessary funding. It is, therefore, usually left to a good-hearted teacher to obtain a van and transport a number of children to a mountainous, seaside or lakeside setting to allow them to go canoeing, hill climbing, orienteering etc. I accept that these people offer their services in this regard on a voluntary basis, but the legislation does not provide any effective standards or codes of practice in respect of how they should behave and, under its provisions, they are not required to be mandatorily registered. Perhaps the Minister of State will address that matter in his reply.

Another matter to which I wish to refer is the question of grants. The section which deals with grants is merely referred to and appears to have almost been slipped into the legislation without discussion. It is stated in the legislation that the second function of the authority shall be to administer such schemes, grants and other financial facilities for the promotion, encouragement, fostering, facilitation and regulation of the safe operation of adventure activities etc. Will these grants be given out purely in respect of the commercial activities covered by the legislation or will they be extended to the entire gamut of adventure sports activities, irrespective of whether they come under the umbrella of a commercial operation? From where will these grants come? Will they emanate from the existing grants that are being administered by the vocational education committees and the Sports Council or will they be provided in the form of lottery funding allocated by the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation? The position is not clear in that regard.

It is stated in the section that these grants shall be for the promotion, encouragement, fostering and regulation of the safe operation of adventure activities. Are they purely intended to be spent on the safe operation of such activities or are they also meant to be spent on the promotion, encouragement and fostering of those activities? If they are intended for the latter purpose, the funding will then be provided to commercial adventure activity centres. Will the Minister clarify the position because I am concerned that the emphasis will be placed purely on commercial adventure activities and that the voluntary, community or educational activities which are provided on shoestring budgets will, once again, lose out in terms of the allocation of resources.

My final point relates to Members of Seanad Éireann, Dáil Éireann and the European Parliament. I do not know why Members of the Oireachtas should be excluded from membership of a body of this nature, particularly in view of the fact that there are many other individuals who might be appointed whose jobs keep them extremely busy. If we are discussing the operation of commercial adventure sports organisations and the body that is to regulate the standards relevant thereto, is there really a need to state that public representatives may not, under any circumstances, serve on that body? I presume local representatives may serve. Why make a distinction between them and national representatives? It is invidious and somewhat insidious that Members of Parliament always appear to be affected by exclusion orders of this kind. The only other people to whom such orders apply are debtors and criminals. It, therefore, appears that we are being treated in the same way as these noxious categories of persons who are not fit or entitled to—

We are held in the highest esteem.

We should hold ourselves in the highest esteem, but by placing ourselves on a par with the people to whom I refer we are not doing ourselves justice. I accept that the legislation does not refer to debtors or criminals, but other items of legislation refer to them and no one else is excluded, by statute, from serving as members of—

A famous county secretary suggested there was only one category.

Comprising the three groups?

I did not agree with him.

I am not sure whether the three groups could be lumped together. It has become the norm in legislation to exclude Members of the Oireachtas from serving on bodies of the sort to which the Bill refers and I do not believe we are in a position to argue against this. Is this healthy behaviour, however? In my opinion it would be better not to exclude any category.

The manner in which people will be selected to serve on the authority is clearly outlined in the legislation. The Ministers for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Education and Science and the Marine and Natural Resources will make appointments and people from the various interested bodies will be nominated thereafter. Those who are nominated should be persons of good character and that should be all that is required. There should be no need to specify that certain individuals may not serve.

I welcome the introduction of this timely legislation. I would like its provisions to be extended to the categories to which I referred.

As usual, the Minister of State is responsible for the introduction of an item of good and proper legislation. I congratulate him on bringing the Bill before the House. He referred to a terrible tragedy that occurred near his home last year and stated that it might never have happened if rules and regulations such as those outlined in the Bill had been in place at that stage. However, such tragedies happen and the Minister of State is making the effort to ensure that safety will become a matter of priority.

I wish to comment briefly on a matter not directly relevant to the Bill. During the past four years, the need for safety on fishing boats has become major priority for the Department. In that context, regulations and safety measures have come into force and the Minister of State has provided generous grants to allow the owners of fishing vessels to comply with these. I am always generous in terms of the praise I give to Opposition Members. In that regard, I commend Deputy Finucane on introducing a Private Members' Bill in the Lower House and, equally, the Minister of State and his Department for taking that Bill on board and ensuring its quick passage through the Houses.

Senator Costello remarked on the exclusion of Members of Parliament from serving on the authority. I have been the chairman of the Dingle Harbour Board for ten years. I hope that no legislation will say that I should not be. I tried to resign on four occasions but remained because everyone, including people from Senator Costello's and Senator Caffrey's parties, requested me to stay so that the board would have an avenue of communication to Government, or, as they put it, someone to speak for them "up there." It is valid for Members of the Oireachtas, holding such a position, to voice concerns that otherwise might not be heard.

