Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2002 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration," the Minister of State may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

Molaim don Teach na leasaithe a rinne Dáil Éireann don Bille. I commend for the approval of the House the 37 amendments made to the Bill by the Dáil. The primary purposes of the legislation are to enable Ireland to give effect to an important United Nations agreement, protect vulnerable and valuable fish stocks and substantially reform sea fishing boat licensing with the establishment of an independent appeals mechanism. As well as clarifying and strengthening the appeals provisions of the legislation, as passed by the House in December 2002, the Dáil amendments also provide for the full transfer of sea fishing boat licensing functions from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to allow him to concentrate on policy issues and the long overdue filling of a gap in the Fisheries and Foreshore Acts to allow licence applications and other fees to be charged to help meet heavy and growing licensing administration costs. Such costs now exceed €500,000 a year in each case and are growing. The particular fees to be charged and the timing thereof have yet to be decided.

The package of amendments falls into three distinct groups and represents significant additions and improvements to the Bill as passed by this House. Group 1, comprising 12 amendments, deals with the insertion of a new Part 2 in the Bill as passed by Seanad Éireann to fully transfer sea fishing boat licensing functions from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, to restate with consequential and updating amendments section 222B of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959, the principal legislative text dealing with sea fishing boat licensing, and to enable fees to be charged for certain sea fishing licence applications, licences etc.

Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9, respectively, are the main amendments. Amendments Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, 29 to 32, inclusive, 35 and 37 are merely consequential. Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 incorporate improvements suggested by Deputies Broughan, Coveney and Éamon Ryan, which we, on the Government side, were only too glad to accept.

Group 2 comprises 21 amendments. Amendments Nos. 10 to 28, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 34 and 36 refine what is now Part 3 of the Bill dealing with appeals against sea fishing boat licensing decisions. Amendment No. 10 specifically provides that ministerial directives to any appeals officer may require the sustainability of fishing to be considered in appeals cases. Details of all such directives and the reasons therefor must be laid before the Dáil and Seanad and published inIris Oifigiúil as soon as practicable after the directives are given, as required by amendment No. 12. Amendment No. 11 precludes ministerial involvement in groups of sea fishing boat licensing cases, as well as precluding ministerial involvement in individual such cases.

Amendment No. 13 ensures that the licence applicant or licence holder is a party to any appeal concerning that licence application or licence. Amendment No. 16 states clearly that licensing decisions may be appealed, namely decisions made one month after this Bill becomes law, and that licensing decisions are suspended while under appeal or until the appeal in question is withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 19 and 21 inserted a new section in the Bill as passed by Seanad Éireann, now numbered sections 13 and 15, to keep appellants and licence applicants and licence holders in the documentary loop, with the right to comment on relevant documentation not originated by them. Amendment No. 23 requires the appeals officer to consider any such comments before determining the appeal in question. The consequential amendments Nos. 27 and 28 to what is now section 17 of the Bill extend the time limit for receipt of such comments by an appeals officer to the next day on which the office of the appeals office is open if the time limit otherwise expired on a day on which that office was closed.

Amendment No. 34 deleted the age limit for an appeals officer, while amendment No. 36 specifically provided for indemnity in court proceedings for any appeals officer in respect of any acts done in good faith as an appeals officer. Both of these were proposed by Deputy Broughan. The remaining nine amendments, Nos. 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 22, 24, 25 and 26, are self-explanatory drafting amendments.

Group 3, comprising four amendments, inserted a new Part 5 in the Bill as passed by Seanad Éireann, to enable foreshore application and other fees to be charged under the Foreshore Acts and made consequential amendments to other provisions of the Bill. The main amendment is amendment No. 33. Amendment No. 27 to the Long Title and amendments Nos. 1 and 2, which are technical referencing provisions for related Acts and provisions of Acts, are consequential on amendment No. 33. Amendment No. 27 is consequential also on amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9, already referred to. If any Senator requires any further information on any of the 37 amendments made to the Bill by Dáil Éireann, I will be glad to oblige.

Agreement by this House to the package of amendments just described will result in significant improvements being made by both Houses of the Oireachtas to the key provisions of the Bill relating to the establishmebnt of an overdue independent statutory appeals process for sea fishing boat licensing and to providing greater transparency in sea fishing boat licensing, as promised in the current programme for Government. The sea fishing industry has sought such reforms for some time.

I am pleased that, in response to concerns raised in both Houses of the Oireachtas, section 4 of the Bill now ensures that the question of the sustainability of exploiting sea fish stocks and other marine aquatic species generally has to be considered before a decision can be made as to whether or not to license a sea fishing boat. Furthermore, sustainability is specifically mentioned as an issue which may be covered by ministerial policy directive to the licensing authority under section 3 of the Bill or to an appeals officer under section 6 of the Bill.

