Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008: Report and Final Stages.

Before we commence I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except for the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage each amendment must be seconded.

Government amendment No. 1:
In page 5, line 19, after "1933" to insert the following:
"and any application duly made for such a lease, licence, approval or consent".

Currently, this section only allows for consideration of leases and licences approvals or consents actually granted under the Foreshore Act and this is in contrast to the subsection regarding regulatory requirements under the planning Acts where consideration of both applications and permissions granted is specified. To ensure consistency, it is proposed to amend section 3 to allow for consideration of any application made under the Foreshore Act prior to a ministerial order being made to alter a company's harbour limits. The amendment has a practical aspect because foreshore leases are not granted generally until planning permission has been granted. It is important, therefore, that applications under the Foreshore Act be considered also.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 are cognate, amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are technical alternatives that arise out of Committee proceedings and amendment No. 21 is related. Is it agreed that amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, and amendment No. 21 will be discussed together?

That is not agreed. Amendment No. 3 should be discussed separately.

It will be discussed separately.

Amendment No. 3 proposes a significant change.

Amendments Nos. 2, 4 and 21 will be discussed together. Amendment No. 3 will be discussed separately. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, line 24, to delete "2006" and substitute "2007".

Are amendments Nos. 2, 4 and 21 being grouped?

Amendments Nos. 2, 4 and 21, which are Labour Party amendments, are being taken together.

Amendment No. 3 is not part of that grouping.

Amendment No. 2 proposes "In page 5, line 24, to delete "2006" and substitute "2007"." This is a technical amendment proposed by my party. It is to correct a citation which was updated by the Water Services Act 2007.

I second Senator McCarthy's amendment.

The principle underpinning this amendment is sound. I thank the Senators for tabling these amendments. Senator McCarthy admitted that this amendment is technical in nature, as are the others. Following our raising this matter with the Parliamentary Counsel, he identified an additional change to the collective citation in section 21 that needs to be inserted along with these proposed changes.

I propose to introduce an amendment linked to the changes proposed by the Senator in the Dáil. I thank the Senator for bringing this matter to our notice. Other similar changes seemingly are also needed. The Senator might not press his amendment on the basis that I promise to introduce an amendment in the Dáil that takes on board exactly what the Senator has proposed. Other items requiring amendment have been identified in the collective citation under section 21 and we will make those changes together.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I will withdraw the amendment on that basis.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Government amendment No. 3:
In page 5, line 29, to delete "2006."," and substitute the following:
"2006,
(iv) any development plan made by a planning authority pursuant to sections 9 and 12 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, and any local area plan under section 18 of that Act.".".

We discussed this matter on Committee Stage on foot of a proposal by Senator Donohoe regarding the principles and policies to which a Minister should have regard when making an order to extend a company's harbour limits. We forwarded that amendment to the Parliamentary Counsel for consideration and drafting. Following discussions with him, he proposed an amendment which is slightly different from the one proposed by the Senator. The Parliamentary Counsel suggests that rather than specifying county or city developments reference should be made to any development plan made by a planning authority as well as any local area plan. It is the same type of proposal as that put forward by the Senator but it is worded differently.

I discussed two points with the Minister on Committee Stage. One related to the need for public consultation and the need to put that process on a firmer statutory footing, with which we will deal shortly. The second point related to this issue, namely, to ensure the future development of any port area or port is congruent and fits in with the wider plan for the development of the area. I referred in particular to local area plans or any development plan for a city or county that a local authority puts in place for an area. Hopefully, the effect of this amendment will ensure that whatever development happens in a port will make sense in terms of the wider plan for the development of the area.

I welcome the fact the Government has taken on board this point. The wording proposed by the Minister of State seems to deliver what I sought in a better way than the wording of my amendment.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 4 not moved.

Amendment No. 5 arises out of Committee proceedings and amendment No. 6 is related. Is it agreed that amendments Nos. 5 and 6 will be discussed together? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, to delete lines 9 to 19.

Amendments No. 5 proposes, "In page 9, to delete lines 9 to 19" and amendment No. 6 proposes "In page 12, to delete line 1". This section envisages removing local authority directors and reducing board membership such that the user representative will also be removed. We were persistent in making these points on earlier Stages. They are well documented on the record so much so that those documenting them must have nearly run out of ink.

In amendment No. 6 we oppose section 11(c) which deletes section 30(6) of the principal Act. The existing section 30(6) provides that local authority members can be members of harbour authorities. I wish that provision to remain in place as it is an intrinsic part of local democracy. We are approaching the holding of local elections. We will be pontificating to people — I say that respectfully — about the merits and, possibly, demerits of local government. People in every jurisdiction in this country if they are on the electoral register, which I presume will be correct on this occasion, will be entitled to elect city councillors, town councillors and county councillors. That is a fundamental tenet of our democracy and something I greatly value. Many Members would not be here but for that fundamental basic principle of our democratic system. The local authority is an important element of our democracy.

My experience of serving in local government commenced when I was elected to a county council at 22 years of age, some ten years ago. I served on the same local authority as Senator O'Donovan. I was lucky enough to be chairman of its western division on two occasions and also to be its vice chairman. I also served on the coiste gairmoideachais, County Cork VEC. I treasure and value local democracy. The work that councillors do in local authorities in many ways is underrated and there are not sufficient supports in place for them.

