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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 28 Jan 2009

Vol. 193 No. 7

Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Debate resumed on 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;".
—(Senator Jerry Buttimer).

We are resuming on section 18, amendment No. 7. Is amendment No. 7 agreed?

I was speaking on that amendment. Does Senator Donohoe want to——

Is amendment No. 7 agreed?

It is not agreed. We are on amendment No. 7, section 18. Is that correct?

Yes, section 18, amendment No. 7. Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 are related and amendment No. 10 is an alternative to amendment No. 11. Amendments Nos. 7 and 10 to 12, inclusive, are being discussed together.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for that. I tabled my amendment, which I believe is supported by amendments from some of my colleagues, because some of the changes this legislation refers to, particularly in regard to the amalgamation and integration of port authorities, will be of major concern in local communities and among the industries and stakeholders that will make great use of these facilities.

When I was preparing for this legislation's passage through the Seanad, I spent some time reading the harbours strategy statement prepared by the Department of Transport in 2007. The main strategic need that policy document identified was the need to ensure that the port capacity will be in place to deal with the increasing amount of freight coming through our economy in the coming years. We also are aware that these ports are vital hubs of local industry and community throughout the country.

In some cases it may be right to integrate some of these ports and for smarter use to be made of this important infrastructure. I support the idea that under this Bill there should be the capacity to make a decision like that, but before the decision is made there should be a period of time to allow the local community, politicians and people who are concerned about these matters to put across their point of view, understand the type of decision being made and lobby either for or against it. In this time of economic difficulty with which we are all so familiar, something that would add unnecessarily to the concern of communities in coastal areas is the idea that a port upon which they depend will close or the way it is run will change without their understanding the reason and being given an opportunity to put their view across, lobby their local representatives and engage with the Department of Transport on it. My amendment, which is measured in that it calls for proper public consultation and allows the Oireachtas to have a say in it, speaks to that and would improve the legislation were it to be accepted.

This goes back to the issue of consultation on which I spoke at some length in the previous debate. I concur with my colleague in that regard. I am deeply concerned that the consultation promised by several Governments in the past 30 years has not happened, particularly in regard to the port of Bantry. We can refer to various reports, including the KPMG report of June 1999, a PricewaterhouseCoopers report and another report. A total of five or six reports are available. Another report on commercial ports operating under the Harbours Act 1996 was published in 2000.

In support of Senator Donohoe's amendment, the reality is that the consultation process promised has not taken place. I spent a term on the harbour board in Bantry and during that time at least two Ministers gave us commitments that if the option of amalgamation with Cork were to take place, that consultation process would happen and all the interested groups would be consulted. The Senator is correct that this is all about consultation, or the lack of it.

If we examine the issue historically, there were proposals on Balbriggan four or five years ago that were abandoned, rightly or wrongly, because the consultation process was not taking place. Not long ago there was a proposal in one of the reports to amalgamate Rosslare, New Ross and Waterford ports. That has not occurred. As I have said ad nauseam, I do not have a problem, by and large, with the thrust of the Bill but the consultation process that should have taken place has not happened.

Was the local authority in Cork county, the largest county and the third largest local authority in the country, consulted regarding this Bill? Were the county manager or the members consulted, particularly those representing the areas where the ports are located? The same question applies regarding Fenit in Kerry. Was there consultation with those bodies? It is conceivable that once the Bill is enacted, the Minister of the day will have two options.

All those points on this amendment have been made.

Not entirely. I have some more letters to read into the record that I received since the last debate. I am merely making the point that there has not been consultation. If I were to go through all the material available to me it would take me a week. It is all about consultation. With all due respect, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, the issue of consultation is referred to in various reports. I spoke off the cuff a great deal in the previous debates but I have not touched on four of the reports I have with me, which are fairly voluminous. It is not fair on the Minister of State and Senators that this debate has been ordered to continue until 4 p.m without a sos.

It feels as if someone is putting a gun to my head. This is unfair and brings to mind the argument that if one puts enough smoke into the beehive, one will smother the queen bee. I feel a little smothered.

I will return to the issue of consultation but before doing so, I record my disappointment. A sos should have been provided for from 1.30 p.m. to 2.15 p.m. to allow us to have a cup of coffee or break or even to go to the loo.

Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

The thrust of the amendment tabled by Senator Donohoe on the issue of consultation, consultants and related matters is connected to the issue of having consultation before a proposal is made to have a harbour board subsumed into or taken over by another port authority. I have spoken on this issue previously and will speak on it again.

I refer to the report, A Review of the State Regional Ports and Harbours, carried out in June 1999 by the eminent professional organisation, KPMG, at the request of the then Department of the Marine and Natural Resources. While it is one of several reports on this topic, it is worth referring to it in the context of the amendment. The executive summary states that in carrying out the review KPMG deliberately had set out to ensure an all-encompassing approach was taken which recognised the need to collect data and consult widely and broadly. It then sets out the various steps taken as part of the review. For example, a detailed and structured questionnaire was prepared to collect base information on the performance of each port and, where relevant, engineering reports and other supporting material were sought and provided.

The Department of Marine and Natural Resources no longer has control of some of the ports in question, including Fenit Harbour and Bantry Harbour, although it continues to have control of sea fishing ports such as Castletownbere and Killybegs. The KPMG report states the Department, on behalf of the company, invited representatives of all the ports in question to consultative meetings in November 1998 at its offices in Dublin where KPMG indicated the approach it would adopt, secured the views of the attendees on the prepared questionnaire and answered questions the attendees had on the overall approach. The Department also placed a public notice in the national and local press referring to the review and calling for submissions, comments and observations to be forwarded to KPMG. Many valuable submissions were received arising from the notice. The public notice also served to advise the local interests in question about the review and enabled them to prepare for KPMG's visit.

While the 1999 report is outdated in many areas, if the approach adopted by KPMG were taken in the context of the proposals before us, I would not be speaking to this amendment because we would have achieved an agreement or consensus. However, such an approach was not taken.

The executive summary of the KPMG report states it sought independently the views of interested parties, many of whom provided submissions or were interviewed. These included Bord Fáilte, an important organisation in the area I represent, the regional tourism authorities, the Chartered Institute of Transport in Ireland, the Irish Institute of Master Mariners and the Irish Ports Association. These steps were taken by KPMG in 1999. The type of consultation process proposed in the amendment tabled by Senator Donohoe should take place.

We should note the steps taken as part of the review carried out by KPMG. The executive summary states it visited each port in turn and viewed the facilities in place and had discussions with the harbour commissioners, port management and stakeholders, including fish farmers and, in places such as Whiddy Island, local islanders. In this context, KPMG met representatives of local chambers of commerce, tourism interests, fishermen, local authority staff, industrialists, stevedores and others.

I have not spoken on the report in our previous debates on the Bill. The process undertaken in 1999 as part of a review examining the position in the previous decade was not repeated on this occasion. Last night and this morning I spoke to representatives of the Irish Shellfish Association which has a major interest in Bantry Bay and Bantry Harbour and former members of the board. Last week I sought the views of a man living in South Africa. He has told me he cannot believe a similar consultation process as that carried out in 1999 has not taken place. Under the legislation, such a process may take place once the Bill has been enacted.

The KPMG report states that, on the basis of the information supplied, it prepared its port profiles which it distributed to all of the ports for their comments. It then carried out an analysis, from which it developed recommendations. This approach shows the lengths to which the Department went to consult the interested groups. Following a thorough investigation, the KPMG review concluded that the 1946 Harbours Act was unsuitable and outdated for modern ports, including the regional harbours and ports under review, and acted as a constraint to the development of their socio-economic potential. I do not disagree with that conclusion. This potential is of critical commercial importance to Bantry Bay and the surrounding area. We have the Whiddy Terminal, the Leahill Quarry and possibly visits by cruise liners to Garnish Island. There is a broader issue concerning Bantry Bay and the harbour.

The reports states that the main emphasis of the EU Green Paper is that ports' revenue should cover their full costs. I will read some audited accounts into the record from Bantry Port, which has operated in the black for the past 11 or 12 years, continuously and successfully.

The report also states that ports generally want to retain the status quo believing current arrangements reflect local interests and knowledge and are in the best interests of the port in question. It further states that the harbour and ports in question play an important regional role and their economic value can be very often direct in terms of commercial activity and spend. It has been indicated that for every fisherman at sea there are three workers on land supporting or benefitting from his activities.

It goes on to say that most of the ports are not profitable, have few financial reserves and, consequently, have had inadequate historical investment. That is very important. I have no problem with ports that are handicapped due to a lack of development, finance or revenue. There are a number of ports in the constituency which are in limbo, such as Baltimore.

It is comparable to the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, some of whom had their wicks trimmed and survived the dark night, whereas others were foolish and fell asleep. Those involved in Bantry Port were wise, prudent and collected revenue, and are doing much good work within the port.

Regarding consultation, I will deviate slightly from the port. I will not speak ad nauseam but it is critical——

Is this to do with the amendment?

Yes. It is about consultation. It is critical to any proposed liaison or marriage, whether it is a shotgun wedding or something else, that the two parties meet. We are not going back to the old days of match-making, when the first time people met was on the day of the wedding.

I fail to see what match-making has to do with this amendment.

There was no consultation. There is some match-making going on here without any courtship, consultation or negotiation. Consultation is the important issue.

A commitment was given on the amalgamation of Cork and Bantry. There was to be prior consultation. An operation for due diligence was set in place, which was never completed. I do not know why there is a rush. The simple solution, which would save me a great deal of time and trouble, would be to abandon section 18 in the short term and revisit it in two, three or five years time when consultation has taken place.

I will continue to read from the KPMG report, which states that where investment requirements have been proposed they are not commensurate with their financial performance or reserves, which in some cases are minimal. Some ports have a major expense with the maintenance of dredging requirements.

Regarding consultation, it is important to read the executive summary of this report. I will not read the whole report now; I will leave the rest for after lunch. This report was commissioned by the then Department in charge of this area. The introduction says that a consortium led by KPMG consultants and comprising of Posford DuVivier, Brady Shipman Martin, Fitzpatrick Associates and MDS Transmodal was commissioned by the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources to undertake a review of State regional ports and harbours.

It is important to stick with the words "consult" and "consultation". The introduction also says that regard must be given to developing a general strategic framework for ports and harbours, having regard to the differing conditions, and that generic and port harbour related models and options will best deliver the objectives of the strategic framework. The 16 ports in question are Annagassan Pier, Wicklow, Wexford, Kinsale, Bantry Bay, Kilrush, River Moy, Ballyshannon, Dundalk, Arklow, Youghal, Baltimore and Skibbereen, Fenit, Westport, Sligo and Buncrana.

It is interesting to note that this Bill refers only to Bantry and Fenit. Are the other 14 on hold or have we been chosen to be punished for our sins? Three of the ports, Arklow, Dundalk and Wicklow, were specified in the Harbours Act, 1996 as companies that conformed to the conditions laid down in that Act but had not yet achieved the status of a commercial State company. Some may have achieved it now.

The report goes on to say all of the ports are in the hands of harbour commissioners made up of representatives of local interests and councillors. We should remember that councillors are being denied representation under this Bill, which is a retrograde step and was the subject of another amendment by a Senator from the other side of the House.

I will continue to refer to the KPMG report. Two of the ports in question, Kilrush and Youghal, are effectively managed by the relevant urban district council. Donegal County Council indicated to the then Department of the Marine and Natural resources its willingness to take responsibility for the harbours of Ballyshannon and Buncrana.

The context of this report is that over the years there has been much discussion on the ownership and status of ports. The review group on commercial harbours and piloted policies and legislation analysed in depth the Harbours Acts 1946 to 1976, vis-à-vis their relevance to modern port operations. It put forward a recommendation in June 1992 that 12 ports, on the basis of their financial viability and level of commercial traffic, should become commercial State ports.

It mentions that all other harbours of lesser commercial significance should be transferred to the relevant local authority or fisheries traffic centre in what was then the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources. This is a critical area of the report regarding consultation. The report refers to what happened in 1992.

If this legislation, affecting Bantry, Fenit and perhaps other ports, was introduced ten or 12 years ago, I would probably have supported it wholeheartedly. The status of Bantry has changed immensely. There was no fish farming in Bantry prior to 1984 or 1985, and many things have changed in that regard. I have no doubt that sensible provisions have been made.

Consultation has taken place in areas such as Castletownbere, Killybegs and Rossaveal. They were taken over by the then Department of the Marine and Natural Resources as fishery ports, which was a positive move. Significant development has taken place.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Tony Killeen was in Castletownbere last week where, to date, in excess of €40 million has been spent on developing its harbour as a fishing port. In other ports, such as Bantry, financial commitments made over three decades were not acted upon due to a lack of consultation. I spoke on the amendment tabled by Senator Donohoe on consultation, or, rather, the lack of it.

I will refer to a few more paragraphs of the executive summary of this report. The report says there has been a general concern about the need to secure, if not to enhance, the livelihood of the coastal communities who depend on the sea. This is particularly true for those ports that have annual commercial traffic of less than 250,000 tonnes.

