I come with the concerns that have been raised by others. I also have spoken to some of the residents in Grand Canal Dock on whom this is having an impact.
This is a one-off situation. It is one where even a simple adjournment of the Bill would suffice. I was hoping that the Government might be amenable even to adjourning these Report and Final Stages to allow for those residents who would be affected to negotiate with Waterways Ireland. The 19 families who face potential homelessness and who are negotiating are vulnerable.
I have spoken to others, including Deputies from different parts of the country, who have seen situations in the past where Waterways Ireland has changed the rules or policies around berthings with significant consequences. In one case in Kildare, there was a real concern which eventually was satisfactorily negotiated whereby alternative berthings were provided to those affected. At present, there is nothing like that on offer. There is a huge vulnerability and an imbalance in power at present and that imbalance becomes much more severe under the Bill. Under the Bill, Waterways Ireland is given an extraordinary free hand in relation to the charging and fixing of fees, tolls and charges in respect of the use by boats of the canals.
I have a substantive concern about amendment No. 1 as well. I note that the Minister herself had very significant concerns in respect of it. This amendment, as made by the Dáil, extends the powers, from being concerned with the charging and fixing of fees, tolls and charges in respect of the use by boats of the canals to being concerned also with "the charging and fixing of fees in respect of the use by persons of the canals".
This could include anything that happens by the canal. I note that it says including the taking of water from the canal. Deputy Ó Cuív raised the issue of taking water and did so very well. It is a real concern that businesses or others would seek to take water from the canal.
Use by persons of the canal includes everything that we do in the canal. Will commercial franchises be given the right to sell food by the canal and will those who seek to bring a picnic somehow be liable for a fee or be in breach of the new set of canal rules? There were two occasions when poetry was used in the Chamber today but I am, of course, thinking of Patrick Kavanagh, "Leafy-with-love banks" and the idea of the canal bank seat for the passer-by. Will the seating on canals, their usage, and the opportunity to spend time there become something that is subject to fees, fines, privileges, being closed in certain areas and being contracted to certain companies, essentially being an enterprise which excludes the public? This is a real concern. I think specifically of the charming gathering which happens every year at Patrick Kavanagh's bench to mark him on St. Patrick's Day, 17 March. Will events like that be subject to fees or charges? They are activities by persons on the canals.
The Minister highlighted in the Dáil that this is very wide and may be subject to abuse. She expressed considerable concern about the wide terms relating to fees and use of the canal by persons. There are substantial concerns relating to this amendment and very specific concerns that we have people who are feeling very disempowered and vulnerable, who are attempting to negotiate with Waterways Ireland, and unlike others who have negotiated with Waterways Ireland in the past, where they have at least been able to assert themselves and use something of a balance of power to get some form of satisfaction, as we saw in Kildare and other instances, this Bill will shift that balance of power and make those 19 families more vulnerable. I encourage and support the appeal that we delay this Bill by three months to allow those groups and families to negotiate properly.
I oppose this amendment because I am concerned. In my many years living in the city, the canal has been my green space, my water space and my access to nature. I love the variety of usage that the public has put that to. I come from Galway, a city where we saw derelict canals become spaces of enjoyment, celebration, people practising juggling, birthday parties and all of the things they enjoy in life in a public space. I do not want to see that paved over, leased out, commercialised or narrowed. I worry that this Bill makes that possible.