Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

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.

I preface my remarks by saying that I expressed reservations about this Bill yesterday, based on the situation which prevailed at that time. There appeared to be an anxiety to push this legislation through before 14 December, and I made it clear that Fine Gael would not co-operate with that objective. However, the situation has changed and, as I stated on the Order of Business this morning, we will do everything possible to facilitate and expedite the passage of the Bill because we recognise its importance.

At last the House is discussing the Fisheries (Amendment) Bill which has been in preparation for more than two years. The Minister requested the deferment of elections to the regional fisheries boards on 26 November 1997 to allow for a comprehensive review of the structures, services and organisation of the inland fisheries sector. The deferment was for a period of 12 months and it was anticipated that this legislation would be in place by the end of 1998. In late 1998, the Minister requested a further postponement of elections to the regional fisheries boards and the Bill has been published one year later.The fisheries boards were established in 1980 and have been active in the management of the inland fisheries and sea-angling sectors. Almost 20 years later, it is timely that the operations of the Central Fisheries Board and the regional fisheries boards have been reviewed. In July 1994, the Central Fisheries Board commissioned Coopers & Lybrand to review its operations and those of the regional fisheries boards. The cost of this consultancy and subsequent advise was £64,849. While the report found that the Central Fisheries Board had expertise, it was lacking in policy direction and there were deficiencies in its dealings with the Department and the regional fisheries boards. Having commissioned the report, the Central Fisheries Board rejected it, mainly because it did not agree with some of the findings. The regional fisheries boards also disassociated themselves from the report – so much for a report costing £65,000 for which, I presume, the Exchequer subsequently paid.

A further consultancy report was produced by Price Waterhouse in 1995 which reviewed the organisation and management of the fisheries service. This report encompassed sea fisheries, inland fisheries and relevant agencies, and came up with some options, namely, abolishing the Central Fisheries Board and allocating its powers to the regional boards. It also recommended that the existing structure of the central and regional boards be replaced by a new national inland fisheries agency which would be responsible for all the roles currently discharged by the central and regional boards, and the management of ESB fisheries. The report also recommended assigning other duties to the new agency.

Based on the findings of both reports, there was an urgent need for clarification of the future roles and responsibilities of the central and regional fisheries boards. Currently the Central Fisheries Board comprises 13 people which includes six ministerial nominees and the seven chairmen of the regional boards. The primary responsibility of the board is the overall co-ordination of the regional boards and the provision of direction and other specialised services when required to the regional boards.

In a value for money examination of the management of the inland fisheries in July 1997 the Comptroller and Auditor General stated that the Central Fisheries Board has a very unclear role. The examination also criticised the fact that none of the recommendations of the two previous consultancy reports, which would have given the board a clearer role, were implemented. Criticism has also been expressed that the board, the majority of which is formed by the seven regional chairmen, would give greater priority to regional over national interests. The proposal under section 23 of the Bill for a revamped Central Fisheries Board is to reduce the number of members from 13, with the Minister appointing all eight members, including the chairman. I welcome the fact that one of the members will be nominated by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. This is necessary to ensure there is no unnecessary duplication between local authorities and the regional fisheries boards in the area of water pollution. There is a necessity for greater clarity in the roles of both organisations.

I am most critical of section 8 of the Bill which deals with the composition of the regional fisheries boards. Currently, the composition of regional boards varies from 20 to 21 members. Seven members are appointed by the Minister and the balance are appointed by the various angling interests. The Minister intends appointing eight of the 16 members and the chairman. The balance of eight members will be appointed by angling interests. The Minister's intention is to appoint persons with knowledge of farming, aquaculture regional tourism, community enterprise, the environment, national heritage and local staff of boards. While the Minister's intention is to broaden the composition of boards, we should not lose sight of the fact that they are regional boards, and it is my contention that the Minister might throw the baby out with the bath water.

These comments are based on the legislation as presented. Although it took two years of deliberations, more seemed to be achieved through consensus, dialogue and consultation yesterday in two hours. I wonder about the level of consultation which took place between officials in the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources and the different interests involved in fisheries over the past two years. I am concerned that the members of the review group were sworn to secrecy about the contents of their report. Members representing the various fisheries organisations said they did not see the contents of the report. Yet for the first time yesterday they turned up at the Department and the report was willingly handed out – the Minister used the term "on request". The Department could have saved itself much embarrassment in drafting the legislation if proper consultation took place with the different organisations concerned. I wonder about the deferment of the election of officers over two years and what the Department was doing in processing the legislation. It was obvious at all stages that certain fundamental aspects of the legislation would be subject to serious question by the different interests, which transpired.

The area of responsibility of the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board includes the inland fisheries of the Shannon catchment, the River Feale catchment in north Kerry, the rivers of County Clare and a coastal area from Kerry Head to Hags Head in County Clare. How confident is the Minister that a reduction to 16 members will adequately represent that entire region? The reduction in the numbers of elected members will militate against the main thrust of the Bill which is to move responsibility to local level, involving those with an interest in fisheries development and their conservation. The Minister should think again, as he has done, as his appointment of 50 per cent of the proposed membership would be anti-democratic. He should not disenfranchise the fishing groups which traditionally represented their membership on the board. I am glad that at the 11th hour the Minister has changed this provision. There was also strong opposition to the Minister nominating the chairman of the board. The chairman should be elected by the members of the regional boards, not the Minister, and I am glad this has been acceded to as it will mean a fairer situation will prevail.

Our main rivers cover 13,800 kilometres while our fresh water lakes comprise about 145,000 hectares. The overall area of our rivers, lakes and waterways puts into perspective the necessity of guarding our water quality. The regional fisheries boards have a vital role in pollution control. I commend them in their vigilance over the years in this area. They have been prepared to take the legislative route where necessary. Thankfully, the trend in recent years has been a reduction in serious incidents of pollution. However, there is concern at the increase in the incidents of moderate and slight pollution. In many cases the various local authorities are contributing to the problem, with sewage being discharged into our waterways. In recent times there has been some improvement, with new sewerage plants and upgrading of existing plants. However, much more needs to be done in this area. There is much concern about eutrophication of our lakes and there is an urgent necessity for the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources to provide sufficient finance to ensure we have good quality water. Otherwise there will be ongoing threats to our fish habitats.

From reading some of the accounts of the fisheries boards and other documentation, I wonder what amount of overall funding is provided for the anti-pollution activities of boards. I would like the Department to examine this aspect and equate the percentage spend with that on other aspects of boards' activities. I ask the Minister to examine this in the context of what has been appearing in newspapers in recent times, given that our future quality of life will depend very much on our water quality. For example, in Limerick the River Maigue has the record for being the second most polluted river in the country. It was a famous fishing river many years ago. In order to address this the various interest groups, such as the county council, Teagasc, the IFA and the ICMSA, are working in tandem with farmers in the catchment area, with an emphasis on partnership and persuasion. It is extremely important that the different sections which have an interest in sustaining water quality are involved. There should be a carrot rather than a stick approach in this regard. Obviously if this approach fails it may be necessary to proceed by way of legislation, but we should act as persuaders, cajoling people to take action.

There are about 150 farms in the area of the river and its tributaries. If each of these were given the opportunity to enhance their farmyard pollution control we would see considerable improvement. In order to stimulate these improvements it is necessary to have an appropriate pollution grant scheme in place which will provide the necessary incentive in many cases. There is a control of farmyard pollution scheme in place and in the context of the national development plan it is important that we sustain it. In harsh economic times farmers must have economic sustenance by way of grants if they are to carry out the works required. The Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, working in tandem with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, should ensure such a grant prevails because it is in the long-term interest of the water quality and fish habitats.

I pay a special tribute to the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board for the manner in which it has approached this. I trust it will be successful and restore the water quality of the river and improve the fishing stocks. I am sure the other regional fisheries board are doing similar work. Regional fisheries boards must adopt this approach in future to ensure our water quality is improved considerably.

The concept of catchment management mentioned in the Bill is a laudable objective as all the stakeholders have an interest in ensuring good water quality. However, it is imperative that trout and salmon anglers have a pivotal role in the catchment management area as they have always adopted a responsible approach. If the Minister loses sight of their important role, the catchment management approach may not work. A project in this area in the lakes of Killarney has not been successful and perhaps it is because of the approach adopted. Whatever is done, all the stakeholders must be on board and must act positively. That is where catchment management will come into its own.

