Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 14 Dec 2006

Vol. 629 No. 5

Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill 2006: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Molaim Bille Iascaigh an Fheabhail agus Chairlinn don Teach. I commend the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill to the House. I am very pleased to have this opportunity to present the Bill for consideration by the House.

The background to it is that the Good Friday Agreement provided for the establishment of six North-South bodies to take forward co-operation in specific areas, including aquaculture and fisheries in the Foyle and Carlingford areas. The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, which I will refer to as the commission, is one of the North-South bodies envisaged in the Agreement and was established under the British-Irish Agreement Act of March 1999. The commission replaced the Foyle Fisheries Commission, which was established in 1952 to manage the fisheries resources of the Foyle area. Under the Good Friday Agreement, the functions of the former Foyle Fisheries Commission in regard to the Foyle area were transferred to the commission. These functions were also extended to the Carlingford area.

The Loughs Agency is an agency of the commission and exercises the functions of the body in accordance with any directions given to it by the North-South Ministerial Council, to which it reports. During suspension of the Assembly, decisions by the North-South Ministerial Council are taken by way of agreed interim procedures processes. The Agreement also provided that the Loughs Agency would be given responsibility for aquaculture and fisheries related matters and should have powers for the promotion of development of Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough for commercial and recreational purposes.

The purpose of this Bill is to give effect to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement in so far as the Loughs Agency is concerned. Equivalent legislation is required in Northern Ireland, a draft of which has been published recently and is the subject of a consultation process prior to enactment. In the absence of an Assembly in Northern Ireland, the legislation for that jurisdiction will be introduced by means of an order in council through the parliamentary process in Westminster.

For the convenience of the House a detailed explanatory memorandum has been published and this provides a synopsis of the Bill's provisions. The Bill, when enacted, will provide for a robust regime for the regulation of aquaculture in Lough Foyle for the first time, the introduction of an appeals system in respect of decisions on aquaculture matters, and generally for the modernisation of the fisheries provisions of the Foyle Fisheries Acts.

I stress that the Bill is the result of a long and detailed negotiation process across a range of Departments and agencies North and South, and some of those negotiations are still continuing. As such, it reflects a consensus that has been reached having regard to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and the constitutional imperatives in the two jurisdictions. For this reason, there will be provisions in this Bill that are not contained in the draft Northern Ireland order, and vice versa, and this reflects the impact of local law in the two jurisdictions. This is an important point because it means that any amendments, introduced in either jurisdiction, will need to be considered in consultation with the relevant Minister’s officials and legal advisers. The need to agree changes, other than those necessitated by local law requirements, may restrict the scope for making changes as the statutory instruments progress through both the Oireachtas and Westminster.

I will now deal with the contents of the Bill. Section 2 provides for the commencement on specified days of different provisions of the Act. It also provides that the commencement of any provision of the Act may be limited to a particular geographical area. The purpose of this is to take account of the fact that it may not be possible for the Loughs Agency to consider all aquaculture licence applications at the same time. Some sites may, therefore, be licensed before others. Accordingly, it is proposed that the criminal sanctions for carrying out an unlicensed aquaculture operation should not be introduced until all licences have issued.

Part 2 of the Bill inserts a new Part VI A, sections 53A to 53W, into the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952. This part provides for the introduction of an aquaculture licensing system in Lough Foyle to be overseen by the Loughs Agency. It also transfers the existing aquaculture licensing powers of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources within the Carlingford area to the agency. One of the key provisions, section 53A, confers powers on the Loughs Agency to grant aquaculture licences, notwithstanding any public right to fish. It also creates two offences — the first is the carrying out of aquaculture operations without a licence and the second is failure to comply with the terms and conditions of an aquaculture licence. Penalties for these offences are: on summary conviction, a fine of not more than €5,000 and/or imprisonment for not more than six months; or on conviction on indictment, a fine of not more than €100,000 and/or imprisonment for not more than two years. The section also provides that aquaculture licences granted in respect of part of the foreshore, the bed of the sea or of an estuary, which is owned or occupied by another person, or which is within the limits of a several or private fishery, can only be granted with the consent of the owner, or occupier, of the area or fishery in question.

Section 53B empowers the Loughs Agency to prescribe matters of procedure in the licence application process and the type of information to be provided by applicants, including information relating to the potential impact of aquaculture on the environment. Section 53C relates to the determination of licence applications. It provides for the consideration of written representations on such applications, notification of the decision to the applicant and publication of the notice of decision. Section 53D provides that an aquaculture licence shall define the position and limits of the licensed area and shall be subject to such conditions as may be determined by the Loughs Agency. The section lists examples of the types of conditions that may be imposed. Under section 53E licences may be granted for a period of between ten and 20 years and may be renewed for a further period not exceeding 20 years. An aquaculture licence confers, on its holder, exclusive rights to conduct aquaculture but protects existing legal rights enjoyed, for example, by any person under a local or personal Act or under charter. Section 53F also provides that ownership of the stock cultivated under a licence vests in the licensee. It makes it an offence for another person to interfere with a licensee's operations. Section 53G allows the agency to vary an aquaculture licence in the public interest and to pay compensation to the licensee for loss or damage arising from such a variation. The Loughs Agency is enabled, under section 53I, to revoke a licence for reasons of non-operation or breach of conditions. Licences may also be revoked in the public interest subject to the payment of compensation.