The Bill covers much but Senators Caffrey, Bonner and Costello highlighted aspects that are missing, such as water and jet skiing. I am familiar with the problems in my harbour and the Minister's Department should not be able to overrule the board. Two years ago the Department granted a licence to a group from Dublin to conduct adventure activities at the mouth of Dingle harbour. I considered these dangerous and the harbour board objected initially but withdrew because of the perception that it wanted to keep all the activities and business for locals. It was dangerous because—

What about swimming with dolphins in the harbour? Should that not be included?

It had nothing to do with swimming with dolphins. It was a new sport called thrill seeking. Ten people are towed on a large rubber craft, whatever the weather, at speeds of up to 35 knots, hopping and bouncing off the waves. It occurs outside the harbour at a place which strangers know little about. It is dangerous because lobster pot ropes and material from different fishing activities are there. We objected in writing to the Department's granting a licence but were overruled. This should not have been so because the board was in charge of the harbour and, if something went wrong, would be blamed as the statutory body charged with regulating it. We pay a premium of approximately £20,000 a year for an indemnity of £2 million to insure what the Minister owns.

We have a better relationship with the Department over other activities for which we make the rules. We challenged it to overrule us on matters such as our decision to allow a maximum of 12 hire boats to observe the dolphin. Recently I went on radio to respond when Dingle got bad publicity from a person claiming to be an expert on dolphins and whales who said that there are always at least 20 boats at the harbour mouth annoying the dolphin. I refute that because I live overlooking the harbour and have never seen 20 boats.

Dingle harbour is in a bay, two miles long and a mile wide, in which the Department could grant a licence for activities. The board agreed with the local sailing club that boats would keep west of a line separating them from fishing boats entering and leaving the harbour. The Department should not grant a licence to anyone wishing to set up an adventure activity without consulting the harbour commissioners, as should be the case in many similar places. Jet skis, for example, constitute a problem although legislation will be introduced to deal with them. Young people, once they are a hundred yards from the pier, go at full speed on jet skis and the harbourmaster must chase them to enforce the regulations. We attempted to ban a couple of them from Dingle for this.

The Bill does not mention the person in charge of the activity. That person should provide proof of his or her qualifications to the Minister or the body to be established. As was mentioned by other Senators, I am concerned about the protection of the landowner involved. A person receiving a licence for rock climbing or potholing, for example, ought to produce a document confirming the landowner's permission to cross his land. If everyone who is qualified is granted a licence then they will ride roughshod over landowners by producing it.

I will not refer to what is not in the Bill since enabling provisions mean that sports can be added or deleted. Senator Costello argues every morning that we accept motions without debate.

It is not an argument but a statistical fact.

We pass Bills here. The Senator ought to read section 3, which provides for motions on the Order of Business which enables the Minister to introduce a regulation next year to include jet skis. We discuss all the issues here and there is no need for an argument when motions are proposed. I commend this Bill to the House. "Safety first" is our motto.

I thank all the Senators who contributed to the debate. I know their hearts are in the right place and none of them is trying to stop, block or hinder the passage of this Bill. I compliment them on the work they have done.

The purpose of the Bill is to put safety first. I hope as a consequence there will be greater awareness of the necessity for safety measures in all the activities mentioned. The Bill came about as a result of an accident at sea. Accidents at sea seem more tragic than others and there are more of them at sea than elsewhere. The secretary of the Rosslare Lifeboat Association asks at the beginning of every year that it be the year that no one is lost at sea. If only that were the case. The creation of awareness is very important.

Adventure sports, by their nature, involve risk and that risk is the attraction. The Bill does not intend to become a spoilsport. We encourage people to get out and exercise. As Senators said, we are all becoming more health conscious and want to engage in these activities.

Is the Minister of State saying he has no objection to our going bungee jumping?

I thought that was confined to the Labour Party. I recommend that we engage in such activities. I speak for the Minister for Health and Children when I say that all these adventure sports can be great fun in which nowadays we have more time to engage. We do not want to be spoilsports. While we want to encourage such activity, we also want to regulate it. All too often when people leave home in the morning to set out on a day of fun it ends as a day of tragedy. We want to prevent this, if possible, but at the same time allow the balance of good fun.

I will say this as often as it takes to get the message home. When people engage in adventure sports, whether land or water based, they should take advice from those with experience. I refer particularly to those going to sea. Beautiful serene calm waters must tempt people to engage in adventure sports at sea, whether boating, swimming or whatever. If it is boating and one is leaving the harbour, there is always an old sailor or fisherman around who will be delighted to talk and give advice. We may think a question is embarrassing but it could save a life. We must get that message across. A little common sense and courage to ask for advice could save lives.

In thanking all those involved in life-saving and search and rescue I forgot to mention the Air Corps which has been fantastic, as has the RAF when we sought its help. I am saddened when I think of the four young men involved in the saving of lives and who then lost their own in County Waterford. People putting to sea should not just consider their own safety but also the safety of those who may have to rescue them. I want to emphasise the importance of common sense and the seeking of advice.

