Amendments Nos. 8, 9, and 13 to 17, inclusive, are related and are being discussed together by agreement.
Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008: Committee Stage (Resumed).
We have debated this Bill at length, for approximately 12 to 14 hours, and everything that could possibly be said about these amendments has been said so I will not add to my comments on them. The points have been well made on all sides of the House, not least on the Government side where there is a filibuster.
I intend, however, to reintroduce some of these amendments on Report Stage.
I support Senator McCarthy. All the points that could possibly be made, not only on this legislation, but about the future development of our ports, have been made at length in this debate. We have supported amendments on how these ports should be formed and run and expressed our concerns regarding many aspects of the Bill. We have nothing further to say. I reckon that we have debated the Bill since the middle of last October. I ask that in any further discussions we find a way to do the right thing in expressing our concerns about the Bill while also bringing it to a conclusion.
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Noel Ahern. Like the previous speakers, I do not intend to go into further fine detail on a Bill that has already been fairly well thrashed out in the House. However, it would be remiss of me not to go over one or two points raised by my colleague, Senator O'Donovan, who is indisposed today and cannot be with us. He, and other colleagues, put up a long battle against the proposed amalgamation of Cork and Bantry harbours. He pointed out that this is not popular in Bantry where it is seen as totally unnecessary. Were he here today, I am sure the Senator would continue at further length on that point.
It is comical to suggest to people in Fenit that Shannon Foynes Port, with which it is to be associated, is its local port. Cork is nearer as the crow flies and Fenit would have more in common with Cork than with Shannon Foynes, which is a large industrial and commercial port.
Last weekend I chanced upon the chairman of the Wexford Harbour Commissioners. While they do not fall under the remit of this Bill, he said they object strongly to proposals that the Department take them over. There is a fair amount of disquiet about this matter, not all centred on the west coast.
The directors and connections of the Shannon Foynes Port Company are horrified at the idea that they must take responsibility for Fenit. There is so much happening in the Shannon Estuary that it is not practical to divert the company's business focus from the estuary to Fenit, which is an angling and tourist base, with the exception of one major commercial customer. The reports are that the LNG project in the Shannon Estuary, which is crucial to our energy requirements, is getting the go-ahead in its latest planning stages. The Foreshore Act sets one final hurdle for it but I hope that it will go through without further objections.
The future of the region depends on this development, with many jobs at stake. In this recession the country badly wants a major project such as this, and money up front. As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, I am aware of the significance of an alternative new energy source in LNG which will free us from the tyranny of dependence on the infamous Russian gas pipeline. This is the Shannon Foynes Port Company's baby.
We must also consider the future of Aughinish Alumina, one of the biggest employers in the country, which, as its biggest single customer, contributes significantly to the budget of the Shannon Foynes Port Company. There have been scares about the future of the plant and it is not possible for the harbour board to deviate from concentration on such a large client to deal with other smaller fish. There is a board in Fenit which is more than happy to run, and is capable of running, the harbour at a profit. It has drawn up interesting new development plans with the Department.
There is also an issue in the Shannon Estuary regarding the future of Tarbert power station. Until recently, it was one of the major contributors to the national grid. Moneypoint is on the other side, and both stations are big customers of the port company. There is also an emphasis in Limerick city on the Limerick docklands initiative which was stalled owing to local politics and business politics in the city. That was a shame because I was in support of it as a director of the port company. It is to be hoped the initiative will re-emerge. The port company has enough to do on all of these issues without having to get involved with Fenit.
We have thrashed this issue out by now. The Minister of State has heard just about enough. I am sure it will be thrashed out again at a later stage when Senator O'Donovan is back in full health.
I thank the Senators for their contributions. We have had much discussion on the matter and I have replied before to the strong views expressed.
The Minister has replied several times.
The fundamental point is that this is enabling legislation that follows on from various consultants' reports and from the Government's ports policy published a few years ago. Senator O'Sullivan mentioned Wexford, but Wexford is in a different category. The reason Bantry and Fenit are mentioned is that when the original legislation was being published, the option existed to set up a private company or transfer them to a local authority. Wexford does not have any commercial traffic of significance. Talks are ongoing between Wexford Harbour board and Wexford County Council about transferring that. This has happened with a number of smaller harbour commissioners where the functions have been transferred to the relevant local authority.
Bantry and Fenit are different and this came out of the Government's ports policy document which stated that if Fenit was only about angling and fishing and tourism — I spent a week in Godley's Hotel once when the children were small and I meandered up and down every cul-de-sac at the time, but that was a while back——
The Minister of State should have gone to west Cork.
The brother goes to Dingle.
He has cousins in west Cork.
The point I am making is that there is a difference due to the significant amount of commercial traffic from Liebherr in Killarney to Fenit. That company is very attached to Fenit because it suits its operation. If Fenit was only about tourism and angling, we would not be talking about putting it under the control of the Shannon-Foynes Port Company because it would be transferred to Kerry County Council. It is because there is a significant amount of commercial traffic in Fenit and Bantry that we are doing this.
The different perspectives of the different Senators have been very interesting, but there has been a long process of various reports, the results of which mean that this has been transferred to the Department of Transport. It is a very good model when dealing with the big ports and with the amalgamation of roads and ports under the same Department. I accept the argument made by some that it is more difficult to see the synergies when one is talking about smaller harbour commissioners, but that policy was approved by the Government a few years ago. Wexford is in a different category because the harbour commissioners there would come under the local authority. The option for Fenit and Bantry to link in with a port with professional expertise and corporate governance is due to the significant amount of commercial traffic at those ports. If Liebherr was not delivering to Fenit and if the oil terminal was not in Bantry, we would not be talking about this. We would be talking about transferring the competencies of those ports to the local authority.
I can see that there are strong local views on this and we have agreed to look at some amendments on more consultation and reflect on them before the Bill is passed. While we feel that the consultation that took place has been exhaustive, we have agreed to look at Senator Donohoe's amendment to formalise a consultation process in a statutory way. This will not happen in three months or six months. There have been suggestions that the previous consultation was at a high level and that individual local groups or fishermen were not involved. Sometimes we do not shout early enough but wait until decisions are nearly made and then jump out of the rafters, as it were. If any groups felt that they did not get the opportunity to speak on this issue, we are looking at wording that can be put into the Bill to allow for a consultation process in which every group and every individual can make their views known.
I cannot accept any of the amendments tabled but I hope that, in time, people will be happy with the process as laid down in the Bill.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Brady, Martin.
- Butler, Larry.
- Carty, John.
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Corrigan, Maria.
- Daly, Mark.
- Ellis, John.
- Feeney, Geraldine.
- Glynn, Camillus.
- Hanafin, John.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Leyden, Terry.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- McDonald, Lisa.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- O’Brien, Francis.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Sullivan, Ned.
- Ormonde, Ann.
- Phelan, Kieran.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Bradford, Paul.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Cummins, Maurice.
- Donohoe, Paschal.
- Fitzgerald, Frances.
- Healy Eames, Fidelma.
- McCarthy, Michael.
- McFadden, Nicky.
- Phelan, John Paul.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Ross, Shane.
- White, Alex.
Both Senator McCarthy and myself wish to express the view that we are not supporting the Bill but we will not call a vote on it. My understanding is that Report Stage will be taken next week.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday, 24 February 2009.