I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern. Amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 13 to 17, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed?
Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008: Committee Stage (resumed).
On a point of information, is it possible for the amendments to be taken separately?
The House has already agreed on that. The grouping of amendments was agreed last week.
I thought I was relatively alert, a Chathaoirligh.
The grouping was agreed to, so our hands are tied.
I was caught napping.
Yes and that is unusual for the Senator.
The amendment concerns the deletion of the reference to Bantry and the amalgamation with Cork. In 2005, when Mr. Vivian O'Callaghan was the chairman of Bantry harbour board, a senior official from the Department, who shall remain nameless, visited the harbour board by prior arrangement and had a meeting with the full board. The official suggested that Bantry harbour authority should engage in a due diligence process with Cork Port. A cast-iron guarantee was given to the full board — because they had concerns that I am aware of — that any proposed merger with Cork would not and could not happen until the due diligence process was completed and full and frank negotiations took place between Bantry and Cork. Even at that stage, a clear assurance was given that such a merger would only take place after prior agreement by both boards. This section flies in the face of that clearly pronounced policy commitment of the then Minister and his Department.
The question of due diligence is critical in this respect. I do not have the exact date but at that juncture proposals were put in letters from the Department. It was quite open and fair, and there was not a knee-jerk reaction by the board on that date. They considered the matter at length and said they were not going to shut out any possible change. As a result of a meeting in camera, and following phone calls and possibly letters, the Department and Minister of the day were informed that if options were available, including a potential merger with Cork, they would enter into talks. That meeting subsequently took place or was initiated.
Why was the due diligence process put in place initially? I do not want an immediate answer but we can perhaps consider it in the course of the evening or on the next occasion. This due diligence was taken up as an option by Bantry in good faith. Why was it initiated in 2005 at the request of the then Minister and his Department under Government policy? Why was that process not completed before this Bill was published? That is a matter of serious concern. If negotiations are going on — like the peace process in the North — but there is no frankness and openness, then there is a lack of trust. That lack of trust is now palpable at local level.
By agreement with the Department, it was decided that Cork Port, at its expense and through its own experts, would go down the road of due diligence. A draft report was submitted by Cork Port to the Department some time ago, but Bantry Port did not receive a copy of that due diligence report. I am amazed and astounded by this, especially in view of the talk of some kind of a merger. This Bill is more like a shotgun wedding than a courtship and despite the fact consultation was promised, there has been none. Although the report submitted by Cork Port was only a draft report, why was it not provided to Bantry Port? I do not want a casual answer on this. I am aware there were difficulties with regard to legal title, buying foreshore rights and the railway pier. Dealing with these issues took longer than anticipated, but they have been sorted out.
The due diligence report was initiated at the request of the Department and the then Minister but was never completed. The burning question therefore is why the draft report was concealed from the Bantry authority. It requested the report, but the Department wrote back saying it could not compel Cork Port to provide the report to Bantry Port because it was produced by Cork Port. However, I contend it was initiated as part of Government policy and, from the point of view of where we are headed with this Bill, I find it disturbing that it was not sent to Bantry. If the draft report was given to the Department, there was an onus on it or the Minister of the day to share its contents with the Bantry Port authority.
I, as a public representative, never saw the report because it was concealed. What is the reason for the furtiveness and secrecy when there is talk about amalgamation and mergers? Hundreds of people in the Bantry area want to know the reason the draft due diligence report was not submitted. Why was the necessary time not allowed for the process to be completed so that a final due diligence report would be produced and shared?
I am probably quite emotive because I feel strongly about this. The due diligence process was to be the foundation stone for Bantry Harbour and its future. Over the years, different options were put forward. The preferred option was that Bantry would stand alone, as it is doing. The attitude was not to touch it as it was making a few bob and was not costing the State much. It was transparent and complied with corporate governance.
I contend the due diligence report should have been completed. It is dangerous to change horses midstream. Why was there a change of heart on the part of the Department or the Minister? Was it because of the delay? The delay was not going to continue forever, although it was a problem with a legal issue that was delayed for some time. I believe a query on it may have ended up in the Office of the Chief State Solicitor and the due diligence report was never completed.
There seems to be a veil of secrecy over what is happening. I do not blame the Minister of State for this because he is new to this area. However, I am perturbed the draft report was never given to the Bantry Harbour board. The chairman of the day, who agreed to initiate the report, was wronged and every member of the Bantry Port authority and the harbour master should have seen it. It is very disturbing this did not happen. People may say I am reading more into this than I should but if that is the case, the report should be put on the table, so to speak. I ask the Minister of State to send the draft report to Bantry for examination. I would like to see a copy of it and perhaps I will be pleasantly surprised by it. There is no transparency or openness on the issue and, as a result, there is a nagging in my brain telling me there is something radically wrong or there is something in the draft report that Bantry will not like or may not want to share.
I cannot emphasise enough that this Bill proposes that Bantry and its assets and liabilities, lock, stock and barrel, be taken over by Cork Port. This begs the question why the due diligence report was not completed and the report published. There is still time for the draft due diligence report to be published. The Minister of State has said the report is in the ownership of Cork Port authority, but Cork Port has sent a copy to the Department. Why can the Minister not tell Cork Port authority, or the chairman of the executive there, to pass on the due diligence report to Bantry for the sake of clarity? It should let the Bantry Harbour board members, while they are still in place, study that report. I also urge that the due diligence report be completed and that this aspect of section 18 be parked in the meantime.
There were grave reservations on the part of Bantry when this proposal was put forward by the senior official, a capable man whom I know well. The people of Bantry were nervous about it because they had numerous meetings and had looked at the option of the local authority taking over the port. I favoured that option because I saw it as the lesser of two evils. We also looked at the options of corporatisation, of staying as we were and the Cork option. There were people in favour of all options bar the Cork option.
We took a leap of faith and the chairman of Bantry Port authority agreed — by telephone to the official in question, followed by letter — to go down this road, but that it would be a partnership role in which we would walk, jump and, if it came to it, separate together. However this never happened and it is a concern for me, the harbour board members and the public that there is something sinister in the proposals.
I will probably be proven to be wrong in this regard, but must believe it until such time as we see the draft report. I am sure Senator McCarthy and all the Opposition would love to see what is in the draft due diligence report. If Cork Port states the report is its property and will not share it with Bantry but will give it to the Minister of State and his officials, that is wrong. It is wrong that we have not seen the report.
Another important issue is that I, the Bantry board and its chairman have received written confirmation from the Minister of State's predecessors over the years that if anything were to happen that would affect the future of Bantry Port, as appears to happen in section 18, there would be prior consultation and negotiation. We have debated the issue of consultation day in, day out. With all due respect, I cannot buy the notion that the Bill should be put in place as enabling legislation and then consultation can take place. This is like a shotgun marriage where if people cannot come together amicably and work things out, we put them in handcuffs and force them to come with us whether they like it or not. There is a lack of trust in this.
I am warning the Minister of State, in a political way, of this lack of trust or understanding. This is a pity because there has been a very good working relationship, by and large, with Department officials over the years on the part of Bantry and Cork. However, there is now a lack of trust. Whether it is Cork Port or the Minister of State who is responsible, this must be rectified. It would be very difficult for me to come in on Report or Final Stages and agree to vote for this when I must go back to Bantry to the board of which I was formerly a member and tell them I voted for this but do not know where it is going. That is like taking a leap in the dark, without a match, torch or flashlight for vision. Technically, it would be wrong to do this.
Whatever about Government policy, the suggestion is that this is enabling legislation. It has also been suggested that as it is such, it may not come into effect this year, next year or in five years' time. We do not know. It is disabling as far as Bantry is concerned. It cripples us. Next year, people will wonder what is the point of being a member of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners because at some stage down the road, maybe not under the current Minister because we are in a very volatile situation politically and there might be a change of Government——
Not that I am advocating this. I am relatively comfortable here despite the pressure I am under at the minute.
However, in future members of Cork County Council or other bodies will ask what is the point of having a board in Dublin. It is like a duck that is shot, still alive and limping and cannot fly. It will do huge damage to the process in which we have engaged. As well as this I can see a very difficult and tenuous situation in future where Cork Port at a distance — it is like being ruled from London and we spent 800 years trying to get free — will try to look after Bantry Bay 60 or 70 miles away.