Fisheries protection can often be a dangerous occupation, and fisheries staff often must display great tolerance although they can be the subject to threats of abuse and violence. It is only right that we should thank them for their work in the fishery protection area. Much of their time is devoted to the protection of salmon.

In June 1996, under the guidance of the then Minister, Deputy Barrett, and Minister of State, Deputy Gilmore, the report on the salmon management task force was published. It was also proposed that a national salmon commission comprising the appropriate interests be set up. I am pleased this will happen under the Bill. The commission will decide on the total available catches and the strategies to be adopted.

The salmon task force report was published after much consultation with net men, rod men and other interested parties. The commercial salmon fishing catches were affected when various conservation measures were introduced in 1997. In fairness to commercial salmon fishing interests, they co-operated with the measures introduced. When the salmon commission is in place, a vital part of its work will be to carcase tag all salmon killed for sale. This will require an identifiable tag. It will then be possible to quantify the number of salmon killed.

I am disappointed that, while it was promised that all 35 fish counters would be in place by the end of 1999, only 22 have been installed. We have been promised that the balance of 13 will be in place by the end of next year. These fish counters will provide valuable information on salmon numbers and will assist in providing specific spawning target estimates for each of the rivers. This valuable information will help to underpin the quota scheme. Thus, there will be controls on the number of tags to be made available.

The Minister must recognise the important role of the salmon angling clubs and their responsibilities over the years. I met representatives of the clubs recently and was impressed by their commitment and approach and the interest they displayed in the overall area of salmon fishing. Organisations such as the salmon anglers organisation, the trout anglers organisation and other angling organisations have a credible name. When a fair quota allocation for each angler has been determined, it should be possible for tags to be allocated by the club secretary. Perhaps the Department would examine that because most club secretaries are sincere people who will distribute tags as appropriate, keep log books and return unused tags. That would give appropriate recognition to their efforts and would help the fisheries boards in administering the scheme. It is only when all the quota and tagging systems are in place that consideration should be given to a voluntary buy-out of interested net men.

The five year plan of the Central Fisheries Board referred to a voluntary buy-out of commercial salmon fisheries to enhance the stocks for rod angling. It also stated that the regional fisheries boards would endeavour to provide alternative enterprises for commercial fishermen. Despite the changes proposed in the Bill and in the future role of the Central Fisheries Board, I trust the many commitments made in the five year plan will not be forgotten.

The Northern Regional Fisheries Board is to be complimented on its innovation with its counterparts in the North on the successful INTERREG II Erne salmon management programme. The budget of £1.77 million will help to fund a major restoration programme of wild salmon in the Erne. It is anticipated that the next peace and reconciliation programme will make £5 million available for suitable cross-Border projects. It is recognised that the legislation will help strengthen the role of the northern boards in this area. I gather from my meetings with the regional fisheries board managers that they are excited by the legislation and see it as devolving duties and responsibilities to them. That is positive. The Minister mentioned the principle of subsidiarity. What is happening here will certainly help that cause.

Perhaps the Minister would examine the role of the ESB in the fisheries area and determine if it is compatible with the company's current role. The ESB has had a caretaking role in the Shannon since 1935. There is dissatisfaction with that role and it now seems the Shannon eel fishermen and the Lough Derg anglers will seek a judicial review of the ESB's caretaking of the river. The eel fishermen apportion the blame for the decline in eels to the ESB and do not accept they are responsible. I am also reliably informed that the ESB at Ardnacrusha does not operate the fish counters as it is embarrassed by the small run of salmon. It is time for a debate on the ESB's role in this fishery area.

When the Bill is enacted, the Minister should attempt to compile a fisheries legislation consolidation Bill and examine the ESB's role. This must be done if we are to be taken seriously and improve the situation of the regional fisheries boards. The Minister's action in devolving the Moy fishery to the North-Western Fisheries Board was positive, as were similar actions with other fisheries administered separately by the Central Fisheries Board. However, we must take it a stage further. We must ensure as far as possible that the regional fisheries boards are responsible for the fisheries in their regions.

The Minister has had more than two years to ensure this legislation will be a success. I was disappointed when I read it initially and certainly disappointment was expressed by people in the sector because I received a huge amount of correspondence on this issue. All my colleagues were successfully lobbied by the fishing organisations which voiced their concerns on the Bill and they also articulated their concerns to me.

The Minister was also successfully lobbied.

Yes, but it changed yesterday for the better. There is great concern, especially among the angling organisations, that the consultative process was unsatisfactory. The Trout Anglers Federation stated it received no report from the review group of development co-operative societies. While it had a representative on the board, he was instructed as a member of the committee to keep the content of the deliberations of the board to himself. The Trout Anglers Federation has a valid point about the level of consultation. Section 28 reforms the management structure and funding mechanisms of the co-op producers. It replaces the existing electoral system with a wholly appointed membership. It must be pointed out that shareholders purchase share certificates over a seven year period in anticipation of having an opportunity to stand as candidates and vote in elections to the societies as well as the regional boards. Understandably, they may feel disenfranchised as shareholder members of the co-ops if direct appointments proceed. If proper discussions were held on this legislation, the understandable concerns of TAFI, FISSTA and NARA could be addressed. The deletion of the former life members of the Inland Fisheries Trust from consideration for election as members of the regional fisheries boards has also caused a great deal of concern, especially with TAFI. Following the discussions which took place with the various representative organisations yesterday and in light of the Minister's amended statement today, many of those difficulties have possibly been resolved.

There is provision for the direct appointment of the chairman and five ordinary members of the Central Fisheries Board who will nominate the representatives of the Ministers for the Environment and Local Government and Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. There is a real danger that angling representatives could be excluded and it is imperative that angling interests are represented on the board. I believe that is currently being considered.

In preparation for today's debate on the Bill, I have carried out a great deal of research, read the consultants' report and studied documents such as the one produced by the Central Fisheries Board in 1997. It is regrettable that the board was not very proactive prior to 1997 because a commitment was given in 1980, when the board was originally established, that it would produce reports every five years. I am open to correction on this point but I understand that the 1997 document was the first one produced by the board and it was probably spurred on by the Minister.

The board seems to be concerned at what it perceives to be a devolution of its powers. However, the members of the board had sufficient time to get their act together but they do not seem to have done so. I fully support the principle of subsidiarity. The board was somewhat optimistic in regard to tourism figures. The 1998 report of Bord Fáilte showed that while the number of visitors had risen steadily over a five year period, the number engaged in angling had declined. All types of angling were affected. However, the numbers of overseas visitors participating in game angling had declined at a slower rate than other types of angling. Overseas tourists, who fished while in Ireland, contributed an estimated £61.7 million to the economy in 1998 whereas the figure was £80 million in 1996. That represents a shift in the wrong direction.

It seems somewhat contradictory for us to seek to improve the fisheries scene if, parallel to that, we fail to increase tourism numbers. We have an excellent product, be it game angling, coarse angling or sea angling, we have a temperate climate and we are influenced by the Gulf Stream. Given the number of rivers and lakes in the country, we have a natural base for tourism. I urge the Minister to engage in serious discussions with Bord Fáilte on that issue. I am aware of the tourism angling measures which have been effective in recent years and of the marketing organisations involved in their promotion.

I understand the Minister gave a commitment to the fishermen yesterday and I will be very interested to see what amendments he will table to the Bill. I want to ensure, as I am sure Deputy Bell does, that those amendments will meet the commitments given. The Minister stated that he would formally acknowledge the existence and autonomy of angling clubs and associations. This, he said, would ensure that the new powers being devolved to the regional boards would not be used to dispossess existing clubs and organisations of State on waters which they traditionally fished. I understand the Minister intends to get the parliamentary draftsman to look at that commitment and modify it to meet the language requirements of the Bill. I trust that this commitment will be enshrined in the legislation.

Appointments are due to be made to regional fisheries boards by way of elections and I assure the Minister we will co-operate fully with the passage of this Bill.

I concur with the views expressed by Deputy Finucane. It appeared that the world championship competitions for salmon and trout fishing were taking place in Leinster House over the past two days and that the Minister was hosting them. We had to wait until the early hours of this morning to meet some of the delegations which visited the House yesterday. This type of activity could and should be avoided. The Department is notorious for rushing in legislation and seeking the co-operation of the Labour and Fine Gael parties in order to meet its deadlines. It is as if we were producing a newspaper rather than introducing legislation. I suggest that the Department needs to be taken by the scruff of the neck and shaken up at every level. I have expressed this view on previous occasions and I hope the Minister will fulfil his responsibilities in this respect.

