I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
My primary objective in bringing forward this Bill is to create a new comprehensive blueprint for the inland fisheries services. Our inland fisheries resource is an invaluable national asset in its own right and in terms of the social and economic benefits it brings to local communities, the regions and the country as a whole. The inclusive management, conservation and development of the resource to the highest standards is the overall policy objective.
The Bill is designed to support the delivery of that objective with a forward looking agenda for change reflecting the interests and responsibilities of all concerned. It is a carefully balanced package designed to involve and empower all the interests concerned at local and regional level. It aims to deliver on the widely undisputed need for new directions in the management, organisation and service delivery of the central and regional fisheries boards. Overall the new framework for the boards and the co-operative societies combined with the establishment of the National Salmon Management Commission represent the most significant initiative for the inland fisheries sector in 20 years. The reform of the structures and the setting of new directions reflect the process of change in the public service and local government. Crucially they also reflect the evolution in thinking in recent years about the objectives for inland fisheries development and conservation and recognise the importance of the environment, local development, tourism, heritage and biodiversity.
This Bill is about realising the full potential of the inland fisheries resource. The framework I am proposing will devolve responsibility to local regions to manage and control their own affairs through the regional fisheries boards, the co-operatives and clubs. It underpins the vital contribution of all local fisheries interests to the development of the resource. The philosophy underlying my approach is firmly based on the principles of devolution, subsidiarity, partnership and quality service delivery.
I will now outline the substantive provisions of the Bill and the thinking underlying my proposals for change. The Bill provides for clarified and enhanced functions and responsibilities of the central and regional fisheries boards. The need to redefine these roles to achieve clarity of purpose has been obvious for many years and is in the interests of the boards, their committed staff and all who have a stake in inland fisheries. The Central Fisheries Board will have a pivotal national role in policy advice and strategic planning and development of inland fisheries and in providing specialist co-ordination and support services for the regional fisheries boards. It will have explicit responsibility for the co-ordination and delivery of multiannual strategic plans for the resource, the overall supervision of EU and other funding schemes and, in co-operation with Bord Fáilte, the delivery of overseas marketing and promotion strategies for tourism angling.
The role and responsibilities of the Central Fisheries Board are designed to deliver on the national policy dimension of inland fisheries and the efficient delivery of cross-cutting services to ensure optimum resource deployment, accountability and corporate governance. The central and regional fisheries boards collectively employ more than 400 staff and are funded largely through the Exchequer and the European Union to the tune of over £16 million per annum. I have secured in the national development plan £24 million for the development of inland fisheries not just for tourism but also for recreational purposes. This is a significant funding envelope for the period of the plan. The involvement of the new regional fisheries boards, angling clubs and co-operatives in the spending of this capital will be critical to its success. The Bill provides for this. New standards of service delivery, reporting and accountability in line with modern public service norms are provided for in the Bill.
The functions and roles of the regional fisheries boards are significantly enhanced in the Bill. This marks a radical devolvement of responsibility and decision making to the regions and local fisheries interests. This is the core of the Bill. The boards will have front line responsibility for management, conservation and protection and development of inland fisheries and angling in their regions. They will have a new pivotal role in developing and leading inland fisheries catchment management plans with angling clubs and other interests. This reflects the new thinking about the integrated nature of fisheries with the environment and local activity generally. The new boards will have explicit responsibilities in relation to sustainable development and biodiversity and heritage which reflects the evolution of thinking at national and international level. The boards will be charged with working in a new form of regional co-operation and shared responsibility which reflects the essential shared nature of the resource.
In line with my objective to achieve the maximum possible degree of local and regional involvement and responsibility I am providing for a new role for the regional fisheries boards in the acquisition and management of State fisheries. Earlier this year I oversaw the transfer of the Moy fishery to the North West Regional Fisheries Board. This was the first practical step towards the new model of subsidiarity which will ensure management of our valuable State fisheries assets is undertaken by those best placed to manage and develop them. I include the long established vibrant network of salmon, trout and coarse angling clubs in that context.