We cannot lose sight of the fact that it is not just about the little pier in Bantry and the inner harbour. It also involves the Whiddy set up, tourist related issues and fishing in Bantry Bay. The existing harbour board Act established that the harbour authority for Bantry Bay incorporates and encapsulates the entire bay of Bantry bar the inner harbour in Castletownbere.
I wrote out a few notes to try to grapple with ideas prior to coming here. I need to know why the Department, the Minister of State or his predecessors in title reneged — that is the word although it is strong — on a solemn written pledge to the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners on the issues of due diligence and prior consultation. A pledge was given and it was clear and unequivocal. If I am here until next Christmas Day on this issue, if the Whip and the House allow me, I can never accept the notion that the Bill can be put in place as enabling legislation. While we may not put it into effect one will go along with one's hand tied behind one's back into any consultation that takes place after its introduction and already be a lame duck because the legislation is in place. Instead of enabling legislation I call it disabling legislation. I want to emphasise this.
Will the Minister of State comment on the issue of due diligence? I posed a number of questions and if the Minister of State can enlighten me and answer them I will give him the freedom to do so now.
I would like to but I do not know if I can make Senator O'Donovan happy. I wish I could. He has an extraordinarily innovative or suspicious mind. I think he is wrong but I cannot state that authoritatively. Senator O'Donovan started by speaking about the request made to Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners in 2005. We suggested that Bantry should engage in a due diligence exercise with Cork Port.
Yes, it was stated that amalgamation would not take place until the due diligence report and due process were completed. Prior to this legislation there was a process and plenty of consultation. We have accepted an amendment to the Bill to formalise this consultation process. It would have taken place anyway but I agreed to formalise it in the legislation. The commitment given four years ago still stands and we have not wavered one iota from it.
The Senator knows and has stated that the due diligence exercise was not completed because of a problem with foreshore property and this is being resolved. However, four years ago it would have been expected that matters would have moved much quicker and that by now the due diligence would have been completed. Of course it will go to Bantry when it is completed but it is not done. Bits of it might be done but the report does not exist and Cork cannot complete it until it receives the data from Bantry on the foreshore issue. When the report exists and is complete it will go to Bantry, if not from Cork then from the Department. There is no point in getting some pages of a novel or a report and not others. This would end up confusing rather than clarifying issues.
Nothing is being concealed or hidden. The sequence of events has turned out to be different than what people might have presumed four years ago.
The Bill has overtaken the sequence.
The Minister of State without interruption.
The Bill follows on from the ports policy document of 2005. As we all know, legislation comes along in its own way. It is a slow process. The Bill covers issues other than Bantry Bay. It has been drafted in the three or four years since the ports policy document was put through. It would have been expected that by now the due diligence report would have been done and a certain amount of consultation would have taken place.
Really it is another option and that is all it is. We are not changing anything midstream. Bantry Bay could have been signed over years ago under the two options which exist, namely to a private company or the local authority. The Bill provides another option if the due diligence report and the sides involved think it is a possibility and if the consultation process goes along with it.
Senator O'Donovan raises many interesting matters. The Department of Transport is coming at this from the point of view that the reason the ports were associated with the Department was because of the movement of goods and passengers, mainly goods. It makes great sense to see the Department of Transport involved in ports in Dublin, Waterford and Cork. I accept that when Senator O'Donovan speaks about places such as Bantry it is a different linkage and does not seem to fit the same scenario.
Although there was a long consultation process on the Government's port policy it may not seem to cover all the aspects for smaller places such as those discussed by Senator O'Donovan. However, there has been no concealment or reneging. There is an ongoing process and when this legislation goes through — if we do the business here and if we ever get it done — it will give a third option for what could happen after the due diligence is completed, goes to Bantry and we have the formal statutory consultation which I agreed to include in the Bill. We cannot have too many people with a veto but if, down the road, this all seems possible and feasible and everybody is reasonably happy, this could come about. It is just that the sequence has come in a different way.
There is no real change of tack or policy. It is just that legislation takes a couple of years to be drafted and the Bill just happens to have come at this stage. Senator O'Donovan is suspicious and sees problems. I do not know how I can assure him that I do not see it like that.
The Minister of State can accept my amendments and I will be very reassured.
The Minister of State without interruption.
I suppose I could do that but even if I did——
I would be very reassured then.
——it would not solve Senator O'Donovan's problem. It would just mean that we were back where we were last year or the year before, waiting for the due diligence process to be completed, the negotiations to take place with Bantry and local consultation. We could probably do this and introduce the Bill in two years' time——
At least the Minister of State would assuage public fear.
The Minister of State without interruption. Senator O'Donovan had his chance.
It would not address the Senator's problem. It is not easy to introduce legislation and there is always a long queue. One cannot just say one wants legislation next week or month; it is a long, slow process. The maritime section of my Department, not to mention other Departments, is already working on three different Bills. Legislation involves a long, slow process and it so happens that because the process of due diligence has slowed down so much, the Senator is suspicious of the way things have worked out. That is how I see it and I do not know if it reassures the Senator in any way. He is considering the matter from a particular point of view.
I am a little amused by the Senator's comments over the Port of Cork and his references to London. I can understand why there is such mistrust in GAA quarters in Cork if the Senator is so bloody suspicious and linking Cork city with London and our history over 800 years. Obviously there is a parochial attitude in the county that I do not fully grasp, even though both my parents came from there. I do not believe anyone is trying to pull wool over the Senator's eyes, as such. There is a process in place and the sequence of events is not what would have been predicted, but any commitments that were made are still valid. The process will take place and we are copper-fastening it by including it in legislation.
With all due respect, there is one way in which the Minister of State can reassure me, that is, by accepting my amendments, which he may do later this evening or on the next occasion. He is coming around to my way of thinking.
I refer to section 18 to which my amendment refers. It is important for me to state my position and the difficulty I am in. The section states:
18.—(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
(b) in relation to the Shannon Foynes Port Company, Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners;
‘relevant port company' means—
(a) in relation to Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, the Port of Cork Company, and
(b) in relation to Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners, the Shannon Foynes Port Company;
This, in itself, implies they are gone already. The section also states: "‘transfer day' means the day appointed by the Minister under paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (2)”.
It is not one of these soccer transfers where clubs pay millions and there is much interest from Sky and CNN. This provision will give effect to the merger. My suspicion does not focus on the Minister personally. Having studied law for some years, including Roman and other historic law, I can recall a Latin phrase that applies when a matter is not crystal clear in legislation or negotiations: Inclusio unius est exclusio alterius. By including one provision, one is excluding the other. If I were in a court of law defending somebody or arguing technical points, I would not allow a client to put trust in this section.
The next paragraph of the proposed new section reads: "(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.” This is stated in black and white, yet the Minister of State is asking me to trust——
The Senator mentioned his legal experience. That paragraph is just making legal provision for an eventuality that might happen.
It is but it is putting it in such a way that it disables Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners.
It does not, come on now.
It is very clear in that it states "the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners are dissolved". A Minister, but perhaps not the Minister of State present, may say in three or five years, "To hell with Bantry, we will just sign off."
The new section continues as follows:
(b) The Minister may by order appoint a day as the transfer day for the purposes of this section in respect of Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour and, with effect from that day, the Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners are dissolved [they are gone down the drain].
(c) The making of an order under this subsection is in lieu of making an order under section 87(1) or 88(2) in respect of the harbour concerned.
(3) With effect from the transfer day concerned [there is nothing about consultation or due diligence], there is transferred—
(a) to the Port of Cork Company from Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, or
(b) to Shannon Foynes Port Company from Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners,
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, without any further conveyance, transfer or assignment—
They do not have to talk to me, the harbour board or authorities in Cork. This is like a last will and testament and it is what I am worried about in respect of my home town and area. In the testament of a will, it is stated that one gives all one's property, both real and personal, of every nature and description. The legislation reads like a final request.
The proposed subparagraph (3)(b)(i) reads:
(i) the property so held or enjoyed, both real and personal, vests on the transfer day in the Port of Cork Company [or Fenit, God bless it] or Shannon Foynes Port Company, as the case may be, 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.
Could it be any clearer? In spite of this, the Minister of State is demanding trust of me and the harbour board in Bantry, which was let down for 30 years by successive Governments. Historically, some Ministers from my party promised X, Y and Z but we did not get it. Given the trauma and problems associated with the financial markets, a Minister, in three or five years, might say, "To hell with it, we will sign this order." As the song says, "His breakfast milk is sour." It is a fait accompli bar the pushing of the pen.