Areas such as Castletownbere, Schull, Bantry and other coastal areas opposed the Lisbon treaty by a margin of four to one due to a lack of interest in coastal communities and a lack of consultation, which goes back to the issue here. The issue may be broader than this, but it is how people in isolated rural communities feel. The report also states that these ports and harbours range from those with busy commercial traffic to others catering for a mix of uses, including sea fishing and marine leisure, and some that experienced a severe decline in commercial and sea borne trade. One could not have a more appropriate quotation from this in-depth report as it applies to a port like Bantry, which has a mix. Departments can sometimes look at commercial viability, linking in the likes of Whiddy and Whitegate to see what has occurred there. However, one must examine the broader socio-economic situation where no consultation has taken place with shellfish farmers, island-goers to places such as Garinish Island, or marine-related tourism which has a future.

The report continues:

The 1996 Harbours Act provides for three options for the small harbours: 1. to retain the status quo [this means that they can continue to be subject to the Harbours Act 1946]; 2. to set up semi-State companies to manage some or all of them; or 3. to transfer them to local authorities.

In case it might be thought that this report was ignored by harbour boards, I know from my few years on the Bantry Harbour Board that we discussed it at length. We actually voted on those three options. The transfer to a local authority was supported by three of the 11 members. It was unanimously agreed that the notion of being taken up by another port was not an issue. There was strong support for the notion of corporatisation. Perhaps the Minister of State can shed some light on whether the notion of harbours such as Bantry being corporatised as independent, self-sufficient ports, has been abandoned. The idea was being closely examined by the Minister of State's predecessor. In or around April 2002, that process was almost put in place following consultation at the highest level. Perhaps the Minister of State can inform us why that did not happen.

Certainly. I would be glad of a break.

I feel there has been a great deal of consultation over the years. Some people may feel it has been at a broader or higher level and that it was not specific enough, but it was always the intention to have consultation before any final decisions were made. Senator Donohoe's amendment is asking us to insert a statutory commitment in the legislation so that there would be local consultation before things move forward, if the harbour's direction was being changed. I agree with the proposer. It was always going to happen, but the amendment seeks a specific statutory commitment. I agreed during the earlier debate that it was a sound idea and I gave an assurance that it can and will be done. I have already started the process of formulating a proper wording. It is my intention to come back on Report Stage to take the Senator's idea on board. It will thus be inserted in the legislation so that people can see that consultation is taking place. People may feel, as Senator O'Donovan said, that there was not specific consultation in the past, but there was consultation on a broad, general level. There is a time for consultation on a broad level and a time for much more specific consultation. If there is a lack of faith and a feeling that previous commitments or promises were not fulfilled, the Senator's amendment seeks to insert that into the legislation. Once something is in legislation it is in black and white. The Senator's suggestion is a good one, which I am accepting and I will bring forward wording to do as he has outlined.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I am glad he is taking on board the point the amendment seeks to address and I look forward to seeing what he brings forward. The absence of this kind of clause or reference in such legislation creates the space for decisions to be made in such a way that can either create a feeling of lack of involvement or trust between those making the decision and those who deal with the consequences. The way in which the decision is made will be weaker and of less quality if there is not some obligation on behalf of those making the decision to engage with those who will be affected by it.

There has been much talk, even this morning, about the need for national unity on matters of importance to the country. While I am glad to accept that this amendment does not concern an issue of national interest, there appears to be the appearance of national unity between the Opposition and elements on the Government side of the House on the need to change this approach. It is good to see that the Minister of State will respond to the matter. I will be particularly interested to hear what my colleagues, Senators O'Donovan and McCarthy, have to say on whether such an amendment would meet the needs they have identified and the issues they have talked about.

Towards the end of 2008 we had occasion to discuss the issue of consultation. My colleagues — in particular, Senator O'Donovan — have made good points on consultation. With all due respect to the Minister of State present, a commitment was given by the senior Minister to meet with the board and representatives from the Bantry area. There was a clear belief among those people that the consultation would involve a meeting at which they could put forward their views, particularly concerning the legislation and the broader consultative process that should take place to ensure that there is a general body of support for the Bill itself. It is my understanding that neither Bantry Harbour Board members nor Bantry town councillors were consulted on this matter. I fundamentally disagree with the broader aim of this Bill, which is to remove councillors from running ports.

The previous Seanad debated at length the abolition of the dual mandate, as well as various pieces of important local government legislation and what they meant for the functioning of local democratic bodies. Most Senators would share that view, particularly those who have served more than two or three terms and know the system well, including how local authorities respond to our work here. We need to be aware of where our electoral base is. By and large the Seanad's vocational panels spring from democracy at local level. Most of us began our political careers in local government.

Over the years I have seen the role of councillors being consistently reduced and power being taken from them. One of the few reserve functions councillors had was to set charges for refuse collections, but that is now an executive function. The manager comes along and the price is fixed, but that took an element of democracy out of the system. Councillors are elected from all sections of society. Those elected to a town, borough or county council are there because people decided they were the best persons to represent them on their locally elected body. I hold that system of local democratic government dear to my heart and we should never forget about it. This legislation, however, adds to the assault not just on local government but on members of local authorities throughout the country. Have the councillors' organisations written to the Department regarding this legislation? I expect the answer to the question to be "Yes" because I have proof of this. What was the response? Local authorities have passed resolutions raising serious concerns about the legislation and calling on the Minister to desist from his clear intention of removing councillors from harbour boards.

With regard to Bantry, we will not be thanked, as legislators, if we do what the Bill proposes, that is wind up the harbour board. Senator O'Donovan and I cannot stand for that. As recently as last Friday, through the Oireachtas education unit, the Senator and I visited a second level school in Bantry and we discussed this issue in a CPSE class. There is a strong feeling about this important issue in the locality. I have a fundamental difficulty with the expressed intention in the Bill to do away with that and I do not buy the line that the ports will have a Government appointed body. That does not wash.

I recall receiving assurances from the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, that following the abolition of the dual mandate Oireachtas Members would have the right to attend meetings of public bodies and have access to local managers. However, the practical result of not being a member of a council is that one does not have first-hand information. I have found it difficult to obtain replies from some officials. However, I have a good rapport with the officials in my area. We have a good management structure in west Cork, for which I am thankful. However, the commitment given by the former Minister regarding access to officials has not stood up.

We are granted one paltry meeting a year with management. Two years ago, managers decided we would begin with a lunch before discussing the issues. I was offended by that because it was a waste of money and time to meet officials at 1 p.m. and not commence the meeting until 2.30 p.m. when bellies were full and a few glasses had gone down the hatch. That does not cut ice. Thankfully, that has changed and we have had productive discussions with management and directors of services. In 2008, following a proposal I made in December 2007 at a meeting attended by the Acting Chairman, we met the representatives of the structural divisions, which worked quite well. However, I raised with the former Minister, Deputy Cullen, the issue of access for Oireachtas Members and his commitment was akin to saying we should all pray that we will have fine weather tomorrow.

I accept the Minister of State has a difficult job because the legislation has been passed to him to steer through the House and my comments are not directed at him. I wish the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government were present so that I could put these points to him. He gave a commitment to meet people from Bantry. Did the Department receive correspondence from Bantry Town Council, Bantry Harbour Commissioners, and the councillors' organisations? Did it receive information and requests from local authorities as a result of resolutions? I suspect the answer to these questions is "Yes". If so, what reply issued? What commitment was given by the Minister? What happened to the commitment he gave to the people in the Bantry area last year? Why has he not honoured it?

We are going backwards and forwards. I do not know if the issues raised are relevant to the section we are debating.

This section addresses consultation.

We dealt with the local authority issue.

This concerns the consultation issue.

The amendment contains a good suggestion by Senator Donohoe that specific statutory recognition of a consultation process be inserted. There has been endless consultation for a number of years on this issue.

No, there has not.

I have not been long in the Department but I have read the files and the reports. Endless reports were produced, sections of which have been read into the record. However, there is a fear that these consultations are with the principal stakeholders at national and regional level and perhaps stakeholders on local issues did not have an input into national or regional ports policy, which is addressed by Senator Donohoe's amendment. He refers to inviting the stakeholders who may not been involved in the consultation previously to take part and broadening consultation to include any member of the public who wishes to make a submission. I am going along with that just in case individuals or small stakeholder groups did not make an input when the policy was formulated.

I do not want to go over the issue regarding local authority members because we have discussed that section. The representative associations wrote to the Department. However, the section was not about the appointment of local authority members as harbour commissioners but about appointing them to the boards of the ten main ports. That is a separate issue, which we discussed previously. Submissions have been made and we have replied to them. We have dealt with those sections but we will return to them on Report Stage.

Perhaps because Committee Stage has been so spread out that we have forgotten what we have dealt with. The amendment is a good idea, as it gives every small stakeholder and individual——

Is the Minister of State accepting the amendment?

I accept the principle of the amendment. I have forwarded it to the Attorney General for proper and appropriate wording. However, the intent of the amendment is that consultation should not be confined to the large specific stakeholders and everybody should be given an opportunity through some process to make a submission. I agree to insert that in the legislation. That is different from a politician or a Department interpreting a previous commitment to their own liking. If it is provided for in legislation, we are all bound by it, no matter who is Minister or who is in Government. I accept the amendment.

I concur with Senator McCarthy's comments regarding the inclusion of councillors on these bodies. The experience in port companies, and other bodies such as those involved in partnerships and the Leader programme, is that those who put themselves before the public tend to have a commitment that instills a deep interest in them to participate fully in those bodies. I concede that others appointed on behalf of communities and so on are often good but there is not always uniformity of interest from the other groups or the attendance levels of councillors. Every time legislation is introduced in the House, we are fighting this cause. There are elements within the Civil Service who want to exclude politicians from everything but they do not have the same enthusiasm for excluding themselves from appointment to many of these positions.

As politicians, we depend on Ministers to protect our interest. People who put themselves before the public are only in position as long as they have the support of the public. The public has the right to make changes every four or five years and we should, therefore, preserve and support our democratic system.

I take on board the Minister of State's comment that this issue is peripheral to the amendments, which brings me to the thrust of the section. Having worked in ports in the southern part of the country for many years, I have observed some of the trends. Having worked with a business operation in Foynes for many years I recall the opposition there was particularly in the Foynes area and among the trustees of the harbour to the amalgamation that took place within the Shannon Estuary. Much of that was driven by people who had a real sense of commitment and pride in the achievements of Foynes Port over the years. They significantly surpassed those of Limerick because Foynes had some natural advantages. It had deeper water than Limerick. Those involved invested considerably in the port and showed great initiative in the developments that took place there. There was no enthusiasm for the amalgamation.

As there was no port authority, no consideration was given to dealing with Moneypoint. I regard Moneypoint as being more than a generating station. Moneypoint has tremendous potential as a deep water port. On a number of occasions private investors considered it as a transhipment location. I had discussions with some of the people at the time who were interested in developing it and thought there was good potential for a transhipment port off the west coast to compete with some of the major transhipment ports, particularly Rotterdam. Obviously the feasibility of that was always challenging.

I knew people involved in Limerick Port at the time who wanted the amalgamation because there was a certain amount of rivalry between them and those in Foynes. Along with many others, I felt the whole thing was driven by that particular desire, aided and abetted by certain selective officials in the Department who regarded this as a master plan.

Senator O'Donovan referred to the KPMG report. I recall some of those reports and their preparation. I happen to be one of the people interviewed by KPMG when it was looking at other ports in the south east. It was clear that it was not involved to give an impartial independent evaluation of what was right and what the benefits were. That would obviously have been the prescription and perhaps the complexion put on it. However, like many of those things, it was there to fulfil a policy intention with regard to what the Department wanted done. In our area we mounted a strong rearguard action, as happened in Foynes.

It is proposed to amalgamate small ports. However, very little synergy is to be obtained. There may be some initial small cost savings in administration, etc. However, as we saw in the case of the Shannon Estuary, if we were now to calculate the administrative costs of operating it and the legal costs incurred as a consequence of the difficulties during and subsequent to the amalgamation, there might be losses rather than savings.

As someone with some experience in the area, I have always felt that ports have a niche advantage in certain areas. In my area, Waterford has developed as a good container port. Rosslare developed for roll-on roll-off traffic. Those are niche markets. The concentration within those ports should be on developing trade and giving competitive services to the public. Ultimately ports are like roads. They exist to provide infrastructure for people to do business. It is essential that it is done in a competitive way. In this scenario involving policy of amalgamation, I am fairly certain that such aspects have not been considered.

I appreciate the Minister of State's position regarding this report. The ports policy statement, reference to which is made in the explanatory memorandum, dates back a number of years and would predate the Minister of State taking office in that Department or perhaps in any Department. It probably dates back to the late 1980s or early 1990s. It fails to recognise a number of issues that can arise with amalgamations. Because we have so few ports, it is imperative that we have competition. It is equally imperative that they function properly and efficiently.

