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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 Jul 2001

Vol. 167 No. 12

Adventure Activities Standards Authority Bill, 2000: Committee and Remaining Stages.

Sections 1 to 7, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 8, subsection (1), between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:

"(n) parachuting;

(o) raft building;

(p) bungee jumping.”.

In my Second Stage speech, I referred to the fact that certain high-risk adventure activities are not included in the Bill, despite the fact that there is no reason for this. The Minister of State said there are no acknowledged standards for the "sports" in my amendment, but they are high-risk activities. A Senator pointed out the possibility of someone coming here, setting up a bungee jumping operation which results in serious injury or death and then moving away without being held responsible under the provisions and safeguards of this Bill. The Minister of State said that the authority, when set up, will look at these sports, but years may pass before that happens. I would like to see parachuting, raft building and bungee jumping included in the legislation.

I support Senator Caffrey's comments. There are many other sports that could be included, however, such as jet skiing, to which many people have referred. On a lighter note, when listening to the radio this morning I learned that swimming with dolphins can be a dangerous activity. It happens that the dolphin in Dingle is friendly, but this is not always the case as some dolphins have been known to kill or maim. Per haps, for the benefit of Senator Tom Fitzgerald, we might include swimming with dolphins as an activity that needs to be regulated.

While I have mentioned some of the activities in the amendment, I appreciate there is provision in the legislation to add to the list of activities, so I would not add three activities to the Bill at this point. I was shocked when Senator Tom Fitzgerald explained to me earlier the new sport of thrill seeking, as I briefly thought he was going to refer to something else. There are so many possible activities that it would be unwise to add three more to the list without having an overall look at the situation.

Senator Costello understands that Kerry dolphins are different from other dolphins. I thank Senators for their interest in extending the list already in place, a matter which was also raised in the Dáil. I ask Senators to acknowledge that wherever a line is drawn, someone will be anxious to move things to the other side of the line. I accept Senator Caffrey's argument and I assure him that as soon as the authority is set up, I will ask it to have a look at each of the activities that have been mentioned, although I am not sure about including swimming with dolphins. I assure the Senator of my commitment in the legislation to provide the best safety practices for the greatest number of activities. I do not want to exclude any activity but I want to ensure the authority has a say.

The interdepartmental group, which I established to examine this issue, produced the list of activities covered by the legislation. It dealt with the other activities but it was not ready to recommend their inclusion. We decided to proceed with the legislation because it is necessary to enact it for the summer. People are also safety conscious and commonsense will apply without the necessary legislation. I hope the Senator's concerns will be examined in the near future. Consequently, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 8 agreed to.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 8, subsection (1), line 29, to delete "for payment or reward".

The amendment proposes the deletion of the words "for payment or reward", which provide the fundamental linchpin of the legislation. Their removal will mean the legislation will cover vocational education committees, schools, amateur groups, societies and so on, which would be obliged to observe the legal safeguards in it. This would allow the Minister of State to cater for the entire spectrum of adventure activities, whether they are for commercial or recreational purposes. I presume he will accept the amendment.

Senator Caffrey is right that this is a fundamental amendment. We all agree with the principle of the legislation, which is to provide a safe context in which adventure sports can take place. If such a context is to be provided for commercial activities, it should also be provided for non-commercial activities. Safety is an all-inclusive concept and should be addressed by all activity operators. The integrity of the legislation is considerably undermined if it only covers adventure activities that operate on the basis of payment or reward.

Many activities are not covered by the legislation. The Minister of State's argument was that some schools or communities might be discouraged from engaging in such activities if a tight safety regime was in place. I do not accept that as a principle on which any heath or safety legislation should operate.

Is there any difficulty in registering all bodies whether they participate in adventure activities for payment or reward? It is proper that they should be registered anyway as it would be useful. It is desirable that all groups should observe a code of practice, whether they are voluntary or community groups, or schools. With regard to the inspectorate, why should an inspector not call to an educational establishment or a community adventure operation and so on from time to time?

The Minister may by regulation make many changes under the legislation but many adventure activities are being exempted from its powers. This fine legislation is limited as a result.

The focus of the interdepartmental working group was to examine how safe adventure activities provision is in Ireland. Where facilities are provided for young 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. Activities range 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.

The group recommended in its report that the definition of "providers" in the legislation should primarily include those providing activities on a commercial basis. If the Senator's amendment were accepted the definition would be widened to such an extent that even informal, unled family groups, such as those which head off on various adventure trails, not to mention voluntary groups such as the boy scouts, would be obliged to meet the requirements of the legislation.

