Does Senator Cummins have something to say on this amendment?
Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008: Committee Stage (Resumed).
No. Does the Minister of State have something to say?
If this amendment is agreed, section 10 will be deleted.
We had a reasonable discussion on this amendment. It instructs port companies to furnish a statement annually regarding the current or expected number of employees. The amendment will change the requirement from six months to four months after the end of the financial year.
The Minister of State explained the matter, but we should refresh our memories. Will the Minister of State outline what information is required on the employees expected to be working at the end of an accounting year? The second paragraph states: "more than 30 of its current full time employees are likely to continue to be so employed full time under contracts of service during the accounting year following that to which the accounts relate". This provision seems to apply to the large port companies. Business fluctuates from time to time, as shown in Waterford, for example, where Bell Line collapsed some years ago.
I have no difficulty with the principle of what the Minister of State is trying to achieve, but will he explain the position concerning the average number of employees? It is a time of employment uncertainty. There is substantial business occurring at Dublin Port, Cork Port and other large ports, which I hope will remain the case, but a number of ports are marginal. The amendment is a big ask, so to speak, although I have no difficulty with the requirement to make a statement within a certain period.
I presume that the contracts referred to in the amendment, which states "of the average number of employees that are expected to be employed during the accounting year under contracts of service following that to which the accounts relate", are contracts of service directly linked to the port authority concerned. The second proposed paragraph states "that more than 30 of its current full time employees are likely to continue to be so employed full time under contracts of service during the accounting year following that to which the accounts relate". Irrespective of whether the port is at Waterford, New Ross or so on, will the Minister of State clarify what will be required in a case involving fewer than 30 full-time employees?
At Kinsale in Cork, stevedores are employed from time to time as grain or timber boats come in. They might work day and night for three days but, due to bad weather or market fluctuations, there might be a sos in which nothing would occur for three or four weeks. I accept that Kinsale is not a commercial port in the same respect, but my concern relates to the situation in which fewer than 30 individuals are employed full-time in any given year. Is the statement a statement of intent? Is it suggested that port companies must guarantee the situation in the chairperson's report? I do not have a problem with the provision, but is it for the chairperson to declare whether his or her company will have a good year with more than 30 full-time employees or whether there will be fewer than 30 such workers because the outlook is poor owing to the shaky economy and problems at global, national and local level? What would be the situation were only 18 people working full-time at the port company at the end of the year? Will the Minister of State enlighten me?
I do not have an issue with the Government amendment but I am puzzled by the inclusion of specific numbers. What would be the situation were the commercial enterprise of a port to contract in such a way as to lead to a loss of employment? It can occur. For many years, my brother-in-law worked at Bell Line in Waterford in such a situation. All of a sudden, a reputable company left the port with the loss of 50 or 60 jobs. Will the Minister of State clarify the position in this scenario? I apologise if I spoke before my good colleague, Senator Cummins.
I take Senator O'Donovan's comments on board. I also seek clarification on the issue of casual labour at Fenit. Similar casual labour occurs in most commercial ports in that people can work on a weekly or monthly basis to deal with, for example, timber and other bulk products. Will such people be classified as workers of the port authority or as various employees of the various stevedores operating in the ports? While it is temporary employment, they are constantly being called in if and when required. Can casual employees be reckoned as port employees, especially in terms of voting? While voting relates to the number of employees mentioned in annual reports and so on, how will casual labourers be classified — as port employees or stevedore employees — and will they have a vote?
While I thank Members for their comments, they are reading something into the provision that is not there. The amendment has been proposed so that the number of full-time employees working at or expected to work at the port can be known for the purpose of worker director elections. If the amendments are passed, a worker director must be elected to the board if there are more than 30 workers. If there are fewer than 30 workers, the worker director will be nominated or recommended to the Minister for appointment. The amendments are being made so that there will be no last-minute arguments whether there are 29 or 31 workers.
Will casual workers be included?
No. We are discussing full-time workers directly employed by the port, not subcontracted employees. The amendments set out the different methods to elect or nominate the worker director, namely, an election if there are more than 30 workers or a nomination or an appointment if there are fewer than 30 workers.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 11, line 49, to delete paragraph (c).
