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.