I will give a small example. I have worked most of my adult life in the port of New Ross. New Ross prospered because of good work practices and a co-operative workforce, which took pride in the growth of the business. We were also assisted by the very bad industrial relations in the neighbouring port of Waterford, whose deep water section was closed for the best part of two decades. If the two ports had been amalgamated at that time, business traffic through ports in the south east would have come to a standstill, which makes no sense.

Dublin Port should not be where it is and should have relocated at least a decade ago. Along with One51, the Dublin Port Company owns the port of Greenore, a competing deep water port. We need to maintain competition. I am glad we did not go down the route that was suggested whereby all the north-eastern ports would merge into one port company. For example, Drogheda has shown initiative and been competitive, and is now considering developing a deep water port in Bremore in north County Dublin, which is the right way to go. The Bill proposes amalgamating certain ports, including Tralee and Fenit. I imagine that, as the traffic in Tralee and Fenit would be very small, that amalgamation would not be material.

However, Bantry Bay is a national asset. It is a significant deep water port. Given my experience of what happened in Foynes, the amalgamation there has done nothing to enhance trade or efficiencies at the port. I do not believe that will happen. I can understand why people in Cork would want to have it as part of its port company. Most companies want to develop and expand. However, it is an easy option. The expansion that should take place should be based on a port's initiative and development, and also on competition. Ringaskiddy is a deep water port within the Cork Port Company. I have no problem with changing the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. Why not have a separate Bantry Bay port company, if that is regarded as a better approach? It already has business and should be encouraged, as Foynes was encouraged to develop. If the amalgamation of the Shannon Estuary ports had taken place a few decades earlier than it did, Foynes would never have developed to the extent that it did. It is very important that port policy, because of the small number of options that importers and exporters have, is developed in a way that ensures competition and that infrastructure is put in place. It is far better to do so on the basis of each location rather than putting them all in the one pot. When the KPMG report was published, it was discussed with the Department and KPMG. It was suggested that approaching port companies and creating critical mass would lead to floating the companies on the stock market. It is a long time since that suggestion was mooted and I assume it is no longer part of the agenda, but it never had great potential because all of the companies in Ireland could not create the critical mass that would be attractive to investors. Even if that were done and private money were attracted for development, this would reduce competition significantly. Ultimately this is the lifeblood of infrastructure and services. It is essential to the well-being of those companies that depend on imports and exports. This should be seriously reappraised and examined.

My experience in the business, in excess of three decades, suggests that this is the wrong direction to go. It may seem like a good idea in theory but in practice it is not. It is being driven by people who perhaps do not have practical experience and who are considering this from a theoretical point of view. I urge that this be re-examined. There are very few deep water ports in the country and very few areas with the potential to develop as such. Where that is the case, like trying to exploit any natural resources we have, it should be given an opportunity and supported. Amendments have been tabled in this regard.

I thank the Minister of State for introducing this Bill in the Seanad because we have the opportunity to debate it and shape it here so that as it progresses through these Houses, it will be enhanced. However, there is flawed thinking behind the proposition in respect of Cork and Bantry. The potential of Bantry is not replicated in Tralee or Fenit. In the national interest and in the interests of developing our port infrastructure, which everyone recognises needs development, it is better to keep them separate, to retain the element of competition and to keep the focus on each individual realising full potential rather than pulling them together and where interests within the port company may seek to develop one area over another. This may be contrary to what we and the Minister of State want to achieve in this legislation.

In one sense the Minister of State has agreed to accept the amendment tabled by Senator Donohoe. I will not dilly dally too long on this issue. I am glad Senator Donohoe was successful in respect of inserting the right to consult in this process.

On 8 January we celebrated the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Betelgeuse disaster at Whiddy Island. I will not go into the history of it. In all that time and through successive Governments, some of which I was a member of, commitments were given to developments in Bantry and they were blatantly ignored up to this day. I will make this point briefly. I refer to a question in the Dáil tabled by Deputy Joe Walsh on 27 February 1986. He asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce whether he would specify the job content in the recently announced financial aid package for Bantry, County Cork, and whether he would make a statement on the matter. The reply from the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Mr. Noonan, Limerick East, states:

In so far as my Department is concerned, the special development package for west Cork-Bantry announced by the Taoiseach [the then Taoiseach was Garret FitzGerald] on 7 February includes the construction of an enterprise centre in Bantry and the provision of equity funding for selected viable projects in the area at a total estimated cost of £1.5 million.

It is not possible at this stage to quantify the job content of these proposals but employment will arise through the construction for the enterprise centre and the enhanced prospects for industrial development in the area arising from the measures in the package.

I am absolutely ashamed, in the memory of those who died in Whiddy, at that reply. There was a package of £8 million, much of which was to be given to west Cork. Not one farthing was spent on the inner harbour at Bantry. Outside Whiddy, we have the ghastly, mangled steel structure of the jetty that was blown up. Gulf Oil Corporation sold out and as a result of this, the package was announced.

I am being asked to accept that a statutory process of consultation into the future will be honoured. We have been kicked in the teeth and in the backside for years. At the time, there were two issues and I will not deviate. As a young trainee lawyer at the time, I was involved in the Whiddy tribunal which was a tribunal worthy of the name. It was cost effective and to the point. The extension of the pier at Bantry and the dredging of the inner harbour were critical and have been ignored since then. Subsequently, the Government sold the facilities at Whiddy and Whitegate to Conoco Phillips. A substantial sum of money changed hands. Many people do not realise that the national oil reserve is stored at Whiddy Island.

I used to play poker in my student days. If one was foolish enough, one would bet on the blind. We are being asked to bet on the blind by allowing this measure that proposes to abolish the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and amalgamate the harbour with Cork. Having been neglected for 30 years, and I personally having been refused consultation in recent months despite the board having demanded it, we apparently must have faith in statutory inclusion that there will be consultation in future. I cannot have faith in that proposal, with all due respect.

I was talking to a fish farmer this morning and asked him for his views on this. I have not seen him for a long time because he is often away at sea and out on boats. He said there was a spring tide this morning and that they could not shift the barge or mussel raft from the head of the pier because the tide was out. There is almost 3 m of silt and mud, which is taller than me, to be got rid of. That has been an issue for 30 years. I would like a clear guarantee from the Minister of State that the issues that have haunted the development of Bantry and our pier, some of which were referred to in the Costello report, would be addressed unequivocally and with certainty. I know in my heart of hearts, and I think Senator McCarthy knows, that if the Port of Cork Company takes us over, which will happen some day, it has commercial expertise and it will run Whiddy well, run the quarries and collect money, but it will decide that the dredging of the inner harbour, the pier extension, and the mussel and tourism related industries are not within its remit. I am not going to bet on the blind and in this regard I have to accede because at Senator Donohoe's request, the Minister of State has kindly said he will reconsider and is prepared to accept the amendment, by and large. However, I cannot allow this to divert me from my proposal in my amendments to section 18. This is a case of betting on the blind and it is shameful.

I remember when Whiddy was opened because we got a day off school when Jack Lynch was Taoiseach. There was huge fanfare in Bantry and there were many hopes and visions. Our hopes have been dashed on the rocks too often. Even commitments made on 14 June 2000 by the then Minister, Deputy Frank Fahey, announced £1.5 million for an extension to the pier which equated roughly to €1.9 million. This fell by the wayside. I refer to five or six Government commitments from different Governments of different make-up, including the coalition Government of the 1980s and several Governments in which my own party was involved. The people in Bantry do not have faith in blind betting. I have represented the area for the past 25 years and I want us to continue on our own because the promised consultation process is too little too late and is a damp squib.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to make some points. I pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Denis O'Donovan, because in my time in the House I have never seen anyone or any group of people apply the same level of scrutiny and constructive suggestion to legislation, and he is to be greatly commended on that.

I thank the Minister of State for initiating this Bill in the House. It sits well for this House and I would like to see other legislation being brought here.

I do not see any national benefit in what is being proposed for Bantry. As Senator Jim Walsh said, there is a need for competition and to develop our ports and the import-export business from those. I support his contention and that of many Members who have spoken on Second Stage that this issue requires a reappraisal. It seems to be driven from ivory towers, for want of a better expression, and be determined largely by officialdom as a body as opposed to any individuals. This is regrettable because the best decisions are those emanating from the ground up rather than being dictatorial in nature. I know Senator O'Donovan has issues with some of the consultation that has taken place. I refer to the KPMG report but in many such reports, the brief given at the outset is to consolidate. Those compiling the report are asked to come back with a plan which consolidates, for example, subsuming Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. What would the report have said had the brief been to come back with an economic plan for the best way to develop Bantry to support coastal communities, create more competition around the country and develop business?

Senator McCarthy referred to board representation and the number of local authority members sitting on boards. This Bill proposes to limit numbers as opposed to prohibiting the representation on boards by local authority members. I join Senator McCarthy in saying there has been an erosion of the democratic process. It has become the practice, to use a phrase used by officialdom and civil servants, to exclude local authority members from boards, harbour commissioners and so on. This is fundamentally mistaken. This obsessive pursuit of a level of political correctness has been defined by the media and other interests and has not been informed by and is not in the best interests of public representation. Whether a local authority member is from any party or none, he or she is the chosen representative of the people, has been democratically selected and is best placed to be representative of the public rather than a sectional interest. It would be an erosion of democracy as a whole were we to continue along these lines.

I know this is possibly an issue specifically for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and his Department but there has been a shift led by the Civil Service towards the exclusion of democratic representatives, a case of not giving power to elected representatives under any circumstances. This is a fundamentally wrong position. I am a great believer in democracy and the democratically elected people are the ones who should have the power to do these things. While I welcome the fact this legislation is not a case of excluding councillors completely, as has become the practice in other areas, and while I am glad they are still included to some degree, they should not be limited. We should enhance the public's voice.

I commend in particular Senator O'Donovan's constructive analysis and assertions on this Bill. I ask that the Minister of State look favourably upon numerous requests to have a reappraisal of this legislation.

I will not press this amendment. In light of dealings I have had with this Minister of State and his Department on previous legislation, I am happy to take his assurances that a similar amendment will be forthcoming on Report Stage. I thank him for taking on board the thrust of my proposal and I look forward to his amendment.

It is very interesting to hear the comments of many Senators on sections 17 and 18 which contain the essence of the proposal of giving the Bill the capacity to amalgamate and integrate different ports into a single body. Each of the Senators on the Government side who has spoken has indicated that he is fundamentally opposed to this proposal. I thought this Chamber had reached the height of its influence in the Charities Bill when the Opposition was successful in having legislation changed temporarily. However, the Minister of State appears to have a choice here. He can either gut this legislation and remove the main thrust of it or his own Senators will vote against it. It would be impossible for any of the Senators who have made such contributions to walk through the lobby in support this legislation or these sections being discussed. I will withdraw the amendment and I look forward with interest to the next section.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 13 to 17, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 17, to delete lines 23 and 24.

The taking of amendments Nos. 13 to 17, inclusive, will make life easier for someone. It is probably unusual in Parliament that a Government Senator would table amendments to legislation proposed by his or her own Government. I have been 15 years in the Oireachtas and this is my first endeavour. I do not do this lightly. These amendments propose to delete the references to Bantry Harbour and Port from section 18.

Section 18 reads:

(1) The Principal Act is amended by inserting the following section after section 87:

"87A.—(1) In this section—

‘relevant harbour commissioners' means—

(a) in relation to the Port of Cork Company, Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners,and. . .

. . . ‘relevant port company' means—

(a) in relation to Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, the Port of Cork Company,and. . .

. . . (2) (a) The Minister may by order appoint a day as the transfer day for the purposes of this section in respect of Bantry Bay Harbour and, with effect from that day, the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners are dissolved . . .

(3) With effect from the transfer day concerned, there is transferred—

(a) to the Port of Cork Company from Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, or . . .

. . . all property (real and personal) and rights held or enjoyed immediately before that day by the relevant harbour commissioners and all liabilities incurred before that day by them that had not been discharged before that day and, accordingly, with out any further conveyance, transfer or assignment—

(i) the property so held or enjoyed, both real and personal, [it reads like a will or a bequeath] vests on the transfer day in the Port of Cork Company . . . for all the estate, term or interest for which, immediately before that day, it was vested in the relevant harbour commissioners, but subject to all trusts and equities affecting the property and capable of being performed,

(ii) the rights so held or enjoyed, are as on and from the transfer day, held and enjoyed by the Port of Cork Company . . . as the case may be, and

(iii) the liabilities so incurred are, as on and from the transfer day, the liabilities of the Port of Cork Company . . . as the case may be.

Section 18(4) and the subsequent subsections are more serious, considering it is about the demise of a harbour commissionership. It states:

(4) All moneys, stocks, shares and securities transferred to the relevant port company by this section that, immediately before the transfer day, are in the name of the relevant harbour commissioners, shall, at the request of the relevant port company, be transferred into that company's name.

(5) Every right and liability transferred to the relevant port company by this section may, on and after the transfer day, be sued on, recovered or enforced by or against the relevant port company in its own name and it shall not be necessary for it to give notice of the transfer to the person whose right or liability is transferred by this section.