Sections 53H, J, K and L make provisions for the variation of licences, the surrender of licences, the death of a licence holder, bankruptcy of the licensee, the transfer of aquaculture licences and the procedures to apply in each of these cases. Section 53N enables the Loughs Agency to make regulations providing for the payment of fees in respect of applications for aquaculture licences. It also provides for the variation, transfer, surrender and subsistence of aquaculture licences. Regulations made under this part of the Bill must be approved by the North-South Ministerial Council.

The Bill also provides for the establishment of the Foyle and Carlingford Aquaculture Licensing Appeals Board, and the appointment of members and a chairperson to the board by the North-South Ministerial Council. Any aggrieved persons may appeal to this board against licensing decisions, including decisions on revocations, transfer, variations and compensation. Both the agency and the appeals board are obliged to give reasons for their decisions under section 53Q. The Bill contains a number of provisions on aquaculture in Carlingford and provides that existing licence applications shall continue to have effect as if made under section 53A.

Part 3 of the Bill contains the proposed amendments to the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952. Section 6 amends the functions of the agency as laid out in section 11 of the 1952 Act. This is in order to take account of the additional functions conferred on the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission by the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999. Section 7 amends the 1952 Act and confers additional regulation-making powers on the Loughs Agency. These relate to the prohibition of the sale of fish caught by rod and line, concessionary fees, exemption from payment of fees, the nature of documentation to accompany applications, conditions attaching to fishing licences, the transfer of fishing licences and the tagging of fish. It also makes provision in regard to the publication of such regulations.

Section 8 amends section 14 of the 1952 Act and enables the agency to restrict the number of licences for commercial netting within a particular prescribed area of the Foyle or Carlingford areas. This section also provides for how the allocation of licences by the agency is undertaken in instances where the number of applications exceeds the maximum number of licences prescribed. These new provisions, when enacted, will play an important role in the introduction of any new management regime for wild salmon in Lough Foyle, which may be required in order to comply with the habitats directive.

A new section, section 14A, in the 1952 Act, is inserted by section 9 of this Bill. It allows the Loughs Agency to acquire, by agreement, fishing rights in any waters, for the purpose of developing and improving facilities for angling. It also provides for the development of these waters by the agency.

Section 10 inserts a new section, section 14B, in the 1952 Act to enable the Loughs Agency to issue and charge for permits to fish in waters which it owns or manages. Section 11 amends section 28 of the 1952 Act to provide that the agency may prescribe different times for the closure of the seasons for different species of fish. Section 12 inserts a new section, section 35A, in the 1952 Act to prohibit unlicensed fishing. It makes it an offence to fish without a licence or in contravention of the terms and conditions of a licence. It will also be an offence to be in possession of an unauthorised fishing engine. It also inserts a new section, section 35B, to provide for certain exceptions in relation to offences. It details possible defences that may be available to a person charged with an offence under section 35A.

Section 15 inserts a new section in the 1952 Act, which makes it an offence to cause or knowingly permit any deleterious matter to pollute a river. Provision is also made for the Loughs Agency to carry out necessary works for the reinstatement of the waters to restore the fish population after such an incident. This section also provides for the recovery of costs from the person convicted of discharging the pollution. Section 16 extends the prohibition on the use of certain devices to facilitate the unlawful taking of fish, including electrical or acoustical apparatus. It also prohibits the use of a gaff.

Section 18 amends section 46 of the 1952 Act. This amendment adds private river watchers to the list of persons with power to remove any unlawfully killed or diseased salmon from the water. The amendment also requires those who exercise such powers to notify the Loughs Agency. This was seen as an important addition by the agency.

Section 19 details possible defences that may be used by a person charged with an offence under subsection (1)(a) of section 47 of the 1952 Act relating to the taking of spawn, smolts or fry of salmon or trout. The amended section also provides that it shall be an offence to remove material from the bed of the freshwater portion of a river without the consent of the Loughs Agency and makes provision for the granting of such consents by the agency.

Section 21 updates the procedures for the appointment of river watchers. The two new sections added to section 56 of the 1952 Act oblige the agency to maintain a register of the names and addresses of those entitled to act as river watchers. It also imposes a five-year limit on the period for which a river watcher may be appointed and allows for the re-appointment of river watchers.

Section 22 amends section 59(1) to enable an authorised person to seize any equipment which has been or is being used to facilitate the unlawful taking of fish. This section also amends section 65 of the 1952 Act and allows the courts to order the forfeiture of equipment seized.

Section 23 also amends section 59 of the 1952 Act and allows authorised persons to cross any land on foot, and where there is a suitable roadway, lane or path, to use motor vehicles to assist in the pursuit and apprehension of offenders. The provision also requires authorised persons not to cause obstructions and to re-secure any land against trespass when exercising such powers.

Section 24 amends section 60 of the 1952 Act by updating the existing provisions relating to warrants. This provision allows a District Court judge to issue warrants, valid for seven days, empowering an authorised officer to enter and search premises at any reasonable time or at a time specified by the judge in the warrant. This also provides for the enforcement of the warrant if the house is empty and provides that an authorised person, other than a private river watcher, may accompany the person authorised by the warrant.