I will read on because I am going off on a tangent. The proposed subparagraph (3)(b)(i) states:
(ii) the rights so held or enjoyed, are as on and from the transfer day, held and enjoyed by the Port of Cork Company [or Fenit] or Shannon Foynes Port 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 or Shannon Foynes Port Company, as the case may be.
We are fluid and in the black in Bantry and have been for many years. If it were the case that we accumulated substantial debts, having borrowed €10 million, for example——
Like the Dublin Docklands Development Authority.
——would the Port of Cork Company state Bantry Port is in debt in the order of €10 million and Whiddy is closed and that it is inclined to enter a partnership or engage in a merger? I believe not. This is plain and stated in black and white. I do not believe there will be any avenue of opportunity or hope in this regard once the Bill is passed.
Proposed subsection 87A(4) states:
(4) All moneys, stocks, shares [they may not be performing well at present but we have money] 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.
In simple, plain language, this means the Port of Cork Company, on the day of the transfer, can sign the order and claim everything in Bantry.
To give the Minister of State a flavour of what is happening, let me outline what would occur if this happened tomorrow morning. We own the railway pier and bought it in good faith for approximately €200,000 plus the legal costs. We bought the foreshore rights from the Earl of Bantry in Bantry House estate. We did not go up to Mr. Shelswell-White in Bantry House stating he had to give us the foreshore rights. We negotiated and he agreed a price although we believed it was too dear. I will not repeat what one member of the board said; suffice it to say that he said Mr. Shelswell-White should be dealt with in some other way. It was in the region of €280,000 for approximately a mile of foreshore rights along the seafront in Bantry. This is important currently because another Department is carrying out extensive sewerage works along the foreshore and putting a treatment plant in place. That is another day's work. In addition to that asset, a developer who has built an hotel close to the harbour has agreed, subject to a process that is set out clearly by the Department, to buy a small section — approximately the length of the Chamber — for approximately €700,000. That adds up to approximately €1 million, and we are asked that all those assets would be handed over to the Port of Cork Company. There is nothing at all in the Bill to say that in lieu of that, the Cork authority would dredge the harbour, which would cost €10 million, extend the pier at a cost of €3 million, and ensure a fair and equitable system for mussel farmers and local fishermen.
When I walked down the pier last week I met a good friend of Senator McCarthy's, who is a union representative, who was going out to the island. I spoke to him about issues. I spoke also to fishermen and fish farmers. The pier was congested. One could not drive down it for health and safety reasons. Those people indicated that I am representing the area and they have had promises since 1968 that this and that would be done, but instead things have got worse. Now they are expected to take a major leap of faith and accept the proposed legislative change. It is as plain as the nose on my face that this is the last will and testament and the final nail in the coffin of Bantry. It will take a lot of persuasion for me to support the Bill. There is one way to do it. If section 18 is scrapped, then the Bill can go ahead.
There will be many legislative vehicles in future to address the issue. The Bill is only enabling legislation and it is not urgent, which the Minister of State accepts. We may not be here in the next three to five years. My good friend across the floor, Senator Coffey, could be in the other House. He could be in a ministerial car. Some Minister could come along and put the tin hat on it. There will be many opportunities to address the issue in terms of other Bills coming to the House. I accept it takes a lot of preparation and much work goes on behind the scenes to publish a Bill. We need to set our stall out fairly as regards what will happen to the assets in Bantry. While I have not spoken to them all, I am certain that the Cork Port members I know, which include some elected representatives, are bemused by the Bill. I will park that one for a moment as there are more sections I wish to address.
Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,
It gives me great encouragement to see my colleagues offer me moral support and sustenance. I will read a letter from the Irish Ports Association and then I will return to the Bill. The letter was written to the Secretary General of the Department of Transport. I am not sure of the date but I think the letter is quite recent as it is appropriate to the Bill. The letter concerns the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008.
Dear Ms O'Neill,
I refer to the above mentioned Bill and particularly to section 18 of same, which provides amongst other things for the transfer of the functions, assets and liabilities of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners to the Port of Cork Company and from Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Company to Shannon-Foynes Port Company. [The letter is from the Irish Ports Association, which is a valued organisation.]
My members in Bantry, Shannon-Foynes and Tralee and Fenit are totally opposed to the transfer proposals, which they see as being without merit. In this opposition they have the full support of the association. Both Bantry and Tralee and Fenit are serving a local region and it is the view of the association that these interests are best served by a local board, democratically drawn from and concentrating on the needs and best interests of the local region, and that this principle should not be sacrificed to the perceived administrative convenience of the Department of central government.
All three ports concerned are opposed to any transfer or merger and the association supports them in this stance. We would ask that in the absence of agreement between the parties that no transfers should take place. We would further urge that the offending section be withdrawn from the Bill at this stage.
That is a letter from the Irish Ports Association. I do not see a date on it. I want to include that letter in case the Minister of State or other people think I am going off on a tangent. If a plebiscite were held in Fenit, which is historically known, in the Bantry area, or the local electoral area serving them, it would be far more emphatic than the referendum held recently. It would be 99% in favour of a "No" vote.
I will continue with my last will and testament, if I can refer to section 18 as that, as it signals the final demise for both Bantry and Fenit. Section 18(5) states:
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.
I could envisage a situation in Bantry where one of the mussel boats breaks down and is parked for two or three days. The local harbour master will tell them they cannot stay there forever and to move on when the boat is fixed, but a person from Cork would not know what a mussel raft was and if he was out in a rowing boat, he would not know how to row it. Common sense prevails when one has local autonomy.
Section 18(6) states:
(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."
That is emphatic, leaving no wriggle room for manoeuvre. Tiny sea worms, which are sometimes found in shellfish, would have no wriggle room in the Bill. The subsection is crystal clear.
Strict procedures are in place to ensure corporate governance. For example, when Bantry harbour board buys and sells anything, it must obtain prior consent. The board made mistakes in the past but we all learn from our mistakes. One of the issues that held up the due diligence related to the foreshore but that was totally outside the control of the board and its solicitors. The Bill is so all embracing and powerful that if it is passed, I will have to return to the board, of which I am no longer a member, and say, "I am sorry, I have let you down. This is a fait accompli and it is a nail in your coffin”.
The Minister of State said the Minister under existing legislation can by order have a port taken over by the local authority. Baltimore is another port in west Cork dear to my heart and the harbour board there would love to have a home. I attended a meeting five years ago between board members and the then county manager. The facilities were examined and they said if the Department spent €10 million or €15 million on the port, the local authority would take it over but it would not do so now because it does not have the money to do it. Kinsale is another example and, closer to the Minister of State's home, what became of Balbriggan? I recall a furious debate on the issue of Balbriggan Port. Is it better off now? Did the local authority take it over? Have improvements been made?
Following the enactment of the legislation, the asset base and the development of Bantry harbour will succumb to, and be taken over by, Cork Port at the stroke of a pen. The Minister of State has said on a number of occasions this is only enabling legislation and it will not be implemented tomorrow or the day after. Why not let the damn thing be parked for four or five years?
Section 18(7) states: "If, immediately before the transfer day concerned, any legal proceedings to which the relevant harbour commissioners are a party are pending, the relevant port company's name shall be substituted in the proceedings for the name of the relevant harbour commissioners, and the proceedings shall not abate because of the substitution." That is a powerful weapon. If the harbour board in Bantry, for example, took legal proceedings against ConocoPhillips, the owners of Whiddy Island, over oil pollution, which has been threatened previously, the Bill provides that Cork Port would take over the running of the case. It would have power under the legislation to do so.
Section 18(8)(a) states, “With effect from the transfer day concerned, the Port of Cork Company in respect of Bantry Bay Harbour and the Shannon Foynes Port Company in respect of Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour may make bye-laws under sections 42 and 71.” We have tried over the past 15 years at least to sort out by-laws for Bantry harbour. They are still not copperfastened because the process is ongoing and it is difficult. Various groups have to be dealt with such as inshore fishermen, shrimp fishermen, scallop dredgers, shellfish fisherman and those involved in “brideoging”, which is the old method of scooping up scallops in shallow water. A “brideog” is a rod with a net on the end. Licensing for aquaculture and mariculture throughout the bay also had be to considered.