Overall my proposals in relation to the functions and responsibilities of the central and regional fisheries boards deliver the correct balance between national and regional priorities and crucially will empower the regional fisheries boards, their executives and local fisheries interests with radical and exciting new remits which reflect the latest thinking on sustainability and the catchment approach, responsive and answerable to local priorities and needs.
The Bill provides for a revised composition of the central and regional fisheries boards which aims to achieve a more appropriate balance of fisheries and other relevant interests. My proposals on membership were formulated to underpin the new board functions and reinforce the links with other local stakeholders. Critically the proposals are designed to maintain and reflect the local democratic nature of the regional fisheries boards. My proposals continue the system whereby the local fisheries electoral classes elect representatives to the boards in addition to appointment of regionally based members such as farming, aquaculture, community enterprise and other interests.
Since I published the Bill on 5 November there has generally been a positive response to the overall strategic concept of the Bill, including the clarified functions and roles of the boards. No one seems to disagree that the direction is broadly the right one. There have been concerns however by the regional fisheries boards and fisheries representative organisations about the balance and mix of elected representatives. My proposals are aimed at ensuring rather than diluting local democracy and participation. The current consultative phase, during which I meet and listen to the angling organisations and other constituent interests, is proving to be constructive and informative. I have received written submissions and in recent days we have met representatives from NARA, TAFI and FISSTA.
My discussions and those of my officials with NARA, TAFI and FISSTA have been cordial and constructive. The representatives have cogently presented their views on further changes which all their members around the regions would like to see in order to copperfasten their role and involvement in the work of the boards. I have agreed in the first instance that the closest liaison and communication will be maintained with the organisations in consulting and discussing amendments in the run up to Committee Stage. We will do this through a tight Committee Stage working groups approach over the coming weeks with each of the interests concerned. This will ensure that the concepts and drafting changes are worked out together.
Our discussions have already resulted in collective agreement on a number of key improvements to the Bill which I intend to bring forward by way of amendments on Committee Stage. These agreed areas are as follows. We will maintain the present levels of representation for salmon, trout and coarse anglers and life members of the Inland Fisheries Trust on the regional boards. This will ensure the necessary primary focus and balance of interests towards fisheries across the regions. In that context I will also review the level of representation for commercial salmon interests. The chairpersons of the regional boards will be, as hitherto, elected by all board members, in line with the clear preference of boards and the various interests. I will provide for a more flexible approach to achieving the right mix and balance of ministerial appointed sectoral and local interests on the boards. The provision for inland fisheries catchment management plans will be tightened up so as to make more explicit the lead role of boards and local fisheries interests and the consultative roles of other organisations and stakeholders. A specific provision will be introduced which acknowledges and copperfastens in statute the long-standing role of angling clubs in the management and development of their own resource. I have asked the angling organisations to submit their ideas on giving effect to this concept as quickly as possible. We have also collectively agreed on the need to clarify and spell out in the Bill the process whereby the detailed scheme for salmon tags and quotas will be the subject of further full consultations before its introduction. The Bill in this regard is essentially an enabling provision and the tagging scheme will be within the remit of the National Salmon Commission on which all interests will be widely represented. We have also agreed on a number of adjustments to the provisions on the co-operative societies. In line with the clearly expressed preference of co-operative members, we will continue with the existing arrangement whereby share certificate holders elect their own five members to the committees, with one nominated member – preferably the development officer – of the regional board staff and one ministerial nominee. The option of making the holding of share certificates compulsory will remain an option which co-operatives can decide on. I will elaborate later on my overall rationale for facilitating the co-ops to realise their full potential in every region.
These readily agreed improvements will deliver confidence and certainty among anglers about the overall direction and principles of the Bill. My contacts with a variety of organisations and interests since the Bill was published have clarified and focused our thinking. We are working constructively together to address the outstanding issues within the overall framework for positive change and real devolution of power. There has been an ongoing debate for almost 20 years on the need for new directions. The widespread consensus on the need for change certainly informed my decision to bring forward a new framework. The current intensive consultation phase and the positive outcomes of this process underline our collective ability to agree and address specific and important concerns. I remain open to other suggestions which would improve the Bill further. I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies in this regard.