Section 26 amends section 64 of the 1952 Act so that powers under this section do not permit authorised officers to enter an enclosed garden or dwelling house. Section 27 provides for the revision of penalties in respect of offences committed under the Act. The penalties are set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill. This section also provides for the recoupment by the Loughs Agency of the cost of prosecutions by the insertion of section 69A in the 1952 Act.

Section 28 amends section 70 of the 1952 Act to provide that work, which might otherwise be prohibited under the 1952 Act, may be carried out by the agency or any person to whom a permit is issued, provided that such work is for artificial propagation, scientific purposes or the improvement of the fisheries. The amendment also details procedures on permits issued for this purpose.

Section 29 amends section 76 of the 1952 Act, by amending the existing statutory forfeiture provisions to allow the courts to adjudicate on forfeiture. This section also repeals section 77 of the 1952 Act. Section 30 inserts a new section 73A in the 1952 Act. It provides that applications for judicial review of decisions of the Loughs Agency about aquaculture, or of the appeals board in appeals, may only be made in accordance with Order 84 of the Rules of the Superior Courts. Provision is also made so that the High Court may not decline jurisdiction in a case by reason only that the decision was made in an area that is outside the State, or relates to a place that is outside the State. This is one of the provisions that is included in this Bill but not in the draft Northern Ireland Order in Council, the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries (Northern Ireland) Order 2007. This section is included on the advice of the Attorney General.

Section 32 confers powers on the agency to provide, subject to the payment of such fees as it may determine, services relating to fisheries and amends paragraph 2 of the Third Schedule to the 1952 Act. Section 34 provides that the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1997 shall not apply to the Louth area. To date, aquaculture operations in this area have been licensed under the 1997 Act. Section 35 amends the Foreshore Act 1933 so that the Minister may grant a foreshore licence to the Loughs Agency. This will allow aquaculture licensees to conduct aquaculture operations on the foreshore.

Schedule 1 to this Bill inserts new Schedules 3A and 3B in the 1952 Act. These make provision for the incorporation, membership and staffing of the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board and set out the procedures for appeals.

There are eight articles in Schedule 3A which I will briefly outline. Article 1 provides that the appeals board, which I will refer to as the board, shall have the legal capacity of a body corporate and that judicial notice shall be taken of the seal of the board. Article 2 provides that remuneration of the board, tenure of office of the board, and resignations and removals from the board are to be determined by the NSMC, the Minister for Finance and personnel in Northern Ireland. Article 3 provides for the employment of staff or engagement of services of persons by the board. It makes provisions for the payment of such persons and for the payment of pensions subject to the same approvals as in Article 2. Articles 4 and 5 contain a number of procedural rules for meetings of the board. Article 6 requires the board to draw up a code of conduct, covering its obligations to the public and its accountability. Articles 7 and 8 are standard provisions concerning the keeping and auditing of annual and other accounts and annual reports.

The new Schedule 3B to the 1952 Act deals with procedures in relation to appeals. There are 18 articles to the Schedule. Article 1 details the procedures for lodging appeals. Article 2 authorises the board to give directions on notices of appeal and defer service of the notice of appeal on the Loughs Agency until it is satisfied that its directions have been complied with. Article 3 provides that a board may dismiss appeals considered to have no valid ground, to be vexatious or frivolous, that are not in the form required or where the appellant fails to comply with a direction of the board.

Articles 4 and 5 are concerned with procedures applicable to the amendment of notice of appeal and withdrawal of appeals. Articles 6 to 11, inclusive, detail the procedures to be followed by the board and the Loughs Agency in response to a notice of appeal. Articles 12 and 13 provide the board with the discretion to treat two or more appeals as one and where hearings are to be held.

Article 14 authorises the board to give directions about the manner in which the proceedings are conducted; the presentation or disclosure of documentation; the seeking of expert opinion; and the calling of witnesses to give evidence. The article also details procedures for third parties requesting the board to give such directions. Article 15 authorises the board to issue a summons requiring a person to attend as a witness, answer questions or produce documents, and details the procedures to be followed for such a summons. Article 16 authorises the board to debar a party from the proceedings for having failed to comply with a direction given under this Schedule. Article 17 provides for oral hearings to be held in public except in the case where confidential information is being considered. Article 18 provides for the delivery of decisions by the board and that each party to the appeal shall be sent a copy of the decision.

Schedule 2 to the Bill contains the details of the new penalties as provided in section 27. The penalties in the North and the South have been made as consistent as possible allowing for local law conditions so that offenders should be subject to similar penalties in either jurisdiction. The Attorney General has advised that it is necessary to amend the Bill so that it applies to all fish in the agency's jurisdiction. In addition, the Attorney General advises that the definition of the Foyle area must be inserted on the face of the Bill. The Attorney General has advised that these amendments are necessary to give effect to the Good Friday Agreement. I will be bringing forward amendments on Committee Stage to give effect to this advice. Deputy Keaveney has been pursuing this matter with me for some time.

The Bill is an important measure in the delivery of service by a North-South body established under the Good Friday Agreement. It will equip the agency with the powers to regulate aquaculture and it modernises its powers over inland fisheries. In turn, this will enhance the commission's scope for conserving and managing these fisheries. I commend the Bill to the House.