If this section of the legislation is enacted, it will be anti-democracy and represent an assault on local government. I thank the Minister of State for attending today and his continued persistence in dealing with the Bill and presence during the debates on it. It must have been as tedious for him as it was for some of us. I urge him to take note of the comments of those of us who have been engaged in consultation on this measure. Consultation was a feature of this legislation and we have consulted widely on it.

There is a general view across party politics that transcends party affiliations in regard to councillors who serve on the boards of port companies. The two representatives from my county council who serve on Port of Cork Company, Mr. Kevin Murphy and Mr. Michael Hegarty, are excellent examples in terms of giving public service. They are fine councillors elected by their people in their respective jurisdictions in south and east Cork. It is not necessary to remove people such as those representatives from the board of the Port of Cork Company or any other board of a port company. To do so would represent an assault on democracy. I urge the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to take on board this amendment.

I second the amendment. As Senator McCarthy said, this point was discussed at great length on Committee Stage. My party and colleagues made points to this effect on Committee Stage. As the Senator said, to put in place provisions in legislation such as this providing for such a change when the holding of local elections is rapidly approaching hugely diminishes the role and influence of people who seek to serve their local communities.

I concur with the points made by Senator McCarthy. There appears to be a sort of corporate governance that local authority members should not be on boards, which is wrong. Last week Senator McCarthy and I attended the launch in Dunmanway of the new west Cork community part of the Leader development. I believe at least five or six councillors are on that board. Here we have the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs promoting the Leader programme which has different names in different counties. That is one Department. The notion coming across from Departments is to get rid of local authority representatives from boards. I am not saying this is endemic in the Department of Transport.

Historically local authority members have had a major input into harbour boards. Senator McCarthy referred to Cork Port. As a former member of the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, I know that the local public representatives had a major input. I am not sure what the Minister of State can do in this regard. However, closing the door on them altogether is regrettable and wrong. Cork Port is a very big commercial port, probably one of the two or three biggest in the country. I have no doubt that the local authority members on that port's board have acquitted themselves extremely well and bring an extra dimension to those boards. I ask the Minister to review the matter if not today in this House, certainly in the other House. As Senators we have an affinity with councillors, who are our electorate. For us to ignore them here would be wrong.

On Committee Stage I spoke at length on this issue. I wish to reiterate what I stated. Local authority members who have been on the boards of commercial ports have given significant experience to those bodies and make valuable contributions on a regular basis. Their attendance is probably among the highest of all members of those boards. On the board of Waterford Port, Councillor Cunningham representing the city council, Councillor O'Sullivan representing Waterford County Council, and Councillor Dowling representing Kilkenny County Council are excellent members. To lose their expertise would be bad for the port and the port authority.

There is a democratic deficit in what is proposed in this Bill as has happened in other legislation. Excluding members elected by the people themselves is a retrograde step. We have heard considerable lip-service from the people on the other side — I am not specifically talking about Senator O'Donovan. Many other people have enunciated what should be done regarding councillors. They have the opportunity to vote against this part of the Bill and support the amendment. By doing so they will show support for the local authority representatives — the people who elected many of them to this House. It would also give a message to their own party. On numerous occasions I have heard that everything is decided within Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meetings. This is an opportunity for this House and for Fianna Fáil to show they are on the side of councillors. We should not accept this section of the Bill which will exclude elected members. I challenge the Fianna Fáil and Green Party Members in particular to get rid of this section and stop the constant attack on local authority members.

I fully support the amendment as proposed by Senator McCarthy and seconded by Senator Donohoe. It reflects what we discussed on Committee Stage and I am disappointed that the Minister of State has not amended the section. The exclusion of local authority members is not acceptable.

As the Senators know, at present port authority boards have 12 directors. Various groups and reports have recommended a reduction in the number of directors on port company boards. The general view is that 12 is excessive even for the bigger ports. Some of the smaller ones——

What about FÁS and all the other boards with 20 or more directors?

There are 20 Ministers of State.

Even with some of the bigger ports, having 12 is too many. With some of the smaller ones it is possible to end up with more board members than staff. The change would not affect the term of any existing board member in any case.

There is another view. From the point of view of the Department of Transport, there is another aspect although this has been recommended to us by various reports. We would link it in with, for example, airport boards like Dublin Airport Authority or Cork Airport Authority. There are no local authority members on any of those commercial State bodies. It is rather different. One needs to go back into the history of ports and the harbour authorities. This is strictly about port boards rather than harbour authorities.

Sometimes even in the present set up there can be a conflict of interest for a local authority member. On Dublin City Council lately a very topical issue is an application to reclaim part of Dublin Bay which has been discussed for some years. That is a contentious issue for Dublin City Council. The three local authority members who are on the board of Dublin Port Company were forced to excuse themselves and could not take part in the planning discussions at the council. It is an argument as to which is more important. Dealing with planning issues as indicated by the previous amendment is a big issue for local authorities. In that case there was a very obvious conflict of interest and the three councillors had to exclude themselves and, as a result, were denied the opportunity to perform or take part in their planning role. It is possible to debate it either way.

