I propose to take Questions Nos. 32 and 36 together.
The House has been aware that I have been considering introducing a charge for parking facilities within Howth Fishery Harbour Centre for some time,
- to assist in operating Howth Fishery Harbour Centre on a financially-sound basis,
- to provide a source of revenue for further investment in Fishery Harbour Centre facilities,
- as part of an overall traffic management plan, and
- in order to maximise the return on this significant State asset.
Howth Fishery Harbour Centre is first and foremost a working fishery harbour, one of 6 operated by the State, each of whose primary purpose is to provide facilities and services for the fishing industry and fisheries-related activities. Funding for operating, management and development costs in the fishery harbours is ringfenced in the Fishery Harbour Centres Fund, which is the only source of revenue available for that purpose. Capital investment in the Fishery Harbour Centres in recent years has underpinned both fisheries activities and their expanding use for leisure and marine tourism and other maritime enterprises. The House will appreciate that, in the current economic climate, the State must be fully committed to maximising the return on that investment. Moreover, my Department is required to ensure that the Fishery Harbour Centres are run on a financially-sound basis. The 500+ parking spaces within the boundaries of the Harbour would assist in balancing the books, and in providing funding for re-investment that would not otherwise be available.
A wide range of groups use the parking facilities of Howth Fishery Harbour – harbour business customers, yacht club members, sport fishermen, Dart users, tourists, walkers and many others. This combination of uses and the range of users of the Harbour brings its own inherent dangers and safety must be a paramount consideration. There have been a number of occasions - indeed as recently as last Saturday week when the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival coincided with the seasonal re-launch of leisure craft - where the volume of cars in the Harbour and the resultant pressure on parking has led to a situation where emergency access has been seriously compromised. The Harbour authorities have in the past received specific complaints from elements of the emergency services in that regard - fortunately no serious incident has arisen yet.
There was widespread public consultation when pay parking at Howth Fishery Harbour Centre was originally examined in detail in 2007 in conjunction with Fingal County Council. All of the various views that were expressed and submissions that were made then are still available and I am well aware of and acknowledge their concerns. I have been getting new correspondence on this matter from a wide range of harbour users. More recently, my officials have consulted with officials of Fingal Council, and with An Garda Síochána about this and other related matters, and my Department’s engineers have met some of the Harbour’s business tenants individually about new traffic management and road markings etc. My officials also attended the Harbour Users Forum in February where pay parking was on the agenda and heard the views of the harbour users at first hand.
I am reviewing all aspects of the matter at present. I can assure the House that the views of the various harbour users, the potential earnings, the possible impact on the harbour businesses and recreational users, the impact on the local economy and local jobs, and the impact on overall traffic management within the Fishery Harbour, are all matters that I will take into account in coming to a decision. I can also assure the House and all of the Harbour users in Howth that I am committed to continuing investment in and development of Howth for the future.