The Minister had some amount of script to get through. I am delighted to speak on the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill 2006. Waters around the Foyle and Carlingford loughs offer superb fishing for both tourist and domestic anglers, with reports of sea bass catches of 16.5 pounds. The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement provides for the establishment of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission and confers powers on the commission for the promotion of development of the Foyle and Carlingford loughs for commercial and recreational purposes.

The functions are restricted to marine fisheries and aquaculture matters and there is a concern that the Bill is excluding mussels and oysters. The Bill excludes the wild oyster and mussel sector and proposes only to regulate the aquaculture sector. How can we regulate one sector and not the other, when they are operating on the same ground? The designation of oysters versus mussels is contentious, but to reach such a conclusion when half of the stakeholders are excluded from the process will be difficult. The low level of consultation with fishermen on either side of the Border is also an issue of concern.

Negotiations have taken place between the Department and its counterpart in Northern Ireland about ownership of the sea bed and the costs levied for the leasing of the ground. That will be dealt with by the licences that are issued. The big concern to date has been the way mussels are dealt with. The mussels industry has collapsed as a result of a 40 year agreement which has discriminated between fishermen in the two jurisdictions on this island, in terms of exclusive fishery rights. Irish authorities have registered vessels from other European countries. A contentious issue exists as regards the oysters and mussels. The Minister will know this is an emotive issue in the North, where people are very much aggrieved. This Bill may introduce a very good precedent, however, and in time perhaps self-regulation.

The Foyle system has a spring salmon run on the River Finn and salmon and sea trout angling is available from hundreds of miles of other rivers, including the Mourne, the Derg, the Strule, the Roe, the Culdaff and the Faughan. Both the Foyle and Carlingford lakes are extremely important to the island of Ireland for many reasons, and I support this Bill today as it will provide for the development and licensing of aquaculture and for the exercise of a development function in inland fisheries by the Foyle Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. The Bill is in line with the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999 and is also needed to update certain sections of the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952.

There is enormous potential for aquaculture development in Ireland and it is an important part of this Bill. Aquaculture development has taken place in Carlingford Lough, but only with licences issued separately by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Northern Ireland body, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Aquaculture development has not taken place in Lough Foyle, however, because of jurisdictional uncertainties. There is obviously potential for such development on the Foyle and the fact that it has not happened to date has economic and social implications. This Bill provides the opportunity to regulate and license aquaculture in Lough Foyle for the first time. It will provide significant protection to existing operators and make it an offence when licensed areas in Foyle and Carlingford are interfered with.

This is a welcome piece of legislation. The Bill updates the provisions of the Foyle Fishers Act 1952 and it is good to see cross-Border co-operation is working. On the salmon issue, the Bill allows for angling licences with photographs. This is a significant measure and will introduce control. In recent times we have had the issue of salmon licences and drift netting. I understand there are now drift licences on the Foyle. I met the chairman of the new Loughs Agency, Mr. Derek Anderson, last week, and members of the board, which is very representative. The members are very committed and have been very effective to date. This could perhaps serve as a model for what could be done with inland fisheries in our jurisdiction. The consultants, Farrell Grant Sparks, are reviewing the situation at the moment, and no doubt they have studied what has taken place at the behest of the Loughs Agency. It has been very effective as regards the management of replacement stocks and in terms of development. I believe angling licences with photographs are the way forward when it comes to control, in the light of the increased number of licences. This has far-reaching implications in terms of the conservation of stocks.

The question of punitive fines was also raised yesterday with the Minister of State, Deputy Browne. When it comes to the courts, while the licence fees have gone up considerably, the fines are minimal for breaches of the regulations. While people may be barred from fishing in the future, there should be punitive fines as well for those who are in breach.

The licences with photographs will do away with the transfer of licences and will allow for better conservation effort. Significant research is being undertaken all over Ireland, North and South, on fish and plant species. The Marine Institute and its chief executive, Dr. Peter Heffernan, are doing very good work in Galway. I believe the Minister is transferring the research initiative from the Central Fisheries Board to the Marine Institute. It is good to have the research effort based within a single institution. Scientists working on fish stocks in the Foyle and Carlingford areas have found great genetic diversity of salmon stocks. This research has indicated that individual populations of salmon can be differentiated in areas as small as 5 km of river. The provisions in the Bill will enable the Loughs Agency to reinstate habitat, which will be of enormous benefit to fish stocks. Provision is made to empower the Loughs Agency to prohibit the sale of rod-caught salmon for the first time, aligning the Foyle and Carlingford areas with the central and regional fisheries boards.

The Bill also provides the opportunity to recover the costs of prosecution. Such costs include investigation, detection and sampling analysis which will significantly assist the Loughs Agency in providing an efficient conservation and protection service and will be a further deterrent to those considering breaching fisheries regulations. The Bill includes the following provisions: to prohibit the carrying out of aquaculture without a licence or in contravention of the terms and conditions of a licence; to empower the FCILC to grant aquaculture licences under such conditions as it determines; to enable the FCILC to regulate aquaculture licence application procedures and fees payable in respect of licences; to vest ownership of aquaculture stocks in the licensee; and to allow the recapture of escaped stock from licensed sites.