We addressed this issue under section 8. At the risk of repeating myself, this section deals with local authority members. Reducing from three to one the number of local authority members on the boards of port authorities, with the consequent loss of their local and business knowledge, is a retrograde step for all concerned. The Minister has stated that he "may" appoint a local authority member to the boards. If he had said he "shall" do so, we could at least be certain of there being one local authority member. As it stands, however, all we have is a statement from the Minister that he may appoint one. This is unacceptable. I have referred to my experience of being a member of one of these boards and, prior to the establishment of the commercial port companies, a harbour commissioner. The knowledge imparted by local authority members to the former harbour commissioners and to the boards of port companies is second to none.
It seems, however, members of local authorities, even where their relevant knowledge and business experience make them ideal candidates, may be debarred from membership of the boards. Why debar those in whom people have placed their trust to represent them? We have had reports from nameless officials claiming that local authority members should be cut from these boards. What is the reason for this? Is it that local authority members ask the awkward questions? Is it that they always attend meetings of the board? I see no reason for the proposed exclusion other than a vindictiveness towards those who are elected by their peers to local government. This is a feature not only of this Bill but of several others in recent years. What is the agenda? I have seen areas where the accommodation of vested interests has been to the detriment of the proper running of port authorities. I see no reason, however, for the exclusion of local authority members elected by the public.
I referred last week to Waterford Port, where there are three local government representatives, comprising one from the city council, one from Waterford County Council and one from Kilkenny County Council, where the majority of the port is now situated. Which of these representatives will be retained if there is to be only one local government member? The Minister referred to the possibility of some type of rotational system, but there is no legislation to facilitate that. Until such time as the relevant measures are included in this Bill, I and my party cannot support the exclusion of local authority members.
Amendment No. 4 seeks to retain local authority membership of the boards of port companies. Those members have acted in the best interests of the public and the ports since the port companies came into being. They should be allowed to continue that excellent representation. Irrespective of what reports are produced by whatever so-called experts, I disagree totally that local authority membership should be reduced.
We debated at length last week the merits and demerits of this proposal. I will not reiterate them now other than to urge the Minister to consider our perspective. We are arguing for the retention of local authority membership on the boards of port companies. They have been elected to their positions, they provide a vital connection to local democracy and they bring a certain expertise. I am mindful of the time we have already spent debating this issue. I intend to seek a vote on this amendment.
We covered much of the ground on this issue on the last occasion. I agree that local authority members have served port companies in good stead over the years. The make-up of most harbour boards comprises a cross-section of community involvement. For example, of the 11 members of the board of Bantry Port, two are from the county council, usually from the local electoral area containing the port, and two are from the town council, thus providing an extra layer of local democracy. The Chambers of Commerce of Ireland would usually select two members, as would the Irish Ports Association. The Minister selects three appointees to the board in respect of which there sometimes have been accusations of cronyism and so on. However, the Minister's appointees had to include a trade union member, who would be unlikely to be a member of my party. Therefore, the make-up of the boards was tightly constrained. I was pleased at one point in my political career to be appointed to the board of Bantry Harbour. I regretted having to resign in 2004, with the ending of the dual mandate, because I enjoyed my time on the board.
Will the Minister outline the financial savings to be made from the proposals set out in the Bill? The large commercial port companies have their own arrangement and are normally separate legal entities with a degree of independence. I made the point already and do not wish to do so ad infinitum that the proposal that Cork Harbour should take over Bantry Port represents a shotgun wedding which may not work out. We could end up with an undemocratic situation where Bantry Port would at most have one representative, even though it is located 60 or 70 miles from Cork. In the case of Rosslare and New Ross, for example, Drogheda and Dublin or even Waterford and Dublin, the distance would be much less than in the case of Cork and Bantry. I fail to see the logic of this proposal. When I entered politics in 1985 we had local health committees and a Southern Health Board. The Health Service Executive now wants to revert to having local regionalised offices in places like the Cork-Kerry region. It has learned from its mistakes and will in this regard be making a U-turn on policy grounds.
I am glad the Bill provides that the Minister will have the power to consult recognised trade unions and so on. However, I have grave concerns in regard to this issue, which has been debated at length. I believe little saving will be gained from this proposal. Historically, local public representatives have had their finger on the pulse, be that in respect of Shannon-Foynes, Fenit, Bantry or Dingle. We are being denuded of local democracy and I am not sure this is good. We should remember the reason some of the harbour boards were set up. I am speaking in this regard of the role of public representatives and others on these boards.