This provision would be a major imposition on the Cork Port company and I do know whether its members have the necessary experience because they run a large commercial port. What do they know about "brideoging" or aquaculture and mariculture licensing? Are they aware that under an British by-law going back to the Spanish Armada and Wolfe Tone's arrival in Bantry in 1796, trawling between sunset and sunrise from Shot Head to Sheep's Head is prohibited? I bet if any member of the Cork Port company was asked about this, they would not know about it. I was once asked by local fishermen why that by-law was still in place because it had been breached repeatedly. I fished for herring there as a young man and it was a problem when large trawlers scooped up the herrings and towed away our nets and so on because we were small operators. We made a few bob at it and it was healthy and so on.
Many different facets of harbour life will be affected in Bantry Bay. It has the second deepest channel of water in the world and the largest oil tankers ever built have been tied up at Whiddy Island. For example, the ceiling in the House is approximately 30 ft high. When these tankers were unladen, some still had an 85 ft draft. That illustrates how safe is Bantry Port. That is why due diligence should have been completed and all these issues should have been ironed out in advance of the introduction of the legislation. Locals are fearful because this has not happened. I am not in the House for the good of my health or to use up time. Politicians are tools of the public because we react to public opinion and worry and so on. I am present because people I grew up with and worked with have these concerns. All of them do not necessarily vote for me but I listen to everybody in my home town and region.
Under the legislation, for example, Cork Port company will take control of the local mussel industry. Perhaps the Minister and the Department have not looked beyond the pale and feel Bantry Bay is just about the inner harbour and the ConocoPhillips terminal on Whiddy Island but it is much larger. How much of the national oil reserve is stored on Whiddy Island? Is the Government aware of plans by ConocoPhillips to develop the terminal? I would like to quote from an article concerning Bantry Bay and this Bill. One might ask why I am so suspicious. I have been told that Senator O'Sullivan would like to make a contribution and when I read this into the record, I will give him some air. This article was published on 1 February. It has a photograph of the Minister, Deputy Ryan. The sub-headline states: "€500 million needs to be spent to improve national supplies." If I read this into the record one might understand why there is suspicion in my mind and among those on the Bantry board. It is an interesting article that affects Whiddy and Bantry Bay. Obviously it will affect Bantry Harbour Commissioners or the board in Cork, or whoever is in charge. In The Sunday Times of 1 February, Stephen O’Brien wrote:
The Irish government needs to spend at least €500m improving its "fragile" oil infrastructure to avoid a fuel shortage in the event of disruption to world supplies, according to a new study.
This is another new study. Wait until they get hold of that. It is important because the authority that is to be wound down has charge of the traffic into and out of Whiddy. The article continued:
The assessment of the security of the country's oil reserves, commissioned by Eamon Ryan, the energy minister, warns that Ireland has less than two thirds of the 90-day back-up supply recommended internationally. [Oil security affects everyone.]
Purvin and Gertz, the international energy consultancy, and Byrne O Cleirigh, the Irish consultant engineer, say Ireland needs to spend €250m to double its storage capacity at up to three locations in the south, midwest and east. They recommend expanding storage at Whitegate refinery on Whiddy Island, in Bantry Bay, Co Cork; creating a facility in the Naas/Clane/Sallins area of Co Kildare; and possibly at a third location on the deepwater Shannon estuary, Co Limerick.
They also urge that a further €265m investment be considered in up to three strategic pipelines, from Cork to Kildare, Kildare to Dublin and Ireland to Britain. The Department of Finance and Ryan's officials are discussing imposing a 1c levy on a litre of petrol to help pay for improvements.
The report warns that there are "significant risks to Ireland's ability to access supplies" during unusual disruptions to the international markets, because of the fragile nature of some of our infrastructure for importing, storing and distributing oil.
Ireland holds one of the lowest proportions of oil stocks of all International Energy Agency member states. Only about 50 to 60 days of the 90-days net import obligation are held in the country.
While it may not be the brief of the Minister of State, where is the other 40 days' storage? Is it in Ireland, in Whiddy or elsewhere?
Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,
I believe the amendments have been adequately discussed at this stage. Has Senator O'Donovan completed his contribution?
I am reading a very important article, which I want to complete. It is a report from The Sunday Times that refers to another Minister. It refers to our national oil reserves which are very important to the country. In the event of an emergency or a war we would need to have a minimum of 90 days’ supply. The only place for holding that supply is Whiddy which emphasises the importance of Bantry Harbour. The article states:
Ireland holds one of the lowest proportions of oil stocks of all International Energy Agency member states. Only about 50 to 60 days of the 90-days net import obligation are held in the country. [That is a worrying aspect.]
Ireland also refines less imported oil than most other members of the agency, an intergovernmental energy policy organisation that includes America, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, as well as most EU member states. Ireland imports 75% of refined oil products and refines the remainder at Whitegate.
Whiddy Island was the scene of a disaster 30 years ago when an ageing and leaky 120,000-tonne oil tanker, the French-registered Betelgeuse, exploded during the offloading of crude oil at an offshore jetty. Fifty people were killed, including 41 crew, eight terminal workers [most of whom I knew] and a ship’s officer’s wife. The jetty was destroyed and the facility, now run by ConocoPhilips, has never operated on the same scale since.
The study commissioned by [the Minister, Deputy] Ryan describes the 40-year-old facility as "a simple refinery", and the consultants say that there is a risk that it might cease to operate after 2016. [That is not Whiddy, it is Whitegate.]
"The availability of Whitegate enables Ireland's exposure to oil supplies to be spread between crude oil and refined products," the report said. "Long-term security of operations may require government intervention, and would need to be assessed with other priorities regarding social policy in the region, such as the impact on the local economy." [Here is another report stating how important local economies like Bantry and Whiddy Island are to the State.]
Whitegate's remote location in the far southwest had hindered its potential to expand, the study found. Improving its access to Dublin, in the form of a pipeline, would raise its competitiveness and expand its potential market.
This is not the first time that was mooted. It should have been done in the late 1960s. The oil stored in Whiddy of international strategic importance should have been piped to Whitegate and to Dublin. It is a long way to get crude oil by tanker into Dublin or wherever it needs to go.
The risk-assessors weighed threats, ranging from strife in the Middle East to a crippling industrial action or even a terrorist incident affecting Dublin Port.
"In terms of minimising the risk to the Irish economy from disruption in oil supplies it would be prudent to develop at least one of their proposed strategic stores from where, in an emergency scenario involving the closure of Dublin Port, oil could readily be distributed to the region which relies on this port," they said.
This facility would have a capacity of at least 200,000 tonnes and be located in the Naas area with a pipeline connection to Dublin "using the Grand Canal as a possible pipeline route".
The consultants estimated that the pipeline from Whiddy Island to Naas might cost €165 million. It could not be justified on commercial grounds, but could be defended if strategic fuel security factors were taken into consideration.
Oil is Ireland's dominant energy source and has risen from meeting 46% of the country's energy needs in 1990 to 53% in 2006.
A White Paper in 2007 committed Ireland to producing one third of its energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020, but oil is still expected to make up 52% of the energy mix at this time.
The report will be published by Ryan in the coming weeks.
The Minister of State may ask the reason I read this report from The Sunday Times into the record of the House. I have a dream that the potential of Bantry Bay and the possibilities on Whiddy Island can benefit the local economy.
I ask the House to consider the strategic benefit to the country. If the greater Dublin area and the east coast were to be without fuel for 100 days, people would be without fuel for their central heating. Fuel security is very important. It is sometimes good to dream and to think positively in these bad times. If there were to be a huge gas or oil find off Mizen Head or out towards the famous Rockall Island, the obvious place to bring such ashore, whether it be gas or oil, would be Bantry Bay as it has the structures and the capacity for storage. It should also be recognised that ConocoPhillips and its predecessors in the past 12 years or thereabouts have spent well over €150 million on upgrading the storage at Whiddy Island. With all due respect to my colleague, Senator Buttimer, Whitegate is obsolete. I believe it would cost €1.2 billion to replace Whitegate whereas constructing an oil pipeline from Whiddy Island to Dublin would have huge potential. I may have a suspicious mind but I wonder if this is already in train at Cabinet and departmental level. There may be consideration to get rid of Bantry and the harbour authority because they would have less hassle.
I have an obligation as a Member of this House to put on the record all these proposals and suggestions on future viability. I may have gone off on a tangent but it is important because it is all to do with Bantry Bay and the harbour authority and the future and potential of the harbour.
I do not wish to interrupt the Senator and I hate to say this but he may already have made that point, although I am not sure.