There is provision for the variation, revocation, transfer and surrender of licences — and for the establishment of a register of aquaculture licences. There are penalties for offences relating to aquaculture as well as provision for existing fish culture, shellfish fishery and marine licences to continue to be valid. An appeals board may be established to provide for appropriate procedures for aquaculture licences.

Provision is also made to enable the FCILC to acquire fishing rights in the Foyle and Carlingford areas and there are provisions relating to the form and conditions of fishing licences. Further, provision is made for the reinstatement of polluted waters and the recovery of associated costs, as well as to improve the conservation and protection of fish stocks. Other measures include the facility to strengthen enforcement powers and increase penalties for fisheries offices and powers to recover the cost of prosecutions. There is also a means to increase controls over the appointment and activities of private river watchers.

I was grateful to have been briefed by the Minister's officials on the impact of this Bill. The Bill is long awaited, given the Loughs Agency's powers to regulate the shellfish sectors in the Foyle and Carlingford areas, through Westminster. Given the whole level of consultation and the fact that it had to be put on the backburner pending implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, it is good that matters are now being progressed. Perhaps it is regrettable that mussels, oysters etc. are excluded. This continues to be a contentious issue.

As for the regulation on the partnership approach to the effect there would be dialogue and consultation with fishermen, it is important to note that a degree of consultation makes a difference. It is also important to consult fishermen on both sides of the Border who might work together on the Bill. Obviously, people on both sides of the Border hold different opinions but they should co-operate in this regard.

It is good that the cross-Border agencies are beginning to become relevant. I met the board last week and noted its members' commitment to conservation, fish management, the development of aquaculture and added value for the State and the economy in terms of job creation. Given the high regard in which the brand of Ireland is held worldwide, the public health aspects of fish consumption and the worldwide demand for fish, there is a huge opportunity for the entire island of Ireland to develop aquaculture and increase the number of jobs in the shellfish and finned fish sectors. In particular, there is clear potential to develop both the wild and farmed salmon sectors.

Will the Minister clarify whether the Exchequer will allocate additional funding to this body for restocking? What other development moneys will be provided by the State in this regard? It is important to establish the body with a suitable level of funding. Heretofore, the funding devoted to inland and inshore fisheries within the State has been minimal. I am aware that Dr. Cawley is examining this issue, at the Minister's request. People are anxious to see the resultant report to discern the Minister's precise plans for inshore fisheries, inland fisheries and the development of cross-Border bodies.

Two of the new inland fisheries will have cross-Border dimensions. Having regard to the water basin district, two of the inland fisheries to be developed will straddle the Border. As an inland fishery body will also incorporate this aspect, the new review of inland fisheries could include consideration of the potential for cross-Border development.

In the context of developing the potential of Ireland's rivers and loughs, the opening up of the canal through Eniskillen has been a significant development. It has brought people from Carrick-on-Shannon in County Leitrim across the Border into County Fermanagh. Similarly, there is huge potential along the Foyle and Carlingford coastline, as well as for 12 miles out to sea. Deputy Keaveney will be aware of this potential and the significant impact it could have on the entire region.

I am sure the Minister will examine the regulation, because this matter is important. The issue of pollution and controls regarding oysters and mussels constitutes a major one. Undoubtedly, while the Department is aware of it, it has been restricted in what it could do in this regard.

Apart from the Minister's own contribution, having met the Department's senior civil servants on this issue, I compliment them on the amount of work done and the attention to detail shown on the Bill. It is comprehensive legislation, which is also passing through the Parliament in Westminster. As this empowering legislation is passing through both Legislatures together, it is important that it receive the same degree of recognition in Dáil Éireann.

There are concerns. The Bill refers to the negotiations between the Department and the UK authorities regarding the ownership of the seabed and the costs to be levied in this respect. This issue must be discussed. In particular, insufficient protection is offered to existing mussel farmers to reflect their investment to date in identifying good ground by trial and error. Some operators will have tried many sites within Lough Foyle and many will have lost seed mussels before finding good sites. Under these proposals, someone who sat back and watched others take losses while testing can apply for the good sites identified through the efforts and at the expense of others. While I am not an expert on mussel growing, this issue must be examined carefully.

Overall, the Bill pertains to co-operation, partnership and the level of funding from the State to the cross-Border body, as well as the commitment of the board. Mr. Anderson and his board should work with the inland fisheries authorities in this State, as many lessons can be learned from what has been done in aquaculture and how the salmon issue has been dealt with on the Foyle. It is important to learn the board's views on the draft licences which will be granted to remove surplus salmon. The question of how the Minister proposes to issue draft licences to remove surplus salmon and how the system will operate is highly contentious. Will he allow drift-netting within estuaries? This is also an issue in Northern Ireland.

How much of my time allocation remains?

The Deputy has exceeded it.

The Deputy should not ask that question at this stage. He has exceeded his allocation somewhat.

I wish the Ceann Comhairle and the Minister a happy Christmas.

The Department's senior civil servants have been extremely helpful to me as Fine Gael spokesperson on marine issues. I wish the Minister well and have been delighted to contribute to the debate on this important legislation. It is great to see the Good Friday Agreement take effect as the Government has put much effort into it. I met the body in Leinster House last week. It operates on a cross-Border and cross-political basis and it was great to see its members. It is good to see it under way.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to make a few brief comments on the Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill. In general, I welcome it warmly. There are a number of issues to which I wish to refer and which have been brought to my attention by people from the constituencies of Donegal North-East and Louth.