Many people do not know the reason Bantry harbour board was set up. In the 1970s, there were three or four major oil spillages, some of which were the worst in the world, with enormous ecological and environmental impacts. One can imagine the severity of world focus if this happened in 2008. Following these events the then Minister, former Deputy Peter Barry, established the Bantry Harbour Board to take control of the situation. I referred earlier to the various bodies represented on that board. Even though the board had been established, it took the catalyst of the Costello report, arising from the Whiddy Island disaster, on which I will speak at some length later, to give it teeth. This did not happen until the early or mid-1990s and the matter had been left languishing for some time.
The cost of local authority members on these boards is minuscule. The experience, wisdom and local knowledge lost as a result of this proposal will be immense. I will give an example, which may be parochial to my colleague opposite, Senator Paddy Burke. A port authority or harbour board comprising local and town councillors, trade union representatives and chambers of commerce, be it from Westport or wherever is the most local region, might have prevented the shenanigans and drawn-out, difficult scenes in north Mayo in regard to Shell to Sea — I do not wish to take sides in the matter. I strongly believe that local and trade union representation is important. Perhaps we are seeing in this Bill a new policy direction in respect of local authority members. They are being told, "Lie down, Fido, stay under the table and do not bark."
We represent councillors and local authority members and our voices should be heard. I am in the difficult situation of being a Member on the Government side. However, I want to be heard and to put on record my disillusionment, disappointment and dismay at the approach being taken in this area. I believe we are being power foolish and penny wise. Historically, local authority members have served us well and that has not been acknowledged in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister of State will acknowledge the tremendous work done by many town, county and city councillors down through the years. They have made an enormous contribution to port companies and marine life in general.
I support the amendment moved by Senator Cummins and supported by Senator McCarthy and I hope the Minister of State will be in a position to accept it. Senator Cummins outlined the amendment in detail and made a great case for the retention of councillors on boards. I have been a public representative for many years and I have noted during that time something that all politicians, be they local or national public representatives, have in common, namely, their vested interest in the greater good. This cannot be said of all segments of society. Unions have vested interests but their vested interests are in respect of their employees, particular groups and so on. By and large, the vested interest of local and national politicians is in the greater good.
I am disappointed the Bill contains a proposal which seeks to reduce the number of representatives that may be appointed to boards. Senator O'Donovan mentioned that when he first entered politics we had local health committees. I served as a member of a local health committee, the remit of which was countrywide and membership of which was made up of dentists, doctors and local politicians. The CEO for the health board region was accountable to the local health committee and was required to attend a meeting of the committee each month. He was also accountable to the board of the regional health board. These meetings were open and transparent and public representatives made an enormous contribution to them. They have made an enormous contribution to all the boards of which they have been members.
Whether we like it, public representatives must go before the public every five years. They are vetted by the public and are not re-elected if people believe they are not doing a good job. This Bill seeks to remove accountability from the process. I ask the Minister of State to take on board the comments made by various Senators and to accept the amendment put forward by Senator Cummins.
This issue was touched on previously. A couple of expert reports produced during the past seven or eight years have recommended that local authority members do not serve on the boards of commercial port companies. Senator O'Donovan spoke about harbour commissioners rather than commercial ports. It is true that the boards of both were in the past made up of a broad spectrum of groups and various interests. However, life has moved on and that is no longer the case in respect of the ten commercial ports.
Commercial State port companies have changed since the introduction of the Harbours Act 1996, as has the industry which has opened up. Major organisational and cultural changes have taken place. The position taken in the Department of Transport is that, for good or bad, port companies are now the only commercial State companies that have councillors on their boards. I am not attacking councillors. If Senator O'Donovan wants me to say that councillors do much committed work around the country, I will not disagree with that as a public representative. I was a councillor for many years and councillors do great work. They are telling all of us they are busier than ever and that may or may not be true. I do not want to get into the argument of how councillors were taken off health boards as I am not necessarily saying that was the right decision. These are two different issues. Councillors on health boards did much good work and, for example, they asked questions and got answers for simple matters rather than getting strategy statements all the time.
The fundamental difference between this and the HSE or anywhere else is we are talking about commercial State companies. The remit and purpose has changed and we are bringing the numbers of board members down from 12 to eight in order to have tighter and more focused groups dealing with the job at hand of managing and running a State commercial organisation. That is where the change has come about.
