I must say a few words in support of Senator McCarthy's amendment. While I accept that Deputies and Senators should not serve on the boards of port companies, I must agree with the previous speakers that many local authority members have served well on such boards.
Most harbour boards are made up in the same manner and the situation at Bantry port company is replicated throughout the country. The Chambers of Commerce of Ireland appoints two members to Bantry port company. The town council also appoints two members as does the county council, which is very democratic. That option is being taken away under the terms of this Bill. The trade union movement nominates one member of the board. The Irish Ports Association, which is a national body, also appoints two members to the board. Members of that association include skippers of tug boats, able seamen and pilots who navigate ships in and out of bays.
I took part in a "Questions and Answers" programme some time ago where the issue of port company boards was raised. During that discussion, I was accused of political cronyism by an eminent journalist who shall remain nameless. At that time, the Minister of the day had the right to nominate three people to the boards of port companies, one of whom had to be from the trade union movement. The trade union appointee in Bantry has worked very well on the board and that applies to other ports as well. There is a perception that there is political interference in these boards, with no regard for whether that is actually true.
I served as a member of Bantry harbour board and was proud to do so. I rarely, if ever, missed a meeting. At the time, members of the board got £40 for attending monthly meetings, some of which started at 7.30 p.m. and went on until midnight. Members decided, even though the harbour was making money, to forego the £40 payment as a gesture of goodwill. Accusations of political cronyism do not stand up because out of the 11 members of the board, only two could be appointed by the Minister.
The Bill proposes to reduce the numbers serving on boards of port authorities. In Cork, for example, the board will be reduced to eight members. If Bantry harbour board is subsumed into the Cork port company, will it have one member on the reduced board of that company? Who will that member be? The same question applies to Fenit. My colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan spoke at length about Fenit on Second Stage. While I do not want to dwell on Kerry, would Fenit have one or more members on the board of the new Foynes Shannon region company? Let us return to the area of corporate governance.
My colleagues will be aware of the important role LEADER plays in rural Ireland. It is funded by Europe to a certain degree, and by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and is supported by the Department head by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív. In west Cork we have amalgamated the West Cork Community Partnership with LEADER, it was a successful marriage that took some time. There was a 12 month courtship period, but they decided to get engaged and now they are married. There are 17 members on the new board. I am subject to correction, but seven or eight members serving west Cork until 2012 or 2013, are county councillors or town councillors. They have a budget of €270 million for LEADER projects which has a wonderful opportunity to promote rural Ireland. I have no problem with that.
Some of the councillors represent two islands. One councillor who is a member of the islands' committee — there are seven inhabited islands off the west Cork coast — is on the new board. I am proud of the fact that the Bantry Port Authority union representative is a man from Whiddy Island. It is great to see a fellow from the island involved in the union and able to get onto the board of the local port authority. Who will be excluded as a results of savings made by the contracting of the new port companies? I have been told that Bantry will be lumped in with Cork, and people in Bantry, the Sheep's Head and Adrigole — which has the largest stone quarry in Ireland and exports million of tonnes of stone each year to Wales — will be disenfranchised.
Will Cork City Council and county council have a member on the new port board? Cork Port Company is viable and a substantial commercial entity in its own right. Will we come to the stage where no member of Cork County Council or the city council will have any say in that? The same applies to Waterford Port. I am deeply concerned about that. The same applies to Baltimore, which is a small harbour. They ensure fishermen have a say. The composition of boards is important, even if it meets with the approval of someone in an ivory tower office. We have a corporate governance situation of aligning ports. I will be in this Chamber for the rest of the day and the rest of next week, and I will be unconvinced that a shotgun marriage between Bantry Port and harbour is unique. The notion that local authority members cannot be on port boards is not only a retrograde step but makes no sense.
Most councillors work very hard and get little thanks for it. There are two county councillors, and others from the urban council and the Chamber of Commerce in Bantry, who give of their wisdom and time to these meetings. Some people wonder what is happening on Bantry Harbour Board. It is amazing what happens there for the betterment of the harbour. In Bantry Harbour, we are able to discuss — I am not currently a member — issues like contamination in the inner harbour. Where did the mercury come from? Another Department is doing site investigations that will succeed in dredging going ahead. There were mines in Bantry 100 or 200 years ago. Where would mercury come from? I had a notion it might have come from Bantry Hospital but a senior medic said the amount of mercury from thermometers was small. Mercury is a lethal poison. People are asking how they can deal with it. It is being dealt with by TNT, adhesives put on boats to stop them fouling up. It may only be 3%, but traces have been found.
The former Tánaiste, John Wilson, when he was Minister for the Marine, provided £100,000 to conduct hydrographic surveys of the inner harbour in Bantry and the contamination showed up. If, as is envisaged in this Bill, Cork Harbour takes over Bantry Harbour, we will have one or more member who may not have knowledge of the sea or be an elected member. To whom are they accountable? How can we get rid of the contamination? It is a very serious issue. Mercury appeared in Castletownbere and it cost nearly €2 million to get rid of it.
There are approximately 3 metres of silt and gravel in the inner harbour in Bantry that need to be dredged. Three or four inches of the contaminated area is skimmed off, rolled into cement balls or blocked and exported to a dump in Holland or Germany. It cannot be taken out and dumped because it would kill all the mussels and scallops, and even people as mercury is one of the most lethal of poisons. It is a very expensive process. There are science and experts involved, but the role local authority members played in highlighting these issues was important. The previous section mentioned An Bord Pleanála. Would it, in all its wisdom, have picked up on that? I do not think so.
I will not ramble on——