I thank the civil servants involved for their extremely helpful briefing of spokespersons and forwarding additional material to Members, which was invaluable. I also thank the Minister. The two waterways concerned are among the most beautiful and interesting coastal waterways on this island. Obviously, the partition of the country in 1922 created the circumstances whereby such special administrative arrangements must be established for them in the Bill and in previous Acts from 1952 onwards. It is striking that Lough Foyle did not have an aquaculture licensing system because of some of the key jurisdictional issues involved. I broadly welcome the Bill.

Recently, while debating the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Single Electricity Market) Bill, I was supportive of the development of the all-island energy market as an example of practical patriotism. This is another example of a concrete cross-Border measure that, in general terms, should bring economic and social benefits to citizens on both parts of the island, particularly in counties Donegal, Derry, Down and Louth.

The Bill follows through from the Good Friday Agreement and the establishment of the commission in 1999, as the Minister and Deputy Perry noted. I join other Members in wishing the chairperson, the commission and the Loughs Agency great success in the years ahead.

One of the major issues that arose during the introduction of the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill was the complete dearth of consultation with local fishing coastal communities. I was interested to read a consultation document prepared by the Northern Ireland authorities on the eight-week period of consultation in Northern Ireland. However, it is a pity, as the Minister probably will agree, that the Assembly does not exist as a legislative body in Northern Ireland with an agreed government to have a full discussion, particularly involving local representatives from the Derry, Down and Armagh areas most affected.

The core objective of the Bill is to provide for the inland fisheries development function and the development and licensing of aquaculture in the Foyle and Carlingford loughs in agreement with the Northern Ireland government and in the context of the British-Irish Agreement.

Three concerns were raised with me as the most important, the first of which is the issue of the jurisdictional claims. Looking at the map with the civil servants a few days ago, we saw that the Border effectively runs through Lough Foyle and the channel in Carlingford Lough. Some of the local fishermen have asked me what is the impact of this in the context of the Crown Estate. When the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and his successors presumably negotiate fees for the different functions to be carried out by the commission, does that mean ultimately that we are recognising the Crown Estate and the Crown's claims to the seabed in the two loughs or have we gone past that following the British-Irish Agreement? What is the position? Many local people in Donegal feel it is invidious that we be engaged in a recognition of the British claim.

Second, there has been much local disquiet, in particular, about the oyster fishery. People who have had long-standing historic rights to the oyster fishery, which has been an important source of work and income, see themselves as excluded from the terms of this Bill. Likewise, people involved in the small mussel fishery — who have sowed seed and harvested for ten or 15 years and have identified the areas of the seabed where mussels grow best — feel that under this legislation anyone may apply to take advantage of their hard won experience over many decades, and of what one might call their research and development investment in their little fishery. I have heard people state that they have spent up to Stg£60,000 and put in considerable effort. They feel there is an exclusion here due to a narrow definition of aquaculture in the first part of the Bill.

There is a general feeling that there has not been sufficient discussion with our stakeholders on one of the most important areas of the Irish coast — the local Deputy, Deputy Keaveney, is seated just behind the Minister — and that all the fishing communities along the wonderful area around Greencastle have not been sufficiently consulted about the matter. There would be similar concerns on the Carlingford side. I note there is a local Deputy from that area present in the House also. Those would be the three areas to which I would like the Minister to respond if he gets an opportunity.

The lack of licensing regime in Lough Foyle has been a serious and worrying anomaly. It was my colleague, Deputy Gilmore, who, as Minister of State at the then Department of the Marine in the mid-1999s, introduced the fundamental licensing of aquaculture in this State and fish farmers throughout the rest of Ireland have had to live with that over the past decade. Of course a transparent and effective licensing regime in aquaculture is absolutely essential to ensure high standards of cleanliness, disease control, fish welfare, environmental impact and husbandry, and it has been a concern that this was not available in Lough Foyle. I hope that the reference in Part 6A of the Bill to the EU directive, particularly in the protection of the environment, is a matter that will be carried through.

A little before the present Minister's time, when Deputy Dermot Ahern was Minister, the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources undertook an in-depth look at aquaculture. At the time people spoke of the famous cover story in The Economist, “The Blue Revolution”. With the worldwide development of aquaculture, allied to our grave concerns, highlighted in our discussion with the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, yesterday on the 2050 report, and our concerns about the wild fishery, aquaculture must be a way of the future. In that context I was deeply disappointed with the Minister’s provision for aquaculture in the recent Estimates. He provided an increase of 3%, a cut in funding in real terms.

In general terms, the Bill is a welcome development, notwithstanding the caveats I outlined on aquaculture in Lough Foyle. It is obviously critical that aquaculture and other fishery resources in Lough Foyle and Lough Carlingford are exploited in the most responsible and most sustainable manner for the benefit of all of the residents of this country.

I note that Part 3 of the Bill refers primarily to the amendments to the 1952 Act and covers much territory we dealt with in discussions at the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and, indeed, in the sea fisheries legislation. We must bear in mind that this area encompasses quite a large territory in terms of sea-fisheries.