No, this is new information as it was only published in The Sunday Times last week.
I am sorry. I will have to bow to the Senator's superior knowledge in that respect if it is new.
It was brought to my attention that it was published on 1 February 2009. I will not have time today but I must get that report which is referred to and which is quite voluminous and put it on the record of the House because I do not want someone to say to me that I sold out Bantry's potential for the future economy of the region, and it would also affect south Kerry.
I do not think anyone would accuse the Senator of short-changing Bantry.
It is now 3.45 p.m.
The Senator is timing himself.
No, I am mindful that I promised my colleagues that they could come in——
I want to allow both Senator O'Sullivan and Senator Buttimer in.
I have just two or three paragraphs to put on the record of the House and then I will give way.
I wish to be fair to both of them.
I too wish to be fair.
I refer to section 18(9)(a): “As soon as practicable after the transfer day, the relevant port company shall prepare, in such form as may be approved by the Minister, all proper and usual accounts of money received or expended by the relevant harbour commissioners in the accounting year, or the part of an accounting year, of those commissioners ending immediately before the transfer day.” That is being done. Section 18(9)(b) states: “The relevant port company shall submit accounts prepared under this subsection to an auditor for audit under subsection (2) of section 27 as if they were accounts kept for the purposes of that section and the other provisions of the said subsection (2) shall apply to those accounts.” Section 18(10) states: “Notwithstanding the repeal of the Harbours Act 1976 under section 19 of the Harbours (Amendment) Act 2008, the functions, duties an powers in relation to Castletownbere Fishery Harbour Centres conferred on the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by the Fishery Harbour Centres Act 1968 continue to be exercised by that Minister of the Government.” At least Castletownbere will be left on its own.
Section 18(2) states:
The Principal Act is amended —
(a) in section 87, by inserting the following subsection after subsection (2):
"(3) The making of an order under this section is in lieu of making an order under section 87A(2) or 88(2) in respect of the harbour concerned.",
This is the gist of section 18.
Before I sit down although I have not completed my contribution——
Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,
As the Acting Chairman pointed out, other Members want to contribute so I will give way to Senator O'Sullivan. I will, however, be referring to this report, the cornerstone of the legislation, when I resume.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for his patience and forbearance in this long drawn-out debate on this amendment. I also thank him for his understanding of the positions taken both inside and outside the Chamber by Members. I fully endorse the position Senator O'Donovan has taken over the past several days and congratulate him on his tenacity and commitment in handling the debate. It proves an individual Senator can make a difference. The US President, Mr. Obama, says one can make a difference, and Senator O'Donovan has shown that by knowing one's brief and being committed to it.
I am grateful to him for giving way to allow me to bring the Kerry perspective to the debate. While the amendments concern the Bantry Bay position, they have clear repercussions for the proposed association of the Shannon Foynes Port Company and the Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners. Whereas Senator O'Donovan has pioneered the case for Bantry, I am expecting, when the Bill finally reaches the other House, much will be said by all Deputies from County Kerry on the Fenit position.
I have much experience with harbour boards, having been a director on various port companies from 1991 to 2007 when I was elevated to this House. I was a member of the old Limerick Harbour Commissioners which was replaced by the Shannon Port Company and was subsequently transmogrified into the Shannon Foynes Port Company. The Department knew fully the historical difficulties of bringing together into one cohesive unit these two old rival ports. Many Ministers and Administrations countenanced doing it but walked away from it in the end. To his eternal credit, Deputy Fahey, the then Minister responsible for port authorities, seized the bull by the horns by bringing the two harbour companies together. It made much sense. With a stretch of only 50 miles of water in the estuary, it was ridiculous to have two competing authorities vying with each other for business and jealously guarding each other's secrets.
With that in mind, I would have thought the Department would leave the port authority structures on the Shannon Estuary alone for at least a generation to allow matters to settle. However, it has proposed that the Shannon Foynes Port Company should assimilate the Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners. When I left the board of the Shannon Foynes Port Company, such a prospect was viewed with horror by the chairman, chief executive and directors. The feeling was that the company had enough on its plate.
It is one of the State's largest commercial ports and the best natural deepwater port in western Europe, outside of Rotterdam. It has much potential, some of which is being realised. The last the company needs is the singular focus it has on heavy commercial activity to be removed. It is the second largest bulkhandler and must manage freight in and out of Foynes. The company has responsibility for the movement of materials in and out of Aughinish Alumina, one of the most important industries to the economy. It is also responsible for freight and traffic in and out of Moneypoint and Tarbert power stations, as well as running the oil depot at Dernish Island for Shannon Airport.
The company's most recent project was to divest itself of non-core assets, many of which were located in the old Limerick docks. The Limerick Docklands Initiative was established, of which I was a strong supporter with the former chief executive, Brian Byrne, to release capital from non-effective properties which would be reinvested in Foynes and the outer estuary at Ballylongford, County Kerry. Plans are in place to build a major transshipment hub at the site. The Acting Chairman, Senator Coghlan, will also be aware of the exciting new LNG project at Ballylongford. Although An Bord Pleanála has found in favour of the project, there have been, unfortunately, some recent planning objections which, hopefully, will be dealt with. This project will be extremely important for the nation, will underpin and guarantee our energy requirements in the context of gas, will free us from our dependence on that infamous gas pipeline from Russia, will lead to the creation of quite a number of jobs and will provide a major boost for a population which historically has been in decline and which has again been affected following the downturn in the economy.
The Shannon-Foynes Port Company has more than enough to do, without being asked to take Fenit as a partner or to assimilate it. This is a bad match and it will make for a very bad marriage if it proceeds.
I thought Senator O'Sullivan was opposed to divorce.
I try to avoid making mistakes. I am lucky enough in that regard.
She is still with the Senator.
The Acting Chairman, Senator Coghlan, is intimately acquainted with Fenit and is aware that its future will be as a leisure-fishing port. There is an important industry operating there which, I am sure, is close to the Acting Chairman's heart. Other than that, however, the main activities carried out there are by those who fish for a living and those involved in tourism angling. In recent years, Fenit has become an important tourism centre. Activity relating to the latter has centred on the town's marina on which €4 million was expended in the past five or six years. I spoke to the chairman of the Fenit Harbour board, Councillor Johnny Wall, this morning and he indicated that the board has put together a submission in respect of the further development of activities at the marina. Overall, there will be a need for an investment of an additional €8 million in Fenit.
The review of State regional ports and harbours indicates that there is a great future for the marine tourism industry in this country. It points out that Fenit has a 100-berth marina at present and that this is capable of accommodating boats of sizes ranging from six to 15 metres. The review also points out that there is one berth capable of catering for vessels of 30 metres and over. It further states that the harbour attracted 123 visiting yachts, mainly from Britain, France and the domestic market, in 1998, that the potential for marine tourism and leisure development at Fenit is medium to high and that its principle attraction — the marina — is running at a very high level of demand at present. It goes on to point out that there is definite demand for additional berthing space. The review to which I refer also indicates that proposed project would include a hotel, apartments, a leisure centre, conference facilities, language laboratories and computer workshops. There is already a marine centre located at Fenit and this attracts interest from schools tours, etc.
We are, therefore, discussing two completely different operations. There is no way a commercial port could do anything but suffer if it were obliged to take responsibility for a tourism port such as Fenit.
The one major industry which operates at Fenit, namely, Liebherr Cranes, has been an extremely important contributor to the economy of Kerry. The Acting Chairman, who lives in Killarney, will be aware of that fact. This company's balance sheet is in good order and, despite the recession, its order book for the next five years would be the envy of many others. Liebherr Cranes is committed to Fenit and will be able to use additional storage space there if the harbour board is able to acquire same, which it is attempting to do at present. This is an extremely strong company with a bright future and it will, in effect, pay the bills of the harbour board and allow it to develop the type of facilities to which I referred earlier.
Why stymie something that is a success? Why try to fix something that is not broken? Having listened to Senator O'Donovan during the hours, days and weeks over which this debate has taken place, I am of the view that the situation vis-à-vis Bantry and Cork is identical. The Minister of State has a difficult job to do and the debate on the Bill is taking up much more of his time than he would have anticipated. However, it is important to get matters right. Given that the Bill was introduced in the Seanad, it is only proper that we should get it right before it is sent to the Lower House where someone might engage in an even more concentrated and forensic attack on it than has Senator O’Donovan.