I assure the House the protection of young people has been a priority of mine in promoting this legislation and it was the loss of a young canoeist close to my home that prompted the preparation of a statutory framework for safety in adventure centres. I share the House's con cerns that school children should have access to the best 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 there will be scenarios where school staff will provide adventure training or instruction to pupils directly and that currently such provision is outside the legislation. Where, however, a commercial transaction is involved, that is, where the pupils pay the school or an indi vidual teacher or other staff members directly or through the school management, such provision comes within the scope of the legislation. The school or staff member becomes an adventure activity operator for the purposes of the law.

I will ask the authority, which will include a representative of the Department of Education and Science, to consider as a matter of the utmost priority how to ensure school children have access to the highest safety standards through this legislation or any other provision. I do not accept the amendment for that reason.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."

Bonner, Enda.Callanan, Peter.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Tom.Gibbons, Jim.Glennon, Jim.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.

Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Fearghail, Seán.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.


Caffrey, Ernie.Cosgrave, Liam T.Costello, Joe.Jackman, Mary.

Manning, Maurice.Ross, Shane.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Gibbons; Níl, Senators Caffrey and Jackman.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 9 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 10 stand part of the Bill."

When will the Bill become law, and when will the authority be put in place to implement its provisions?

With the co-operation of the House, the Bill will be passed this evening. I understand it will go to the President shortly for her signature and immediately after that, I will put the authority in place. It will be given an instruction to put everything in place to ensure we have the best possible safety record. I would like to see it in place during the summer.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 11 to 13, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 14 stand part of the Bill."

During my Second Stage contribution I raised the question of section 14(2)(b) which states that one of the functions of the new authority will be to administer schemes, grants and other financial facilities for the promotion, encouragement, fostering, facilitation and regulation of the safe promotion of adventure activities. I would like the Minister of State to elaborate on this. Are we talking about grants for purely commercial operations? Will the new authority also have functions to administer grants in relation to non-commercial operations involving schools, the community or voluntary adventure activities? It would seem strange if one of its functions was to promote a commercial venture, over which there is a question mark. What finances would be available for that purpose? The body should be tasked with the outlay for promoting its own activities. I seek clarification of that subsection.

Since I became Minister of State with responsibility for this area, I have been insistent on safety standards, particularly at sea, but in this instance it applies to all activities. Any grants that may be available will go solely towards safety measures and be paid either to community groups establishing a non-profit making operation or a commercial group. However, the grant will only be for the purpose of putting safety standards in place.

May I seek further clarification? We are talking about adventure activities. If it is pertinent for community groups to apply for grants, surely there should be some registration of those groups. They should also be subject to some standards of operation if they are to obtain grants from the State. We are establishing an authority to deal with standards for safety regulations and also provide funding which will be open to both the commercial and community sector, yet only one sector will be subject to an inspectorate and the standards as laid out in the Bill. The other sector is not subject to those standards. One sector has to be registered while the other does not. It seems strange that the authority would operate only in this area regarding the non-commercial as well as the commercial sector.

We should not lose sight of the fact that the Bill concerns safety. Any grants which have to be paid will be examined by departmental officials and by the Minister. We will be careful as to how such moneys are disbursed. Moneys will only be disbursed to help provide greater safety for all engaged in adventure activities.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 15 stand part of the Bill."

What, if any, additional functions has the Minister of State in mind regarding this section which confers additional functions and responsibilities on the authority?

The section provides that the Minister may confer additional functions on the authority by way of order after consultation with it. In other words, if some unforeseen circumstances arise, as is likely to happen, and the authority advises the Minister that it requires new functions, the section will enable such functions to be provided. This is a good provision.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 16 to 19, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 20 stand part of the Bill."

I have serious reservations about this section which concerns charges. Opposition to charges has been expressed in both Houses. Such charges are at the root of the problem with this Bill.

Given that the amount of money concerned is negligible, the Exchequer should fund the services which the operators require. These charges will help create the two-tier system which will result from this legislation whereby one group of operators will be outside the ambit of the Bill while another set of commercial operators will be inside its ambit. I am fundamentally opposed to the idea of charges. The Government should provide funding for this legislation and the activities involved.

