Committee on Finance. - Adjournment Debate: County Donegal Pier.

During Question Time today, I asked the Minister for Finance if and when it is proposed to carry out an extension to the pier at Burtonport, County Donegal, as in the interests of the fishing industry such an extension was essential. The Parliamentary Secretary replied as follows:

Work on the clearance of the approach channel and dredging of berths was completed in December. The desirability of further works will be considered in the light of fishing activities at the harbour.

That appears to be a very reasonable reply until I tell the Parliamentary Secretary that over the past 40 years the approach channel and the berths were dredged and on each occasion after and before dredging we were informed that the extension of the pier would be considered in the light of fishing activities at the harbour.

Burtonport harbour is one of the premier harbours on the north-west coast of Donegal. It was so important even in the year 1798 that of all the inlets and harbours on the north-west coast it was the one selected by Napper Tandy to land, and in the middle of the 17th century — and this is going back some distance — Lord Rutland changed the name of one of the islands in the approach channel from Inishmacadora to Rutland Island and established there salt pans for the purpose of curing fish; and at the end of the last century the Donegal Fishing Company was formed and, as there was no harbour at Burtonport, the islands at the entrance to the harbour were utilised as ports at which fish were cured, salted and shipped to the various cross-Channel ports. Those islands in the approach channel to Burtonport were hives of industry at the turn of the century and then, in or about the year 1900, the railway was extended from Londonderry, as it was then known, to Burtonport and the seat of operations for the fishing industry changed from the islands to Burtonport harbour itself.

After a few years' experience of the use of the harbour and the pier there, it was felt, in 1911, that a survey should be carried out and, if necessary, extensions decided on to the pier at Burtonport. Before World War I certain extensions were agreed upon but the opening of hostilities in 1914 delayed the commencement of these extensions and it was only in 1919 that it was decided and definite plans were drawn up for the extension of Burtonport pier. Instead of beginning at the pier itself, it was decided to begin at the perimeter of the new extended pier or causeway. There a pier-head was built that later became known as a monument and the people, being charitable, never said to whom it was a monument but I could name him. Thousands of pounds were expended on that "monument" and then, with the Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State, extensions to Burtonport harbour ceased and down through the years since 1922, in this House and elsewhere, fishermen and those engaged in the fishing industry have made application to and have besought various Ministers for Fisheries and for Finance to extend the pier as originally planned by the old Congested Districts Board and supported by the Commissioners of Public Works prior to 1919. It is true, as the Parliamentary Secretary says, that the approaches to the channel have been drained but nothing has been done to extend the pier.

One would want to see this harbour at low water. The tide strips the berths there where ships are berthed and if fishing vessels are driven into the inner harbour during a storm or inclement weather they have to remain there on ground until such time as they get a spring tide to enable them to go out to the fishing ground.

The fishermen of Burtonport pay harbour dues and the fishing industry there consists of herring, white fish, salmon, and lobsters. To show how earnest the fishermen are and to show how interested they are in their industry and to ensure that salmon stocks will be sufficient to enable them to carry on their livelihood as drift net fishermen, they contribute £223 each year to the Letterkenny No. 14 Fishery Board of Conservators for the purpose of restocking the rivers. They are the only net fishermen in Ireland who make such a contribution to a board of conservators. I say this, merely to show theirbona fides and their earnestness in the fishing industry.

There are approximately 240 fishermen in Burtonport and on the mainland. When I say "Burtonport" I mean Burtonport island — the locality which uses the harbour at Burtonport — and there are approximately 100 people employed on the shore there in the fishing industry. Within the past two years three factories have been established at Burtonport and it is now a 12-month industry.

Up until last year eight seine net fishing boats were engaged in the fishing industry at Burtonport. During the coming year we will have 16 seine net fishing boats and 36 half-deckers. That is a considerable fleet but when one considers that only five boats can berth at the harbour at one time one appreciates the delay in discharging fish and in getting back to the fishing ground and the inconvenience caused to these fishermen.

Last year, the takings at Burtonport were £132,000. That is not counting white fish or flat fish. This year the takings have been £200,000 plus £50,000 worth of white fish. This means £¼ million worth of fish has been landed at the pier at Burtonport during the past 12 months. This fleet could be doubled or trebled, larger boats could be employed but unfortunately they cannot berth at the pier owing to the shortage of berthing space.