The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has made it clear that he will continue to appoint a local authority member as one of his statutory nominees. That is not in legislation — the Minister has said he will do it. It is up to all of us to ensure that other Ministers do likewise in the future.

Why not specify that in the legislation as we requested on Committee Stage?

If in doubt, leave it out.

We are not putting it in. On Committee Stage the Senator asked what would happen where more than one local authority was adjacent to a port. Even on that issue some people rebuked me or pulled me up on what I might have suggested at the time. Somebody has since told me that that particular port is in a different county. I apologise to the Acting Chairman, I do not want to raise another issue now.

The Acting Chairman would also have an interest in the matter.

I was talking about him. I accept there is an issue. If it was in the legislation as one, it might nearly create a bigger problem. Issues such as that will need to be discussed in some sort of friendly way to come to a decision. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has given two commitments. First, it will not affect the term of office of any existing member, whose terms are running out fairly soon anyway depending on when the Bill is passed. Second, the Minister has given a commitment that as long as he is in office, one person will be appointed. That is the best I can do for the Senator.

I make a heartfelt plea on the issue.

Once the Minister of State has dealt with an amendment, only the Member who proposed it is allowed to speak. Unfortunately, I must ask the Senator to resume his seat.

I am very strongly in favour of the proposal.

The Senator's comments are noted.

I thank all Senators for their contributions. This is a very important amendment and the depth of feeling on the issue has been demonstrated in eloquent terms by Members on all sides. I respect the Minister of State's response. I understand there is a senior Minister and a Minister of State and know there are certain instructions. While I do not expect miracles, I must persist with the amendment because it is very important for democracy.

Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 15.

  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Labhrás Ó Murchú; Níl, Senators Paschal Donohoe and Michael McCarthy.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 6 not moved.
Government amendment No. 7:
In page 15, line 32, to delete "subsection (1)(b)” and substitute “paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection (1)”.

This amendment is purely technical and does not alter the text of the Bill in any significant or substantive way but merely changes the layout of the subsections to take account of some observations made within the Department. As originally proposed, the section resulted in unnecessary duplication and this amendment is intended to put that right.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 8:
In page 16, to delete lines 4 to 20 and substitute the following:
"(c) the person is the holder of a subsisting certificate of competency which—
(i) is a certificate to which regulation I/2 of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers 1978, done at London on 7 July 1978, relates, and
(ii) was issued to a master or deck officer by or under the authority of the government of any other state where such certificate is recognised by the State for the purposes of regulation I/10 of that Convention by virtue of an order made under section 7 (as amended by section 28 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1992) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1947,".".

Were these amendments grouped?

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are grouped.

Does the Minister of State wish to speak on amendment No. 8? It was already discussed with amendment No. 7.

The point at issue is the same. It is purely technical.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 9 is in the names of Senators O'Donovan, McCarthy, White, Ryan, Prendergast, Hannigan and Kelly.

Amendments Nos. 9 to 20, inclusive, are grouped.

They arise from committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 9 to 20, inclusive, are grouped. Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 16 and 20 are related to Amendment No. 9.

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 17, to delete lines 27 and 28.

I second the amendment.

I am happy to withdraw the amendment but before formally doing so I refer to the protracted debates in this Chamber. Perhaps I spoke for longer than I had ever intended on the entire area of the Bantry Harbour authority and so forth. I put on record my appreciation to many Members of the House, particularly to Senator Donohoe, who was present for a long time debating these issues, to Senator McCarthy and Senator Ned O'Sullivan.

I have studied the amendment submitted by Government, which will be dealt with shortly. The Government has tabled several critical amendments, namely, amendments Nos. 12 to 14, submitted by the Minister of State and his officials. I welcome those amendments and I shall speak on them later. They go a long way. It might not be utopian for me but issues I raised, in particular what I referred to in my deliberations in this Chamber as a shotgun marriage between Bantry and Cork Port, will be avoided as a result of these amendments, on which I will speak later. Discussions between Bantry Harbour authority and Cork Port are provided for and, in fact, have taken place already. Matters should be fully teased out.

The public consultation process is essential. I note Senator Donohoe's amendment——

I am advised that amendments Nos. 9 to 20, inclusive, being grouped, the discussion on those amendments must take place now. Have they been seconded?

In moving the amendment I will be withdrawing my amendment but I want to speak to the issue.

I am entitled to make a few points. I can speak on the Government amendments later but I will not be keeping the House for four hours.

I am advised that the amendments, including the Government amendments, are grouped and they must be discussed now.

I thank the Acting Chairman for his advice. The principal reasons for my outspokenness on the amendments concerning Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and the Port of Cork Company was that I saw a change coming that was not properly planned or thought out. Government amendment No. 14 is critical as it deals with public consultation. I do not wish to be critical of the Minister of State or the Department but there is sometimes a lack of joined-up thinking and somewhere along the line we must ensure other Departments are included.

