The proposed change in the status of OSI will be an important event for its staff. Because of this, the Minister for Finance met staff representatives very shortly after the Government decided to draft the Bill to discuss its general content and to listen to their concerns. The response of the staff associations was welcoming to the idea of setting up the Ordnance Survey as a State body. Shortly after the Bill was published, OSI staff representatives had a meeting at official level to discuss a number of issues of concern to them. During the intervening period, updates on the status of the Bill were regularly conveyed to staff representatives at local level within OSI and following publication of the Bill, the management of OSI made arrangements through the local departmental council and a series of information seminars to inform all staff, not only in Dublin but also in the regional offices, on the content of the proposed legislation as well as to discuss issues arising from it. Accordingly, OSI staff are fully aware of the Bill's provisions as they affect them and of all other matters in the Bill.
Negotiations on a wide range of issues of concern to staff are taking place with their representatives to try to ensure a smooth transition to OSI's new status. These negotiations should be helped by the staff's awareness that the ability to exploit the considerable commercial possibilities open to OSI depends on having the freedom of continuing to adapt to changing technological and user needs and that this can only be achieved outside a Civil Service framework.
It is relevant to say at this point that the OSI's headquarters in the Phoenix Park and the operation of OSI's six regional offices, which are located in Cork, Ennis, Longford, Kilkenny, Sligo and Tuam, are not mentioned in the Bill and are therefore not affected by it. The Phoenix Park premises are acknowledged not to be ideal for a modern mapping organisation, largely because the mapping production process is spread out between several separate buildings. The question of the relocation of OSI's headquarters in the Phoenix Park will, however, be decided on in the context of the Government's decentralisation programme.
As I mentioned earlier, the staff of OSI has achieved the complete transformation of all aspects of map-making through continually adopting the latest mapping technology over many years and has brought OSI to a point where it now has the potential for a dramatic expansion of and improvement in the range of products and services which it can provide to its customers. The achievement of this potential depends on the staff of OSI giving their strong support for the proposed new structure. I am confident that this support will continue to be given.
I will now outline for the House the more important provisions of the Bill. Section 3 formally establishes a new body, to be known as Ordnance Survey Ireland, separate from the Civil Service which will have its own powers. Section 4 sets out in detail the functions that are to be performed by the body. The OSI's general function is to provide national mapping services for the administrative, legislative and infrastructural and other needs of the State. The OSI will be the national mapping service in the State and it will operate in the public interest by creating and maintaining the definitive national mapping and geographical records of the State. In other words, the Bill provides that OSI's traditional role for the last 177 years will continue. Among the tasks that OSI will have to carry out in fulfilling its functions are the maintenance of the physical infrastructure to support mapping applications; creating and maintaining consistent mapping databases; advising the Government on mapping issues; providing technical support to the chief boundary surveyor; depicting Irish language place names as advised by An Coimisiún Logainmneacha, which is now part of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands; and protecting Government copyright on all OSI data. This section also places a general duty of care on the new body to conduct all its business, both commercial and non-commercial, in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
Sections 5 and 6 allow the Minister for Finance to give general policy directions to OSI and to confer additional functions on OSI. Section 7 allows OSI – with the consent of the Minister – to establish by itself or with partners subsidiary companies with limited liability when engaging in commercial activity. It is a key element of the Bill that the OSI, when engaging in commercial activity, does so through subsidiary companies with limited liability set up under the Companies Acts, 1963 to 1999. In addition, any necessary capital will not come from the public purse – instead, it will be raised in the marketplace by reference to the commercial merits of the project concerned. There are two main advantages to this approach. The first is that the Exchequer's liability in potential loss-making situations is limited. The second advantage is that, by keeping commercial activity separate from national interest mapping activity, cross-subsidisation from the Exchequer is avoided.
Section 8 allows the OSI to hold and dispose of shares or other interests in a company with the consent of the Minister and section 9 allows the OSI or any subsidiary to borrow money, subject to any limit the Minister may set.
Section 10 gives OSI staff powers to enter private lands and premises in connection with the carrying out of its functions. It also authorises OSI to place survey marks on any land or premises for the purposes of supporting the national grid or geodetic or height frameworks. Where an authorised person is prevented from entering lands or premises when carrying out OSI's functions, there is provision in the Bill for a warrant to be obtained from the District Court to allow the required access. Obstruction of a member of OSI staff in the exercise of his or her powers under the section will be an offence, as will the intentional destruction or removal of an OSI survey mark. A person found guilty of an offence under this section will be liable on summary conviction to a fine.
Sections 11 to 13 provide that there shall be a board of Ordnance Survey Ireland and that members may be remunerated out of funds at the disposal of OSI. These sections also contain provisions in relation to the appointment of a chairperson and ordinary board members as well as to the meetings and procedures of the board.
Section 14 provides for the appointment of a chief executive officer of OSI. The chief executive officer will be appointed by the board and will hold office subject to the terms and conditions that may be determined by the board, with the consent of the Minister for Finance. The chief executive officer will be responsible for the staff, administration and business of OSI. He or she will be the person charged with the day-to-day running of the new OSI and the carrying out of its functions under the Bill and will be answerable to the board. The chief executive officer will be responsible for the propriety of OSI's accounts and the economic and efficient use of its resources and will be answerable to any committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas set up to examine its affairs.
Sections 15 to 17 set out the provisions for the transfer of staff from the Civil Service to the new body. There are three important elements to these provisions. The first is that staff of the Ordnance Survey will all transfer to the new body on establishment day. The second is a guarantee that the terms and conditions relating to employment tenure and pay will not be less favourable in the new body than those prevailing before the changeover date. The third is a guarantee that the terms and conditions of any superannuation scheme for the staff of the new body will not be less favourable than those prevailing before the changeover date.
Sections 20 to 22 provide for the disclosure of interests by staff, members of the board of OSl and directors of a company which has been set up as a subsidiary of OSI.
Section 25 provides that the Minister may make an agreement – called a "service agreement"– with OSI which will deal with the performance of its public functions. This is a key element of the Bill. The service agreement will set out in detail the range of activities OSI will carry out in the public interest and the amount of the subsidy from the Exchequer for doing so. Apart from ensuring that OSI will perform its public interest tasks, another important benefit of the service agreement is that, by clearly identifying these tasks, it will also prevent the cross-subsidisation from the public purse of any commercial activity of OSI.
Section 27 provides for the keeping of accounts and the conduct of audits of the financial accounts of Ordnance Survey Ireland. Responsibility for the accounts rests with the chief executive officer. These accounts will be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the auditor's report will be laid before the Oireachtas. Section 28 provides that OSI will make an annual report to the Minister. Section 30 expressly allows OSI to charge for its products and services. Sections 32 to 36 deal with the dissolution of the existing Ordnance Survey and the transfer of assets, liabilities, contracts and pending legal proceedings to the new body.
The Ordnance Survey was established in 1824 to provide a national mapping service. The operational environment has changed dramatically in recent years and there now is a need for Ordnance Survey Ireland to become a more clearly focused business organisation, while at the same time continuing its public service role. This Bill allows the OSI to build on the strengths it already possesses and gives it freedom to operate with a more commercial focus while ensuring that it continues, with the appropriate public interest safeguards, to create and maintain the definitive national mapping and geographic records of the State.
I commend this Bill to the House.