The Bill and the amendment with which we are dealing have serious implications for the port of Cork. I wish to deal specifically with the proposed move out of Cork city. As the Minister of State is aware, delays in this regard are having major implications for the proposed Cork docklands development. Perhaps he might ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to publish the Cork docklands forum report which is long overdue and which has been with the Government since last June. This pivotal report relates to the development of the port of Cork and to the docklands authority there. I am aware, as a result of leaked information, that the report calls for the establishment of a Cork docklands authority. In light of yesterday's revelations regarding the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, I wonder if Cork should not go down this particular route.
It is important that the role of Cork City Council should be accentuated and that the council should remain the lead agency in respect of this matter. There should be consultation with other stakeholders to drive the project forward. Did consultation take place with the authorities in Bantry and those in Cork? Why is the Minister of State proposing to remove councillors from the board? These people are elected representatives, they are the voice of the people and the local authorities and they bring with them a wealth of experience, knowledge and intelligence. Under the provisions of the Bill, however, they will be cast to one side. In a spirit of bipartisanship, I wish to state that councillors from all political parties have served Cork city and county well while acting as members of the board. Suddenly, these people are to be removed from their positions.
The port of Cork is extremely important to Cork city and to the Cork area strategic plan, CASP. In addition, it is vital to the creation of a new mini-city in the Cork docklands. I have a number of questions with regard to what is being done in this legislation, especially in respect of the relocation of the port of Cork. Senators O'Donovan and O'Sullivan referred to this matter earlier. Does the Port of Cork Company want the power that is to be bestowed upon it? It is important a properly functioning and viable port of Cork should be developed.
I pay tribute to Mr. Brendan Keating, Mr. Michael McCarthy and Mr. Denis Healy who, on behalf of the Port of Cork Company, have provided strong leadership and great direction. I hope that as a consequence of their work, there will be a Cork-Swansea ferry this year because such a service is badly needed. It would be of immense benefit to the Acting Chairman's home town of Killarney to have tourists coming in to Cork by ferry. I hope the Government recognises that we need vibrant ferry services between Ireland and Britain. I am sure Senator O'Donovan agrees with me in respect of that matter. Such services are critical to the development of the port, to west Cork and to the people of the kingdom of Kerry. Under this section, will the Port of Cork Company be facilitated in taking its eye off the ball in terms of its strategic plan and developing the port for the betterment of the region?
Senator O'Sullivan spoke about a bad marriage. The proposals amount to a mixed marriage which nobody wants. I have not heard anything concrete from the port of Cork to suggest it endorses the proposals.
The issue of oil security raised by Senator O'Sullivan impacts on all of us. In this connection, what are the plans for Whitegate? I am disturbed by the report in The Sunday Times of 1 February to which Senator O’Sullivan referred which states:
Ireland holds one of the lowest proportions of oil stocks of all International Energy Agency member states. Only about 50 to 60 days of the 90-days net import obligation are held in the country.
What will happen in the case of Bantry, Whiddy Island and Whitegate in the event of an oil crisis? The Whitegate refinery has played a major role in Cork over the decades. I remember as a child that one could set one's clock by Mr. May who lived behind my family and caught the bus outside the entrance of the estate where he was dropped off again in the evening on his return from the refinery.
What plans are in place for Whiddy Island? It is extraordinary that a recent remembrance service commemorated the 30th anniversary of the tragic fire on the island caused by the explosion of the Betelgeuse. I remember as a child watching Tom McSweeney reporting on the incident on RTE and recall a photograph of the area engulfed in huge flames carried in the then Cork Examiner. I am sure the owners of the Irish Examiner regret changing the newspaper’s name from the Cork Examiner. I apologise for digressing.
What will be the role of Whitegate vis-à-vis Whiddy Island? Senator O’Donovan referred to a pipeline. What plans are in place to engage with stakeholders in Cork? It is extraordinary that this issue has developed into one of Cork city versus the county when we should have an all-embracing strategic plan which allows the ports to develop. Our ports are entry and exit points for goods and equipment and focal points for tourism and leisure. What do we want to achieve?
Mr. Ger Lyons of Deloitte & Touche indicated at the oral hearing on the port of Cork that the city quays and Ford's Wharf had generated more than €9.26 million in income, which was 40% of the company's profits last year. Why would a port authority with assets of more than €113 million want to become an all-embracing authority when its mission and rationale are to relocate and develop a strong Cork Port? While I welcome this objective on which the company has presented excellent reports and plans, I am concerned at the absence of joined-up thinking. For example, a major flaw in the proposal to move the port to Ringaskiddy was the absence of a rail link
The Bill provides for the amalgamation of the various ports in the county. I love the term "without prejudice". The Minister of State may correct me if I am wrong but it appears the proposal would create competition between the harbours of Cork, Bantry, Shannon-Foynes, Tralee and Fenit. Are we pursuing a similar policy to that chosen regarding the State airports when Dublin Airport Authority was made the umbrella body for Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports? I understand the Minister of State was a Minister in the Department of Transport for a period. We now have a state of stasis with no progress made on addressing the debt of Cork Airport or establishing it as an independent entity. Will the ports be subject to the same competitive pressures?
Will the profits generated in the Cork docklands be distributed among the various stakeholders or will they be used to develop Cork? If Bantry, Fenit or Shannon-Foynes port makes profits, will they be retained in the port in question? The relevant section refers to the transfer of accounts and assets. What will be done with the assets?
I am disappointed that Cork Port has not been moved. However, I also understand the frustration felt by the residents of Ringaskiddy and Carrigaline regarding the proposal to move the port further down the N28. The infrastructure in the proposed new site is not suitable and the move would be a major imposition on the residents of both towns. This returns us to the fundamental point, namely, the absence of consultation. Why are councillors being removed from the board? I praised the Minister of State, Deputy Curran, for agreeing to include elected representatives in the new regulatory authority established under the legislation. All sides agreed on that issue. I cannot understand the Government's mania for precluding local representatives from becoming members of State boards. Politicians have been excluded from almost all State boards. I ask for clarity on the composition of the new board.
I am disappointed at the failure to develop the Cork docklands. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to develop the city and create a new quarter to encompass residential areas, educational facilities, including a UCC campus, health care institutions arising from the amalgamation of the South Infirmary-Victoria Hospital or the establishment of a new hospital, leisure facilities and a conference centre. Cork needs a conference centre and is losing out to Senator Coghlan's home town of Killarney. Dublin has a fine conference centre, the O2, which is worth visiting. Cork needs a convention centre to increase footfall in the city. The port of Cork has succeeded in attracting cruise liners to Cobh, creating and sustaining jobs and boosting tourism.
The decision to put on hold the relocation of the port of Cork and the lack of Government support for the plans have frozen and paralysed the Cork docklands project. While it is legitimate to argue that the budget provided a tax break for the Seveso sites, not one Finance Bill has provided support for the proposed eastern gateway bridge or to Cork City Council to develop the docklands. This is a matter of concern.
The Government proposes to create a harbours "superpower" at a time when the Port of Cork Company should be exclusively engaged in developing the port. In recessionary times it is not a case of any port will do but one of being able to draw up plans and invest resources in developing Cork Port.
I am concerned that if this Bill is passed, we will see a dilution of policy and procedures in the Port of Cork, and I do not want that to happen. I cannot speak as someone from west Cork, although I have relations in Kilmichael, but, as Senator O'Donovan knows well, my loyalty is to the Port of Cork. However, I do not want to see anything happening which will dilute the economic importance of Cork, whether west Cork or elsewhere. It is the rebel county and, as Senator O'Donovan knows well, we will stick together. It is important to put people first.
There is a common theme here, which is the Minister, Deputy Dempsey. He started off with the airports and now he is back with the ports. What does he want to achieve? According to the Explanatory Memorandum, he proposes to reduce the number of directors and the number of ports. What is the reason behind that? Has it not been proved that we should not reduce, that we should keep what we have and accentuate the growth of each port?
It is important we put on record the fact that Cork city requires the docklands project to be moved forward. It will provide the economic stimulus Cork needs. It is dependent on the Port of Cork, Cork City Council and Government and the private stakeholders working together to progress the Cork docklands. That is what we need to do because if we do not do so, we will have the biggest white elephant ever. If that is what the Government wants, it will be on its head.
If we are serious about the development of Cork city and, in particular, the move of the Port of Cork, assistance should be provided. Likewise the development of the Cork docklands should be prioritised by Government. We should stand behind Cork City Council and let it become the lead agency.