There has been an evolution of the old harbour commissioners and they are now commercial State companies. That is the reason the change has been made. In the Department of Transport we would equate them to airport authorities and there are no councillors on Dublin Airport Authority, Shannon Airport Authority or in Cork. We are bringing the port companies into line with what is happening elsewhere in other commercial State companies. This is the yardstick and target and it is what we are trying to do. It is on such a basis we recommend this change.
It is the intention that one of the statutory appointees will be a councillor.
Is that copperfastened?
It is not but it is a political commitment.
A political commitment is not worth much after listening to the budget, with all due respect.
The Minister of State, without interruption.
It is a political commitment and my boss, the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, has made that clear as well. It is not in the Bill but an intention is there.
The Minister of State's boss is the Taoiseach.
Like the rest of us, I have many. That is the way life is. It is a political commitment that is not in the Bill. The fundamental reason for the change is that ports are now commercial companies and we equate them with the airport companies, which do not have councillors. We do not believe councillors should be involved with the ports.
I have one point for clarification. The Minister of State indicated the Minister made a political commitment in this respect. Is it possible for this commitment to be included in the Bill on Report Stage? If the Minister has indicated it is his intention to appoint a local authority member, it should at least have some specific mention in the Bill rather than being a political commitment.
We know what political commitments are. If it is the Minister's intention to have a councillor involved in this way, the provision should be in the Bill and the Minister should introduce it on Report Stage. I will not labour the point further but I hope to see this political commitment included in the Bill through a Government amendment on Report Stage. Otherwise, we will treat the political commitment the same way as many others which have gone down the swanny over the past 18 months, especially since the budget.
The public is not very confident of political commitments and neither am I. I would accept the bona fides of the Minister in this regard if he included an appropriate Government amendment on Report Stage to allay the fears of all of us who spoke in favour of local authority membership on the boards.
It is not the intention to include such a provision in the Bill. I will see what guarantee can be made or how we can firm up what we are saying to help the Senator believe our commitment. I can reflect on the Senator's comments in that regard.
Somebody mentioned this would not save money but it is not being done to do so. The money saved would neither be here nor there. It is being done for the reasons previously outlined and is nothing to do with saving money as the money saved, if any, would not be relevant or significant. It is being done to have a smaller and more focused board which is entirely concentrated on the job at hand, running the commercial organisation.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Cannon, Ciaran.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Ellis, John.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Coffey, Paudie.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- Kelly, Alan.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Norris, David.
- O’Reilly, Joe.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Regan, Eugene.
- Twomey, Liam.
- White, Alex.
This technical amendment revoking a statutory instrument is consequential to amendment No. 4.
In the spirit of political generosity, I note the Minister of State made a commitment regarding the Government's possible acquiescence on Report Stage to appointments to the boards. Senator Cummins also made a valid point in this respect. I will reciprocate the Minister of State's generosity by withdrawing my opposition to the section.
The marine survey office has advised that Norway and Iceland should be included in this provision as they implement EU legislation in this area.
Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are related and amendments Nos. 7 and 10 are alternatives to amendment No. 11. Amendments Nos. 7, 10, 11 and 12 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 17, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
"'public consultation' means a publicly advertised invitation for submission from stakeholders and the general public;".
In the context of power and consultation, we ask that a public advertisement be placed inviting submissions from stakeholders and the general public, thereby allowing for meaningful dialogue and public involvement. Public consultation will be important if we are to be serious about active participation. This will require more than tokenism if people are to have their say.
Consultation is central to several of the amendments I have tabled. As I noted earlier, I was a member of the Bantry harbour board for several years. Consultation is critical at all stages. Since I last spoke on this Bill, I held a refresher meeting with members of the board. Notwithstanding the grievances I have raised in the House, they wanted to express their gratitude to the staff of the Department of Transport for their ongoing co-operation on a variety of issues. I say this because, even though I am a former member, I represent a wider arena than the Bantry harbour board, which enjoys a good working relationship with certain personnel who shall remain nameless.
The bone on which I wish to chew pertains to the lack of consultation regarding some of the provisions contained in section 18. Commitments were made by two, if not three, senior Ministers and a number of junior Ministers, most of whom were members of my party, to consult the Bantry harbour board before proceeding with the proposed amalgamation with the Port of Cork. In effect, however, no consultations took place. The board was asked to proceed with due diligence and it co-operated with the Port of Cork and the Department. This process is close to completion, although several issues have arisen.