I note that in Part 3, section 15(42)(i), which deals with the penalties for pollution, the summary conviction does not exceed €5,000. That is a matter I was going to raise with the Minister in the context of amendments. Obviously, we can put forward amendments as soon as possible, but I realise they will involve the Minister in further discussions with his Northern Ireland counterpart.

In general, like Deputy Perry, I welcome Part 3, the section 7 amendment to section 13 of the 1952 Act which provides for photographs along with the rod licences. This is an important development on which the Department is to be congratulated.

How will the commission will be invigilated? Obviously, it is a cross-Border initiative under the British-Irish Agreement, but there was a reference already to the costs of the commission and the general policy directives it might be given. The FCILC has significant powers in the Bill, for example, as outlined in Part VIA and Part 3 — amendments to the 1952 Act — to grant and revoke licences, provide education and training etc., and extensive powers to appoint officers and to invigilate offences under the Act. It is important that all of those would be matters on which we would have the final say in the case of our citizens, in particular, and in general terms of all the people of this island.

Earlier today we approved the levies for the single stock management and for the development of the new regime for salmon which the Minister has accepted. He might refer in his final reply to how this will work with this Bill.

The other point I note is that with the current Dáil ending shortly, the Minister has included a slight amendment to the foreshore Act. Deputy Sargent must have raised that matter approximately 40 times since I have been a Member of the Dáil and, unfortunately, we still have not had that matter addressed.

In general terms, I commend the Minister on getting to this stage today and bringing forward the legislation. There has not been enough consultation. There are some concerns, particularly in the Donegal area, and I want him to address those before we finally pass the Bill.

I propose to share my time with Deputies Eamon Ryan and Morgan.

The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission is one of the North-South Implementation Bodies established in 1999 arising from the British-Irish Agreement. This agency, since its establishment, has developed a most impressive array of initiatives to improve the management of fish stocks in both loughs. There are similar examples in Lough Erne as well, beside the Manor House in Enniskillen, where the fish stocks are attracting people to the fishing areas. We, in Monaghan, have benefited from that also because there is a deal between the two hotels that they can come to fish the lakes and stay in the Hillgrove Hotel in Monaghan. It is the type of cross-Border co-operation that we must move towards. Unfortunately, the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly has left the various agencies in a form of limbo in recent years. Let us hope that the Assembly and the North-South bodies will be up and running early in 2007 and can resume where they left off.

I have been frustrated by the pace of the Northern talks where the use of words and their meanings has been such that we would almost need to rewrite the Oxford English Dictionary. Those parties that benefited from the parties which took risks in the past now find that the cycle has come full circle and they must have the courage to take the same kind of risks as those taken by their predecessors. Parties that showed courage in the past paid the political price. There may be a fear in the two main parties in Northern Ireland that they will have to pay the political price for doing the right thing. While the talk may be of the police and others issues, this is the real issue that must be grappled with and I ask the parties to take the necessary risks as there is a great benefit to be achieved.

The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission has been instrumental in developing innovative genetic monitoring techniques for the assessment of salmon stocks. While Deputy Broughan mentioned difficulties in Donegal, these techniques have provided great benefits for the fishing industry in the loughs. An advisory forum was also established for the Loughs Agency, including representatives of shell-fishing, draft and drift-net fishing, fishery owners and tourism interests. The advisory forum also included environmentalists, local businesses and those working in agriculture and forestry around the loughs. Everybody working in the various local enterprises had the opportunity to have an input into the agency's policy decisions.

The Loughs Agency also constructed an interpretative centre at Prehen on the shores of Lough Foyle. This allows for the dissemination of information on the loughs, and on the work of the Loughs Agency, to the public. It is important that the public is tied into this and knows exactly what is happening. It is indisputable that the development of the loughs will provide an economic boost to the areas that are contiguous to both loughs which will benefit from increased tourism. This is about enlivening hinterland communities that have been denied financial success in the past. We know of towns, like Clones for example, that suffered because of the Border division. This Bill provides opportunities to overcome this problem. It is particularly relevant to the Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh areas where there are many lakes and much marine activity. It is important to get this agency moving.

I note that the Bill provides for the licensing and regulation of aquaculture operations in the areas of both loughs, with an appeals board to deal with appeals and disputes over decisions. Global farmed fish production now totals almost 42 million tonnes and the FAO estimates that aquaculture will supply more than half of all fish consumed worldwide by 2030. That is a huge boost for people in Border areas and its hinterland.

Irish aquaculture has significant development potential to capitalise on strong European and global demand and it provides a stable source of raw material for the fish processing sector. The processing sector continues to expand and represents some 30% of the total value of Irish seafood output. I welcome the Bill's provisions in relation to aquaculture and believe that it will facilitate the sustainable development of aquaculture into the future.

I wish the Ceann Comhairle, the Minister and his officials a happy, quiet and peaceful Christmas.