Many of the Burtonport fishermen who are now using the larger trawler of 70 and 75 feet are compelled to fish out of Killybegs and at least four of our native skippers from the Burtonport area can no longer berth in their own port harbour on account of the lack of berthing facilities.

These fishermen are making a genuine case for the extension of the harbour there. I know that large sums of money have been spent on harbours throughout the State, harbours which are mere dry land harbours, from which fishing fleets no longer go to sea. Burtonport is improving and it is one of the fishing ports which are improving and giving steady employment.

In order to show theirbona fides, the fishermen there are willing to contribute a sum of £1,000 towards the cost of extending the pier. They have made known to the Parliamentary Secretary — they have told him personally — that they are willing to contribute a sum of £1,000 towards the cost of the extension. All that is holding us up at the moment is money. The reply given to me today by the Parliamentary Secretary is not the reply he himself would give. He said: “The desirability of further works will be considered in the light of fishing activities at the harbour.” The Parliamentary Secretary has had an opportunity to see those activities. I have given him the figures for the landings there. He is in a position to verify those figures. I can assure him that what I have said is correct.

During the years, one of the reasons why this scheme was held up was that there was a controversy in the Office of Public Works as to the type of extension that should be made to the harbour. The Parliamentary Secretary kindly came down there. He met the fishermen himself. They pointed out to him the type of extension they required and I must say that, speaking as a layman — and he qualified it by saying he was speaking as a layman — he agreed with what they said, subject to what his engineers would say about his consent to this extension.

I further understand that this engineers have now come around to the point of view of the fishermen and all those engaged in the fishing industry, namely, that the pier should be extended from the pier-head as it now exists to the famous or infamous monument 100 yards off the pier-head. It may be that money is the cause of this evil but it is a crying shame that, after so many years of self-government, work on this harbour is still held up and that it is landlocked through lack of funds.

I will not mention other harbours in Donegal on which large sums have been spent. Let me say that I agree with every penny that has been spent on Killybegs. It is one of the premier ports in the county but there are other harbours in Donegal where the fishing fleets are dwindling, where sea net fishing boats are actually up for sale, on which money has been and is being spent. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to clear whatever blowline may be choked between his section and the Department of Finance. If he requires any statistics to convince the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries that this case which I am making tonight is a genuine one, those statistics are available.

Within the past 18 months the fishermen have formed a co-operative society at Burtonport. It consists of the skippers of the fishing boats and the members of the crews. They have procured an overdraft of somewhere in the neighbourhood of £20,000 from the bank to build or renovate a co-operative store. They are now in the process of installing an ice plant. They have already installed a cold storage plant. Ninety per cent of the fish caught at Burtonport is exported to the Continent. Out of the remaining 10 per cent, at least 7 per cent is exported to Britain. Here we have one of the ideal sources of exports in the country. Of the fish caught there I would say that only 1 per cent is used for fish meal. Huge grants have been given by the Department for the establishment of fish meal plants throughout the country. There is one at Mornington where they cannot get enough fish to supply it. The fish caught at Burtonport are prime edible fish and suitable for exporting.

I know I am pushing an open door so far as the Parliamentary Secretary is concerned. If anything I have said sounded like criticism of him that is not my intention. I certainly do not want to criticise him. He listened patiently to the story of the fishermen. He has got the corroboration he sought. I want him to pass it on to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and to the Minister for Finance. If conduit pipes or the pipelines are clogged they should be cleared as soon as possible so that Burtonport can get the OK for an extension to its pier which has been sought since 1911.

I am fully aware of Deputy O'Donnell's impatience in this matter since I met a delegation of the co-op. and the various skippers of the trawlers in Burtonport last September. I would like to assure the Deputy that since I met those people I have not been idle.

I appreciate that.

I met the members of the co-op. and I met the management of the factories not only in an official capacity but, thanks to the great hospitality of Deputy O'Donnell, socially as well. I saw for myself the delay in the discharge of fish. I am also aware that many of these skippers came back to the harbour ahead of time and before they had got an economic catch in order to do me the honour of discussing their problem with me when I was in Burtonport.

On the basis of an engineering report furnished by the Office of Public Works in November, 1965, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in June, 1967, requested the approval of the Minister for Finance for making a State grant towards the cost of the following works at Burtonport harbour in County Donegal: the removal of the rock bar in the approach channel, estimated cost £11,000; construction of a new jetty, estimated cost £47,000; construction of a breakwater, estimated cost £37,000; and dredging of berths alongside the main quay to a depth of six feet at mean low water spring tide, total estimated cost, £95,700.