On a strict tunnel-vision view, what the Department of Transport is saying is probably right but in the case of Bantry, issues such as the dredging cannot be isolated. Currently only 20% of the pier in Bantry is accessible at low water and this is owing to silting. It was dredged in 1959 or 1960 and there is more than 2 m of silt. It is crazy to have a pier that in low water is inaccessible to small vessels. The Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners have control of the entire bay and not just the Whiddy Island so consultation with Whiddy islanders — there are only about 20 left — inshore fishermen, mussel farmers who use the pier and those doing oyster and scallop farming and scallop dredging is required. I refer to the tourism industry, Garinish Island, the stone quarrying and export business and sailing. A very successful rowing club uses the inner harbour. The Atlantic Challenge is an international event which is being hosted in Bantry in 2012. It would be a big mistake not to enter into consultation with all those interests.

I am 95% satisfied there will be a consultation process put in place prior to any amalgamation with the Port of Cork Company or takeover by same. I am pleased this provision will be in the Bill and that it is written in stone as a result of Government amendments Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, which are very specific. I presume "such other persons" would mean the elected Oireachtas Members from the constituency.

Amendment No. 14 states: "(c) an order under paragraph (a) or (b) shall not be made until after a public consultation process has taken place in respect of Bantry Bay Harbour or Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour, respectively, and all submission duly made in accordance with that process have been considered”. Therefore, all the various groups I have mentioned will have to be consulted and I hope that process will be transparent and properly advertised. People sometimes forget that traditional inshore fishermen — only a few of whom are left — have rights to the inner harbour for the mending of nets and storage of their gear. These people should be respected and consulted. For any Bill to propose a certain huge change in the control of Bantry Bay and Bantry Harbour without these people being consulted would be a big mistake.

I thank my own colleagues, in particular those in my Seanad group who gave me a lot of support on the issue. I could say that I have scored some moral victory but I am not here for points scoring. I am grateful to the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, who has met me on a number of occasions and has listened to my concerns. The Government amendments have come substantially close to what I want. In case it is said I am rowing back entirely, as it currently stands, the Minister, if he so wishes, can, with the stroke of a pen and without any consultation, have Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners taken over by Cork County Council. That option is in legislation already. This is another avenue of enabling legislation. For a while I thought it was disabling legislation but these new amendments have provided another option. In three or five years' time, Cork Port and Bantry, for whatever reasons, may have a meeting of minds and there may be consensus and consultation with the interested parties such as the sailors and inshore fishermen.

Dredging of the inner harbour might be the catalyst for the development of a marina and dredging is needed to make the only pier accessible at all tides. Senator O'Toole is a boat man and experienced sailor and he will know there is roughly 8 ft. of silt and gravel around the pier and that is a lot of water. Some of the ocean-going tugs are still used for the huge tankers coming into the single point mooring off Whiddy. Some of them have to come ashore. Some of those ocean-going tugs have a ten and 12 ft. draught of water. The Naval Service vessels come into Bantry quite often and it is a pity that at the head of the pier where there should be 12 ft. of water at low tide this is not possible now because of silting up.

I hope the dredging of the harbour will happen sooner rather than later and it could have the knock-on effect of allowing a marina. Bantry has been designated as a tourist town and hub. There should be joined-up thinking between Departments. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is concerned with the dredging of the harbour because it is an environmental issue and the silt is contaminated with mercury and TVT which must be dealt with appropriately. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism has designated Bantry as a tourist hub and recently spent almost €1million on developing a beautiful walk from the railway pier, about three quarters of a mile long, linking up another road. One can walk along the seashore and a retaining wall has been constructed to prevent the cliff falling.

One Department is promoting tourism while another Department is considering giving Bantry Bay into the control of the Port of Cork Company. It will be a matter for negotiation between the two port companies but I am worried that Cork port may well take over Whiddy Island because of the link between Whiddy Island and Whitegate. Our only main client in Bantry is the ConocoPhillips oil company which contributes per tonnage to the finances of Bantry. Bantry Bay Harbour Authority now has approximately €1 million in the kitty and is in the black, as it has been, indeed, for the past 11 or 12 years. Its corporate governance is second to none. Admittedly, historically some mistakes were made, but there is an excellent chairman, a local small businessman as well as other local representatives and union people. It is a very well run harbour board and the co-operation between the board and Department officials is excellent. There are also excellent discussions and co-operation between Cork Port and Bantry on many other issues. There may be some merit in exploring all this for the future, without the necessity for those amendments.

The utopian situation I had dreamt of was that Bantry Bay Harbour Authority would be left in isolation. That probably would not achieve anything, in the event. We need the consent and support of the Department for grant aid and so on. The harbour board, with the help of the Department and the Government, has built a wonderful slipway on Whiddy Island, which should have been done 40 years ago. We can now have roll-on roll-off traffic regardless of whether it is a fire brigade, an eight-wheeler truck or an ambulance that has to get on the island. Currently there is a slipway three quarters completed at the abbey in Bantry, so many positive things have happened.

We debated this in the harbour board and looked at the option of Cork County Council taking us over. I must put on record that three of us out of 11 supported that. There was a unanimous vote against Cork Port taking over, but the majority on that occasion went for corporatisation, a stand-alone company. However, there is a downside to this, as I want to put on record. If that is done, unless there is a constant throughput of money coming in, any hope of grant aid from the Government is blocked. There are dangers in asserting the body is strong enough to have a corporate identity.

