Molaim an Bille seo don Teach seo. I commend the Maritime Safety Bill 2004 to the House.
The primary purpose of the Bill is to enhance public safety and amenity and protect natural and other heritage areas by strengthening the law against the improper use, in the waters off the coast and in lakes and rivers, of certain fast powered watercraft such as jet skis and speedboats. Tourism and leisure businesses will also benefit from the prevention of danger, damage and nuisance by such craft.
Part 2 is the essential core of the Bill. It confers clear by-law making powers to regulate and control the operation of craft of the types in question on the following authorities: county councils and city councils in respect of waters generally, except waters under the control or management of Waterways Ireland or under the jurisdiction of other statutory authorities, namely, harbour companies within the meaning of the Harbours Acts 1996 and 2000 or the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in so far as it concerns the five fishery harbour centres — Howth, Dunmore East, Castletownbere, Rossaveel and Killybegs — and other harbours under the control or management of the Minister; and larnród Éireann in relation to Rosslare Harbour and any other harbour under its control or management.
Fines of up to €2,000 on summary conviction for offences under the by-laws are provided for in the Bill, as well as fixed payment notices or on-the-spot fines. Provision is made for the seizure, detention and forfeiture of craft involved in offences and for disqualification of serious offenders from operating craft of the types in question in the interest of public safety etc. Section 14 provides for the appointment of authorised persons by the Minister, county and city councils and harbour companies to enforce the Bill. The Garda Síochána will also play a key role in enforcement.
Part 3 of the Bill updates penalty provisions in the Fishery Harbour Centres Act 1968, the Harbours Act 1996, which includes a provision for fixed payment notices or on-the-spot fines, and the Merchant Shipping Act 1992. There is consistency with the penalty provisions in Part 2 of the Bill to deter a range of activities which are inimical to the proper operation of the harbours concerned and to other users.
Section 17 of the Bill consequentially repeals section 33 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1992, as amended, with regard to which legal issues arose as to the powers to regulate and control the operation of craft of the types in question. The Bill addresses the legal issues which arose as to the powers of county and city councils, clearly needed in the public interest, to make by-laws as regards the extensive waters off the coast and lakes and rivers used by the public, which are not directly under their control or management. The Bill also fills a gap in the law to protect natural heritage areas and underwater archaeological heritage against damage or interference by such craft.
A detailed explanatory and financial memorandum has been published with the Bill for the benefit of interested parties. I will be glad to provide any further clarification or information needed. The exclusion from the provisions of the Bill of waters controlled and managed by Waterways Ireland reflects the cross-Border nature of that body and the structures in place between the two jurisdictions under the North-South Ministerial Council. Waterways Ireland has powers under its legislation, notably the Canals Act 1986 and the Shannon Navigation Act 1990, to regulate and control navigation in waters under its control in the State.
The wide-ranging new powers contained in the Bill, when enacted, will complement other recent initiatives taken by the Minister and his Department. These include the new national regulations governing jet skis and other pleasure craft, which came into operation on 3 June 2004, the recently published — for consultation — code of practice for the safe operation of recreational craft and the proposed establishment of a small vessel register.
The new Merchant Shipping (Pleasure Craft) (Lifejackets and Operation) (Safety) Regulations 2004 contain national provisions relating to age restrictions, the carriage and wearing of lifejackets and restrictions on the use of alcohol and drugs. They apply to all types of pleasure craft irrespective of their means of propulsion and replaced the 2001 regulations, which applied to only mechanically propelled pleasure craft.
The wearing of lifejackets is an essential element in staying safe on the water. For the first time, the regulations make it compulsory for all children up to the age of 16 years to wear a lifejacket while on board a pleasure craft. The public generally and parents in particular should take responsibility for safety by wearing lifejackets and encouraging others to do so and by taking other sensible precautions while on the water, especially as the holiday season is now taking off. I also draw the attention of the House and the public generally to the water safety website, http://www.safetyonthewater.ie, which gives important information on safety for various types of watersports.
The aim of the proposed code of practice for recreational craft is to support the statutory provisions relating to recreational craft, in addition to advising on recommended best practice regarding the safe operation of such craft in Irish waters, whether for competitive or non-competitive purposes. All interested persons are invited to participate in this important public safety exercise and to forward comments to the Department before the closing date, 15 September 2004. The draft code as well as the new regulations may be accessed on the Department's website, www.dcmnr.gov.ie.
The Bill, as I outlined, contains an important suite of measures to enhance public safety and enjoyment in Irish waters and to protect important heritage against damage and interference. I hope the Bill will have the desired effect of quickly stamping out bad behaviour by certain users of fast powered watercraft, which is posing an unacceptable risk to the public, property and wildlife. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators and progressing the Bill into law at the earliest opportunity.