I acknowledge that the Minister conceded a number of the very important points raised by the various representative groups, albeit at the 11th hour. At one point, it seemed we might have another civil war on our hands if the number of protests, correspondence and visiting delegations I received over the past week are anything to go by.

Like Deputy Finucane, I recognise that the Minister has agreed to all the proposals made by the TAFI last night. I have gone through its proposals with them and its members understand that agreement has been reached on all the issues which they brought to the Minister's notice and with which they disagreed. I look forward to the amendments which will give effect to that agreement.

One issue has not been referred to in all the discussions and representations and in the proposals outlined in the Minister's speech. The staff of the Central Fisheries Board and the regional boards have not been mentioned; it is almost as if they did not exist. They play a very important role and are charged with the responsibility of putting into effect legislative provisions, ministerial orders and board decisions. I intend to make this issue my primary focus on Committee Stage. I will do so as a member and former national officer of SIPTU which represents the majority of staff in the Central Fisheries Board and the regional boards. They should have the right to elect at least one staff representative as has happened in regard to port boards and in other State and semi-State sectors. Why should they be ignored? Why should they have to wait for second or third hand information to apply the regulations and policies set down by this Parliament and by the boards themselves? I intend to table an amendment on this issue which I hope the Minister will accept.

I would have liked the Minister to refer in his speech to the staff. Perhaps the Minister would indicate in his reply that he will agree to bring forward an amendment so that staff will have the right under this legislation to have representation on the central and regional boards. That is required because the staff are not being consulted in a proper and democratic way; they are being instructed. They have to do the donkey work but they are not recognised when it comes to representation. Hoteliers, environmental organisations, fisheries, angling, net men, mussel men and so on are represented but staff do not have a statutory right to representation on the central and regional boards. It is my primary objective to ensure that happens and that this matter is effectively dealt with before the legislation is enacted.

This Bill has been more than two years in preparation and its emergence on the Order Paper today is, to say the least, long overdue. The election for the Regional Fisheries Boards was postponed in 1997 and again in 1998 to facilitate the preparation and enactment of this legislation. The process of formulating this Bill should not have been delayed to such an extent. Such delays lead to confusion, frustration and lack of progress. I sincerely hope such time lags do not become a feature of the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources as they have in the past.

Because of the length of time it has taken to prepare this legislation, the Labour Party expected a major reforming Bill on inland fisheries and that the Minister would take the opportunity to consolidate all legislation in relation to inland fisheries, but this was not done. However, the Bill, as it stands, does not include provisions which would ensure that our fisheries are set on a secure and structured footing. In this respect, I welcome the Minister's commitment to take on board many of the concerns I have expressed about this Bill and those which have been well voiced by representatives of those engaged in inland fisheries, staff and other interests.

If, from the outset, the Minister had considered the important issues of a balanced and acceptable makeup of the regional fisheries boards, the inclusion of an angling staff representative on the Central Fisheries Board and other key inclusions under the remit of the co-operatives, this Bill would have been far more acceptable than it is in its present form.

Inland fisheries legislation is fragmented comprising the 1959 Act, the Acts which introduced and repealed the rod licence and various other enactments. The Bill is expressed as amendments to specific enactments of other legislation and is, therefore, difficult to follow. It is a reflection of the confusing nature of the inland fisheries legislative framework.

The Labour Party believes we need consolidating legislation governing all of the inland fisheries. Given the amount of time the Minister took to prepare this Bill, we very much regret that the opportunity to introduce consolidating legislation was not availed of. It was only at the eleventh hour that the Minister took the time to meet the fishing interests. The two year drafting phase of this Bill should have included wide consultation with the various interests and trade union groups involved in the industry. It would appear that the trade union representatives, the workers in this industry, are unrecognised in terms of their contribution to the success of this industry.

The reforms introduced in the Bill are quite limited and, in some cases, will have to be significantly amended on Committee Stage. I look forward to seeing the amendments the Minister will bring forward. I hope we get those amendments at an early stage so that we will be able to examine them and consult with groups which will be affected by them. I ask the Minister to take note of that.

The main purpose of the Bill appears to be to redefine the relationship between the Minister, the Central Fisheries Board and the regional fisheries boards. The Minister appears to have done two things. First, he is strengthening the role of the regional boards, redefining the Central Fisheries Boards and having a supporting and co-ordinating function. The Labour Party supports this shift in emphasis. It also recognises the role played by the staff of the CFB and RFBs and recommends that this should be recognised by the Minister in the Bill.

The Fisheries Act, 1980, gave rise to a fairly confused relationship between the central and the regional boards and this could only be clarified by strengthening the role of the central board at the expense of the regions or strengthening the regional boards at the expense of the centre. The Labour Party supports the strengthening of the regional and the central boards. However, we are disappointed that in doing so, the Minister also appears to be strengthening his own position and that of the Department at the expense of the boards. The amendments the Minister said he would bring forward may change that emphasis, and I look forward to that. He should have delegated to the central board many of the functions he holds. This would be real delegation and decentralisation. The control of too many functions in the industry is kept in the Minister's Department. As I said before, in terms of performance, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources would not be high on my list and would probably be at the bottom of the lists of most of my colleagues in the House.

We take issue with a number of provisions of the Bill. The provision in section 10 whereby the Minister may give specific directions to the boards not only in relation to general policy matters, but in relation to the day to day management of the boards is an excessive intrusion by the Minister and Department in the daily functions of the boards. In addition, the Minister has taken the upper hand in the appointment of both the central board and the regional boards. We do not believe that is democratic and that the Minister should be able to appoint the membership of the central board and half the membership of each regional board. I hope we can return to that issue on Committee Stage.

There is a case for a reduction in the overall size of the regional boards which with 21 members were somewhat unwieldy. However, the way in which the Minister has done this is seriously disenfranchising those who have the greatest interest and involvement in the inland fisheries sector and the anglers and fishermen. We do not want people appointed on a political basis; there has been far too much of that over the years. We want appointed people with qualifications and who are dedicated, irrespective of whether they are a member of a branch or cumann of a party. This Bill significantly reduces the right of the angler and those involved in inland fisheries to elect representatives to the boards. Perhaps as a result of what the Minister said this morning that will be corrected by amendments to which I look forward.

Under the Bill local farmers and hoteliers, for example, will have as great a right to have equal representation on the regional fisheries boards as the organisation representing fishermen and workers. This is highly undemocratic and I cannot imagine a body established to deal with agricultural matters would allow only one representative of the farming community, which is what this Bill does in allowing one representative from each of the main angling interests. This Government appears to have held a grudge against the angling organisations since the rod licence dispute of the late 1980s and that grudge appears to be given expression by keeping representation of angling interests on the regional fisheries boards to a bare minimum and by changing the composition of the fisheries co-operative societies, established as a direct response to the rod licence settlement. The same sentiments seem to apply to net fishermen.

The Labour Party will put down amendments on Committee Stage seeking increased representation and recognition of angling and other fishing interests as well as the interests of staff in the institutes being re-established under this legislation. I take issue with the Minister giving himself the right to nominate the entire membership of the Central Fisheries Board, half the membership of the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board and, in an unprecedented move, the chairman of each board. This arrangement is not democratic and we will end up with the Minister stuffing the boards with party supporters rather than having the boards representative of genuine fisheries interests.

The Bill proposes establishing on a statutory basis a National Salmon Commission as well as fish tagging and wild salmon and sea trout conservation. The Labour Party supports this proposal. I chaired the Committee on Enterprise and Economic Strategy which examined the report of the salmon task force and some of the report's recommendations are in this Bill, as Deputy Finucane will know. The Bill has not gone far enough with the report's recommendations and I hope that is followed up as soon as possible.

These proposals emanated from the policy pursued in the report of the Salmon Task Force which was established by Deputy Gilmore when he was Minister of State and which was chaired by Professor Noel Wilkins of University College Galway. The report of that task force set out a new blueprint for the conservation of wild salmon. We sometimes forget that the wild North Atlantic salmon, which has been one of our national symbols since the time of the Fianna, is in serious danger of extinction. We know that the stocks of wild salmon are in decline and that many rivers which used to be good salmon fisheries are now almost devoid of salmonoid stock. The report of the task force was radical and far-reaching and, again, it is regrettable that it has taken this Government so long to build on the reforming initiatives Deputy Gilmore initiated.