To conclude, as the proposer of the amendment, I can come in again, briefly. I do not intend to take up too much time today. I am glad the Minister, on behalf of the Government, has tabled these amendments. Without them I should be in an extremely difficult position today. I am satisfied the amendments are fair and balanced. If somebody had assured me last October that this could have been done, it would have saved my larynx a good deal of over-activity on a few occasions. That being said, we are where we are and I thank the Minister and his officials for their graciousness in coming around to what I believe to be a settlement. It may not be utopian, but I am 95% happy. I have spoken to many of the board members, including the chairman, and they are pleased with this outcome. We should move forward in a positive fashion. Again, I thank the many colleagues from all sides of the House who supported me on many occasions. Senator Buttimer called a quorum on one occasion which allowed me to draw my breath, which I appreciate as well. As a sidekick to all this action, Senator Ned O'Sullivan from the Acting Chairman's county will appreciate that it is wonderful that Fenit has the opportunity to avail of public consultation and I am glad about this. Fenit is smaller than Bantry, and I am glad it has the opportunity for public consultation and the assurance that there will have to be a meeting of minds as regards the Fenit and Foynes harbour authorities. Shotgun marriages between ports will not work and create enormous tensions both locally and politically.

The Senator's name will be synonymous with Bantry forever.

I second amendment No. 9.

My contribution will be brief, given the amount of time that has been spent on this Bill. I shall just make a few points about the 11th hour Government amendments. I want to put on the record of the House the fact I am not convinced of the necessity to abolish Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. The ministerial amendments do not remove the power to abolish Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, let us be quite clear about that. They merely require that there be a public consultation process. That is to be welcomed because it is a direct result of the debate we have had in this House on other sections of this Bill, but it does not remove the power to abolish Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. The only requirements are the consultation process, newspaper notice and considerations. I am not being ungrateful and recognise that this is part of the Bill. However, after considering all these submissions and the newspaper reports as well as the public consideration, the Minister can still abolish the commissioners. That power is still in this Bill and I will be pushing my amendments to that effect for the reasons I have outlined.

On some of the points that have been raised by my colleagues, I want to stress in particular that the need to put public consultation on a statutory footing was identified by the amendments I put forward on Report Stage. That is a key point I want to emphasise. We have had very long and important discussions as regards whether these authorities should be abolished, how they should work with each other and the power this Bill would confer on the Minister for Transport to do this.

I put on the record earlier my observation that it did not appear to me there was a clear-cut case for the abolition of the different port authorities that we discussed. I identified what I believe to be the way forward, that is, to put public consultation on a statutory footing and spell out how that should be done. That was the amendment I tabled on Report Stage. On foot of the Minister of State committing to come forward with more detailed amendments as regards how this could be done, I offered to withdraw mine, which I did. I want to put that on the record of the House. It is not a case of the Department of Transport looking into its heart and making an enormous leap forward in terms of generosity and innovation as regards these amendments. It is, however, the case that I and my colleagues here identified the need for public consultation. We put forward an amendment and then withdrew it because a commitment was made to do the same thing in a more detailed and specific manner. That is what has been done in the amendment here.

Senator McCarthy has already made the point, with which I concur, that the power remains for these authorities to be abolished. It seems to me the exercise of that power in the future would be a bad thing, but at least in the amendments we have secured that the path to such a decision, in the event, will be more transparent and the public at large and its representatives will have an opportunity for an input.

I specifically want to refer to the Government amendments. Like my colleague, Senator O'Donovan, I greatly welcome them and there was an audible sigh of relief in Fenit and Tralee this morning when it became clear that the Government had listened to the debate here, to Senator O'Donovan and indeed our colleagues on the other side of the House. It was a very useful debate and while there is a great deal of talk at the moment about the abolition of the Seanad, the experience of this Bill in its progress through this House, must underpin faith in the Seanad and provide an object lesson as to why it should continue. The Bill has been worked on and teased out in a non-partisan fashion and I acknowledge the contributions of Senators O'Donovan, McCarthy, O'Toole and indeed all the other Members who came up with very practical and constructive proposals. If this debate had been initiated in the Lower House it might have become entirely party political, more partisan and perhaps less productive.

In welcoming the amendment, I thank the Minister for being a good listener both in the Chamber and outside it. Senator O'Donovan's sterling efforts here must be given a special mention. Almost single-handedly, he filibustered here for a number of months. Another well known solicitor from Bantry, Tim Healy, who was part of Parnell's party before the split, did much filibustering in the House of Commons along with Parnell and others. Senator O'Donovan has followed in that tradition.

The Minister will know that those in Fenit have just produced their new business plan and hope to have the opportunity to present it to him shortly. They were overjoyed to learn that there will be a full public consultation process prior to any question of an amalgamation with Shannon Foynes. Indeed, those in Shannon Foynes are happy that they will be allowed to have their say. The directors of Shannon Foynes Port Company have no imperial tendencies and have no interest in amalgamating with Fenit.