(6) Every—

(a) bond, guarantee or other security of a continuing nature, and

(b) contract or agreement, made or given by or on behalf of the relevant commissioners to any person or given by any person to and accepted by or on behalf of the relevant harbour commissioners—

(i) continues in force on and after the transfer day concerned,

(ii) shall be read and have effect as if the name of the relevant company were substituted in the contract or agreement for that of the relevant harbour commissioners concerned or, as the case may be, any trustee or agent acting on their behalf, and

(iii) is enforceable against the relevant company.

This is like reading a will. Once the Bill is enacted, which is the Minister's intention as is his right and which he feels is his duty, it is the end of the road for Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and the port.

The commissioners are required under law to submit annual accounts and financial statements, properly audited, to the Department every year. Mr. Aiden McCarthy, a local, is the chairman of the board of commissioners. The board comprises Mr. Michael Hennebry, Mr. Eugene Cronin, Mr. Mario Mehane, Ms. Kathleen Tessyman, Mr. Pat Kelly, Ms Lette Baker, Mr. John O'Shea, Mr. Tim Minihan, Mr. Patrick Murphy and Mr. David Shiels. One is a former naval officer, another an electrician and two, county councillors. Whatever about their politics or their backgrounds, they have varying expertise which will be ended when this Bill is enacted.

The Minister claims this is just enabling legislation. If it is enabling legislation, I would have no problem with the thrust of the Bill. I do have a problem with including Bantry Harbour in it. If it were just enabling legislation, why can the status quo in Bantry not continue?

I wish our banks had the same transparent balance sheet and corporate governance as that of the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. From its 2008 accounts, it has revenue reserves of €1.534 million with a total in excess of €2 million. This has increased since 2007 from €1.44 million to €2.196 million. Its surplus for 2008 came to just under €2 million after paying the harbour master rent for offices, which comes to €20,000 per annum, insurance, maintenance, light and power charges, legal, accounting and auditing fees, and promotions.

I must correct the record. On Committee Stage before Christmas I said the commissioners decided not to take any small expenses for attending meetings. Apparently they reverted on that and according to the accounts, commissioner meetings expenses came to €12,000. Wages and PRSI in 2008 came to €84,000. The accounts also include charges incurred for offices, banking, website maintenance and consultants. Travel expenses for commissioners in 2008 came to €50 when many times they had to travel to Cork and Dublin to meet their counterparts at Cork and Dublin ports.

This healthy balance sheet has been replicated for the past 11 years. It was a successful port with, I accept, the assistance of the Department. I will accept that in their zeal, the commissioners made mistakes but they learned from them. Apart from disbanding the commissionership, all the port's assets will be transferred to the Cork Port.

While appearing on "Questions and Answers", I challenged somebody who was criticising Dingle harbour's board of commissioners and claiming they were a shower of cronies. The record shows that the board's 11 members include two elected county councillors, John O'Shea of Fine Gael and Patrick Murphy of Fianna Fáil, and two town councillors, Pat Kelly and Eugene Cronin. A further two members, including Michael Hennebry, were selected by the port and harbour users' association. Under the legislation, the Minister of the day can make three appointments to the board, one of whom must be a trade union representative. In the normal course of events, SIPTU proposes a name for the latter position which is never challenged. The board includes a mixture of expertise, therefore.

What are the advantages of transferring Bantry Harbour to Cork? The Minister of State may argue that it is a question of corporate governance or that Cork's managers have greater experience. I have been told unofficially by several of the directors of the Port of Cork that they do not particularly want to be made responsible for Bantry because it will cause them too many headaches. They certainly do not want us if they have to pay for the €12 million dredging project or the pier extension, which has been promised for the past 30 or 40 years.

We are in the black and have a healthy balance sheet. I could speak about a range of issues affecting the bay but the most pressing issue the harbour faces is the need for dredging. Everyone knows that the development of the town is threatened while the harbour remains undredged. When the new hotel was being constructed, foreign architects flew over the bay and compared it favourably to the UK and France in terms of its beautiful sheltered harbour.

It is a very old issue. When I was a Senator between 1989 and 1991 I asked the then Tánaiste, John Wilson, to visit Bantry and inspect its port. Dredging was a major issue at the time and, 20 years later, I wonder what I am doing here. I often wake up and ask whether it is time to stand aside. A grant of €75,000 was provided for a hydrographic survey, which unfortunately revealed the presence of mercury and another dangerous contaminant called TBT in samples taken from the pier. The normal relatively cheap dredging process whereby material from around the pier is scooped up and dumped in the middle of the bay cannot be carried out because mercury is such a lethal poison that it could damage shellfish or enter the food chain and kill people. However, even though there is no mercury in Castletownbere, the Department of Transport has spent €40 million on that port to remove TBT contamination. Engineers from the Department explained that they put the contaminated material into a holding bay and covered it with concrete. Mercury, which is a more unstable poison, was held in concrete bollards and taken to Germany, which is the only place in Europe that can stabilise the contaminants. That gives an indication of the difficulties we face.

The Port of Cork Company will regard the problems we face in the inner harbour in Bantry as inappropriate to its remit as a commercial port. It will have no interest in marine tourism or leisure boats. It will not agree to deviate from its strict commercial remit. The Bill will reduce the number of directors of port companies from 12 to eight. We will be very fortunate if one of these comes from Bantry but we will be outvoted if any issue arises that is important to Bantry.

I do not wish to be parochial but I have read in a magazine about the British navy that Bantry Bay is the second finest in the world in terms of its depth and length and the shelter it offers. If the dredging was carried out, it would open up self-financing opportunities. We would not have to ask the Department to develop a marina or other possibilities around the inner harbour. There is great potential for marine leisure activities, including cruise liners visiting the bay. However, in the absence of dredging, not only is the current harbour an eyesore, it is also smelly and problematic for a town designated by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism as a tourism hub. The Department of Transport may be unsure about the benefits of dredging but if a commitment in this regard was made to the board in order to prevent any further leadránach submissions from me, there would be an appetite for considering amalgamation in the future.

Some people are unhappy because they were not appointed to the board for various reasons and, therefore, want it to be abolished. It has not been widely reported in the local media that we are being asked to hand over our guns and all our assets to Cork Harbour without a quid pro quo. It is as if we are being asked to get married before finding out if we are compatible. That cannot work. Apart from the snippets I have read from audited accounts, I should mention that within the assets base, the board of the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners purchased the railway pier, which was in the ownership of the town council. That was a very important asset in the development of the harbour.

Under old legislation going back to imperial times, the Bantry estate, Lord Bantry and the Whites owned the entire foreshore rights around Bantry Bay. Although it sticks in my craw, we had to buy it from them for approximately €200,000, but it is a valuable asset. A contract has been signed subject to some conditions but a fiftieth of what was bought for €200,000 is agreed to be sold to a private developer for perhaps €600,000 or €700,000. In other words there is potential if a small bit can be sold.

Where is the quid pro quo? If Cork takes it over, we would be handing over very valuable assets and track record without getting an obvious return from this legislation. Perhaps I am blind but I have studied the Bill closely and cannot see any return.

People sometimes rubbish harbour boards, local authorities and different organisation. I take the liberty to read into the record the note from the chairman of the board on the preparation of the accounts that go to the Department. It shows professionalism in how it carries out its duty. It meets at least once a month and sometimes more often and there are sub-committees. The note states:

I would like to welcome everyone to the AGM of the Bantry Harbour Board. While writing up this report today and reflecting on what has happened throughout the year, I note the experiences this year as chairman created many new challenges and experiences for me. Cargo figures are down due to market forces. However, reports on the terminal indicate they are optimistic about improvement in the next few years.

When driving back to Castletownbere last week, with a view of Bantry Bay, there were three substantial oil tankers waiting because of bad weather and heavy swells, as they could not tie up to the single point mooring buoy. They had to wait until the weather calmed. If those three substantial tankers went into Cork Harbour they would probably block it as there would not be facilities for them.

The chairman's address continues:

As you are aware this year the Harbours (Amendment) Bill has been published and is now on Committee Stage. All political, legal and financial avenues are being explored to retain our independent status. We have reiterated our preferred option of staying independent to the Minister for Transport and we met with the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, in the harbour office to discuss the situation. We have also met the political representatives in the area to support our case.

During the past year we had a further meeting with Port of Cork Company officials because a due diligence report could not be finalised until such a time as we can clarify the ownership of the properties we own.

That is nearly sorted out. The address continues:

We are now in a position to allow the due diligence process to be completed. Once we have this in place we should take the opportunity to discuss the matter of amalgamation further and we should also continue working on our case for strengthening corporatisation. The slipway at Whiddy is completed and working very satisfactorily.

I compliment the Minister of State, who officially opened the slipway. Although millions were spent on Whiddy Island, the access point for an ambulance or emergency vehicle at the terminal meant driving there was a bit like making a landing in the Second World War — one drove on to the gravel and sand and hoped for the best. There is now a decent slipway, which should probably have been there years ago. It is a positive development.

The letter from the chairman continues:

The foreshore licence details for the inner harbour development site are being advertised for public comment. This is the key to kick-start Bantry's marine and leisure developments that will boost the town's economic activity. The marine developed in the inner harbour will complement the commercial development, as the hotel and apartments on the old Murphy and O'Connor site will also greatly encourage development of the Harbour View road site.

The multi-purpose plan, which includes extension of the existing pier, should satisfy all present and should secure a sustainable future for everyone concerned. Working with the full support of Cork County Council and Bantry town council I am confident we will succeed with this plan.

I would like to thank Mr. Pat Keane for his very valued experience in advising us on a lot of very complex harbour board issues, with which he helped me over the last year. I would also like to acknowledge the services of Alec O'Donovan on the board and he is a very critical and valid part of the Bantry board's business activity. I thank Captain Farnin and Captain O'Regan for their ongoing support and services to the harbour board.

This part of the address indicates a very good relationship with the Port of Cork Company. The letter continues:

The sub-committee of the board play a fundamental part in the operation of the authority. I would like to thank the chairman of the audit committee, Letty Baker, and members Michael Hennebry and Eugene Cronin, for giving their time to the new and very important functions of complying with the code of practice of good governance in State bodies.

Environmental issues are also top of the agenda for any harbour board and the bay users' forum, with chairman Eugene Cronin, and members Kathleen Tessyman and David Shiels, dealing in an enabled manner with difficult concerns of the stakeholders in the bay over the past year.

I wish to thank Anna Goggin for her dedicated service and Paul O'Sullivan for secretarial work in dealing with the day-to-day duties in the harbour office. I would like to thank Michael Hennebry for his assistance as vice chairman and all the board members for their commitment and genuine interest in the board. I also thank the Department of the Communications, Energy and Natural Resource, engineers — in Clonakilty, Mr. John O'Keeffe and Cormac O'Donoghue in Tralee. They were extremely helpful throughout the year.

I finish by saying I enjoyed my time as chairman.

The address finishes by wishing the board well looking to the future and so on.

I read this to document the very professional manner in which the board is run, with the support and regular engagement with officials in the relevant Department. It is important to acknowledge that these people are very professional and efficient, with a track record to show this. They have learnt by their mistakes.

Cork has a large port company, which is an independent and professional corporate unit. It has very big plans. On why we should hand over to Cork, I refer to a couple of paragraphs from a recent report in a The Examiner dealing with the Cork side. The headline of the report is “Port firm cannot finance dock move” so they have their own problems. The article, written by Michelle McDonagh, is short and states:

The overall viability of the Port of Cork could be seriously hit if the company has to take on the cost of relocating its operations on the city quays to make way for the €1 billion redevelopment of the docklands. Under Cork City Council's plans for the development of the south dockland, the Port of Cork would have to relocate from the city quays and Ford's Wharf at a cost of approximately €58.3 million.

However, the port company has vowed to stay in the quays and resist any relocation attempt until the funding is put in place. This port has opposed an application by Cork City Council for a proposed new road network involving the construction of two bridges to facilitate dockland development. Ger Lyons of Deloitte & Touche told the oral hearing in Cork yesterday that he had undertaken a financial analysis of Port of Cork operations which would be affected by the construction of the eastern gateway bridge and the Water Street bridge. He explained, "It is estimated that relocating the operations currently undertaken at city quays and Ford's wharf will cost in the region of €58.27 million."

To quote from what he says: "where the capital cost is largely funded through debt, the financing will have a significant impact on the debt position of the Port of Cork and potentially the overall viability of the business".

Mr. Lyons also said that between 2004 and 2008, the city quays and Ford's Wharf had generated over €9.26 million in income and represented 40% of the total of the company's profits last year. He told the public hearing that as of 31 December 2008, the port had net assets of €113.1 million and that a sum of €58.27 million would represent approximately 51% of these assets. He stated that this would be a significant burden on the port's operations, balance sheet debt, financing and, therefore, company viability.