I opened a memorial garden and trail at Kilmore Quay recently where there is a monument with a list of names of those lost at sea, in the area known as the graveyard of a thousand ships, from Hook Head to Kilmore Quay. There must be 1,000 names on the monument. Had this legislation been in place, how many of those lives would have been saved? It is a credit to the people of Kilmore Quay that they built the memorial trail to commemorate those lost. Many of the bodies would not have been found and now the grieving process can be completed in the memorial garden. People can go and read the names of their loved ones and kneel and pray. It was a community based project that cost about £100,000. I gave some grant aid and pay tribute to the community because had it been commissioned and built by a contractor without local voluntary input, it would have cost in the region of £1 million. If there are communities which wish to replicate it, I assure them, living where I do and feeling as I do about those who use the sea and those who have lost their lives at sea, that I will consider giving grant aid.

I assure Senator Costello that no activity has been excluded. While some may not be included, they are not excluded. I will ask the new authority I propose to establish following the passage of the Bill to look at all the activities mentioned. I thank Senators for mentioning them because although we have been fairly fantastic in government we do not have a monopoly of knowledge, a matter on which I am delighted Senator Costello agrees with me.

A question was raised concerning schools. Having been a schoolteacher and being heavily involved in the outdoor pursuits centre at Ramsgrange we ensure every school in the county and beyond is well looked after as regards charges. No charge will be such that schoolchildren will be discouraged from engaging in activities. It has been mentioned that many fishermen do not even wear life-belts. I want to create safety awareness among young people and every schoolchild to be able to swim. I assure the House that charges by any company, whether voluntary or commercial, will not prohibit any young person from learning skills. We will ask the authority to ensure children will be encouraged to involve themselves rather than discouraged by prohibitive charges.

The use of jet skis has been quite topical for some years. We all assume that they are dangerous but that may be age talking. A colleague, whose name I do not want to mention, was once an Ulster champion windsurfer, although I do not know how he accomplished this feat as he is not from Ulster. This may be a question on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" in days to come, although I do not know if it will be put to Shane O'Doherty.

The question on Sunday was about a Kerryman.

We will not go down that road.

Was the Minister, Deputy Fahey, the windsurfing champion?

I do not wish to be asked about it.

The Minister of State should be allowed to continue without interruption.

I thank the Chair for saving me from this savage heckling. The colleague to whom I referred, who is not of my generation, told me he is keen on jet skiing We do not want to be spoilsports, but many people use the sea and they are equally entitled to enjoy the safety that would exist if jet skis were not there. Regulations came into force last Sunday to deal with the problem, including age restrictions, the compulsory wearing of lifejackets, penalties for dangerous driving or driving without due care and restrictions on the use of alcohol and drugs, which should be totally banned in any event. We intend to make further regulations following discussions with local authorities.

As Senators Costello, Caffrey, Tom Fitzgerald and Bonner have said, an area at sea should be provided where activities other than jet skiing will not take place. Those who wish to engage in jet skiing should be able to enjoy themselves in a specified area. We want to ensure that ordinary folk using the beach, such as mothers whose children swim while they sunbathe, read or rest, can feel confident that jet skis will not hit them. I do not wish to be a spoilsport, but I hope we are not going too far by adopting an attitude of "live and let live".

With regard to the membership of the board, I know there are several people who would like to see Senator Tom Fitzgerald retire from the Dingle Harbour Commissioners as his ability to lobby has taken moneys from New Ross, Waterford, Kilmore Quay and Rosslare.

We showed the people of County Wexford what to do.

Indeed, and we followed suit. The only thing we do not have in County Wexford is a dolphin, but we are working on that. As chairman of the Hook Heritage Trust, I recently attended the reopening of Hook Head lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in Europe. If I tried to leave the trust, I would suffer the fate mentioned earlier, as people want me to be involved. I accept the argument made by Senators Costello and Caffrey, but I do not think we are making lesser people of ourselves by being on boards. Various boards are provided for in legislation, although that does not make it right. The initial reason for the measure in this Bill was it was felt that if we were on many boards and authorities we would have a significant advantage. I take on board the arguments that have been made and we can discuss it further at a later stage.

If I have missed anything, we can address it on Committee and Report Stages. Rather than read from the script prepared for me, I simply thank Senators for their fantastic contributions, which I value as I know they are made with hearts in the right place. This Bill will be regarded as one of the best ever enjoyed by the people.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

I discussed this matter with Opposition Senators who kindly agreed to facilitate the House and the Minister by taking the remaining Stages now. I sincerely thank Senators for their unusual accordance.

The Senator is very persuasive.

I will know all about it for the next ten years.

Agreed to take remaining Stages now.