In consulting the relevant interested parties, I stress that Tralee Town Council should be consulted about Fenit because it has a long tradition of supporting Fenit. Local fishermen and sailors, who sail for pleasure, should be consulted as should the main industrial customer, Lever, which has been a very loyal supporter of Fenit over the years. Oireachtas Members for the area should also be consulted. These consultations should be long, drawn out and relaxed and there should be no sense that there is a guillotine waiting to fall. However, I do not see these amalgamations ever taking place.

I would like to pick up on the points made by Senator O'Sullivan. This is a classic example of how the Upper House works and how the Lower House cannot operate. The Lower House could not have done what was done here because it would not have been given the time. If Senator O'Donovan was a Member of the other House, he would not have had the opportunity to engage in that level of argumentation and the Bill would not have received such scrutiny. Not that any journalists will be listening to this debate, because it does not suit their story at the moment, but this Bill will have been changed more by this House than it will be by the Lower House. The same applies to recent Bills initiated here.

At a time of recession and economic problems and where the Lower House has clear and prior responsibilities in regard to matters monetary and financial, the scrutiny of legislation is very important. It is a time, above all other times, when a second House is crucial.

It is correct to say this could not have happened in the other House. It is another example of the need for this type of scrutiny of legislation and of what can only happen in the Seanad. I am not saying this in any demeaning way but to use long-winded argumentation, which has always been part and parcel of the political process but which has been lost in many parliaments in Europe because of other matters crowding in on their time, shows the need to make haste slowly in the development of legislation.

I offer my congratulations to Senator O'Donovan for taking a courageous, isolated and lonely line. We all offered him support as the Bill progressed but he chose a difficult trek. It will also give to the people of Fenit and Bantry a certain sense of confidence in Seanad Éireann and a sense that things can get done here to protect local communities and local democracy which cannot be done elsewhere. I would like that message to go out.

In the midst of the current debate, Senator O'Donovan has done some service not only to his own community but to the political structure and the bicameral system of parliament, as outlined in Bunreacht na hÉireann. These are important points to make at this time. These are precious things which need to be developed. It might not make any great difference in Dublin 4 that Fenit and Bantry have asserted their independence today but for those of us who take an interest in all the people all the time, we should recognise this as a good job of work.

Practical issues were raised by Senator O'Donovan. I have taken my boat in and out of Bantry and Fenit harbours and I support the points he made. He said silting was a particular problem in Bantry. He said there was 2 m of silt, which means only 20% of the pier can be used in low water. That is also an issue in Fenit. The Tralee Canal goes from Fenit to the basin in Tralee and it is highly silted at present. Like Bantry, Tralee Bay goes into a corner and silt builds up. It is very tricky to navigate through. That is an issue because, like La Rochelle and Dingle, for example, Bantry and Fenit harbours have a dual role, namely, leisure and business. That requires local knowledge. It is only when a fisherman gets a bit tetchy about a guy in a small sailing boat getting in his way as tries to land his livelihood that one realises one must have local rules. These are important areas for the development of our tourism industry. We need people who want to attract local industry to be in charge.

I refer specifically to the Government amendments. These will enhance local decision-making and respect local culture. They are an adornment of local democracy and self-determination. Senators McCarthy and O'Donovan are correct that this does not change the power of the Minister to remove the commissioners. It would be a very foolish, stupid and misinformed Minister who, in the light of the debate which has taken place, would take such a regressive step at this point. As somebody who has spent most of his life at a negotiating table, I take it that this was a sort of halfway house outcome which allowed both parties to emerge with dignity and which delivers. In that regard, it is important.

It is also hugely important that water sports are developed. Seven or eight years ago when the previous Harbours Bill establishing the Shannon Foynes Port Company was before the House, I tabled an amendment that it should be called the Shannon Foynes Ballylongford Port Company but the Government would not accept it. There is another pier in the Shannon Estuary, Saleen pier, which has silted up. It is only navigable in high water at this stage. These are important issues to local people. We need to ensure we give local people a sense of self-determination so they can make things happen for the local industry to make it more attractive to tourists and more inviting to people with boats.

Cork and Kerry have been to the fore in providing facilities to attract people. They are the furthest away from the boating populations of Britain and Europe but they have put in extraordinarily good harbour facilities all the way from Youghal to Fenit which should be continued all the way up the coast. This is a good example of local politics being enhanced by national politics and of a public representative using national politics and the Upper House of Parliament to deliver for his local area. It is a good day's work for the local communities in Kerry and Cork and for politics. It is a fair reflection on the proper work of public representatives at a time when trust and confidence in public representatives is at an all-time low and cynicism in the operation of Parliament is fed by media outlets all over the place. I congratulate Senator O'Donovan on at least inching forward a positive debate in that area.

It was clear from the rather long debate on Committee Stage that the potential transfer of these two harbours to ports nearby would be a fairly difficult and contentious issue. As I said many times on Committee Stage, this is an enabling provision that has been discussed at different levels and in different reports for approximately ten years. The Government's ports policy statement issued four years ago was the bible, so to speak, and this Bill was an attempt to provide a legislative framework for it.