Cork harbour master, Captain Pat Farnan, said that while any bridge over the navigational channel would impose additional risks, these could generally be managed. However, two opening bridges in close proximity would inevitably increase the risk of incidents. He noted that the application before An Bord Pleanála made it clear that commercial activities at the city quays were now unlikely to be relocated downstream before both bridges were built. He said the council's environmental impact statement failed to take into account the consequence for road traffic of closing both bridges for up to 35 minutes for a single ship arriving and 70 minutes for multi-ship movements. Captain Farnan stated that the application on the part of the city council should, therefore, be rejected until such time as there is certainty surrounding the acquisition of the city quays and the relocation of commercial activities downstream, thereby avoiding the navigational and commercial risks inherent in attempting to conduct commercial activities at the city quays with two bridges in place. In his opening statement earlier this week, David Holland, SC, acting on behalf of the Port of Cork Company, informed the oral hearing that if the port did not relocate, the massive docklands project would not proceed and so the city council's application must be refused as premature.

The costs relating to the planned dredging of the inner harbour at Bantry and part of the development relating thereto currently stand at €12 million. Some €3 million of this was already in place when I lost my seat as a Deputy 18 months ago. The Port of Cork Company has major financial plans, which I laud and with which I wish it good luck, and has indicated the huge costs it would incur in moving downstream from Ford's Wharf. In my opinion, the company is never likely to entertain spending money in Bantry except for essential works. It would perceive many of the plans we have as being extraneous.

I wish to refer to two reports in order to offer arguments in support of my amendments. The first of these is the PricewaterhouseCoopers, PWC, report done for the port of Bantry in Cork, which was published in 2002, and the second relates to the economic case for the dredging of the inner harbour at Bantry Bay, which was compiled by Raymond Burke, consultant, and which was published in 2006.

Section 18 of the Bill sounds the death knell in respect of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and a number of critical issues of concern relating thereto. As already stated, there will be no quid pro quo and the legislation reads like the last will and testament of the Bantry Harbour board. The latter will be buried and the Port of Cork Company will be the main beneficiary. However, those who live in Bantry and the surrounding areas will not benefit.

I wish to refer to some parts of the executive summary of the PWC report in order that the Minister of State might know from where I am coming. This report was, I am quite certain, submitted to the Department in January 2002. The executive summary states that Bantry Port is divided into the principal areas of the outer harbour — comprising an oil terminal situated at Whiddy Island, and Leahill Quarry pier, a private quay located halfway between Castletownbere and Glengarriff on the northern shore of the bay — and Bantry Harbour, located in Bantry town and comprising Bantry pier, which is primarily used for fishing and supporting mariculture activities, and the railway pier, which is currently unused. These are the assets we will be handing over to the Port of Cork Company. In addition, we will also be obliged to cede control of the piers at Glengarriff, Adrigole, Trafrask, Gerahies, Gort na Cille, etc.

Some people forget that the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners have power over the entire bay from Sheep's Head to Dursey Head, with the exception of the Castletownbere inner harbour, which is controlled by the Castletownbere Harbour board — a separate entity that comes under the control of the Department. It is a substantial asset.

The PWC report states that a decision was made to corporatise Bantry Port so that in future it would operate under the aegis of the Harbours Act 1996. It indicates that this decision followed a formal submission made by the harbour commissioners in 2000 to the then Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, which demonstrated that corporatisation best served the interests of the port and the relevant bay users. The report further states that, in the context of the Harbours Act 1996, the commissioners defined the port company's primary objectives would, inter alia, include being a successful commercial port operator and performing to the highest standard of legal and regulatory compliance.

I referred earlier to consultation. I have engaged in a comprehensive study of the Bill before the House. If the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, or the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, undergo last-minute Pauline conversions and see the light, everything will be fine because section 18 will be deleted. If, however, the Bill is passed, the Minister of the day will have the power to amalgamate Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and the port with Cork. I understand that there is a second option under which the Minister will be empowered to transfer the operation of the port to the local authority. When there was a vote within the harbour board in 2001 or 2002, we unanimously opposed being swallowed up by Cork Port. An extremely heated debate took place on that occasion. I was one of three of the 11 people present who expressed interest in the local authority taking over Bantry Port. My reason for doing so was that the then manager had committed €1 million towards the development of the inner harbour if we chose to go down that road. However, local authorities no longer have any money and I do not believe this second option remains realistic.

The PWC report to which I have been referring is probably somewhat out of date. However, it states that activities at the port include the storage and transshipment of oil to the terminal at Whiddy Island, currently operated by Bantry Terminals Limited. In 2001, volumes of oil dealt with at the terminal amounted to 700,000 tonnes. Other activities include the export of quartzitic sandstone to European markets by Tarmac Fleming, which has a quarry at Leahill. Exports of such sandstone in 2001 amounted to 800,000 tonnes.

The PWC report also states that a fishing fleet of ten vessels operated out of Bantry Bay at the time of compilation. It indicates that these were primarily involved in fishing for shrimp, prawns, crabs, lobsters and so on and that they landed catches amounting to an estimated 1,000 tonnes per annum. The report also refers to groupings which operate extensive seafarms under the auspices of the Bantry Fish Farming Co-operative, the annual production relating to which historically amounted to 9,000 tonnes. It states that other activities in the harbour relate to visiting cruise liners and transit traffic to Castletownbere fisheries harbour. The report also indicates that direct bay user employment during the period in question amounted to approximately 180 and says that these activities resulted in substantial direct investment — estimated by the harbour commissioners at €69 million — in facilities by bay users. This is very significant because it indicates a thriving, active and financially successful harbour board. Does one really expect the Port of Cork Company, in its endeavours to build the largest container facility in Ireland — good luck to it because it is badly needed — is interested in catching shrimp, prawns, crabs and lobsters in Bantry Bay? There is fish farming of scallop off Whiddy Island. I mentioned recently that the largest abalone factory in the northern hemisphere takes water from Bantry Bay. The board of the Port of Cork Company would have no interest in those activities which would not be protected going forward.

The harbour commissioners have successfully developed and prioritised a movement control regime, pollution control regime and a water quality monitoring system which have successfully met the unique requirements of Bantry Port. They emphasise the importance of preserving and further developing the above. We have pride in our area. Before fish farmers can harvest mussels, the Marine Institute, marine scientists and laboratory technicians take samples of water from Bantry Bay. If the water does not comply with a very strict EU regime in regard to toxins and if the level is over a specific amount, the bay is closed. If this Bill is enacted, will the Port of Cork Company, which is located 60 miles away, keep Bantry Bay clean?

In the 1970s, a Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition set up the Bantry Harbour board. Peter Barry was the then Minister. The reason it was set up was that there were two major oil spills which, if they happened today, would feature on CNN and Sky. We had to deal with the Tribulous, a huge Shell tanker. Unfortunately, a diver was lost when he was sucked into a huge gaping hole in the ship. There was also the episode with the famous Kowloon Bridge. People in the Department forget about that and say it is history but it could happen again. The Kowloon Bridge, an iron ore carrier, was a floating disaster. Thankfully, it had left Bantry Bay but, in bad weather, all its sailors and officers were lifted to safety. The Cathaoirleach may say I am deviating but this is all about Bantry Bay and Bantry Port. The Kowloon Bridge sank off Baltimore at a place called the Stag’s Head and it is an eyesore for fishermen.

Bantry Bay and the west coast of Ireland was a graveyard for abandoned ships and we had to introduce legislation to try to control the situation. In the inner harbour in Castletownbere, just outside the Minister's jurisdiction, the Bardini Reefer was scuttled during the night. The owners got the money from the insurance company and abandoned it. The Government has been left with the mess. The wreck is still there and it is an absolute disgrace.

Perhaps the Minister of State's reply to the amendment may clarify some of the issues for the Senator. It may be favourably disposed towards the Senator's amendment.

I will refer to two more pages of this report and then I will hand over to the Minister of State. I will need a break because I am getting a bit tongue-tied. I appreciate the Cathaoirleach's efforts.

People wonder about the financial viability of any port. In 2002, the board engaged a very professional group, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to look at the financial viability of Bantry. Obviously, there was no point misleading us because most of these auditors and accountants come along and say something will not add up or stack up and that one can forget about it. It is important to note what it said back then. I know many of the parameters change but many of them still apply.

The report states that the harbour commissioners prepared financial projections for ten years ending in December 2011 and that the projections disclosed the port's capacity to generate operating profits and cashflows of €7 million and €8.8 million, respectively, from operations over the ten-year period. That was probably erring on the side of caution.

The report states that the projected revenues are highly dependent on the continued existence of the Bantry terminal, the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, and continued investment by the new terminal operator, Tosco, which is now Conoco Phillips. It also states that the commissioners understand, based on discussions with the company which owned the facility, Tosco, that the latter has ambitious plans for the Whiddy terminal and is committed to a high level of further investment. It states that in preparing the revenue projections, the commissioners have taken a more conservative view than the discussions with Tosco might indicate in terms of potential revenues.

The report states that based on the assumptions formulated by the commissioners, the projections disclose the port's capacity over the period covered to undertake future infrastructural developments, and finance these developments through State funding, bank borrowings and international cashflow resources. It states that servicing bank borrowings used to finance development expenditure in this respect and projected bank interest and term loan repayments amount to €4.1 million in the ten years ending 31 December 2011.

It is important to state that we looked closely at the possibility of borrowing money from the banks. I do not know whether that is viable at this juncture. I hope the current strictures imposed by banks on personal and commercial borrowing will be lifted over the next couple of years because if they are not, we will be in a mess.

The report states that the projections also disclose a requirement for an immediate cash injection of €6.3 million to finance the port's planned capital expenditure programme in regard to its new pier project. It states the harbour commissioners have included other capital and development expenditure of €5 million in the projections which have not been specifically identified and that this relates to social development expenditure of €1.2 million for amenities and facilities adjacent to the port and other commercial deep water development projects of €3.8 million. It states that these projects are to be financed through a combination of internal resources, 67%, and bank borrowings, 33%.

The Minister of State and others alluded to the fact that approximately four or five reports have been initiated by the Department. It is also important to note that the Bantry Port company, which is to be dissolved, also carried out two excellent reports on its future viability. If there is an issue with some of these, we should be informed.

To continue on port development, the report states:

The primary objectives of the Port's capital expenditure programme are to sustain and develop the Port's existing activities, increase safety and are entirely consistent with the Bantry Harbour Draft Development Plan and the West Cork Development Plan. In this respect, The Harbour Commissioners have prioritised the development of a New Pier Project comprising of Pier, Slipways, road access and parking facilities, at a cost of EUR 6.3 million. The design and tender process has been completed in respect of the project. The Pier development will address concerns[.]

Unfortunately, that project was subsequently abandoned, even though €1.9 million had been provided for it by the then Minister, Deputy Frank Fahey.

The report further states:

Furthermore, the reactivation of the oil terminal and facilities at Whiddy Island in recent years imposed greater responsibility on the Harbour Authority for safety standards, environmental and water quality protection. These responsibilities——

I call a quorum.

Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

Senator O'Donovan to continue.

To resume on my amendments to section 18, especially concerning Bantry, I will continue with the quotation from the report. It states:

These responsibilities require that the Port should have facilities of appropriate standard. Moreover, the terminal operators have a requirement for the loading and unloading of larger vessels of 320,000 DWT resulting in the most economic and full commercial operation of the Whiddy facility. The Harbour Commissioners acknowledge that it is appropriate to review the existing limit of 150,000 DWT. However, the Harbour Commissioners recognise that these facilities will only be granted to the customer without any relaxation of safety and water quality standards.

Again, this is to indicate the professionalism of the harbour board in the way it goes about doing its work. That is important because it goes back to the core issue of Government funding and commitments. I mentioned a reply to the then Deputy Joe Walsh in 1986 about a figure of £1.5 million — a great deal of money at the time — to be spent in Bantry. I believe a few bob was spent on a golf course in Castletownbere and another in Bandon but the issue about which I am talking, namely, the extension of the pier and the dredging of the inner harbour which has been demanded for 40 years has not been dealt with and will never be if the Bill is passed. When I am in Heaven in 20 years' time, if I can find a pair of wings to fit me, I will be quoted as saying, "This will never happen."

They will have no problem.

The Senator will have to let us know the combination to get in.

They might call it the Denis O'Donovan——

To deal with the issue of Government funding, the PricewaterhouseCoopers report states:

The projections disclose a capacity to generate profits and cashflows over the ten years ended 31 December 2011 under review but also a requirement for an up front capital injection to finance the Port's proposed capital expenditure programme of EUR 6.3 million in relation to the New Pier Project.

It goes on to state: "The Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources has already approved EUR 1.9 million for this project in 2000". The date in question was 14 June 2000, but not one cent of that money was spent.

We had promises of financial support in the 1980s with the Bantry package. The then Minister, former Deputy Dick Spring, arrived by helicopter — a novelty at the time; everyone has a helicopter now — with a full bevy of supporters at the Westlodge Hotel and announced a package of £5 million or £6 million for the west Cork area. We mentioned the 30th anniversary of the Whiddy Island disaster but of that £5 million, not one penny was spent in the inner harbour. Various commitments were given and——

There were two Government Deputies in west Cork at the time.