One aspect of the proposed tagging system with which I am concerned is the provision that it is being established on a cost recovery basis, as this will not work. We either value our wild salmon resource or we do not. If we do, we should commit the necessary resources to conserve it. The provision in the Bill that the scheme will only be established on a cost recovery basis is a recipe for postponement and delay and the longer we delay and postpone action in relation to conserving wild salmon, the lower our stocks will become and the harder it will be to achieve recovery. When does the Minister intend to introduce the tagging system? Does he intend to allow a proper lead-in time for its implementation? What will the starting point be? What will happen to the existing system, which has been in operation for a number of years? The Minister should clarify this matter.

I am disappointed the Bill does not provide for the establishment on a statutory basis of a catchment management system for all our fisheries. When the committee I chaired considered the task force report we met representatives of all interests from all over the country and those interests feared that the establishment of a catchment management system would be forced upon them. Deputy Finucane will remember that our understanding was that this would be done by agreement with all parties concerned at local level within the catchment area. I ask the Minister to establish this system. I often fish in Kerry and there is concern in that area that, for example, the legislation will impose the catchment management system on the Laune valley rather than on a voluntary basis. The Minister should respond to those fears.

The concept of catchment management was first promoted by my colleague, Deputy Gilmore. The idea was that a fishery catchment, for example the Boyne, would be identified and that a management framework would be established for that catchment which would involve all the fisheries and economic interests and community organisations which have an interest in that fishery. This process would deepen the involvement of all interests and fisheries in the management and help the development of our fisheries resources. It can be better achieved on a voluntary basis. It would deepen democratic involvement at ground level in the management of our fisheries and would be the most effective way of dealing with problems of poaching and pollution. It would be an ideal way of involving all those angling clubs around the country which have carried out such tremendous work in minding our fisheries and very often in their redevelopment directly in the management of our fisheries, as well as the net men who have carried out tremendous work in caring for our fisheries, often at their own expense and in their own time. Will the Minister ensure in his discussions with the fishing interests that this happens before this Bill is passed? The angling organisations have called on the Minister not to rush this Bill through the House and, on behalf of the Labour Party, I support that call. Time and care should be taken to examine in detail all the new provisions in this legislation. I understand the importance of having the Bill passed by the 16 December deadline and I would like to be involved in legislation that, probably for the first time in the history of the State, will co-ordinate fisheries in the North and the Republic. That would be a tremendous day. We will endeavour to do so provided the Minister co-operates with us, as co-operation in the House is a two-way process. The Minister should take on board Opposition spokespersons' points and, within reason, attempt to meet them.

I ask the Minister to consider favourably the amendments which will be tabled by the Labour Party. These amendments will be structured and constructive and will be designed to strengthen the legislation. Our inland fisheries resource is important to the people of this country in terms of our tourist economy, leisure and recreation as well as our environment. We have seen reports recently of the deteriorating quality of our drinking water and we have had many examples in recent years of serious pollution in our inland waterways. The ultimate test of an inland waterway is the ability of fish to survive and thrive in it. For that reason the Labour Party believes that ultimate responsibility for water pollution control should be transferred to the fisheries boards under the control of the central body.

I have been a member of a local authority for over 25 years and am very familiar with this matter. For example, if the Boyne was polluted within the borough boundary of Drogheda, under current legislation it is not controlled by the local authority in Drogheda but by the county council in Dundalk. That is the wrong way to control pollution in our rivers and lakes. It is cumbersome, costly and ineffective – that is the worst aspect of it. At one level, responsibility for the Water Pollution Acts rests with the local authorities and the Department of the Environment and Local Government while at another level responsibility under the Inland Fisheries Acts are exercised by the regional fisheries boards.

What a convoluted way to deal with a jigsaw puzzle. The problems associated with water pollution fall between the two and are often unattended. Nobody knows who is responsible for them. That is the reason for the delay in establishing who is responsible for polluting our rivers and lakes and for killing the fish.

The time has come to rationalise and, perhaps, give overall responsibility for water quality and water pollution to the fisheries boards. It will be necessary to give the boards the necessary resources to carry out those tasks. I will return to this topic on Committee Stage. I have received a number of representations about the Central Fisheries Board. My colleagues in SIPTU have difficulty with some aspects of the Bill, for example, the statement in the explanatory memorandum that there will be no additional cost implications. What does that mean? Is the Bill legislating for wages and costs controls?

That is a standard provision.

I am glad the Minister responded. I hope that is not the intention. The explanatory memorandum is not the Bill, but I ask the Minister to take on board those concerns. If there were such controls, it would be the first time the Dáil imposed cost restrictions in legislation.

It just means it is not a money Bill. The money has to come a different route.

I am sure the Minister will meet my concern in a positive way. My trade union colleagues will be watching to ensure he does.

Another point made in the submissions I received related to the number of key posts which have not been filled in the Central Fisheries Board. How can we be serious about implementing this legislation, supervising and patrolling the industry at national level and dealing with subsidiary bodies if key posts in the Central Fisheries Board have not been filled long after they were vacated? Perhaps the Minister would explain. I was flabbergasted to discover that while we are trying to improve the fisheries sector and to pass hurried legislation to update the industry, key areas of administration at the industry's centre have not been filled. I intend to put down a parliamentary question on this matter. I cannot do so until the new year due to notice requirements, but I intend to ask the Minister how many vacancies exist in the various sectors and why they have not been filled.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has conceded at the 11th, if not the 12th, hour. I have shadowed the Minister in a number of offices and always found that if a reasonable argument is put to him, he will endeavour to meet it. Since this Government took office, Deputy Finucane and I have tried to work with the Minister in a constructive way. Many of our proposals and amendments to legislation have been accepted. This Bill, although limited, is one of the most important Bills introduced by the Minister and I ask him to give serious consideration to the amendments we will put down on Committee Stage.

I will reiterate my key point. If this legislation, the Central Fisheries Board and the new regional structures are to work effectively, there must be worker representation.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. In a county which has relied on the three Fs – fishing, farming and Fruit of the Loom – we have found that of all Ministers, the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, has always reacted in a positive and progressive manner to assist in the development of the fishing sector. I commend him on the initiative he has demonstrated since coming into office by giving long overdue recognition to our island status and in effectively lobbying the fishermen's case in Europe.

In a relatively short time, the age profile of the white fish fleet has been improved, secondhand boats have been given a new lease of life and safety for vessels in general is being supported. In each of these areas we were beginning from a low base. At last, we are heading in the right direction and I congratulate the Minister on his successful efforts earlier this week which will ensure the £70 million investment in the renewal programme can continue. Nowhere is this overdue action recognised more than in the large white fish port in Greencastle.

In addition, we have seen the development of piers, harbours and slipways. The Minister has been to the fore in developing this basic infrastructure. Large developments are not confined to the traditionally supported locations but include regions north of the Galway-Dublin divide. For the first time in as long as many can remember, the smaller structures of slipways, piers and small harbours are getting recognition. This is not mere platitudes but has in many cases been a vital support whereby infrastructure which was ignored for years is saved, strengthened and given a new potential.

A classic example of regeneration of a port is that of Carrickarory in Moville. This was one of the last ports to be claimed back from British control approximately seven years ago and was in a sad state of repair. It was once a busy commercial pier that was the hub of the area and gave employment to the locality. Deliberate neglect left it in a dangerous state. Many former Ministers visited and condemned it. Condemnation of neglect is merely a reaction but a positive action did not emerge until the current Minister, Deputy Woods, saw the potential and supplied the necessary finance to save this vital infrastructure. Given its geographical location, we now have a resource that can continue to expand and will realise more potential for the northern region.

For once, a Minister can see the value of an investment that others locally have striven to portray for many years. This is only one example of support that has made a real difference. I am sure this story can be replicated along the entire coast. I know of a number of fishermen and communities in Inishowen who have many well developed plans for infrastructure in their areas. All of them – Malin Head, Bonagee, Leenan, Buncrana and Inch, for example – are worthwhile projects that will have a positive impact on the economy of the region.

I commend the Marine Institute on its work on the marine leisure document. This is a comprehensive report which points to a potential that was largely untapped and under-utilised in the past. The development of the marine leisure industry in other, less obvious, countries has overtaken ours, but we have the resources in place and a new attitude, due to the Celtic tiger, which means we, too, have a future in this sector.