During the course of the debate on the section concerned, it was said repeatedly that the introduction of such a provision should be dependent upon the completion of the due diligence process, which is under way. Talks are ongoing and the Bantry harbour commissioners have talked to Cork port officials for a number of years. The ideal situation would be that due diligence and other forms of consultation would be completed before this Bill was introduced, but it is difficult to get space in the timetable of the Dáil or the Seanad. It has been worked on since the ports policy document was issued some years ago. I accept it would have been better if the timing of various matters had worked out differently. It is important to stress that the introduction of an enabling process is not dependent upon the completion of such a process.

The 1996 Act introduced two enabling provisions in respect of regional harbours such as Bantry, which ensured they could be transferred to a local authority or that a private company could be established. Senator McCarthy was correct that this Bill will not remove the power to abolish the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. We did not need legislation to do that. Even without the introduction of this Bill three or six months ago, if the Bill is defeated and the Government is brought down, the power to abolish Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners is there, and has been there for 12 or 13 years. It could have been abolished in two ways. A private company could have been set up or it could have been transferred to a local authority, which has happened to a number of smaller harbours and harbour commissioners. The Senator is correct, but the provision is only an additional option by which it could be abolished.

The sequence has come in a different way. As I said several times on Committee Stage, it was always the intention that there would be ample local discussion and consultation on the status of Bantry and Fenit if they were to be transferred to any port. Such local consultation would have been in addition to the many years of high level consultation and discussion that took place.

Senator Donohoe tabled an amendment on consultation, which would have taken place. He felt it would be better to put it into legislation and make it a statutory commitment, and I said we would look at that issue. The wording by the parliamentary draftsman puts slightly different language on it but it is almost 100% the same as what the Senator suggested. I am glad other Senators did not accept it. Perhaps when they see the formal wording, which puts it on a statutory basis, they will accept it has helped people to see that the process will go through.

Regarding who can be consulted, everybody and anybody can be involved. There will be an advertisement in the newspaper and it will be up to individuals, local groups representing whomever and others to make applications. There may be direct consultation with individuals and major groups; that is another aspect. Everybody and anybody may be included and it may well be that the harbour commissioners might like to take charge of the situation at local level and co-ordinate some of the local views. Everyone has the right to make a submission. People may organise local meetings or discussions on the matter and formalise into groups but any individual, whomever he or she is, can make a submission. We may not talk to everybody, but everybody has the right to make a submission. We may talk to some of the major groups, including public representatives. It is intended to engage with the relevant stakeholders in that regard.

The suggested amendment, which would provide for statutory consultation, would give a good platform for all issues to be discussed and analysed prior to any further move forward or recommendation in the future. I hope people accept that. Senator Donohoe put forward the original idea, but it shows that we want to reach out to local communities and people and to hear their opinions and views. There may be some truth in what people say about the consultation which went on in the past and about consultants' reports, which is that the small man was not consulted and some consultant-led reports are dominated by large pressure groups rather than the individual from whatever side of the fence.

In this situation, everybody can respond. I hope when the consultation process takes place public representatives and others locally will give it some energy and publicity so that people concerned will not say they did not hear about it and will want to submit a view six months too late. There will be ample time for all these things to happen and at local community level people will be aware of them and will have time to make their views known.

I will not say I enjoyed Committee Stage. It was rather long, but there were some interesting comments. I admit I am from an inland constituency in Dublin.

The Minister of State is a west Cork man.

My mother may have been from Castledonovan but I do not have the history, background or knowledge of some Senators on all aspects of the sea. The River Tolka and Dollymount are probably the nearest to water in which I have ever had involvement. Some comments here, particularly by Senator O'Donovan, were interesting. Reference was made to the break-up of the Department of the Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The transfer of responsibility for the ports to the Department of Transport makes major sense for co-ordination and synergy when one is discussing Dublin port, Waterford port or similar ports. It is a different issue when one is talking about Bantry or Fenit, where a range of issues is involved.

Senator O'Donovan spoke in the Chamber and elsewhere, and lobbied at higher political level in another House close by, about the lack of co-ordination and the necessity for the Government to consider places such as Bantry where elements of several Departments are involved. Bantry has hopes, dreams and ambitions. It has an oil terminal and it also wants its pier, fishing, tourism and so on. Many of these matters do not fall under the remit of the Department of Transport. While it will support Bantry as best it can, a range of Departments are involved. It is a different kettle of fish from a large commercial port, such as Waterford, Dublin, Drogheda or Bremore. Senator O'Donovan referred to that matter elsewhere.

I accept the Government may need to be better co-ordinated when dealing with places such as Bantry or Fenit, but several small harbours are being transferred to local authorities because of the existence of the freight business, with the oil terminal in Bantry and, mainly, Liebherr in Fenit, which is appropriate to the company's needs. Liebherr has expansion plans. The freight element in those two ports renders them different from some smaller ports, such as Kinsale, Baltimore or wherever, which have no involvement with the freight business. I am glad that some Members are happy.