Following an inquiry by the Department of Finance, the Office of Public Works advised in September, 1967, that the removal of the rock bar and the dredging of the berths — Nos. 1 and 4 of the items I have read out — would cost £12,000 if carried out independently of the other proposed works. In March, 1968, the Minister for Finance agreed to make available a State grant of £9,375, in other words, 75 per cent of the cost of the removal of the rock bar and the dredging of the berths, and this work was completed in December, 1969. The Minister deferred consideration of the construction of the new jetty and the breakwater. He felt it would be unreasonable to enter into that financial commitment until such time as we saw how the harbour and fishing developed as a result of the clearance of the rock bar. Naturally he was concerned about what return he would get for the capital investment involved.

When I was in Burtonport in September, 1969, I met the members of the co-operative and the local fishermen. We had a very long discussion and it was agreed that the best approach was to build a new jetty up to the monument instead of extending the existing jetty. This would be about 280 feet. Some dredging work was also to be done. This was in substitution of the original proposals. I understand the cost of the original proposal was estimated to be £84,000. This was later revised to a figure of £116,500. In to-day's money values the cost is estimated to be £130,000.

I have been advised by my engineers that the proposal put to me by the local fishermen would, in the long term, be the more economic. The Deputy is, of course, aware that as Parliamentary Secretary I am, in this particular instance, the agent on behalf of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. I should like the Deputy to know that it is not my fault and neither is it the fault of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries——

I do not blame the Parliamentary Secretary.

——that we have not progressed as fast as the Department would wish. The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, at his request, had a report on the costings no later than this morning and, as a result of this, I expect him to ask for a complete report for submission to the Minister for Finance with a view to the inclusion of this project in the Estimate for the coming financial year. While both the Minister and I are of the opinion that this is one of the harbour development schemes which should be implemented. I must make it clear that this is but one of many similar schemes and it is, therefore, in competition with several other schemes up and down the country.

It is quite proper of the Deputy to raise the matter here and I appreciate his anxiety to have it discussed on the Adjournment. Naturally, every Department is trying to lay claim to the biggest share of the coming capital Budget. The capital Budget must, of course, be related to the general economic situation and the inflationary situation with which we are confronted at the moment.

I, personally, would recommend that Burtonport be included in the Estimate for the coming financial year. That may be because I met the local people concerned and was impressed by them. According to the statistics available for 1968 landings were £149,103. I understand landings now are within the region of £250,000.

I do not wish to interrupt the Parliamentary Secretary, but that figure did not include white fish in that year.

The decision taken at that time was based on the returns made to the Department.

I appreciate that.

Not only am I impressed but I am aware the Minister involved will be impressed by this offer of a cash investment by the local fishermen.

It is a gesture.

It demonstrates their confidence in themselves. I am familiar with somewhat similar fishery harbours and I know the difficulty boats have in tying up, with fish having to be passed from boat to boat before it can be landed on the pier. However, even in my own office there are eight or nine divisions, each division demanding more money. I am sure that each of the 12 members of the Cabinet is looking for more money for the various projects he considers both desirable and essential. I shall be very disappointed if Burtonport is not included in next year's Estimate. I know the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries will make very strong representations to the Minister for Finance for the necessary finances in the capital Budget to carry out this desirable work at Burtonport. Naturally, the final decision will rest with the Minister for Finance.

I should like to say that the Estimate I introduced here last autumn should have been introduced before the summer recess——

I appreciate that.

——and the reference to Burtonport then referred to the work that is now being completed.

The £12,000.

While I did try to bring the Estimate up to date, I am sorry I misled the Deputy in the matter. So far as I am concerned, the Deputy is pushing an open door. The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and I will have to see if we can work out a scheme acceptable to the Government.

Perhaps, the Minister for the Gaeltacht would give a push too.

If he provides the money we will be delighted.

Eighty per cent of the people are Irish speaking.

That would solve all our problems. I understand the boats are going to fish out of Burtonport this year. The Office of Public Works has done a good job so far as it has gone——

We appreciate that.

——and I will do anything I can to meet the Deputy's wishes in the matter.

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 19th February, 1970.