I wish to speak about the history of Bantry. In my younger days, Bantry was primarily a fishing port. Census figures from the turn of the 20th century indicate that more than 2,000 people were employed in the fishing industry. That changed when, in bad weather, 30 or 40 big Spanish fishing trawlers would come in to seek shelter. This transferred to Castletownbere, which is now a sea fishing port and protected from the situation referred to here.
I refer to the lack of consultation from the point when Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners was set up. The catalyst for setting up the board was the three major oil spills, one of which was especially devastating and which took place on 22 October 1974. I started work as a student the following day, on 23 October, on the clean-up operation. Hundreds of people helped to clean it up. It was a major operation. There were lawsuits and other problems with it. Politically, if it were to happen now, with the advent of Sky, CNN, international focus and e-mail, it would be a worldwide phenomenon. There was potential for major damage, contributing to environmental and ecological problems. Mistakes were made and thousands of tonnes of crude oil were let flow into the bay.
The coalition in power between 1973 and 1977 was forced into action. The then Minister, Peter Barry, visited a few times and realised that something had to be done. Regulation and rules pertaining to Bantry were not appropriate. At the time, the international company, Gulf Oil, was a law unto itself. It was a major international conglomerate and basically did what it pleased. Nobody other than Cork Port had any interest. The matter crossed several Departments because there were fishing issues. The damage these oil spills caused acted as a catalyst to set up the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners.
I refer to consultation, which was necessary at the time and took place with Cork County Council. The council initially set up a harbour board that was toothless.
Senator O'Donovan is moving away from the group of amendments before us.
I am still talking about consultation, an issue critical to section 18. The section refers to the transfer of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and Tralee and Fenit Pier Harbour Commissioners, etc. which is my major difficulty. There is a harbour in Bantry that it is proposed will be transferred and amalgamated with Cork Port. Amendment No. 7 refers to consultation, which is the critical axe to grind on this issue. If consultation were to take place, certain issues might be ironed out. There is great concern locally that this legislation will be enacted without prior consultation, although such consultation has been promised several times. All politics is local.
I have no axe to grind with the Port of Cork Company with which I had discussions recently on the Cork-Swansea ferry issue. Its representatives were very forthcoming and there is a good working relationship between Cork Port and Bantry regarding Whiddy Island and other issues. While this may be acknowledged, the cordial relationship does not mean that one port must succumb under legislation to a takeover by another port. It is a matter of consultation. I do not want to labour the issue too long but I ask the Minister of State if there was consultation with Tralee and Fenit Pier Harbour Commissioners regarding amalgamation with Shannon Foynes Port Company. Was it premature? We have been talking about how Bantry Bay harbour might evolve and develop for many years. Consultation is critical.
The amendment was tabled by Senator Donohoe. Hitherto, there has been a lack of consultation. We see the demise of the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and the elected representatives who were on the board. This is wrong. There may have been a possibility of quid pro quo if the matter had been approached correctly. When referring to consultation or the lack of it, I am considering a valuable asset in the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and the port and the transfer of its autonomy to the Port of Cork Company.
Seven or eight reports over the years touched on the Bantry situation, among others, and the thinking process and policy that was prevalent until 1994 rightfully suggested that this should take place, with or without consultation. Bantry Bay harbour board was a lame duck, with no powers, no way of raising revenue and no teeth. It was little more than a talking shop. Over time, spurred on by certain recommendations of the Costello report arising from the Whiddy disaster, which involved consultation between the Department with responsibility for fisheries and various ports, great powers were given to Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. Because of its capacity, which is limited in international or international terms, Bantry has emerged as a leading light as a small port. In the past 12 years, bar one, it has made a financial profit and carried out important functions vis-à-vis Whiddy Island.
I cannot but expand somewhat on the issue of consultation. Some think of Bantry as Whiddy Island but there are diverse activities in the Bantry Bay and port area. There is a limited amount of marine tourism, the well-known Whiddy Island terminal, Whiddy islanders, inshore fishermen and aquaculture people. Has there been consultation with all these people? People may ask why there should be but what bugs me is that Bantry has been designated as a tourist hub in the past year. This has significance because Fáilte Ireland, through the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, has decided that Bantry has significant tourism related activity within the harbour. One hopes much money will be spent in the general area. Major problems exist with the port. Some are basic, such as the extension of the pier and dredging. The Chair may think I am wandering but I am touching on the provisions of section 18.