Regarding Senator McCarthy's point, we are all in politics and I understand the political line, but Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners could have been set aside years ago. That power always existed and this Bill does not remove it, rather it provides another option. While I understand what the Senator said and he was not incorrect, that power was always there and the commissioners could have been set aside before pen was ever put to paper on this Bill. I thank the Senators for their comments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 not moved.
Government amendment No. 12:
In page 17, line 38, after "may" to insert the following:
", subject to paragraph (c) and after consultation with Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, the Port of Cork Company and such other persons (if any) as the Minister considers it appropriate in the circumstances to consult,”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 13:
In page 18, line 1, after "may" to insert the following:
", subject to paragraph (c) and after consultation with Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour Commissioners, the Shannon Foynes Port Company and such other persons (if any) as the Minister considers it appropriate in the circumstances to consult,”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 14:
In page 18, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
"(c) An order under paragraph (a) or (b) shall not be made until after a public consultation process has taken place in respect of Bantry Bay Harbour or Tralee and Fenit Pier and Harbour, respectively, and all submissions duly made in accordance with that process have been considered.
(d) In paragraph (c) ‘public consultation process’ means an invitation by the Minister to the public for submissions, within a specified time limit, on a proposal to make an order under paragraph (a) or (b) of subsection (2) where such invitation is made by means of a notice to that effect published in a newspaper circulating within the State and published on the internet.”.
Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 15:
In page 18, to delete line 6 and substitute the following:
"(e) The making of an order under this subsection is in”.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments Nos. 16 to 21, inclusive, not moved.
Question put: "That the Bill, as amended, be received for final consideration."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 13.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.

Níl

  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Labhrás Ó Murchú; Níl, Senators Paschal Donohoe and Michael McCarthy.
Question declared carried.
Question put: "That the Bill do now pass."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 15.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Malley, Fiona.
  • O’Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.

Níl

  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • White, Alex.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Labhrás Ó Murchú; Níl, Senators Paschal Donohoe and Michael McCarthy.
Question declared carried.

I formally thank the Minister of State, the Cathaoirleach and the House for putting up with my protracted debate over many days and hours. I acted responsibly in the interests of my community and I am glad that, even though the Bill is passed and Senator McCarthy is technically correct that Cork Port could take over Bantry Harbour, this cannot happen without consultation and without the ports agreeing to it. When I was a member of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners we had several meetings about the likelihood of Cork County Council taking over the commission. As the Minister of State pointed out, a Bill was passed by the Labour-Fine Gael coalition in 1996 that enabled the local authority and the Minister to force Bantry to come under the auspices of Cork County Council on a whim. We examined the option of corporatisation, which did not work out. That is history and I am satisfied that, as a result of the amendments tabled and the assurances given, if an event such as this happens although I do not think it will happen in the short term because there are too many issues involved, the fishermen, the town council, the harbour board, the people living in Whiddy Island and the mussel farmers will be consulted. This is now written into the Bill, which I appreciate. Bantry Harbour Authority and Cork Port must have meaningful dialogue. For the past three years there have been ongoing discussions between Cork Port and the Bantry Bay Harbour Authority. The due diligence process initiated by the Department is half completed, a draft report has been sent to the Department and I urge the Minister of State that this due diligence be completed in a transparent fashion. If necessary the draft report, which I believe is in the hands of their Department, should be given to Bantry and the matter should be teased out.

On the question of negotiation, if this eventuality was to take place the capacity for Bantry as an authority and community to negotiate appropriate terms is enshrined in this legislation. For the past 25 years in public life I have been saying that the major issues are dredging of the inner harbour and the extension to the pier. Whatever happens these projects must be done. Good luck to Cork Port if it provides the essential ingredients required to develop the harbour but there will be no shotgun marriage. There must be a long courtship and hopefully we will not see that happening in the next five years.

I concur with the sentiments expressed by Senator O'Donovan and thank the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, and his civil servants who attended the House for days. They discussed the merits and demerits of this legislation. I refer to the point made by the Minister of State in response to my point. The ministerial amendments do not remove the power to abolish Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners. I take the Minister of State at his word and I hope this will not be the case. We cannot forget that this Bill is an assault on local democracy because it intends to remove councillors from boards of ports. I disagree fundamentally with that but I thank the Minister of State and his staff for their courtesy and I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence.

I concur with the words of my colleagues. I am particularly grateful for the Minister of State for acting on the two areas identified for change, namely, the need for this legislation to be consistent with county or city development plans and the need to put public consultation requirements on a statutory footing. As Senator McCarthy said, there are some areas that I still do not support regarding the reduction of the role of politicians in important areas. Having said that, the Bill has been improved since its entry to this House and that is what we are here to do. I thank the Minister of State and his staff for participating in the process and responding to the points raised by Senators on all sides of the House.

I thank all Members for their work. We had a long and comprehensive debate on this matter and I thank all who contributed. As well as the sections that were contentious, the Bill has other aspects that are not contentious but are very important. The ports system is developing and evolving and it is a key driver and facilitator of our import and export traffic. Some aspects of this Bill were not contentious or topical but are important parts of helping our ports structure to evolve and to assist the commercial ethos and development of the ports. This is an important item of legislation and while a few sections became contentious I hope the amendments we made address this.

While there has been consultation at length on aspects of the development of Government policy on ports over a number of years, the way in which we have strengthened this Bill means everybody and anybody has the opportunity to be part of this process at local level. I thank Members for the overall co-operation on this Bill. The overall Bill and some of its elements are very important from a trade and business perspective, including import and export traffic. I thank Senators for their time and co-operation.

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 March 2009.