As we develop our recognition of the importance of our waters from various perspectives, including that of fishing, it is vital that development is pursued in a planned and co-ordinated fashion. There are so many uses being made of our waterways that the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources should increase its interaction with local authorities. In some locations a fishing resource would be a priority whereas a marine leisure development might be more appropriate. Difficult decisions will have to be made in many instances, but at a time when, at last, finance is being made available, co-ordination is vital in the development of this infrastructure.

In that context, the interaction of the local authorities and the Department of the Environment and Local Government is also important in respect of the development of our environmental services which are not yet at European standards. In too many regions we are trying to promote angling or water sports where there might not yet be a basic sewage treatment plant. That is most unsatisfactory. It is difficult to market angling and water sports when raw sewage is still pumped into many of our rivers.

Many of the issues I mentioned are outside the realms of the Bill but are, nevertheless, worth mentioning. This Bill addresses the major deficiencies that have existed in the Inland Fisheries Service since the passing of the Fisheries Act, which is now almost 20 years in existence. Until the advent of this Bill there were no changes to the structures in place. The weaknesses of the structures have, however, been outlined on a number of occasions through various reports and studies, including the PricewaterhouseCoopers report.

People involved in the fishing sector identify the weaknesses as relating to confusion over the roles of the Central Fisheries Board and the regional fisheries boards. It was considered that the roles of the two boards overlapped and that added to the confusion. Onlookers would claim there was a lack of clear focus and direction within the service and that affected the cohesiveness of the service. Negative aspects have been alluded to in respect of the size and composition of the board. Its membership was large, although not truly representative. Many would consider that a further weakness in the structures was a lack of adequate accountability within the system.

The Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1999, provides for the devolution of primary responsibility for conservation, management and promotion of inland fisheries to the regional boards. That is in line not only with Government policy but EU policy. Those are the basic requirements for sustained development and are fundamental to the sector.

Section 8 clarifies the brief of the boards and gives them new roles in the co-ordination and development of catchment management plans. The Bill provides a new role for the boards in relation to the acquisition and management of fisheries and provides for the devolution of eel fishing authorisations from the Minister to the boards.

The role envisaged for the regional fisheries boards is in line with that of the Foyle Fisheries Commission. That commission was established under legislation enacted in the early 1950s. The regional fisheries boards, which will have responsibility only for salmon, not aquaculture will concentrate on the conservation, management and promotion of fisheries. Many good sustainable development initiatives are being pursued by the Foyle Fisheries Commission and the following of that ideal by many other boards must be very welcome.

Section 5 provides that the primary role of the Central Fisheries Board will be to provide specialist support and co-ordination services for the regional boards. While the two authorities will work together, the Central Fisheries Board will have responsibility for presenting the national fisheries development plans, advising the Minister on policy and policing the performance of regional boards in that it will advise the Minister on their effectiveness in fulfilling their functions.

I support the aspiration to reduce the membership of the Central Fisheries Board and the regional fisheries boards. It was envisaged that the membership of the Central Fisheries Board would be reduced from 13 to eight and that of the regional fisheries boards from 20 to 16, which would have resulted in the boards being more satisfactory and effective. I commend the Minister on his initiative in meeting representatives of the organisations concerned and following those discussions the proposed changes have been somewhat altered. It is important in any dispute that the people involved should discuss the issues in order to reach a solution as early as possible. I commend the Minister on managing to solve this matter before the Bill was introduced.

I am pleased one aspect of the membership of the boards has not changed in that a quota of women will be included on the boards. I am not an advocate of the token women syndrome, but many women are involved in this sector and they have positive contributions to make. Without a stipulation in terms of their inclusion on boards, they did not have a chance to contribute effectively in the past. Their inclusion will ensure a wider range on perspective and a wider gender input from now on, and that is to be welcomed.

Section 7 provides for a major change in the people encouraged to participate in regional board representation. On the Swilly people engage in fishing, fish farming, jet skiing, canoeing, water skiing, swimming, diving, commercial traffic etc. New farming requirements under the rural environmental protection scheme and under legislation governing natural heritage areas and special areas of conservation impact on our waterways. The opening up of membership of the boards not only counteracts the major criticism levelled previously in relation to the narrow focus of their representations but introduces a new perspective.

Anglers have been the mainstay of the boards up to now and their involvement is extremely important. Their concerns should be seriously taken into consideration. I commend the Minister on meeting the representatives and I am sure the agreement reached will satisfy all concerned. Legislation can only be effectively implemented when the main players are consulted on the changes sought.

I appreciate from where the Minister is coming in terms of the expertise he wishes to include on the new boards. The inclusion of people from the farming sector, the aquaculture sector, regional tourism, community enterprise, the environment, the national heritage, local government and staff of the regional boards indicates the fisheries boards will have a new role. Such expertise seems to offer a new and dynamic possibility for development, but given that it is essentially a fisheries administration, those involved in fisheries should be considered.

The changes proposed in the Bill are admirable, but will the necessary financial resources be allocated to the boards? The Central Fisheries Board will require additional funds, given that it will have responsibility for the co-ordination and delivery of multi-annual strategic plans, the overall supervision of EU and other funding schemes in co-operation with Bord Fáilte, the delivery of overseas marketing and promotion strategies for tourism angling, the delivery of the national policy on inland fisheries and the effective and efficient delivery of cost-cutting services to ensure optimum resource deployment, accountability and corporate governance.

The regional fisheries boards require additional staff. Their role is primarily perceived to be one of policing, which is wrong. They are grossly understaffed and not as effective as those involved in developing fisheries and angling would like them to be. The work of the boards should include securing their areas but it should also include research and development. Such ideas are more aspirational than real because they are very overstretched in terms of the resources available to them.

There is no doubt a major challenge faces the boards. Traffic on the waterways has increased. An active interest is being taken at last in our most obvious but most underrated resource. Developing a safe use of our waterways whereby everyone can co-exist in a safe environment must be dealt with in a co-ordinated fashion to realise the potential of this resource. The make-up of the boards suggests that great things may happen and I am sure this challenge will be met by everyone involved.

I want to raise an issue of major concern to me, the review of the Foyle Fisheries Commission legislation. The delay in its review stems from the setting up of an executive in the North and the cross-Border bodies. I trust that the true potential this forum will offer the north-west, which is a forgotten region, to move centre stage will be taken up by those who are in a position to look to the future. The delay in introducing amending legislation has blocked development in that region. Legislation is needed to cover aquaculture licensing and a local input is required into the management of the River Foyle. I ask the Minister to ensure that a regional office of the commission will be established on the banks of the River Foyle, preferably in a location such as Moville or Greencastle, to give effect to what has been happening on the river, given that 90 per cent or more fishermen use the River Foyle from the Donegal side.

It is important that there be liaison between the Foyle Fisheries Commission and the boards. For too long people living in Donegal have had to straddle the Foyle and the Swilly and have had to buy two licences to fish the waters on either side of them. These licences have been vastly different in cost, the hours applicable for fishing have been vastly different, the policing has varied significantly, the lines have been disputed etc. Co-ordination in this area is required to ensure north Donegal people are treated like other citizens. At present there are large discrepancies, which the fishermen feel are not in their favour. I look forward to the executive being formed and the cross-Border bodies being implemented. I trust the Minister can offer us some advice on such a liaison body.

The Minister has been progressive and supportive of all aspects of the marine. There is a great challenge still ahead, given the starting point from which he has begun. I know he will continue his interest in developing the commercial ports, whitefish ports, fishing-aquaculture ports, marine tourism locations and all the little slipways and infrastructural supports around our coast. The best kept secret is that for every pound spent in these locations we have an investment that will remain long into the future, and repay itself many times over both economically and in terms of the enjoyment people get from using such facilities. I wish the Minister well in his work. Go n-éirí an bóthar leis.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Stagg and Sheehan.

The Minister took the steam out of my speech by meeting the lobby groups yesterday, although it is regrettable it was the 13th hour before he did so. I compliment our spokesman, Deputy Finucane, on the part he played in meeting these interest groups. He has worked hard in his brief. It is outrageous that the Department did not meet these interest groups for the past two years. What has it been doing during that time? Yesterday, it took two hours for the Minister to agree to deal with the problems facing angling groups. I compliment him on that U-turn. There is nothing wrong with correcting a mistake and I congratulate the Minister on doing so.

