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Harbour Authorities

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 11 November 2015

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Questions (3)

Richard Boyd Barrett


3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views that, in the context of the new Harbours Bill 2015, Dún Laoghaire harbour should be transferred to Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, with the dissolution of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, to make it a fully integrated department of the council; and that decisions regarding its future should be made by the elected members in consultation with a newly established harbour stakeholder and community group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39545/15]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Transport)

The last few weeks, today in particular, and the next couple of weeks mark a significant time for Dún Laoghaire Harbour. A four week long An Bord Pleanála hearing about the controversial cruise berth proposal is still not complete. Today, the Harbours Bill 2015, which deals with Dún Laoghaire Harbour and other regional harbours, is being dealt with in committee. I have submitted 30 amendments to that Bill, debate on which, presumably, will be completed in the next few weeks.

The Bill lays out two options for the governance of harbours. Dún Laoghaire Harbour will either be a quango - a subsidiary of the council - or it will be fully publicly controlled. I would like to know from the Minister, because the Bill is not clear in this regard, which option will be chosen. The people want it to be publicly controlled.

I thank the Deputy for his question. The  Harbours Bill 2015 was published on 1 July and Oireachtas debates on the Bill have commenced with Committee Stage scheduled for this morning, 11 November, which I will be taking. The Bill will provide the legislative basis for one of the national ports policy's key recommendations, namely, that governance of the designated ports of regional significance should vest in more appropriate local authority led governance structures. As the Deputy is aware, Dún Laoghaire is one of these five ports of regional significance.

The Bill is designed to provide maximum legislative flexibility. It will not prescribe the model of transfer for any of the five ports, including Dún Laoghaire. Instead, the Bill will allow for the most appropriate model of governance to be chosen in respect of each individual company.  The two possible models of transfer provided in the Bill are retention of the existing company structure and transfer of the ministerial shareholding in the company to the local authority and dissolution of the existing company structure and transfer of all assets, liabilities and employees into local authority structures, where the port will be administered as a functional area of the local authority. The manner of transfer selected in each case will be the one that finds broad consensus and agreement between the parties. However, it should be made clear that ultimately the decision is mine, as Minister.

Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council have established an engagement team to discuss the practical issues associated with the transfer and consultants have been appointed to undertake a due diligence process, with the funding support of the Department.  This exercise may assist in the decision as to the most suitable model of transfer.

As the Minister will be aware, the due diligence process has already run into trouble and has stalled because of so-called commercial sensitivity issues. This speaks volumes about the problem that I have been trying to convey to the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and his predecessor for the past four years. We do not know what is going on in Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company and we do not know its financial position because it is not accountable. The An Bord Pleanála hearing which took place over the last four weeks was a pretty extraordinary event. It is unprecedented for a hearing of that type to continue for four weeks. The level of participation by stakeholders, harbour users, community groups and so on was extraordinary. With the exception of the harbour company, there was overwhelming opposition to what the harbour company proposes to do with the harbour and overwhelming dissatisfaction about the fact that the public and harbour users have no influence or say in this process. They are not being taken seriously and are systematically ignored.

The public view is that the harbour should be brought under public control, although under the control of the elected representatives of the council rather than the CEO. We have proposed a stakeholders group that involves all of the people who are passionate and concerned and genuine stakeholders in the harbour. What is the Minister's view on this?

The Deputy has put three points to me. First, I do not propose to comment on a matter that is currently before An Bord Pleanála. Second, I already made clear to the Deputy in my response to his initial question that the due diligence process and the work under way will form an important part of the input into the decision that I will make as Minister. I want that to be a decision that can gain consensus among all the parties involved but, ultimately, the Bill is clear that the decision in relation to the mode of transfer and how that will happen is one that I and my Department will make. Third, and this is a matter that we can debate further in committee, while I recognise the role that stakeholder groups can play I am concerned, in the context of the amendment which the Deputy has tabled in this regard, about the prominence the Deputy would want that group to have in the decision-making process in relation to future transfers. I believe it is important to respect the structures already in place, bearing in mind that the members of the local authorities are elected by the communities they represent.

My amendment, which as the Minister said we will discuss later, proposes that the elected members and not the CEO as set out in the legislation would have the key say but only following consultation with the stakeholders group. I urge the Minister to support the principle of this amendment. There is major dissatisfaction about the current situation. I am not commenting on the individual cruise berth proposal, which we will also debate later. I attended the hearings over the past four weeks, which were also attended by representatives of the public and representatives of community groups and harbour groups and so on. It is a pity that these people did not sit down five years ago and talk. We would not be in the situation and the conflict we are in now over the future of the harbour if all those people had been compelled to sit down years ago and work out a plan that everybody could get behind. Instead, plans were hatched behind closed doors. That has to change.

I absolutely agree on the need for dialogue. I have been involved in similar matters in my constituency, as well as in my ministerial role. The need for consultation and involvement in any significant infrastructure project is evident to me.

The Deputy referred to an amendment he will table on the Harbours Bill 2015 on the need for a local authority to consult actively and to be involved with a stakeholder group. I genuinely differ with him on this. I guess it is due to a point of difference in our understanding of local government. Members of local authorities are either elected to represent local communities or they are not. If they are elected to represent them, they should have the power and ability to do their work. Depending on the matter with which they are dealing they, in conjunction with a local authority chief executive, can make that decision. I am in favour of consultation and how that will happen. Ultimately, we have models of local government in place which give power to different parts of local government. They should be allowed to discharge that power in the way the legislation is established and, I also believe, in the way people who vote for local councillors expect them to do.