The Bill provides for a modernised streamlined structure for the Central Fisheries Board, reflecting its pivotal national role and remit and the norms on State boards. The objective is to provide ministerial nominees with the appropriate balance of interests and competencies which will position the board and its executive to deliver on its core mandate. A direct link with the regional boards will be maintained through the nominations of a chairperson and a chief executive of a regional board. Two members will be nominated by the Ministers for the Environment and Local Government and Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, reflecting the links between fisheries, the environment and heritage and biodiversity. Three other ministerial nominees with relevant professional or business expertise will contribute a new focus and perspective to the board's work. The central board, as I have already stated, will have clear responsibilities in overall policy advice, planning and promotion and in specialist co-ordination services for the regional boards. The board membership is designed to support and facilitate delivery on that vitally important remit.
I turn now to the provisions on the trout and coarse fish co-operation societies. The co-op review group report, which is available on request, made a series of wide ranging recommendations for change. It is clear now that a majority would prefer to continue the existing structures and as I outlined earlier, I am happy to respect their view. There will be a streamlined funding and accounting mechanism which will channel matching Exchequer funding for co-operative projects through the regional boards. This will facilitate better administration and accountability. It will also help to integrate the co-ops more closely with the mainstream of regional fisheries development.
The Bill provides for the setting up of the Salmon Management Commission on a statutory basis, in line with the recommendations of the task force. The Commission will advise on salmon management policy and strategies and will take forward the detailed work on the salmon tagging scheme. The commission will have 16 members nominated by all the relevant organisations and four other nominees. I am pleased the angling organisations have already sent in their nominations for the commission and I look forward to shortly confirming all other nominations from the drift, draft and other salmon netting interests. The commission will maintain and facilitate consensus on future national salmon strategies. This new consultative and advisory forum will directly complement and support the work of the central and regional fisheries boards as well as the Marine Institute.
Section 29 provides for waiving of the payment by An Bord lascaigh Mhara of interest unpaid, including interest on interest unpaid, under sections 20 and 21 of the Sea Fisheries Act, 1952. The technical provisions in this section will enable interest charges payable by BIM, which occurred as a result of bad debts associated with loans to fishermen in the late 1970s and early 1980s, to be waived, thus addressing the long-standing imbalance on the balance sheet of BIM. The oil crises of the late 1970s and early 1980s and a decade of high interest rates caused severe financial difficulties for fishing vessel owners. Many fishermen found themselves unable to make repayments on loans provided by BIM. In certain cases loans were deemed to be irrecoverable. While the level of irrecoverable debt was revised substantially upwards in the late 1980s, the necessary waivers were not provided in order to balance BIM's debt position. The BIM balance sheet at 31 October 1999 shows a large technical imbalance between repayments due to the Exchequer on advances made to BIM and the value of loans due to BIM by fishermen. A total of £13.6 million is technically due by BIM to the Exchequer, while the value of loans is just £3.9 million. This leaves an imbalance of £9.7 million. Department of Finance sanction was granted in November of this year to waive the repayment of advances amounting to £9.7 million. However, the Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1963, can only be employed to waive the repayment of future interest and cannot provide for the waiver of interest arrears. Approximately £4 million in interest arrears is now due by BIM. As interest is charged on interest arrears, the latter will continue to accumulate substantially unless action is taken. This provision will clear these interest arrears once and for all.
In section 30 I am amending the Marine Institute Act, 1991, to extend the institute's functions to include matters relating to shipping and shipping services. In addition, I am establishing within the Marine Institute an office to be known as the Irish Maritime Development Office, IMDO, and I am giving that office functions appropriate to a development and promotional agency for the Irish shipping and shipping services sector. Just as the Marine Institute has created its own dynamic so too will the Irish Maritime Development Office – a dynamic based on delivery and performance. The maritime development office is to be set up within the Marine Institute as a constituent part of its operations. I set up the institute during my first term of office as Minister for the Marine. The institute has grown over the last seven years and now employs in excess of 100 people and has a budget of £13 million for 1999. Once established, the IMDO will be on trial. Its future existence will be dependent on it delivering on its mandate. Locating the office initially within the Marine Institute presents the most cost-effective option, as well as providing major strategic opportunities for both organisations.