As someone from the west, I remember the trout angling dispute in 1987, 1988 and 1989. The anglers expressed their views on that occasion and a few politicians decided to call it a day because they were afraid of what would happen at the next election. Mr. John Paddy Burke from Ballinrobe is the president of the Trout Anglers Federation and although I do not always agree with him, he is committed to angling, to the federation, to the west and to the lakes. I compliment him on the work he does on a daily basis to promote angling, the lakes in the west and the federation. It is not often we get an opportunity to compliment a person who does such good work.

I compliment the Minister on reversing his decision on the proposals which caused outrage in the Trout Anglers Federation in recent weeks. That was the right thing to do as the Bill should not have been published. If the Minister had discussed these people's problems and fears, they would have had no need to lobby him in recent weeks.

This is the first time I prepared a speech since I came into the Dáil. Scripts should not be allowed in the Dáil Chamber. Members, including Ministers and Ministers of State, should be able to speak without a script. They should say what they have to say from the heart.

It is different for a Minister as he is putting on the record the factual position. After that, he can speak from the heart.

Only one or two Deputies can speak from the heart. They do not need programme managers to write their speeches. I understand that facts must be put on the record but the people in the Public Gallery do not want to listen to seven or eight pages of a script.

Deputy Ring should circulate his script so we can see what is in it.

It would not be on the record.

The Minister mentioned the Moy fishery. I raised that matter with the previous Government and it agreed to go ahead with it in principle. I compliment the Minister on moving it forward. The Minister is not bad at times. However, it is difficult to get replies from the Department. The only solution is to table parliamentary questions.

Angling is a big business in the west. It brings thousands of people to that part of the country on a regular basis. I compliment Members, such as Deputies Stagg and Bell, for visiting the west on a regular basis because it has wonderful lakes, fish and facilities. They recognise a good product when they see it.

I am delighted the Trout Anglers Federation and all those involved in the fishing industry promote and protect this national asset. There have been many pollution scares in recent years. The Minister, his Department, the county councils and the people involved in this sector must be vigilant because we cannot allow anyone in the State to damage or pollute this beautiful and natural asset. Local authorities should not be afraid to deal with people who damage our lakes and rivers. Yesterday residents in County Kildare, who took such people to court because Kildare County Council did not act, won their case. The State should not leave it to local communities to bring people to court. Local authorities have the resources to deal with such matters.

I meet drift net fishermen on a regular basis in my constituency. The Minister said he will discuss the problems relating to salmon fishing because there is a lot of misunderstanding between the organisations. Many people, particularly in north Mayo, have tried to make their case to the Department in recent years. They would leave this sector if a buy-out scheme was introduced.

Deputy Finucane mentioned the fishery officers. They should be complimented on the good job they do, although they have been criticised. They are the State's representatives, but they are mentioned only when people are caught for poaching or destroying stocks.

Many amendments will be tabled on Committee Stage. There is no need to rush this Bill through the House. It is important legislation so it should be discussed properly. It took almost two years to draft it. Yesterday, it took two hours to deal with the problems which could have been dealt with weeks ago and would have stopped lobby groups from pressurising us to change it. I compliment the Minister on his response. I hope he takes on board the amendments tabled on Committee Stage. The Minister must deal with many other issues in the next few years.

This is the time of the year the Minister goes to Brussels to fight for our fishing fleet and for money for Ireland. Coastal erosion must be dealt with because it is destroying our coasts and natural resources. No Government in the past 20 years has done anything about it.

I do not have a script, only notes. I also want to declare an interest. I am an angler and a shareholder and I have a vote under the two out of five year rule.

Has Deputy Stagg declared his interest in the returns?

I welcome the measures proposed in the Bill. The Bill will strengthen the power and role of regional boards, create a new co-ordinating role for the Central Fisheries Board and empower the people and stake-holders in the industry. It will give anglers and other fishing interests effective control over their own affairs and the financial resources to plan and develop the fisheries.

The Minister will acknowledge that his predecessor, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, laid the ground work for the changes which are now being given legislative effect. Despite my welcome for the Bill, however, the devil was in the detail, as usual. The alarm was sounded when the details of the constitution of the Central Fisheries Board, the regional fisheries boards and the co-operatives emerged. Angling and other organisations quickly reacted to what would have been a reversal of the agreement which brought an end to the bitter rod licence war ten years ago. That would have been highly regrettable.

I thank the Minister, who is highly experienced in this area, for seeing the potential water mine ahead and avoiding it. He responded positively to the expressed fears and the clearly stated proposals of TAFI, NARA, FISSTA and others. I appreciate that the Minister met a deputation from TAFI, led by John Paddy Burke, for two hours yesterday. The best time for negotiations is the twelfth and a half hour, not the first hour – they are always more effective then. I thank the Minister for, by and large, reaching agreement on all the points raised by the anglers.

The Minister outlined to the House the principal changes to which he has agreed. It has been said that John Paddy Burke cast his fly on the water, the Minster rose and took it, he was played gently but firmly, was netted and landed in the boat but the priest was not applied to him. Those who do not angle will not know what "the priest" means but those who do will fully appreciate the remark.

I will compare the proposals made by the anglers with the changes to which the Minister has agreed. The first proposal from TAFI was a request that one of its members be nominated to the Central Fisheries Board. I do not see that in the Minister's proposed changes but I am sure he will explain that later. The next proposal was that life membership holders of the former Inland Fisheries Trust retain a seat on the regional boards, something the Minister has included in his changes. He has also allowed two trout angling representatives to retain their seats on the boards, thus maintaining thestatus quo. It has been agreed that the chairpersons of the regional boards – and I notice the fishermen are being politically incorrect in that they refer to the chairmen rather than chairpersons, I must get on to them about that – be elected by the democratic vote of all board members. The Minister has accepted the proposal that TAFI representation on the development co-op societies be maintained at the current level. TAFI also recommended that an annual general meeting of the co-operative societies, including audited accounts be included in the legislation, although I am not sure that is included in the proposed changes. It was proposed that the electorate for the election of the development co-operative societies be the current year shareholders, provided that they also held a share certificate in two of the previous five years. This is as per the original agreement and has been included in the Minister's changes. The same criteria will also pertain for the election of trout angling representatives to the regional boards. This will empower the stake-holders in the industry. I also welcome the Minister's agreement to the immediate formation of a working committee for Committee Stage of the Bill so stake-holders in the industry would be consulted on all Stages.

I am authorised on behalf of John Paddy Burke and his fellow members to thank the Minister for his positive attitude yesterday. They look forward to further positive co-operation with the Minister to develop the inland fisheries to their full potential, to attract tourists, to create jobs and, from a personal view, to give long hours of relaxation and pleasure to anglers.

I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill. The Labour Party has no interest in prolonging the Second Stage debate and wishes to allow the House to get to the next Stage as soon as possible so this Bill can become law with the changes now proposed.

The Fisheries (Amendment) Bill, 1999, is long overdue. The importance of the fishing industry, particularly the trout angling industry, is immense. For years it has been treated as the hind-tit industry in this State. With this Bill, I hope we will see a growth in fishing and angling. The salmon fishing industry has been a bone of contention for many Ministers. Coming from a seaboard constituency in the south west, I know the impact the industry can have on the local economy.

I am dubious when I look at the Bill that all the ills afflicting the industry will be cured. Many of the fishery conservation boards should be more representative of the ordinary angler and should seek the preservation of our salmon stocks. Unless we continue to be vigilant, we will not have a successful industry.

I fear the destruction of our salmon stocks during their migration to Greenland and the waters of the Arctic Circle. The main threat to our salmon stocks exists during the journey to that area and then back to the rivers where they were spawned. There is evidence of huge continental trawlers gathering salmon by the thousand along that route. For some time that has been the cause of the decline in salmon stocks in Ireland.

Much emphasis was placed on the curtailment of the salmon fishing industry. Every Minister was inclined to shorten the period of fishing for Irish fishermen engaged in the salmon industry. Under no circumstances did those people have anything to do with the decimation of the fishing stock.

Section 30 of the Bill provides for the expansion of the functions of the Marine Institute to include matters related to shipping and shipping services. It provides for the establishment of an Irish marine development office within the institute. The time is overdue for this country to have its own shipping fleet. In the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s we had a profitable shipping fleet, but it was dissolved because it became entangled with a Chinese person who put the company into liquidation. I appeal to the Minister to set up an Irish shipping fleet as soon as possible. We are a maritime nation and the Minister should lead the way in this important matter and establish an Irish shipping fleet.