That is correct. There was no Labour Party Senator.

Not at the time in 1986 when the commitment to provide £5 million or £6 million was made. The report further states:

The Commissioners aspire that the remaining state funding of EUR 2.8 million would be funded through a combination of allocations from the National Development Plan, Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and The Islands and further allocations from the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources. Applications have been made to the relevant governmental bodies for this funding.

My memory may be diminishing but at times it is like that of an elephant. I recall that the then Minister with responsibility for this area, Deputy Mary Coughlan, visited and a clear commitment was given because Bantry pier was also serving islanders, of whom there are only a few remaining. It was facilitating an island community and, therefore, funding in the region of €500,000 to €750,000 was to be provided through the islands grants scheme to support the proposal in respect of the provision of cross-departmental funding which was considered to be an option at the time.

There is a paragraph in the report on the state of readiness for corporatisation. Is this no longer an option? Two board members told me after Christmas that they still harboured the notion that it was an option. However, I have some reservations that it will be a success but it is important to mention paragraph 1.7 of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report which reads:

The Harbour Commissioners continue to finalise preparation for corporatisation. In this context, they have retained an assistant Harbourmaster on contract and have also retained the services of Port of Cork to provide technical and operational support to the Port of Bantry, as required. Arrangements are currently being finalised as regards administration, secretarial and accounting resources and procedures. The Commissioners have also retained the services of a firm of solicitors to deal with the legal aspects of the corporatisation process.

The Harbour Commissioners have entered into discussions with Cork County Council with a view to acquiring certain assets on corporatisation date.

The relevant assets proposed by the harbour commissioners to be acquired are then listed. They include Bantry railway pier, which the harbour commissioners now own, Bantry town pier, the Abbey slipway, the land bank on the hinterland of a proposed new pier and the inner harbour docks. The report continues:

At this juncture the Commissioners and Cork County Council have agreed in principle the inventory of property to be transferred. The matter is conditional on confirmation of title to the related properties by Cork County Council and agreement of the transfer by the Department of Marine and Natural Resources and the Department of the Environment. However, it is assumed that, in order for business to proceed, the company would continue to have access to these assets absent completion of the asset transfer process prior to corporatisation date.

Corporatisation was prevented because in late April or early May 2002, prior to the general election, a document from the financial controller of the board was not submitted to the Department before the Government fell. The process was as close to completion as a scrum when the Munster rugby team and its opposition crouch down before engaging. It is regrettable that the plan for corporatisation was abandoned.

It is important to examine the areas of which Bantry will lose control if the Bill is enacted. We will lose the outer harbour which includes Whiddy Island, the site of the national oil reserves in the event of a war or catastrophe. I am informed that some of our national oil reserve is held in Norway. I do not know how we would transport this part of it in the event of a war. We would also lose the Leahill pier structure, a 60 m jetty used for loading aggregates on the north side of Bantry Bay. This berth can accommodate vessels of up to 40,000 tonnes GWT. Further investment has increased this capacity to 75,000 tonnes GWT. If such a facility were to be constructed today, it would cost at least €10 million.

We are told Cork Harbour board will look after these assets but there has not been an iota of consultation. I would love to ask the members of the board to tell me where Gortnakilla or Gerahies pier or Leahill Quarry and pier are located. They would not have a clue. As I indicated, we are dealing with the blind and will have to hope for miracles if the Bill is passed.

Bantry town has a 120 m pier owned by Cork County Council which is not a player in this process. Control of the railway pier and south western pier, two significant fish farming facilities and a floating dock in Glengarriff which is suitable for passenger embarkation and disembarkation would transfer to the Cork Harbour board on the demise of the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. Other assets to be transferred include the outer harbour, the Whiddy Island single point mooring buoy for the export of crude oil and import and export of other oil related products, a 90 m jetty on Whiddy Island which is in a state of disrepair, the Whiddy Island bank pier, Leahill pier, the 40 m Glengarriff floating dock and Bantry town pier.

Aquaculture and fishing facilities in Bantry will be affected by the proposed change. A fishing fleet of ten vessels operates from Bantry Bay and catches shrimp, prawns, crab and lobsters. The vessels are mainly in the 30 ft. to 35 ft. category but include two deep sea fishing vessels. The landed volumes amount to approximately 1,000 tonnes per annum. The Bantry Bay Fish Farming Co-operative represents ten companies and generates considerable revenue. The shellfish are processed onshore and the processing factories generate substantial revenue. The aquaculture industry is zealous about guarding what it holds. Representative organisations were not consulted on this issue. In 2002, trade in Bantry Bay amounted to 100,000 tonnes. Including quarry products and oil, the volume of imports and exports in the area is approaching 2 million tonnes.

I am concerned about the future of marine tourism should this Bill be passed. Income from this sector in Bantry is critical. Even in 2002, the harbour commissioners recognised the significant potential for the development of marine tourism and leisure activities to exploit the natural amenities of the bay area. According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, the successful development of such activities would require investment in the port infrastructure facilities. This raises again the issue of dredging and the extension of the pier. According to the report, the commissioners were mindful of the need to encourage and develop these activities through a combination of private development and public-private partnership. However, this objective was regarded as a long-term goal to be fulfilled once the port's primary objectives had been achieved. The harbour commissioners included capital expenditure of €1.2 million in their business plan for this purpose.

I will skip through some of the details as I do not wish to repeat myself.

While I appreciate that, the Senator should bear in mind that this is a Committee Stage debate.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts I was unable to attend the Second Stage debate. Most of my amendments are, however, rolled in together which is an advantage. I have the right, if I were so inclined, to insist on each of my amendments being taken separately. In that case, it would probably take us until the summer recess to complete Committee Stage. I am trying to be kind to the Minister of State.

It is important to remember the salient point the PricewaterhouseCoopers Report came up with and presented to us after several months. The reports says that the port's capacity to generate profits from operations in contexts formulated by the harbour commission, particularly profits before tax in the period under review is projected at €7 million.

It is also stated that net operating capacity over the ten-year period is approximately €8.8 million. The projections disclose the port's requirement for an up-front injection of capital to finance the port's proposed capital expenditure programme for the new pier project. This refers to a new pier, but the basic issue is that those using the existing pier this morning when there is a spring tide with low water — which includes people, ferries and mussel and fishing boats coming from Whiddy Island — had to decide to go out at 5 a.m. to avoid the low tide. In this day and age it is not sustainable and I see no guarantees or commitments or any light at the end of the tunnel.

The report also states that strong revenue growth in the pier is primarily driven by assumed growth in transshipments firms in Bantry terminal. Transshipment volumes are projected to increase, and have done so. The commissioners are confident these volumes will be realised in the context of existing national policy on such reserves and business development that occurred, and is likely to occur, with respect to the development of third party markets. The acquisition of the facility at Whiddy Island by Tosco Corporation, now owned by ConocoPhillips, and the related plans for the development of a facility on the peninsula, assumes growth in volumes.

The report further states that capital expenditure of €11.3 million is included in the projections for the ten-year period and is comprised of expenditure on a new pier and ancillary facilities, social development, development of the port's commercial viability and deep water facilities. These projects have been included in projections in 2007-2008 to address bay use commercial development requirements.

It also says that no commitments have been made in respect of this project, and therefore there is an element of flexibility available to support this project. The provision assumes that expenditure programmes will be financed by a new pier, social development, commercial development and so on.

I want to mention two financial projections.

Senator McCarthy wishes to speak.

He is welcome to do so. I am nearly halfway through this report.

I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his indulgence, understanding and timely intervention. These amendments would have been grouped at an earlier juncture, perhaps in late November, in discussing the Committee Stage of this Bill.

It is probably impossible to make points that have not already been made. I return to the issue of Bantry. Amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 13 to 17, inclusive, are in my name and those of my party colleagues. I will vote against this Bill and ask Government Members on the other side of the House who feel as strongly as I do and share my concerns on dismantling local government to do the same. I return to the point because it refers a piece in the Section which will abolish Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and put them into Cork Port. The reality is that Bantry will not get the priority it now enjoys due to the autonomy it currently enjoys. There is no financial case to be made for abolishing Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners because it has returned profits, albeit small, in recent years.

This Bill aims to abolish Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and that is something to which we are opposed. It is an issue which is very important to local people. It is also very important for the marine life in west Cork and the coastal community. It is a disgrace that the Minister in charge of this Bill has not come into this House. With all due respect to Deputy Ahern, he is not the Minister who gave a commitment to the people of Bantry last year that they would be consulted on any proposals to transfer authority from Bantry Port to Cork Port.

The Bill will have the effect of divorcing local knowledge currently enjoyed by Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners if it is transferred to Cork. If the documentation and correspondence sent to the Department was read and considered by officials and the Minister, Deputy Ahern would be aware of that today. It goes back to consultation.

It is a disgrace that a commitment is given by a senior Minister to a group of people — I have correspondence and proof of such in writing — and he could not be bothered to honour the commitment given. I have heard enough nonsense from various Ministers about this Bill.

To abolish Bantry harbour commission and transfer it to Cork Port is not good enough. People will not stand for it, there is no economic necessity for it and no political will for it locally. I urge Members on both sides of the House to speak with their feet when votes are called on this Bill. I will begin to call them and will continue to call quorums so I can have a constructive debate with the Minister on this matter.

I urge Members to follow us into the lobbies to ensure we do not turn our backs and betray the people of Bantry, who enjoy autonomy and should be able to run their own affairs without interference from Government or Cork Port.

No one has broken promises given. There is a process which is ongoing and has taken a long time. People were to meet others after the report on due diligence was completed, a report which has taken three years to compile and is not yet complete.

There is a process and picking one bit here or there and saying that commitments were not kept is not correct.

It is correct. I have written evidence to back up what I have just stated. The Minister said he would meet the people of Bantry and he has not.

It will happen after the due diligence report is completed. It is a process. It is wrong——

It is not wrong. It is correct and accurate.

——to look at something which has a very long history and pick out something from one page and say, "It has not been done", when one does not look at the context of what happened.

It was a letter with two paragraphs, which said, "I will meet you." It has not happened.

The effect of these amendments would be to remove Bantry Bay from the section and to remove Tralee and Fenit Harbour. That is the gist of the amendments grouped together and it is not proposed to accept them.

As has been said before on Second Stage and on other amendments, this is an enabling power which has been put into the Bill, which happens to come along at this stage, following the ports policy document of a couple of years ago. The proposal is that Bantry could be transferred to Cork Port——

It will be transferred.

——and that Tralee and Fenit could be transferred to Shannon-Foynes.

If the Bill were passed, it would then leave a situation where the current options could be expanded. It would leave a situation whereby three options could be considered for Bantry, Tralee and Fenit. The first option, which is there already, would be the establishment of a private company for the harbour. Option two could transfer control to the relevant port company. Another option is to transfer control to the relevant local authority.

Two of those options are currently available. It has not yet happened regarding Bantry or Fenit, but either of the two options could have been put in place on any day over the past ten or 20 years while this history and discussion is ongoing. However, it has emerged from the reports on these two ports, Bantry and Fenit, which are probably the bigger ones of the small category, that because they have some commercial traffic they might be best suited to come under the control of an existing port. The ports policy statement indicated that the continued operation of the regional harbours under the rather outdated provisions of the 1946 Act was unsustainable on the grounds of good governance. That statement recommended the transfer of these harbours to local authority control or that, in cases where significant commercial traffic existed, consideration should be given to putting them under the relevant port control company. Some of the smaller ones have already been transferred to local authority control. I accept, however, that the ones we are talking about are in an in-between category.

Bantry was being considered at one stage for corporatisation but people felt there was not enough commercial traffic. I heard Senator O'Donovan say that it nearly happened. However, that is not the solution to all the world's problems because there are many legal and financial responsibilities. Smaller ports are very much on their own and cannot expect to become commercial entities in themselves. They will live or die by those rules. Some of the smaller ports have been transferred to local authority control. There is also the third option that has not been taken up yet. The transfer of harbours to relevant port company control would facilitate their future development by providing access to the best regional port management expertise and marketing skills in order to further their commercial potential.

The high level review of the State's commercial sea ports, undertaken six years ago, recommended the amalgamation of Bantry Bay with the Port of Cork Company. Those recommendations fed into the ports policy statement, which has been worked on for the last couple of years. That in turn led to this legislation. There was, or should have been, plenty of discussion at the time when the ports policy was published in 2005. That consultation process has continued in respect of these harbours. The due diligence process, which has been conducted for a couple of years, is nearing completion. Part of the delay there was the purchase of foreshore by the harbour authority in Bantry.

Senator Walsh, who spoke earlier, has background knowledge of the matter. There is nothing wrong with anyone on the Government side tabling amendments to legislation. I have done so myself at times but it depends on how far one goes with it.

One would not get away with it in Zimbabwe.