The activities involved are fringe pursuits and do not have significant resources. If my approach is accepted, schools and vocational education committees which operate on a shoestring regarding outdoor and adventure activities would also be funded by the Government. That is what the Government should have done regarding this legislation.

I understand the reason the Senator opposes this section. I also note the concerns expressed by Senator Costello and other Senators regarding the fact that the proposed authority will be allowed to make charges for the provision of its services. However, the provisions of the Bill in this regard are similar to those contained in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 1989, which allow the Health and Safety Authority to make such charges as it considers appropriate or necessary.

By including such a provision in this Bill, the intention is that any charges to be made by the new authority will be designed to offset administration costs and will not be so prohibitive as to discourage operators from registering with it and, thereby, providing services, possibly to young people, outside the safeguards of the law.

However, I accept the argument that the Health and Safety Authority does not charge for its services. I assure Senators that this principle, and their views on the matter, will be considered when the new authority is established and the issue of invoking such charges is being addressed in consultation with the Department.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 21 to 34, inclusive, agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 20, lines 27 to 32, to delete subsection (5) and substitute the following:

"(5) A draft scheme under this section shall be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and the scheme shall not come into effect until a resolution approving the draft has been passed by each such House.".

Both Houses should have an input before the Minister makes regulations regarding the Bill. The amendment seeks to ensure that the issue would come before both Houses before the Minister would act.

Section 35(5) is a standard provision used in similar legislation. Good legislation stands the test of time. At present, most statutory regulations, including those which introduce statutory schemes, are laid before the House in accordance with the procedures provided in this section as originally drafted. These procedures allow any Senator who wishes to oppose the regulations to table a resolution to that effect within 21 days and the House will then consider the matter.

If the amendment is accepted in this case, the Minister would be obliged to table a motion seeking Dáil approval for the regulations. This would mean that every statutory regulation being introduced would have to go through this procedure. Such a procedure would be unnecessary and cumbersome and, for that reason, I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 35 agreed to.
Sections 36 and 37 agreed to.
Question proposed: "That the Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill."

I will not go into the various personnel who will be appointed to the authority. Paragraph 8(i) states, “not less than six shall be women and not less than six shall be men”. This provision is at variance with almost all legislation which has come before the House since 1997. This is the first instance in which we have a clear statement of gender equity, on which I compliment the Minister of State.

It came from an amendment tabled by Deputy Michael Bell that seemed quite good and I accepted it.

Question put and agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank the Minister of State for bringing the Bill before us and the other Members present for passing it. This legislation is necessary and while there may possibly be minor deficiencies or oversights, I am sure they will be attended to. Safety is most important and I know that since the Minister of State came to the Department it has been at the top of his priorities, particularly in relation to the fishing indus try. I compliment him on such extensive legislation. In years to come, I hope many lives will be saved because of it.

I associate myself with Senator Bonner's complimentary remarks to the Minister of State and his staff. This is good legislation and the Minister of State has handled its passage very generously and courteously. We had a good debate and the amendments were treated openly. The Bill is important in terms of safety regulations. This is an area that will grow enormously in this country and elsewhere and it is important that we provide for standards. We would like to see them extended, particularly into the arena of educational establishments, a matter at which the Minister of State has indicated he intends to look. We are pleased that good legislation has been put in place.

I, too, compliment the Minister of State on the forthright way in which he dealt with everything here today and the discussion dealt fairly comprehensively with all aspects of the Bill. This is a new area for legislation and like all new areas, there are no ground rules or blueprint and we have to proceed cautiously. Nevertheless, despite some of the deficiencies that have been pointed out in the Bill, I am sure that when the new authority finds its feet, it will rectify anything that we may have overlooked. This legislation is a good attempt to improve public safety in all areas of adventure activity and if the hours we have spent debating it today result in the saving of even one life in any adventure activity referred to today, it will be well justified.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíoch a ghabháil leatsa, to the Seanad staff and the Senators from all sides who spoke. I also thank my own officials for keeping me on the right road. We have done a very good day's work. I especially thank the two Senators on the Opposition side for accommodating the passage of the Bill today. It is very important that we get it on the Statute Book as soon as possible.

I keep saying that it is a great pity that we have to have legislation in this area. I use this opportunity to ask anyone responsible for activity centres to apply common sense and ensure the greatest precautions necessary are taken. As Senator Caffrey said, if this legislation saves one life – I have no doubt that it will save many – then a great day's work will have been done and generations will remember this day for years to come.

Question put and agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 5.05 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 6 July 2001.