In welcoming the Bill I congratulate the Minister on having, for once, stolen the thunder of Deputy Ring. I hope this news will be disseminated throughout County Mayo.

This is important and difficult legislation which affects many constituencies. I am glad the Minister is in a position to steer it carefully through the House, taking into account the many views expressed and representations made to him. It is wrong to say that people have not had an opportunity to look at this legislation. In 1996 the salmon management task force report recommended changes in the fisheries boards to make them more representative, to devolve power and introduce more subsidiarity. The Minister has listened to the views of anglers who felt that their representation on the boards was being diluted. It is not the intention of the Bill to reduce the representation of anglers. Its intention is to expand local involvement and participation, and I welcome this. Anglers cannot be the absolute decision makers in the development of fisheries which belong to the State as the representative of the people. County Donegal which comes within the remit of the Northern Regional Fisheries Board is a very fragmented area that includes the largest commercial fishery in Ireland. The county has seen a huge expansion in aquaculture which has caused division between the fisheries board and those who promote and support aquaculture. We also rely heavily on tourist angling revenue which amounts to more than £8 million per year. Everyone who is involved in the fishing sector should be involved in the board. That is why I welcome the expansion of the remit of the board and the inclusion of other elements such as tourism and fish farming.

I urge the Minister to ensure that there is a local public representative, whether a town commissioner, urban councillor or county councillor, on each board. The link with local councils is vital. Recently in Donegal we had an opportunity to meet the fisheries board. The board has problems with water pollution and if there was a link between the board and an elected representative who could deal with the planning sections of the council we would not have as many problems as we have. The two greatest threats to our fisheries are water pollution and poaching. There have been great changes regarding these issues, but if we are to protect this valuable asset we need more fishery officers and more staff. The staffing level in the Northern Regional Fisheries Board, as I am sure in all others, is quite inadequate to develop and supervise the proposed management systems and to channel local support in promoting this very valuable asset.

I represent all the factions involved in tourism. I live beside the Eany river where the Minister has provided funding for tremendous development and we look forward to seeing the benefit of that investment being reaped by the local anglers and foreign tourists. Co-operation is the key to the development of that fishery and that co-operation is also important for the commercial fishermen whom I represent, particularly the drift-net and draft-net fishermen, and the aquaculture industry.

The Minister came to Ballyshannon a number of years ago and, with Lord Dubbs, announced an investment of £2 million in the Erne salmon management programme which was a wonderful concept. Unfortunately, recent studies indicate that what was attempted in the Erne has not been successful. I hope that, in consultation with the ESB and the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, we can address the serious problem of the lack of stocks in the Erne. In co-operation with the ESB, I hope we will see a return of fishing at Kathleen Falls, Cliff and in the Erne estuary. The fishery has gone and unless major work is carried out by the ESB it will not return. The members of the Northern Regional Fisheries Board are anxious to co-operate with the Northern Ireland authorities to address this problem.

The principle of subsidiarity and local decision making is very important. Fishing is a huge national asset and I hope that the concerns expressed by many organisations will be considered on Committee Stage. The Minister has already adverted to many of these concerns. I look forward to the increased development of the inland fisheries. I know the Minister is capable of addressing this question and I am glad to note the support of all sides of the House. Mar fhocal scor, molaim an Bille.

The concerns expressed by anglers over the past few weeks have been diluted by the acceptance by the Minister of many of their suggested amendments. This was a prudent action by the Minister and is very welcome. We do not wish to see a repeat of what happened in the 1980s when the angling industry was disrupted and much damage was done to it. The angling fraternity throughout the world is closely knit and its members communicate with each other. At that time I met people outside the country who had heard of what they called the rod war in Ireland. This did great damage to Irish angling. I am glad the Minister acted sensibly on this occasion and intends to work closely with the various angling federations and the national anglers' association to ensure that this Bill will not lead to another rod war.

The Minister will have heard the views of the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board but I wish to repeat them to the House. I live on the bank of the River Feale in County Kerry which was once one of the top salmon fishing rivers in Europe. In the late 1950s and early 1960s thousands of tourists came to Finuge every year. The local public house is called The Anglers Rest. People now ask why it is called that because there are no longer anglers. It was called The Anglers Rest because that is where tourists came when they had finished their day's fishing. It was a very lucrative industry for local anglers who acted as ghillies, advisers to tourists and so on.

I remember trying to fly fish on the banks of the Feale and one could hardly get room to cast a fly for two or three miles along the river because it was so popular. However, when one now passes over the new bridge one rarely sees a fisherman, except when the water is high or there is a run of white trout or pale salmon. That is unfortunate.

Regardless of all the promotion the Minister does of Ireland as an angling destination, unless there are fish such as salmon and trout in the rivers, he will only discredit our tourism industry. For example, the River Feale is being sold at the moment in a very nice brochure which advertises facilities for tourists. Unfortunately, however, people are leaving very disappointed. Unless the Minister addresses the issues of restocking and the erosion of the wild salmon population, he will have a problem, as will the country, in the future. I would like to hear the Minister's views on how he proposes to bring the fish back into the rivers.

I will refer to the River Feale because it is the one with which I am most familiar. There is a problem in that river with drift net fishing. Deputy Coughlan mentioned that drift net fishing is very important in Donegal and many people earn their livelihoods from it. However, if the drift net fishermen prevent salmon getting up the river they will not be there for anglers or draft net fishermen. There has been a tradition for generations on the Cashen, which is the estuary part of the Feale, and further up the river of draft net fishing. This should be preserved. However, neither the draft man nor the angler will be able to carry on if there is no supply of fish. I would like to hear the Minister's views on the impact of drift net fishing on salmon and sea trout. One does not want to upset the livelihoods of drift net fishermen. However, the kernel of the problem is striking a balance between that and ensuring a plentiful supply for anglers, draft men and the tourists we are trying to lure to our rivers, rather than sending them home disappointed. I have met these tourists and they go home very disappointed because they may not have caught even one salmon after one or two weeks. In many cases, they leave after a few days because they realise there are no fish.

I would welcome the introduction of a national salmon tagging regime and also the establishment on a statutory basis of the National Salmon Commission. There must be a total focus on this. I have listened to people speaking on fishing who do not live near a river. They often speak from reports rather than practical first-hand experience.

The angling clubs along the River Feale are the Finuge-Killocruin club, the Tralee and District Anglers Association and the North Kerry Anglers Association. They are all very good clubs. Under the last operational programme they received £20,000 to create pools to hold salmon rather than let them go up river at times of flooding and so on. They have been quite successful in doing that. They have been very well organised and have created some of the finest pools in the country. However, unfortunately, if there are no salmon coming up the river they will not be in the pools. These people are very concerned about the future of the industry in the River Feale. One of the main representatives, Mr. Joy, met the Minister last night in the Department, where he made the case for the national anglers. These are very sensible and responsible people.

The Shannon Regional Fisheries Board has made a proposal, to which the Minister may respond in his reply, to defer the opening of the angling season on the River Feale from 1 March to 1 May. The River Feale anglers are opposed to that because it is a tradition that people come for that day from all over the country and abroad. It is a big day for anglers on the River Feale. The anglers have spent £12,000 employing their own private water keeper and have already put a range of voluntary conservation measures in place. The clubs I mentioned have about 150 adult members and are very disappointed they were not consulted by the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board on this announcement.

Concerns have been expressed by the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board. The first relates to the composition of the board. At a recent meeting the board felt that, in view of its role in the protection and development of inland fisheries and sea angling, the present 16 elected categories should remain as constituted at present. On a geographical basis, the Shannon board is the largest in the country. Reducing the board to 16 members would not adequately represent all sections of the region. The reduction in the number of elected members will militate against the main thrust of the Bill, which is to move responsibility to a local level, involve those with an interest in fisheries development and conserve fisheries in a partnership manner. The representation of additional interests in the catchment should be by way of additional members to the board. Perhaps the Minister has already addressed that, given that he intends to change a number of provisions in the Bill. However, I would like him to refer to the concern of the board, which was communicated to him on 15 November.