There is a problem with the provisions in section 18. There has been no consultation with many of those involved. Will the Minister of State indicate whether there has been consultation on this section, or on the Bill, with Cork County Council which owns the pier in Bantry? The harbour board owns the railway pier which it purchased at market value from Bantry Town Council. Have the harbour board and Bantry Town Council been consulted or do they need to be consulted? Perhaps I am missing the point. While the harbour board has an excellent working relationship with Cork County Council and the Department, it complained vigorously that there was no proper consultation on the aspects of the Bill that affect its port. It is very exercised about that issue.
One might ask why consult Bantry Town Council. There was a railway to Bantry until 1963 — I have vivid memories of seeing it as a child. The railway pier was eventually handed over by CIE to the town council in good faith. For many years the railway pier was not used, although it was very much used in the days when the railway went to Bantry. Eventually Bantry Harbour Board decided to purchase the railway pier for what was then termed "the market value". It also purchased foreshore rights and so on. That is an asset we now have. I presume the board got the Department's support and imprimatur in doing that. It is important from a development point of view that the town council does not own one pier while Cork County Council owns another one. The Earl of Bantry owned the foreshore rights. Were these bodies consulted? It is unusual that Cork County Council owns the main pier and has responsibility for its upkeep and so on.
Was the Central Fisheries Board consulted? It has traditional rights in Bantry Harbour. A case was taken by somebody to stop some development because, in the past, he had rights to mend nets in certain sections of the inner harbour.
Was there consultation with the people living on Whiddy Island? I know it is a small island with not too many inhabitants. The Minister of State might enlighten me as to whether there is a need for consultation. The Costello report was critical. It was an excellent report arising from an unfortunate tragedy and it cost the taxpayer €500,000. Another report, which is due, will probably cost the taxpayer, directly or indirectly, over €1 billion. Some 50 lives were lost in the Whiddy Island tragedy.
I am concerned for the people living on Whiddy Island. Not too long ago an elderly woman fell on the island and broke her leg. Usually when that happens, one calls an ambulance, which drives up to one's door, and one is taken away. However, there is no access for an ambulance on Whiddy Island. Eventually, the woman was put on a stretcher and put on a boat. It was low tide when they got to Bantry and she had to be carried across five boats, which was degrading. That happened five or seven years ago and I was appalled.
If there was another disaster on Whiddy Island, how would we get on? For a number of years the airstrip in Bantry has been used to transport vehicles to and from the island. It is not the most ideal scenario but it works. In an emergency, there is no barge on stand-by to take a fire tenderer, an ambulance or a doctor to the island.
One cannot lose sight of the fact that islanders have rights. Perhaps in this instance one might say they should not be consulted, that Bantry Harbour Board was set up under a certain Act and that we, as legislators, should ignore everyone and do what is right, convenient and so on, but I have a different view. The local authority also bought houses on the island.
Bantry Harbour Board recently completed a landing facility on Whiddy Island with the help and support of the Department, which I went to see. The board also owns some property on the island, and not before time. A slipway was constructed at a cost of less than €1 million, although I am open to correction. This is a wonderful development. I believe the Minister of State visited recently to inspect and open it. This is all about consultation.
On the shore side, adjacent to the Abbey cemetery on Whiddy Island, a link is proposed. There is no point having a lovely slipway on the island if when one reaches the shore, one cannot get off. This roll on-roll off possibility is fantastic and I hope it can proceed. Planning has been received and foreshore rights have been obtained. These are positive developments where consultation is important.
If this Bill is passed, people will say it might not be implemented for four or five years but I hope it is implemented in my lifetime. In regard to section 18 coming into play — Senator Donohoe's amendment No. 7 refers to it — I have grave reservations that the appropriate consultation has not taken place.
I mentioned the size of Bantry Bay. There is a multi-million euro aquaculture industry in Bantry Bay. Many hectares of water are licensed for the purpose of mussel line development and there are salmon cages out by Eyries and more closer to Bere Island, which are within the Bantry Bay remit, if my geography is correct. Has the aquaculture industry been consulted? I raised this with some people involved in aquaculture who told me they have serious concerns
I refer to the handing over of Bantry Bay and Bantry Harbour as proposed in this Bill. I say to the Minister of State, with the greatest respect, that it is not only about the Whiddy Island situation. There is Whiddy Island and Whitegate, and perhaps it would make much sense for them to form a team and that the commercial aspects would be monitored by Cork port.