Depending on their background and experience, many commissioners in a big port or a small harbour probably have a view on how these things should be done. Senator Walsh referred to New Ross and said he was consulted by the consultants to whom he gave his view. Everyone put their pennyworth into the pot. Reports were issued and policy was endorsed by the Government. That is the way it is now. This legislation is to give effect to whatever the Government decided a couple of years ago on foot of the ports policy document. While we all had views on matters in the past, and can still have our views, life has moved on and that is where we are now. It is not as if the existing set-up has served Bantry all that wonderfully. The harbour commissioners are beavering away down there but, as Senator O'Donovan outlined, many things have not happened over the years. To some extent I can understand his fears that if Bantry Harbour is linked with a bigger body it might become stifled, or the commissioners' wishes and dreams might not be fulfilled.

It is like the smoke in a beehive.

Once this legislation goes through it gives three options. Nobody is going to come along willy-nilly on the first day and sign off on something. There will have to be discussions but they cannot go on for another ten years.

There will be public consultation, of course.

We are having that, yes, but if the harbour commissioners are amalgamated with the Port of Cork there will have to be detailed discussions about how the set-up would be run or managed in future. That could be a big opportunity to make progress, obtain guarantees and get it into the work programme of Cork port that all these things should happen. One can look on everything as either a danger or an opportunity.

It is an opportunity to abolish Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners.

Is that what it is all about?

Is it to have the commissioners or to do the business and get things done, including dredging and pier maintenance?

It is doing fine. It is capable of doing it.

There are different ways of getting things done. Some of the smaller harbour commissioners have been amalgamated, including Sligo which has been transferred to the local authority. I understand there is a good vehicle and people who were previously on the harbour commissioners are still very much part of it and are making an input. While the harbour commissioners may be gone in a legal format, the people who were there are still very much involved, whether or not that is a fair comparison. Currently there are two options. The harbour commissioners could be transferred to the local authority or could become a private company. This legislation simply gives another option, which has been recommended by some of the expert groups. If one wants to live in absolute isolation the option of being a private company has always been there. Maybe the Senators should look at that but such a port is a private company and does not get grants from the Government or anyone else. None of these things is a perfect answer. I am not sure if anybody has, to date, become a private port. Rosslare is slightly different as it is owned by CIE under very old legislation and therefore it may not be a fair comparison.

Those are the other options. Once the legislation goes through, Bantry or Fenit will not be transferred overnight. It is enabling legislation giving another option as to what could happen in future. There will obviously be detailed discussions on how it will be run in future. The people in Bantry should formulate their thinking and plans, and be hard at the bargaining table about making an impact and input so that the good of the region will not be totally forgotten about if and when it comes under the Port of Cork.

My colleagues have made their points eloquently and forcefully and I support both of them.

I am back to the grindstone. I wish I had the same faith in the issue. It is important to refer to a report commissioned by the Bantry Harbour board from Raymond Burke, a consultant with departmental expertise who is acknowledged as a leading light. The report was published on 16 October 2006. He examined the current set up in Bantry Harbour, the socio-economic profile of the area, tourism, aquaculture, local festivals, Bantry Bay Sailing Partnership, Bantry Inshore search and rescue vessel, Whiddy Island, proposed engineering works, contamination treatment removal and the pier extension. He referred to the economic and socio-economic impacts, enabling works, tourism, deepening of the proposed marina, marine leisure, other opportunities, future commercial development and so on.

The executive summary supports the case for my amendment and it might tempt the Minister of State to give a commitment, like he gave to Senator Donohoe earlier, to amend section 18 slightly to remove references to Bantry Bay, Bantry Bay Harbour board or Bantry Bay commissioners before the Bill is finalised. I will support it then. The summary states:

It has long been recognised that the failure to dredge the inner harbour at Bantry has affected the economic and tourism growth of Bantry in particular, and West Cork in general...The partnership of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, Cork County Council and Bantry Town Council is anxious that the necessary dredging works are addressed with delay.

For the first time the town and county councils and the harbour commissioner are ad idem singing off the same hymn sheet, which is important. There were many conflicts of interest 20 or 30 years ago.

RPS Consulting Engineers have indicated that the likely cost of the Enabling Works would be of the order of €8 million, excluding VAT. Being beyond the means of the harbour commissioners, they have sought financial support from the Government.

They, in turn, requested the commissioners to prepare a report on the economic and socioeconomic impact of the proposed works to support their application. Raymond Burke Consulting has prepared this impact study.

Bantry Bay is an area of immense beauty and unfulfilled tourism potential. The Bay itself is one of the deepest in Europe though the Inner harbour suffers from significant pollution and can be visually unattractive. There is frequently congestion on the pier giving rise to health and safety issues, and the sediment contains large amounts of contaminants that need to be treated before it can be used. [The failure to dredge in the past also gives rise to an offensive and pungent smell that permeates the lower end of the town and enters houses and hotels there. Many a visitor has complained about the smell.] With a floating pontoon, passengers from cruise vessels can now disembark at Bantry. Cruise passengers and crew are high spending visitors and taking into account the expenditure multiplied by 1.43, the passenger and crew daily spend in the order of €450 ...

The constraints on depth have also meant Bantry Rowing Club were denied holding the All-Ireland Championship in 2007 because the Rowing Federation felt facilities were too inadequate in Bantry. Rivercruise Ireland have indicated they would be interested in basing one of their pleasure cruise boats in Bantry during the tourist season.

This was because of the demand for sail trips on the sea but it could not be done as they cannot safely dock in the port. They have mentioned that the pier is so unsightly and unsafe that even in high water it really is not a suitable pick up and drop off point for their customers.

Rowing and boating are hugely important to the area. A close friend of the Minister rowed for Bantry and she is a current member of the board. Bantry senior men's rowing club, of which my son is a member, won four all-Ireland championships in a row. It was an absolute shame and embarrassment that when the 2007 all-Ireland rowing championships were mooted for Bantry, it was turned down because of health and safety issues on the pier and a lack of facilities.

Ireland has won the Atlantic Challenge competition four times. It was held in Finland in 2008 and next year it will be held in Canada, while in 2012 Ireland has successfully lobbied to hold it. It is a multidisciplinary event covering sailing, navigation, knots and so on. The Atlantic Challenge organisers such as Dr. Matt Murphy, who is internationally known, and others are worried that we may lose this. It is a week long event and teams from Finland, Italy, France, Belgium, Denmark, the UK, the US, Canada and Indonesia will compete. The competitors are usually aged between 16 and 26 and youth is promoted. Cork County Council, the town council and the harbour commissioners hope the inner harbour and bay will be prepared and facilities will be provided for this most significant and magnificent event, which will attract 3,000 people. The event could be held in many other harbours but the Bantry Atlantic Challenge team has represented Ireland for more than 20 years. Raymond Burke stated an all-Ireland rowing championship cannot be held in Bantry when all that is involved is the placement of a number of buoys. This is a damning indictment. If the Bill is passed, Cork commercial port will not have an interest in sideline activities such as marine tourism, rowing and so on, which normally take place in any inner harbour.

The Minister of State said consultation was ongoing and he exchanged words with Senator McCarthy about commitments, letters and so on. Many commitments have been made over the years to promote Bantry, extend the pier and undertake dredging and we are blue in the face from reports and so on. I ask the Minister of State to give us the money to do what we have to and allow due diligence to be completed.

I refer to the lack of respect for Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and the people of the area. It was obviously a lack of respect for Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and the people of the area that while the due diligence was being prepared and proposed negotiations and consultation between Cork Port and Bantry were ongoing, this legislation was hoisted on top of us. It is unfair, regrettable and unwise. The summary of the report states:

Aquaculture and fishing are important local industries. The availability of the full pier at all times would enhance their socio-economic value. Bantry Bay Sea Foods Ltd is a major local employer that processes all local mussel catch and is in a position to process further local catch if it were available. At €800 a tonne, this would have a major impact on that sector of local industry.

We envisage that arising from the Works the prospects for both general and marine leisure tourism are immense; the proposed 188 berth marina and other opportunities including sea angling, sea adventure activities, and boat and yacht chartering will become major attractions both for the people of Bantry and tourists, and will encourage them to stay, enjoy and make use of the facilities offered. Research carried out by the Irish Marine Federation has found that visiting boats remain on average three nights at each location with an average daily spend of €150 excluding berthing charges of between €20 and €30 per day. This may well be a conservative spend as the British Marine Federation estimates that visiting boats to UK marinas contribute on average £150 (€227) each per night to the local economy.

It is estimated that for every Euro spent by an out-of-state tourist, 52 cent eventually ends up with the government through VAT, excise duty, PAYE etc. Also, every one million Euro of tourism revenue supports some 17.4 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs. The construction sector is also a major contributor to the Exchequer returning 30 per cent of the capital cost through taxes. It is estimated that each million Euro construction spend supports ten man-years of labour.

I will reflect briefly on those paragraphs. As a nation that prides itself on its tourism, regrettably we are in the penny halfpenny place worldwide as regards marine tourism when it comes to marinas and other yachting leisure facilities. Unfortunately, when the economy was buoyant and the Celtic tiger was roaring — he is under anaesthetic at the moment; I hope he does not die — we forgot to take advantage of developing such areas in a way that Australia, New Zealand, France and the UK did. As an island nation we should take advantage of our sailing. Our facilities, especially on the south-west coast, are appalling.

I do not want to deviate from this but it is still a point about the economy and the socioeconomics of Bantry Harbour. The people who built the new hotel in Bantry close to the quays put out a feeler and discovered there would be no problem to sell between 80 and 100 berths. They would be commercially viable and those docking there would need to pay berthage and so on. If there were 150 ocean-going yachts berthing in Bantry week in and week out, one can imagine the value to the economy. When one considers places such as Schull and Baltimore, those are Mickey Mouse places. There is no proper marina along the coast. There are small ones in Kinsale and Dingle. Many of the people I know point to the fact that Bantry Bay is a very safe harbour. However, none of that can happen because we have no extension to the pier and no dredging.

I would rest on this issue on the next occasion, when we come to Report and Final Stages, which the Leader suggested might be next term, if as a quid pro quo for handing over all the assets worth many millions of euro to Cork Port, the Minister of State were to agree to guarantee the dredging and the pier extension. Some €2 trillion or €3 trillion would not buy Bantry Bay on world markets if we were truly to value it. We are being asked to hand over the control of that to Cork Port. That is not to mention other assets such as the pier, foreshore rights, slipways and all the other facilities. I do not know if Cork Port is even interested in marine tourism or rowing or the Atlantic Challenge International Contest of Seamanship to be held in 2012. It is sad. That could all be dealt with if we had proper consultation. We should accentuate the positive.

The report also states:

Overall, based on our general calculations, the potential broad direct and indirect economic benefit to Bantry consequent on the Enabling Works over five years is some €40 million [estimated by the consultant, Mr. Ray Burke, in 2006] with a return to the Exchequer of a minimum of €13 million [that amount would cover the cost of all the dredging]. Additional employment is estimated at 264 Full-Time Equivalent (person-year) positions [which would be of great benefit to the Bantry region]. For the purposes of this exercise, no account has been taken of the economic impact anticipated from the various major construction developments proposed for the north side, adjacent to the Inner Harbour and lose to the Town Centre.

This is an initiative proposed in partnership with Cork County Council and Bantry Town Council. It complies with the principles enunciated in the County Council's North and West Cork Strategic Plan 2002 to 2020 that underlines the importance of integrated and synergistic development. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is already committed to funding the Bantry Sewerage Scheme and the Bantry Water Supply Scheme at a combined cost of over €21 million and the Council is committed to their implementation. A failure to develop the Harbour would mean that the full benefits of the proposed Schemes would not be achieved.

We have talked about Europe. Bantry town has a population of approximately 5,000 people. After many years of lobbying, thankfully the water treatment plant is almost complete. We have had raw sewage pumping into the inner harbour over the years. While it was probably acceptable in Dickensian times, it was an appalling blight and it was unfair to expect children to bathe on the local beaches. I will not go into it. That is another arm of the Government for which the Department of Transport does not need to answer.

The report also states:

In summary, the case for development is clear; there are significant economic, socio-economic and community benefits to be achieved. The partnership of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, Cork County Council and Bantry Town Council is committed to the development of the Bay and is anxious to proceed without delay. This is the one project that is beyond the ability of the local population to carry out without outside financial support. Delivery of Government aid to surmount this major obstacle is essential.

A partnership between the town council, county council and the harbour board has been set up in recent years. It is chaired by Theresa White, the assistant county manager for west County Cork. It is unacceptable that such an august, forceful and united body has not been consulted on this issue. If that group along with representatives of Cork Port and departmental officials were to meet, I would not be here debating the matter. It is not impossible. The people of Bantry are very reasonable. If this were happening in other areas there would be street marches. I have tried to persuade the board, the town council and the public that we might be able to talk our way through this. However, if and when the Bill is enacted later this year, the demoralising effect it will have on the greater area will be a major blow. The political fallout is difficult to perceive. Senator McCarthy has been balanced. As of now he has not flown a kite for political gain although he may do so at his discretion. We have been very fair and patient.

Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,

I always resented people calling quora. I thought people who did so were a nuisance but this quorum gave me the opportunity to get a small breath of fresh air and allow the poor bee who was smoke-filled to get a breath again.

Returning to the demise and the bequest of Bantry Harbour, Bantry Port and Bantry Bay to Cork, I quote from the report of Mr. Raymond Burke. It is imperative that I quote facts from his overview:

It has long been recognised that the failure to dredge the inner harbour at Bantry Bay has affected the economic and tourism growth of Bantry in particular, and West Cork in general. The need for the works must also be seen within the context of

the Cork County Council North and West Cork Strategic Plan which has integrated development as a theme,

a study under the Marine Leisure Infrastructure Strategy being conducted by the Western Division of Cork County Council into the marine leisure infrastructure in West Cork

the fact that West Cork is a Clár area reflecting the economic weakness of the region

the local population solely from their own resources have carried out all town renovations; ninety eight per cent of houses and commercial premises have been renovated

The partnership of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, Cork County Council and Bantry Town Council is anxious that the necessary dredging works are addressed with delay.

To progress the matter, RPS Consulting Engineers were commissioned to develop outline costs for the proposed engineering works. RPS indicated that the likely cost of the Enabling Works, Phase 1 of the required developments, would be of the order of €8 million excluding VAT. Being beyond the means of the Harbour Commissioners, they sought financial support from the Government.

Thankfully, €3 million was committed just before the previous general election. The then Minister for Finance, now the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, ring-fenced that funding to commence the dredging. Certain tests are progressing in that regard. This is a positive development but fear remains in this contracting economic climate. I refer again to the report:

While recognising the importance and value of the proposal, the Commissioners were requested to prepare a report on the economic and socio-economic impact of the proposed works to support their application. As a consequence, Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners requested Raymond Burke Consulting to prepare this Impact Study. This document sets out the broad range of impacts that are likely to arise from the dredging works.

Bantry Bay is an area of immense beauty and unfulfilled tourism potential. The Bay itself is one of the deepest in Europe though the inner harbour suffers from significant pollution and can be visually unattractive. There is frequently congestion on the pier giving rise to health and safety issues, and the sediment contains large amounts of contaminants that need to be treated before it can be reused.

To address some of these matters, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government proposes to spend in excess of €14 million on the Bantry sewerage scheme and the water supply scheme.

I refer to the report again:

The Council is also in the process of the roll-out of broadband to the area that should facilitate a growth in the service sector in the region. However, for a time, Bantry was a fairly successful market town attracting people from surrounding towns and villages to its diverse shopping area. But the considerable business investments in Skibbereen which developed large central parking facilities for local stores and brought stores such as Lidl, a very large Drinagh Co-op and will see Tesco arrive in early 2007, have pretty much flattened out any room for immediate business growth in Bantry. Many businesses in Bantry can report a downturn of up to 50% in some cases in the last two years.

Secondly, even though it is a much better and safer road, the Cork to Bantry Road was recently designated a secondary route and the Cork to Skibbereen Road designated a primary route thus further relegating Bantry to an off-route destination.

The paragraph on the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners is interesting. It states:

Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners is one of the principal and most progressive regional ports operating under the 1946 Harbours Act. Cork County Council own the Bantry Bay Pier but the Commissioners own the Railway Pier and have jurisdiction over the water. The Harbour Commissioners employ two full-time staff: an Assistant Harbour Master (Captain Alec O'Donovan) and a Secretary (Ms Paula O'Sullivan). In 2001, Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners made an arrangement with the Port of Cork Company to supply a Harbour Master service on a contract basis. This service is provided in the person of Captain Pat Farnan who acts for Bantry Harbour Board as Harbour Master entirely separate to his duties for Cork Port.

A broad range of activities take place in Bantry Bay including the holding of the strategic oil reserve by the National Oil Reserve Authority, the oil storage and trans-shipment terminal on Whiddy Island operated by ConocoPhillips Bantry Bay Terminals Ltd, and the export of aggregates to the European market by the Tarmac Fleming Quarry from Leahill Pier, a private quay located at the northside of the Bay. In addition, there is an important aquaculture sector involved in growing mussels as well as a small fishing fleet involved in catching prawn, crab, lobsters and shrimp operating from Bantry Bay. Cruise vessels anchoring at Glengarriff also come under the jurisdiction of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners.

In order to state the case for continuing Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners as a separate entity, it is necessary to study the cargo and tonnage which pass through the port. Cargo throughput and cruise details since 2003 are as follows: liquid bulk, 376 tonnes which in 2004 increased to 535 tonnes and in 2005 to 825 tonnes. At the time the report was published in 2006, it stood at 781 tonnes. Dry bulk stood at 453 tonnes in 2003, 123 tonnes in 2004, 316 tonnes in 2005 and 210 tonnes in 2006. Total tonnage, at its peak in 2005, was 1,141 tonnes. It is mainly vessels dealing with oil transportation to and from the jetty, with the vessels arriving at Lea Hill pier from the stone quarry, which use the port. The numbers range from 69 vessels in 2003 to 34 in 2006, which shows the level of fluctuation. Many do not realise that cruise vessels call to Bantry Harbour. There was a total of six in 2003 and seven in 2005. Crew and passengers numbers were substantial, which means a lot of visitors came to the area. In 2003, the crew on one vessel totalled 435. The report includes other tables which are probably of no great relevance but they show the volume of cruise liner traffic to Glengarriff.

I refer to page 3, paragraph 1:3 of the report which reads:

The key findings of this impact study were as follows:

All those spoken to support and encourage the development of the Inner Harbour

The failure to address its unappealing appearance, repelling smell, lack of water depth, contaminated spoil and unavailability of the full pier is a constraint on local development

The Pier plays an important safety and commercial role in the area: the local fishing vessels tie up there; the ferries to and from Whiddy Island operate from there, and visiting yachts often moor there.

Because only a small proportion of the Pier is usable, there are conflicting demands on its single access point at times.

The inner harbour works are seen as a catalyst for the development of the town both in terms of enhancing its profile as a tourist resort as well as becoming a marine leisure centre which will offer a range of opportunities for marine tourism.

Bantry Rowing Club, for instance, is at a severe disadvantage due to the lack of slipping, launching and shore facilities. In fact, Bantry Rowing Club were denied holding the All Ireland Championship in 2007 because the Rowing Federation felt facilities were too inadequate in Bantry.

Rivercruise Ireland also indicated it was not interested in basing there because of the lack of facilities and health and safety issues. This is very disheartening for a place like Bantry which depends on tourism and where facilities are not up to standard for the rowing federation or Rivercruise Ireland. This is a sad reflection on the commitment to rural Ireland. There is general consensus that the dredging, as a first stage of infrastructural development, will have a significant impact on the economic and tourism potential of the town and region. The cost of the enabling works has been estimated at between €7.6 million and €8.8 million depending on the scenario adopted. This is an estimate because it will probably cost a lot more, having regard to the contaminants in the silt and gravel such as mercury and TNT which have been discovered in it. The report continues:

When indirect and induced effects are taken into account, the overall economic impact of that spend is of the order of €13.5 million with an overall labour content of approximately 112 man-years. At an average wage of €39,000 and a tax-take of 30 per cent, the return to the state from income tax alone is some €1.3 million.

The commencement and success of developments that are presently being drawn up for sites adjacent to the Harbour and the town in general, which have a market value of €200 million, depend very much on the clean-up of the Inner Harbour. The town's people have huge confidence in the potential of the area but, as of yet, this has not been realised.

While tourism numbers have fallen from recent peak levels, the construction of a new hotel and apartments is a reflection of the confidence that local developers have in the area.

Employment during the summer months increases by over 250 to take account of tourist needs.

The partnership with Cork County Council and Bantry Town Council in the various developments is seen as a key element of the way forward particularly within the context of the North and West Cork Strategic Plan 2002 to 2020. Piecemeal and separate development does not optimise the return from state investment. A planned programme of integrated development, as proposed in the Strategic Plan, will result in synergistic growth as each action benefits from the effects of the others.

A lot of work was done at local level to synergise and bring everyone on board. Has the Department taken into account the north and west Cork strategic development plan? Has it consulted the county manager? The county council owns the pier; the harbour board, as it stands, owns the water and other facilities such as the railway pier. I ask the Minister of State to enlighten me as to whether the other agencies involved in the development of Bantry Bay and harbour have been consulted. The report continues:

Cork County Council is preparing a Marine Leisure Strategy for West Cork ... Our consultation process supports the need and value of a marina at Bantry Bay; it is particularly endorsed by the Cork County Tourism Committee Action Plan 2005 — 2008.

These are up-to-date and relevant submissions by Cork County Council, whereas ten or 15 years ago, as an authority, it had no interest in marine development along the coastline. It has seen the light but it may be too late. In a place like Bantry with socio-economic issues greater than that of the Whiddy Island terminal and the mussel industry account must be taken of the people who live on the island. This should be considered and dealt with prior to this legislation being foisted on us. If this were done, I have no doubt there would be significant cohesion and goodwill if such an amalgamation was not forced on us but as of now, we are groping in the dark and do not know what is coming down the track. The harbour board, despite its faults and failings, is doing an excellent job and abolishing it would be akin to throwing to the wolves those of us who live in that part of Ireland. The report continues:

They, in turn, give rise to support services including boat repairs and chandlery ... According to Failte Ireland statistics, the average stay of visitors to the South West in 2005 was some 6.2 days and the average daily spend was some €80 or €114 when the multiplier effect is taken into account. The attraction of cruise vessels to Bantry would have a significant local and regional economic impact as the average daily spend of such visitors is €315, or €450 when the indirect and induced effects are included.

The average daily spend of a visiting yacht comprising two people varies between €150 and €227 depending on the source of the analysis. Yachts stay, on average, two days at a location before moving on.

It is estimated that for every euro spent by an out-of-state tourist, 52 cent eventually ends up with the government through VAT, excise duty, PAYE, etc.

When I reflect on the Bill's purpose and thrust and the more I research it, I see no practical socioeconomic benefits in its proposals. I have little faith in future negotiations that may emanate from the enacting of this legislation. I would be much more reassured if the suggested consultation process had taken place before the drafting of the legislation. It is ironic the Department encouraged consultation and meetings between the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and the Port of Cork Company. If memory serves me right, it was the Bantry commissioners who went to Cork while the Cork personnel never visited Bantry to examine its facilities.

It is regrettable that the due diligence proposals, requested by the Department some time ago, took longer to complete than envisaged, through no fault of the Bantry board. These were issues that would have been better dealt with prior to the introduction of the legislation. There were valid reasons for the delays. There was confusion over the ownership of the foreshore rights with considerable delay due to legal proceedings. Completing the due diligence in a forced merger or shot-gun marriage atmosphere is not the best way to do business. This could apply to the other harbours that will be affected. While I am not here to defend the Fenit commissioners, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, who has already spoken passionately on the matter, will re-enter the fray again.

When I was a member of the board of the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, I was given reassurances and commitments from successive Ministers that there would be prior consultation with the Port of Cork Company if a merger was proposed. I was given a cast-iron assurance when I was a Member of the other House by a former Minister that if any legislation were to be introduced that would adversely affect Bantry's position, it would be after due diligence and consultations were completed. This is a case of a huge cart that would need four horses to pull it but there is only one horse which does not have a chance of shifting it.

The Raymond Burke Consultants report continued:

Aquaculture and fishing are important local industries. The availability of the full pier at all times would enhance their socioeconomic value through facilitating the landing of additional catch.

Bantry Town Council, which also supports the development, would also benefit from new commercial developments through rates, development levies, car parking fees, etc.

There are many non-monetary benefits arising from the proposed works including health and safety, the elimination of the pervasive smell, environment effects as well as the feel-good factor that will arise from the expected improvements.

Based on our general calculations, the potential broad direct and indirect economic benefit to Bantry consequent on the enabling works over five years is some €40 million with a return to the Exchequer of a minimum of €13 million. Additional employment is estimated at 264 full-time equivalent jobs.

The impacts of the construction developments proposed for the north side, adjacent to the inner harbour and close to the town centre have been excluded from our calculations. Estimated at some €200 million, their overall economic impact would be some €328 million, an employment content of 2,800 man-years and a return to the Exchequer of €60 million. Income taxes would provide an additional €33 million.

It is hard for those who are not familiar with Bantry to envisage how such works would assist the town. At low tide every boat is grounded. In the 1940s and 1950s the harbour was regularly dredged and the facilities were better. Before Castletownbere was developed, I recall an incident in which 48 Spanish trawlers, riding out a storm, lined up from the pier to Whiddy Island. In 2009 it is deplorable that vessels cannot leave the pier or moor in safety when the tide is out.

Regarding the grouping of the amendments, have I the right, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, to request these amendments are dealt with separately?

I do not know whether it was agreed before I came in between the Senators to take these amendments together.

It was agreed so long ago that it might merit reconsideration. I would certainly support the Senator's request.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.