The members are strongly opposed to the proposal to nominate the board chairman. They believe the electoral system is more democratic and in line with the devolved structures. Given the number of appointments the Minister has to make to this board, I can see it becoming another political matter. He must be very careful. The people he will appoint to the board – this would also happen with a Fine Gael or Labour Minister – will be political appointees. Political activists will be queuing up to be on this board and it will be another way of repaying favours to political hacks. I advise the Minister to tread very carefully. When I was involved in setting up Leader boards around the country I was asked to include local council members, which I refrained from doing. I know this is a different area but I am drawing an analogy. The Leader II programme was free of the influence of politicians. The Leader programme was very successful as an instrument for local democracy and the bottom up approach. One of the reasons it was so successful and credible was that we did not have politicians manipulating the board and telling people that grants had been obtained for them.

There is a danger that if the Minister nominates too many members the boards will be politicised and lose their independent focus. How does the Minister propose to make nominations? Will he nominate representatives of the various bodies involved who will act independently or will they be civil servants? It would be totally wrong for the Minister to nominate a chairperson as this would take away from the spirit of the Bill under which the regional fisheries boards will have enhanced powers. To maintain local democracy the boards should continue to elect their own chairpersons.

To remove the right of share certificate holders to elect members to societies would represent a breach of the understanding reached on the formation of the co-operatives, the basis of which is democracy. The other changes proposed in the Bill however are welcome.

The future of the life members of the former Inland Fisheries Trust is unclear. It would be a retrograde step if the Bill was to remove this category as it would result in the disenfranchisement of hundreds of anglers who have been committed to the fisheries service for many years.

Since my re-election to the county council after a gap of four or five years I have noticed that a raft of legislation has been produced by the Departments of the Environment and Local Government and Health and Children, among others, which imposes new responsibilities on councils without the provision of an additional budget. This Bill gives a unique opportunity to all those interested in inland fisheries to improve and develop the fisheries service. In the absence of a commitment to increase the available funding however, it cannot achieve the much needed change. From where should the money come? In what way can fees be collected? In the absence of a commitment to provide funding to implement its provisions the Bill will be less effective.

It all comes down to the availability of fish. How does one ensure restocking? How does the Minister propose to ensure a balance between drift net and draft net fishermen and anglers?

On pollution, although there has been a great improvement in water quality, the recent report on water quality is a source of concern. In this connection the large sums provided for in the national development plan for pollution control and, more importantly, sewage treatment should help to prevent eutrophication, which presents a major problem in towns like Killarney in terms of damage to fish stocks, especially in the upper reaches of rivers. Domestic sewage and effluent should be controlled as much as possible.

Anglers are now very happy and the regional fisheries boards will be much happier if the Minister addresses some of the matters raised. I compliment Deputy Finucane on his fine contribution. It is obvious that he is taking his brief seriously and has a good understanding of this subject. I wish the Minister the best on this important Bill.

(Wexford): I welcome the Bill which gives us an opportunity to discuss the services provided by inland fisheries. The amendments the Minister proposes to make following his meetings with the various organisations involved should enhance the Bill and help to ensure co-ordination. The regional fisheries boards and some of the organisations involved were dissatisfied with the Bill as published.

The Minister proposes to change the provisions dealing with representation and the election of chairpersons. He stated that the current levels of representation for salmon, trout and coarse anglers and life members of the Inland Fisheries Trust on the regional fisheries boards will be maintained. There is the perfect mix on the River Slaney as between rod and net fishermen who are continuously at war with each other. Draft net fishermen were of the view however, that they had been isolated by the Minister by the Bill as published. Salmon, trout and coarse anglers were each to have their own representative. If that were to happen they would vote down every proposal made by draft net fishermen. It is important therefore that their representation is maintained.

The Minister should seriously consider buying out draft net fishermen on the River Slaney. I first made this proposal on my election to this House 17 years ago. Deputy Andrews, when Minister for the Marine, thought strongly about it. Most of the draft net fishermen concerned – there are about 70 in total – are elderly and are anxious to be bought out. This has been done in a number of countries, including Scotland.

Who will be responsible for cleaning rivers? Certain sections of the River Slaney badly need to be cleaned and dredged. The inland fisheries board and the county council have indicated that there are no funds available while the Office of Public Works has stated that it is not its responsibility. The matter should be clarified on Committee Stage.

We will have an opportunity to deal with the matters raised in more detail on Committee Stage. Deputies Finucane and Bell dealt with the Bill comprehensively. Others dealt with various aspects of it. The question was asked why make the board tighter. We discussed this matter yesterday with angler interests. Everything is changing. We have talked about this for years. It is difficult to get people to agree to do it but we are making the change now. It is a substantial change which is almost unprecedented nationally. We have made the change in relation to the Moy, about which there was much argument and debate, but we pressed ahead and it is now under the control of the local interests. Everybody is happy with it now but we had great difficulty delivering it at the time.

We are trying to meet the points raised by a number of Deputies, namely, to have more effective, better managed and more modern boards, to ensure our rivers are better cared for and that there are sufficient numbers of fish. This is a big business. Anglers are more like scientists. They have a great deal of knowledge about the rivers, nature and other environmental factors. In the past we did not marry that knowledge sufficiently with the business side of this industry in terms of the resources and structures that were needed. People come forward on a daily basis and claim they are doing okay but that they would like additional environmental officers and more environmental control, but to do that we have to become more sophisticated. We have to convince the public, and those who provide the various finances, that this is a vital national asset and must be treated as such.

There are many stakeholders, as they are called now, with a special interest in this area and they must be represented also. The main thinking arising from the discussion was to move towards a more effective and tighter board and the establishment of committees. For the first time, the regional boards will be able to set up scientific and environmental committees and decide on their membership. That will be much better in the long run for everybody concerned. As these will be businesslike boards there was a desire to tighten them up in terms of numbers and have, say, 16 members representing farming, environmental and other interests as well as all the interests on the fishing side, with one member for each interest. The anglers were concerned, however, that the balance might be a little too even in that this was mainly a fishing asset, and I accept that. That is the reason I was prepared to increase the fisheries interests on the board.

I do not want to have another talking shop; we have too many of those. That issue arose in the excellent discussion yesterday and I assured people that we would not have a talking shop. These people will be proper board members. They need not worry about somebody else making the decisions because power will be devolved to them to make the decisions. That is the kind of change that will take place.

There is need for an understanding of what that means in terms of the way in which these boards are run. My officials and I have worked hard to obtain funding from the national plan for this area. We succeeded in getting £24 million and the boards, if they are set up, can start work from 1 January 2000, otherwise the decisions will be taken centrally as they have been up to now. The purpose of the Bill is to give these boards the power to make their own decisions.

I realise there are difficulties in terms of funding, and that approximately £16 million per annum has been paid already to the boards, but there is a need to highlight what needs to be done and the additional resources that are needed, and we can make progress on that as we move ahead. The £24 million is for the type of development work in which the clubs, co-operatives and boards want to be involved.

This is a different kind of board. That is the reason we are keeping the numbers tight while having all interests represented. Those interests made representations to me, as well as NARA, FISSTA and TAFI. We told them what we are doing – I have put that on the record – and we are proceeding on that basis. We will have to see how we can manage that. I accept people have concerns and we want to address those fears and move on in an effective manner.

Various issues were raised in the debate. Deputy Stagg praised the work done by Deputy Gilmore when he was Minister of State. I agree that Deputy Gilmore was a good Minister who applied himself well and did much work in this area. We have been carrying on that work and developing it even further.

Deputy Bell wants to have one staff member on the Central Fisheries Board. We have staff members on the regional boards and I do not see any problem in providing for that.

Other speakers talked about appointing the chairpersons of the individual boards. I could appoint them, as Minister, but there is no need to go into that in any great detail at this stage. I just want to reply to Deputy Bell in particular on that point.

I congratulate Deputy John Browne on being appointed chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which will deal with the Bill next week. Deputy Browne also called for the balance to be maintained on the board and I am sure we can meet his wish in that regard.

Questions were raised about tagging. That will be a matter for the salmon commission and there will be much consultation on the issue. We have received the nominations for the salmon commission from the anglers. I will appoint those people and we will get on with that work as soon as the legislation is ready.

I am aware of the problems in the Killarney catchment, which were raised again yesterday when I met the anglers. I have asked my Department to consult urgently with the board, the anglers and the catchment management facilitator to sort out the problems.

The question is whether that will be done by agreement.

The Deputy spoke about what was happening in the wider context and I agree with him in that regard.

I thank Deputies for the points they raised. They will have an opportunity to raise them in more detail when we deal with the Bill more systematically on Committee Stage. My officials and I have made notes of the points made and we will work on them.

Question put and agreed to.