Will the Minister of State explain why we are taking councillors off the board?
I listened with interest to Senator Buttimer and concur with much of what he said. As someone who goes in and out of the Cork port area on a regular basis, I congratulate the Port of Cork on its endeavours. As Senator Buttimer indicated, it has much on its agenda and it is developing well. There is huge potential and much work to be done in Cork port and I wish it well in its endeavours in that regard.
I indicate to the House and the Department my support for Senator O'Donovan. My mother is from the same town as the Minister of State's and I have been visiting it for a long time. I was born in May and visited the town in July. The town is close to my heart. I was there last weekend and will be there again this weekend.
What I have heard locally, which may be somewhat helpful to the Minister of State and the officials, is that locals are 110% plus behind Senator O'Donovan and his endeavours. Much of what he put on record was covered on local radio or in local print in recent weeks. It is important we recognise that he is a dedicated, committed and passionate public representative, representing the views of the local community and the people who have done well with Bantry harbour and outlining the importance of the harbour and the bay to his community. His request for the Department and the Minister to review what we ask is not unreasonable.
This is enabling legislation and if it is passed in its present form, the people who are so committed and dedicated to the Bantry region will no longer have the upper hand. It is not fair to put those people, including my colleague, Senator O'Donovan, in that position.
I also know a number of other people in the Bantry area, including the chair of Bantry Harbour Commissioners, Councillor Aiden McCarthy, who is a committed individual and a successful businessman. One might question why he devotes such an enormous amount of time to his community. The reason is he is committed to, and passionate about, the Bantry region.
Bantry Harbour Commissioners is made up of two local county councillors, two Bantry town councillors, two local people nominated by the chamber, two local people nominated by the port users association and three ministerial appointees. Often a journalist will delve into the three ministerial appointees and ask what Minister made the appointments and who were his or her friends. One of the appointees is a union representative while the two other appointees are very committed local individuals, one of whom is a councillor, Letty Baker, a well known name in the Bantry area, and is very committed to the development of the town. The other ministerial appointee is Kathleen Tessyman who has knowledge of the bay and who might have spent a number of years commuting on it to and from work. I do not believe one could get a better mix of people representing Bantry harbour.
I have spent much time in the region and enjoy the sea and water sports. I have probably done everything in Bantry Bay. I have also travelled from Dublin to Bantry Bay on a boat. One of the last ports of call for a proper marina located in a decent town where there are appropriate support facilities is Kinsale. After that, one has a long haul. While there are good facilities along the way, there are no proper marina facilities. We all know what it is like to get around Mizen Head. There is a long haul from Kinsale, getting around Mizen Head and going north. There is a small private marina in Bantry Bay, which is great, on Bere Island which is not really able to accommodate a large number of boats and is full most of the time.
If anyone were to ask me — not because of my connection with Bantry Bay — where I would locate a marina in that general vicinity I would have to say it should be in Dunmanus Bay or Bantry Bay. I understand Bantry Bay is one of the deepest harbours in Europe so it would probably be appropriate to accommodate various sizes of boats and yachts. Either one of them would be appropriate. One would question why it is not there already or if work is already being done there. Why would there be a commitment or who would have a commitment to have that type of facility? One would have to accept no one would be better than the local community, given the benefits that would accrue.
I take the opportunity to put on record my understanding that Senator O'Donovan secured in excess of €3 million for the dredging of Bantry Bay around the harbour area, which is very necessary. If it took place other developments could proceed. One could then, at that stage, accommodate and incorporate a marina, which would be a great development for the town of Bantry.
It has been brought to my attention that Murnane and O'Shea limited — Mr. Bob Murnane has been a great man for the Bantry town area and is an innovator, an entrepreneur and a man with great vision who has certainly done a major amount of work — did some work on the development of the inner harbour in June 2006. It has prepared a report indicating what could be accommodated by way of a marina in the inner harbour. I am not sure if one will have the same commitment to the project if there is enabling legislation stating, "We have pulled the rug. We now have the upper hand and can hand this to Cork Port and thanks for the work in the past". I am not sure if that is the correct way to go about business.
In the current climate, everything has changed dramatically and quickly. We are not talking about the economy of Ireland but about what is happening on the world stage. We in Ireland are not cushioned in any form or fashion from the economic and financial difficulties and the current situation has serious implications for us. When this type of thing happens and one is in conversation with others, someone often says at a time like this, we need to get back to basics, see what was done in years gone by and do it again. We need to start from scratch and go back.
It is interesting to note what President Barack Obama is doing in America, such as having house meetings, bringing Americans together, addressing their difficulties, uniting them and opting for change. It is being done through an address on the economic recovery plan. In doing so he is going back to the 50 states and asking people to meet, make decisions, identify issues and work locally.
The distance from Cork Port to Bantry is probably one of the greatest distances one could take in the geographic map of Ireland. I am not sure how long the journey would take by boat; it would probably depend on the type of boat one was on. The car journey is in the region of a two hour run. We are not talking about those at Cork Port being able to run down the road and see what is happening or having their finger on the pulse.
It is a unique situation. The local community is very committed and has very dedicated people who have done well. If Bantry Port was suffering, had failed in its duties, was in financial difficulties, had people who were not committed sitting or participating on a board, or people who were not even involved, such as those mentioned in the Murnane and O'Shea limited proposal, and was looking for someone to come and take over the unique situation prevailing in Bantry, perhaps at that stage we should look at Cork, if there was not going to be a commitment from anyone else. This was mentioned in the Murnane and O'Shea limited proposal.
I understand there is a high level review document, which is just short of 200 pages, and have no doubt there are lines in it indicating the reasons why the situation in Bantry Port should be changed, allowing for section 18 of the Bill which allows for the transfer of certain harbours under the Harbours Act. Equally, having been given the opportunity to study the review in a balanced fashion, and after hearing what Senator O'Donovan said over the last number of weeks on this issue, on reading his eight amendments in this section all I can say is I wholeheartedly support my colleague.
I want to give a clear message to the Minister of State and Department officials. I have not met one person in my visits to Bantry who said the Senator is wrong. I have not met one person who does not support the dredging of the inner harbour and the proposal for a marina development. I have not met one person who said there was no need for an extension of the pier. These are some of the principal issues the Senator and Bantry Port are seeking to resolve. People will say that Cork will go ahead and do those things anyway, and will work with local people and everybody will be happy.
Returning to the economic and financial position we find ourselves in, the first thing any logical person who lives a couple of hours drive from a place where one could sail a pleasure or sailing boat would ask is what is in it for us, whether there is money upfront or whether we will have to carry a burden. Those are reasonable questions for any authority to ask. If Bantry Port is seen as a profitable organisation, people probably would not have a great level of objection if a few bob came with the onerous task of taking on the challenge. They would look at the two main areas, Whiddy and the stone quarry.
I am not sure if Cork Port would have the same in-depth commitment to other aspects of the development of Bantry Bay, which I have already mentioned and will not go over again, such as the marina, dredging, the pier extension, leisure facilities and many other activities that happen in the bay area. Owing to the unique situation that prevails in Bantry, I ask the Minister of State to be reasonable and let us reach some level of compromise rather than putting this issue to the House for a decision, which would cause difficulty for some Members. I know what must be done, but it is not unreasonable to ask for a level of detailed negotiation to commence and be concluded with Senator O'Donovan before this matter is put to the House. Some of his worthy convictions and commitments, as contained in the amendments, should be accommodated in some form. That is the way the world is working today. We talk about openness, transparency and reaching consensus through social partnership, so we should act thus on this legislation.
Although I have said it before, may I remind Members of what we are doing here and the history of this matter? Five or six years ago, a high level review of the State's commercial sea ports recommended the amalgamation of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners with the Port of Cork Company. Those recommendations and the consultation process that informed them fed into the ports policy statement which is now Government policy. That statement was published and extensively discussed three or four years ago. It was subject to an intensive consultation process before and after publication. The process has continued in respect of the harbours we are discussing and, as mentioned earlier, we are talking about the due diligence report.