The provision in section 30 which sets up a dedicated development agency for the promotion and development of our shipping industry and onshore shipping services sector, is a milestone for the industry. For the first time, the shipping industry and its onshore services sector will have its own dedicated development office, fully funded and staffed. The lack of such a body has, heretofore, hampered the growth of our shipping sector. With 95 per cent of our trade carried by sea, there are real opportunities to develop the Irish fleet, consolidate and develop employment at sea and onshore, to attract ships to the Irish ship register and to improve the shipping services sector with the help of a new, high quality and professional maritime development office.
Forecasts suggest that there will be major growth – a doubling on some projections – of world shipping in the next 15 years. Seaborne trade worldwide is set to expand faster than ever before. Much of the world's shipping tonnage is due to be replaced over the next ten to 15 years. Corresponding increases in related services, such as ship servicing, insurance, brokerage, manning, chartering and maritime legal services, are also predicted. Ireland possesses vast marine resources, is an island nation and people, and relies on shipping and port industries to service our buoyant tiger economy. This industry is crying out for attention and it deserves its own specialist development, promotional and marketing arm.
Ireland has many advantages which position it to considerably increase maritime-based activity. The growth in world shipping offers Irish-based institutions opportunities to participate directly in the global expansion of seaborne trade. These opportunities arise, not only through the acquisition and operation of increased shipping tonnage, but also in related activities such as financing new and second-hand ships, building on the proven success of the Irish Financial Services Centre. Irish maritime expertise has been built on our seafaring tradition and will serve us well as we face into the new millennium in our unique position at the hub of transatlantic routes.
I am setting up the maritime development office within the Marine Institute as a constituent part of its operations. The new office will report to me through the institute's board, and six-monthly progress reports will be required for its first three years of operation. The remit of the office will be to promote and assist the development of Irish shipping and Irish shipping services, in conformity with the EU guidelines on State aid for maritime transport; to promote Ireland as a centre for ship registration; to develop and implement a strategic framework for the shipping industry and its ancillary services sector; and to liaise with and support the industry, advise on policy initiatives and the overhaul of the legislative and fiscal framework for the mercantile marine, so as to underpin industrial development and safeguard and generate employment.
The office will be subject to rigorous performance monitoring. It must attract to Ireland additional marine-related service sector operations and major players in international shipping in the manning, technical, chartering and financial areas. I will be looking to the office to generate additional Irish seafarer employment together with new indigenous marine services sector businesses.
I fully appreciate that there needs to be the fullest possible consultation with, and participation by, the shipping and shipping services industry in the formulation and implementation of development plans by the maritime development office. I am setting up an advisory group to the IMDO and will very shortly appoint its chairman and members, including representatives from the shipping and shipping services sector, the IDA and relevant Departments.
Deputies will have seen that the Government's revised An Action Programme for the Millennium, published a few weeks ago, recognises the critical importance of our maritime sector and commits itself to the establishment of a maritime development office and a national maritime college. I will not waste any time in getting the IMDO up and running. A full-time director for the new office and supporting executive and administrative staff will be recruited as quickly as possible, and the advisory group appointed. We are charting a new course for the shipping industry. I want the IMDO to be fully operational by the millennium and I will work closely with the board of the Marine Institute to deliver new jobs and create a new confidence within the industry that will encourage increased investment and innovation.
I will be proposing a minor amendment to section 30 of the Bill on Committee Stage to underline, for the avoidance of doubt, that seafarer training may be one of the policy matters which I may specify for implementation by the Irish maritime development office. I see this function as being a necessary adjunct to the IMDO's remit, given the critical importance of seafarer training in the development of Irish shipping and Irish shipping services, and the upcoming development of a new national maritime college. Deputies Finucane and Bell recognise the urgency of getting these matters into operation and I thank them for the co-operation on this Bill which I commend to the House.