There are many ancillary operations around the bay. On Whiddy Island, licences have been granted for the development and growth of scallop farming. In the inner harbour in Bantry, people dig for welks. People have traditional rights and would have us in the High Court in the morning if we interfered with those rights in any way. I am not saying we will interfere with their rights, but have they been consulted? When in season, people dig a bucket of clams or periwinkles and make a few bob.
The Cork Harbour and Port Authority is a huge commercial set-up and Bantry is a hybrid of different developments in aquaculture and tourism. The development of Bantry Bay as a purely commercial port will never stand. I have always argued that one must allow for Whiddy Island and commercial activity, which has survived together despite some difficulties. Aquaculture and inshore fishing have survived. Many people still fish extensively for shrimp in the inner harbour and around Whiddy Island. They also fish for lobster. Despite the ban on drift net fishing, draft net fishing is still intact for the estuary of the River Wad.
As a representative of this area I am concerned that we are proceeding with this legislation. I have tabled amendments on transferring Bantry, and I return to the whole area of consultation. I have the utmost respect for the Minister of State but I urge him to park the Bill after today and, as a gesture of goodwill, the Minister of State or the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, should meet the relevant port authority and perhaps a county manager for west Cork or the town council to consult on this issue as we are dealing with consultation under section 7.
This is a political, not a departmental, matter. On Bantry Harbour Board there are two or three county councillors and two town councillors, a trade union representative and representatives of the port association as well as three nominees of the Minister of State's predecessor. I presume the board members were governed by the 1946 Act. Without affecting the thrust of the Bill, would there be merit in such consultation taking place?
I was at three or four meetings, in Dublin and Bantry, where Ministers and Ministers of State gave clear commitments. The issue of publishing or tabling legislation suggesting Bantry Bay Harbour would be taken over by Cork was raised. That political commitment has not been honoured. I know members of the Cork Port company who have expressed the view that they are surprised — I will not name them — at the shotgun approach taken here. The approach seems to be shoot first and ask questions afterwards. That is not good enough. We need to sit back from the brink on this and deal with some of the issues concerning Bantry.
It all comes down to consultation, or the lack of it. As far as I am aware, the chief executive of Cork Port and the chairman of Bantry Port have not had meaningful negotiations on this issue. That is similar to the Government, when the discussions on Northern Ireland were taking place, saying it would make a declaration and promulgate that Northern Ireland, as a unit, would be gone and a new free state or republic would be declared. If that happened there would be outright war. Sensitive negotiations took place. We have not gone beyond the point of redemption.
Bantry Bay is the second finest bay in the world. It has huge potential and we should not denude the people in the greater Bantry area who use the port for leisure, pleasure, fishing, tourism in Garnish Island, yachting and other marine activities. There has been a lack of consultation. I am speaking ad nauseam on this section of the Bill, but I feel strongly about it. Senator Donohoe also mentioned this point.
I do not know what is right or wrong with consultation. This issue has been before the people in Bantry and the harbour board for many years. It has also been before the council. I spent many lengthy nights discussing participation by local authority members. One meeting, debating the future of Bantry, ran from 6.30 p.m. until 1.30 a.m. The possibility of Cork Port taking us over was discussed and we voted 11-0 that that should not take place. Some of those members have now left.
There was a proposal that Cork County Council should take us over and I held the minority view that that should be the case. The vote was 9-2. I understood the debate. I have my reasons, one of which is that the then county manager gave a commitment that if Cork County Council took us over it would spend €1 million or €2 million on the harbour development. That should not be sneered at. We seem to have walked away from that.
Another issue is that of corporatisation. We want, like other larger ports, such as Cork, Foynes, Dundalk and New Ross, to set up a company and stand on our own two feet. There was strong consultation on this and I was to the fore, particularly with the Department and the then Minister in the lead-up to the 2002 general election. We came within 48 hours of Bantry Port being corporatised, and were it not for a technical problem in Bantry that would have been done. The principle was agreed, but we seem to have rolled back from that.
Corporatisation has its own problems. If one becomes a corporate entity, one must stand on one's own two feet and not go to the Department or the Minister with the begging bowl. One cannot lightly brush aside the democratic view of elected or appointed people on boards. I am very worried that the consultation process has been less than transparent and adequate as far as Bantry is concerned. Perhaps that has been politically driven, but if something is not broken, why go to the trouble of fixing it?