The Government's ports policy statement clearly indicated that the continued operation of the country's regional harbours under the outdated provisions of the Harbours Act 1946 was unsustainable. The statement recommended the transfer of those harbours to relevant local authority control or, in cases where significant commercial traffic still existed, that consideration should be given to placing the harbours under relevant port company control. It is because of the quantity of commercial traffic in Bantry and Fenit that the proposal has come about to link them to existing ports. If Bantry did not have the oil terminal it would already have been transferred, or would be in the process of being transferred, to Cork County Council. Were it not for the commercial traffic and the need for commercial expertise, were it not for Liebherr in Fenit, for example, there would be no need to put Fenit into the Shannon-Foynes Port Company. It would not be necessary from the point of view of fishing or the marina, but it is because of the commercial traffic. It is a case of how one handles commercial traffic and it is Government policy to try to link them to a commercial port that has the professional expertise.
I answered Senator O'Donovan's earlier questions about the due diligence report and other issues. The Senator then talked about the transfer date and what could happen. He is a solicitor, unlike myself, and he read out the legal jargon contained in the Bill with great passion. All the details concerning the transfer date refer to what would legally happen if everything else occurred, including the consultation process and legal paperwork. The material the Senator read out is probably a direct copy from other Bills which contain such legal phraseology. The same provision already exists, almost word for word, in the 1996 Act to allow for a transfer to local authorities. The same legal wording applies to anyone who is signing a will and while the Senator made it sound very dramatic, it is nearly a standard provision. It already applies, almost word for word, so it does not have the great significance the Senator implied. However, if the consultation and due diligence go ahead and if it is all agreed at local level, works out and is transferred, then the legal process to which the Senator referred eventually would take place.
I am aware of the letter the Senator read out from the Irish Ports Association, but I am surprised by the way in which he spoke about Bantry Harbour board. He said that if this legislation goes through, the board would almost throw in the towel and it would be a fait accompli. I am horrified by that but I do not believe the Senator meant it. I do not believe that would be the attitude locally. If the Bantry Harbour board has such deeply held views on this matter, it would be taking a firm part in the consultations and negotiations that must go on. It would do its best so that its aspirations and dreams would be copperfastened in whatever structure emerges, be it with the port of Cork, the county council or whatever. The Senator is not doing his own people any justice by pretending that everything would be signed, sealed and delivered once this Bill goes through. This is enabling legislation and, as I have explained before, it will not take effect immediately. If it takes effect at all, it will be after due diligence, due process and consultation have been undertaken.
The national oil reserve is a matter for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan. I cannot speak or act with authority on the state of the national oil reserve, including how many days' oil reserves are in Bantry terminal or elsewhere. I do not want to get into that. It is because of the commercial expertise of the port of Cork that any potential merger is viewed as being appropriate to Bantry. There is linkage already, including an arrangement between Bantry and the port of Cork on professional expertise for the handling and management of the oil terminal. That is what we are trying to do by developing best practice to use expertise and have linkages to big ports for smaller locations such as Bantry and Fenit which have commercial traffic.
The Senator said that at one stage it looked as if Bantry was going to be designated as a port. While the Senator may have a different view as of now, it is my view and that of the Department that based on the level of business activity in Bantry at present — and I accept that it is doing all right — including turnover, profitability and throughput, the scale of business in Bantry or Fenit is not really sufficient for them to be turned into ports. Corporatisation as a commercial port company confers major financial and corporate governance responsibilities. It is not just the case that one would be boss in one's own domain. The control of Bantry Port would still be in Bantry, but that would bring responsibilities. That is the reason a merger between a port company with significant commercial trade and a smaller regional port offers economies of scale.
If all the things read out by the Senator with regard to the expansion of Whiddy Island and Bantry Bay etc. happened, the port might be big enough to stand alone. However, that is just one consultant's report and I do not know how real its proposals are or whether they will be implemented. If Bantry developed significantly and there was more commercial traffic, it could, perhaps, be considered for corporatisation again. However, that is a big "if" and is too far ahead. We can only deal with the situation as it is today, we cannot look around corners or predict what will happen.
There are already professional links between Bantry and Cork in the area of harbour master duties etc. This is only right as there is much professionalism in Cork. Under the Harbours Act, it is Government policy that port companies must be self-financing and not reliant on Government funding. This is the fundamental issue. If there was enough traffic in either Fenit or Bantry to allow them to stand alone, they would have to be able to survive without funding. They could not be designated ports like Dublin or Waterford and still receive Government funding. They must be one or the other.
We have had a good discussion of the issues and have gone through the history of the situation. Senator O'Sullivan provided good detail of what is happening in the Shannon Estuary area and I hope the liquid gas plant at Ballylongford goes ahead and gets over its problems, be they related to planning or foreshore issues. Senator Buttimer came at the issues from a different perspective. He sees Cork Port getting involved in Bantry as something that pulls Cork down. That will not happen. However, it is to cater for these views that these discussions take place.
This Bill just provides another option, but it is subject to the due diligence report and the detailed consultation we have agreed to, which would have happened anyway but has been formalised by being included in the Bill. If in one, two or three years' time it seems to be the majority view that a merger takes place, which was the recommendation of experts previously, Government policy will be to try to make that happen. However, there will be plenty of local consultation on the due diligence report, which will be given to Bantry for discussion there. Everything can and will be done to facilitate that. It would be rather foolish to think that everybody will come on board.
Dublin Port is a big port, yet other activities take place there, including sailing and yacht club activities. It is possible to have an arrangement whereby the other uses of the port can be taken on board to some extent, although the good people of Clontarf might not fully agree on that. While it is a struggle, it is possible to have different uses catered for in a port. It is Government policy to try to achieve this and we are trying to do that in this Bill.
If the main players on the ground, namely, Cork Port and the Bantry Harbour Commissioners, cannot come together in a sensible way, other options, such as the local authority or a private company, must be possible. It is, however, policy not to leave smaller harbour commissions on their own and to try to link them with a bigger port if they have significant traffic, as Bantry has, or with the local authority. Local authorities around the country have already taken over a number of them.
I have heard the concerns of Senator O'Donovan, but I hope we can move on, let the negotiations take place at local level and see what comes out in a year or two, or whatever length of time it takes, from the discussions between Cork Port, Bantry Harbour Commissioners and everybody else from the Bantry area with a point of view to express on the issue.
I have listened to the Minister of State, but he is missing my concern. I do not wish to go around in circles, but Government policy is highlighted in the major report or high level review of commercial State ports. I have been saying ad nauseam that the report — I will read into the record the next day the parts of the report that concern Bantry and my amendments — takes no account of anything except commercial activity. There is no mention of the importance of Bantry from the tourism perspective of marine and leisure activities etc.
I attended a meeting in Bantry last Monday, chaired by people from Fáilte Ireland, with regard to Bantry's designation, with Killarney, as a tourist hub for south and west Munster. We were told at the meeting what could and should be done for the area. Like reports from many Departments, this report on the ports was drawn up with tunnel vision that never looked left or right and involved no cross-departmental discussion or engagement. We can leave Whiddy Island refinery out of the discussion as it might close. The stone quarry in Adrigole, which exports its stone from Leighhill pier, may also close, but one sure thing is that people will still live on Whiddy Island, and I must represent them.
Bantry is a tourist hub and part of our main tourism industry. A new hotel opened there that cost over €40 million. I could argue that on strict commercial lines there is merit for a merger between Cork and Bantry ports, based on commercial traffic. However, that negates my duty to the fishermen, fish farmers etc. There is nothing in this Bill for them although they have a role to play. They are the stakeholders and must be protected and consulted. That is the reason I find it impossible to support the Bill in its current form before the due diligence report is completed and before full consultation with all stakeholders. This has not happened.
After the Betelgeuse disaster, there was a major commitment from the then coalition, led by Dick Spring, that money would be spent——
There were two Government Deputies in west Cork.
Subsequently, in the watch of a Government of which I was a member, there was a sale of the facilities on Whiddy Island. Over the past 30 or 40 years, irrespective of what Government was in power, the needs have remained the same. The island needs a decent pier that is accessible at low tide. The Minister of State has historical connections with Whiddy Island. Some years ago an elderly lady on the island broke her leg and was brought in by boat, but because the tide was out she had to be lifted over different boats to reach the pier and the ambulance. It is only now, when the slipway is almost complete, that an ambulance will be able to pick up patients directly. It is difficult to believe this is only now possible. We cannot forget the Betelgeuse disaster, the Whiddy Island disaster or the possible need for a fire tender to go to the island and the need for proper slipways.
I concede there is some merit in a merger on a strict commercial understanding, but the bigger picture is being missed. We cannot follow the tunnel vision of Departments as that is crazy.