I note too the warm welcome of both Houses of the Oireachtas for Part 4 of the Bill, which will allow Ireland to participate soon in concerted international measures necessary to protect certain vulnerable straddling and highly migratory fish stocks from overfishing. Those provisions will also benefit the responsible sea fishing industry into the future.

My colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, and I are determined to ensure that the Bill will be operated fully and fairly as soon as it becomes law. I again thank the Senators who contributed last December. Their valuable contributions initiated many changes in the Bill. Numerous useful amendments were also proposed in Dáil Éireann, which the Government was only too happy to accept.

I welcome this Bill as it comes to its conclusion. It has had a long gestation. It is many years since I raised in the other House with the then Minister for the Marine, Deputy Woods, the necessity of having a transparent and independent system for the licensing of vessels. There was concern in the past that some of those licences were given out in dubious circumstances. The industry itself, even up to four years ago, was looking for an independent appeals system which would be taken out of the Minister's hands.

Much thought has gone into this legislation. I followed with interest its discussion in the Dáil where there was much teasing out of the amendments. I welcome the constructive spirit in which the amendments from the Opposition side were accepted for the enhancement of the Bill. It is timely and I hope it will be implemented as quickly as possible. It will be welcomed by the industry itself.

The issuing of licences and the sustainability of expiring fish stocks are important considerations. I will not elaborate on the sequence of recent events and the allocation of licences. This is an important factor, not in relation to our own stocks but with regard to what is happening off the African coastline. Are we to exploit the fish in that location and create problems in other locations throughout the world?

I welcome the Bill and I hope it will be implemented as soon as possible.

I welcome the Bill and I welcome the Minister of State to the House for consideration of these amendments. Clearly, significant amendments were made to this Bill in the Dáil. It is a pity we have only a short period of time and only one opportunity to speak here in the Seanad. Nevertheless, I welcome the Minister's and the Department's open attitudes to the proposals put to them in the Dáil. It is clear from the Minister of State's words, and I know from my own colleagues, that a substantial number of reasonable and sensible amendments were accepted. I am very happy to accept them at this level also.

The issues the Minister of State has touched upon in the amendments are all welcome. The only question I would raise concerns charges. Charges are never welcome for an industry. If media reports of the last few days are anything to go by, the industry has been taken by surprise by the level of increase in charges. The Minister says they are necessary to meet the cost of administration, which we know has gone up at every level over the last number of years. The extent of charges has not matched the increase in the cost of administration. The other amendments which deal with the issues of sustainability, accountability and openness in the licensing process are to be welcomed. The amendments have improved the Bill and I wish the legislation every success. I hope it will enhance and improve the whole process within the industry.

I, too, welcome the Minister of State. This is indicative of the way in which we do our work in the Dáil and Seanad. Discussing items in both Houses means that changes can be made in either House. These issues receive a very good hearing and, by and large, we end up with very good legislation. I would be surprised if either of the Opposition spokespersons had difficulty with this legislation. Given what the Minister of State said, it appears the amendments, by and large, were tabled by members of their parties and accepted by the Government, which is good.

The Minister of State has said amendment No. 11 precludes ministerial involvement in groups of sea fishing boat licensing cases, as well as in individual cases. While I do not have a difficulty with this, from time to time, we seem to put such matters at arm's length and afterwards cry about it. When we are all back in the other House at some stage, we will perhaps want to table parliamentary questions to the Minister about sea fishing boat licences and will be told he has no responsibility in this matter. Members should then remember they were happy to table the amendment in question.

It is not clear how the registrar general of fishing boats will be appointed. Perhaps the Minister of State will expand on this issue. Apart from this I am happy with the amendments.

I thank Senators on all sides of the House for their support. We first discussed the Bill in the House last December and a number of amendments were tabled. There was a major debate on Committee Stage when Opposition spokespersons, Deputies Broughan, Ryan and Coveney, tabled a number of amendments which were accepted.

On the issues raised by Senator Kenneally, we cannot have things every way. There were calls on all sides of the House for an independent body. We now have such a body which will deal with licensing. I am sure parliamentary questions will be tabled to Ministers in the future but if we are to have an independent body, it should be just that. The Minister should have no involvement whatsoever in issuing licences or dealing with the appeals which may follow.

Again, I thank Senators for their support. We were pleased to accept amendments which would improve the Bill. My officials and I have no monopoly of wisdom on what is best for the fishing industry. It was important to accept amendments which would improve the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.
Question, "That the Bill do now pass," put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.