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Harbour Authorities Appointments

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 27 June 2013

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Questions (3)

Richard Boyd Barrett


3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when and the way the new chair of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company will be appointed; if he will address with the company outstanding industrial relations issues and the management plan for Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company between now and the transfer to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council as per the new national ports policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31174/13]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

The question relates to the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. I expect to bring a memorandum to Government in the coming weeks in regard to the appointment of a chairperson for the harbour company. Following this, the individual will be required to appear before the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications prior to his or her appointment being confirmed. The occasion of his or her appearance and the questions that will be asked of the chairperson designate will be a matter for the committee itself.

Requiring all newly nominated chairpersons to appear before the relevant Oireachtas committees is in line with broader Government reform proposals in the area of State board appointments. These initiatives include a public invitation for expressions of interest in serving on State boards.  Furthermore, on the appointment of board members to the individual port companies, I now issue them with a letter of mandate setting out the issues and priorities to which they should have regard in carrying out their functions, subject to their fiduciary duties under the Companies Act.

As the Deputy is aware, the new national ports policy, which I launched, provides a coherent framework for all State-owned ports to allow for their future development in a manner that suits their individual circumstances. Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company has been designated as a port of regional significance and will be transferred to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in due course. In the interim, the port will continue to operate and carry on its day-to-day business as normal.

The successful completion of this transfer process will be the key priority for the incoming chairperson.  My letter of mandate to the incoming chairperson will clearly set out this priority. In addition, the letter of mandate will request that the incoming chairperson will, first, appear before the relevant Oireachtas committee as requested, second, pay due regard to the totality of Government policy in the area of CEO remuneration in any board decisions on the matter, and third, with regard to consideration of the future development of the port company, ensure that it is carried out in a prudent fashion.

I thank the Minister for his reply. As he knows, I have previously raised the issue of what I believe are very serious problems and irregularities in Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. There was the issue of one company director who wrongly claimed €40,000 in expenses and, while there was a commitment he would pay it back, as far as I know, it still has not been paid back. A CEO who already pays himself €136,000 got an extra €20,000 and claims this was bought back annual leave, which as I understand is not allowed and, in any event, would amount to 35 days annual leave, which does not exist in the public sector. We still have not got answers about this issue. Meanwhile, there are widespread allegations by the workforce of bullying and intimidation. A court case is currently being taken by one staff member on those issues and on the issue of the Harbours Act against the management of the company. The latest development is that all pensioners and existing staff have received a letter stating there will be a meeting about problems in the pension fund on 18 July. Pensioners and staff are panicked about this because, to give one example, one pensioner who worked there for 40 years receives only €11,000 a year, which is one tenth of what the CEO currently receives, and he is worried about what may happen to his pension.

While I welcome the move into Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, what will be the procedure through which we select a chairperson? Can we have a guarantee these issues will be examined and that we will get answers on them? Is it the intention of the Minister to abolish the existing board, as seems necessary, and that the board will not just be transferred into the council but will be abolished and the workforce employed directly by the council?

The procedure is that the chairperson will be nominated by the Government. While there has been some delay in doing that and it has not been entirely under my control, I intend to nominate a new chair before the recess. The committee will then have an opportunity to question the chair, and I am sure Deputy Boyd Barrett will take an opportunity to do that with vigour.

The exact mechanism by which port companies will be transferred to local authorities is not yet decided. There are a number of different options and we have to pass primary legislation to enable us to do so. It probably will be next year before we are in a position to do that with new ports legislation. In addition, there are different models. In some cases, it may follow the harbours model whereby the companies just become part of the council. In other areas, it may follow a different model whereby the company becomes a corporate subsidiary of the council, in which case it would retain a board, a chairperson and a separate identity, and, essentially, the shareholder function would transfer from my Department to the council. However, that is not yet decided.

I strongly urge the first option, namely, that the board be abolished and be transferred directly under the control of the council. There is no need for this board, which is a waste of money and, frankly, has been a disaster for the harbour company. I am not exaggerating when I say there was a civil war going on in Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company between the management and the workforce and pensioners, and there are a lot of unanswered questions.

I ask the Minister to look into the following specific matter. A meeting has been called about problems with the pension fund. The Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, when he was Minister of State with responsibility for the marine in 1997, gave a letter to all staff stating that if there were any problems in the pension fund, the company would first have to look after the staff, but if the company was unable to look after them, the State would guarantee their pensions. I ask the Minister to look into that and to ensure that the State and the Government stand over that commitment to these pensioners.

By and large, my preference is to retain the corporate identity of these companies and to have them as companies of the local authority. As I said, I will be guided by the views of the company, the local authority and the local representatives on that issue.

Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company is a State-owned enterprise. Like many State-owned enterprises, there are problems with some of the pension funds.

It is the same in the Electricity Supply Board, ESB, Córas Iompair Éireann, CIE, and the Irish Aviation Superannuation Scheme, IASS, which is a scheme for Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA. Those issues must be resolved. The best way to do this is through co-operation between the staff and management with the assistance of the Labour Relations Commission, LRC and Labour Court if need be. A civil war will not protect anyone's pensions.

There is a civil war; that is the problem. They do not want a civil war.