This Bill is an example of North-South co-operation and mirrors the example currently being set by the Green Party with its new all-Ireland basis and innovative new North-South structures. The case for integrated management of our rivers and estuaries is proven time and again. I today received correspondence relating to the Ballinahinch River from the Save Our Sea Trout campaign. The organisation has been engaged for many years in the debate regarding the risk to wild sea trout and salmon stocks from certain aquaculture policies. Coincidentally, I am currently reading the biography of John Moriarty and it contains much information on the wonder of the Ballinahinch River near which he lived for many years. The river was a famous sea trout fishery, but the catch on it had slumped to 200 to 300 trout per year. Two years ago, the salmon farm in the bay, through which all the sea trout and salmon had to travel and where they risked picking up lice, was closed and reopened as a cod aquaculture facility. Lo and behold, the sea trout catch on the river rose to 1,000 last year, albeit with smaller fish. That figure rose to 1,200 this year and larger sea trout are returning to the river. The salmon run last year increased to approximately 1,600. This is a famous sea trout and salmon river and gives employment to hundreds of people in the area. It is great to see it recovering.

Management of aquaculture and other resources in our rivers and estuaries is crucial. It is important that we conduct the management and licensing of the rivers and estuaries, in this case Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough, on a sustainable basis. In 1997, the Government published a report by Brady Shipman Martin on the issue of coastal zone management. The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, was the Minister for the Environment and Local Government at that time. Responding to the report he said: "We must preserve the intrinsic value of the coastal zone while simultaneously availing of the advantages it bestows in the interests of local communities and the wider economy. Our rate of success will be dictated by the extent to which the principles of sustainable development inform management policy formulation and its delivery at local level." I am concerned that nothing has happened since those early days of the Government as regards proper and sustainable development in our estuaries and proper coastal zone management. The Government's legislative programme in 2002 said that legislation to develop coastal zone management would be published in 2003. As Deputy Broughan said, nothing much has happened since then.

I am concerned and slightly disappointed that this opportunity has been missed. While I know this is a more complicated and difficult Bill because it must be done in conjunction with either the Assembly or Westminster, I am disappointed that we seem to be continuing a tradition of narrowly defining how we manage our fisheries. While the principles setting out the aquaculture projects, appeals boards and fines etc, are welcome, I regret that the opportunity to go further and adopt proper coastal zone management was not taken.

The best example seems to be the conflict that will potentially still exist between the rights and interests of people collecting wild, natural oysters, which has been done for a significant period, and those introducing commercial applications, such as mussel farms. I commend the Save the Swilly campaign group, which operates on a neighbouring lough to Lough Foyle, for the work it has done in raising estuary management issues. I am concerned that this Bill does not explain how we intend managing wild oyster beds.

A number of concerns were raised at our committee meeting yesterday where the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, presented some of the new wild salmon management procedures. The cost of licences for drift netting and other salmon fishing methods will, in some instances, be higher than the fines that apply for poaching. We face a serious problem in managing this area. The Government's delay in establishing a new fisheries board structure shows that it has not given this area the priority it deserves.

It is interesting that the fines in this Bill are significantly higher than in existing legislation. The Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, told the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources yesterday that a review of legislation was required but that the Government had not been able to carry it out within the tight timeframe of the legislative programme. As many Members said this morning, given that we had to suspend the Dáil three times because of insufficient business, it is difficult to understand how we were not able to progress broader legislation in aquaculture and fisheries management, which we desperately need if we are to develop and protect this most valuable resource in a sustainable way. Some 60% of Irish people live within the coastal zone management areas and we have a huge economic, environmental and social interest in getting it right.

I commend this Bill and I am happy to support it on behalf of my party, but I cannot commend the Government for its management of this area in the four and a half years I have been in the House. It is an area which seems to have been forgotten.

The Foyle Fisheries Act 1952 was both innovative and progressive. Despite British occupation of part of our country, the commission helped small isolated communities to protect and develop the natural resource of wild salmon. Much good work was done by the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, notwithstanding its poor record on discrimination.

The Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, known as the Loughs Agency, was established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in 1999. There are 12 board members comprising a wide spectrum of political opinion and expertise. I was honoured to serve on the board for three years and I thank board colleagues and staff who have served the agency very well since its inception. The board chairperson, Councillor Peter Savage, has been both inspirational and interesting at all times. Those who know Peter will know what I mean by "interesting". He is also an extremely competent councillor and one of the ablest in this State. I also acknowledge the leadership of its chief executive officer, Mr. Derek Anderson, and his deputy, Mr. John Pollock, both of whom are very helpful and competent.

The agency has the potential to bring very important development to the communities in the Foyle and Carlingford areas. Development in a wide range of fields, including fisheries, tourism and angling, would offer much-needed jobs to people in those communities. Tourism, for example, has huge potential, as do water-based sports activities, and there is massive potential for hillwalking in the Mourne and Cooley mountains. The agency can bring the tourists into both areas and others can exploit the potential of a huge, untapped international market. There are similar opportunities in Donegal.

Angling means more than just fishermen on a bank but encompasses deep sea fishing for sharks and other species and could be developed further. The Loughs Agency is the perfect vehicle to ensure this development occurs. It is the perfect engine to drive the significant economic opportunity available to communities in the vicinity of both loughs. Already much very important work has been done. For example, the agency, in collaboration with Queen's University Belfast, has studied the DNA of salmon. This gives an interesting insight into both health issues and the behaviour of fish. The research also informs us about issues associated with escaped farm salmon and the implications of cross-breeding between wild and farmed fish. Much more, however, can and should be done.

The Bill is a long overdue beginning to give the agency the legislative footing necessary to carry out its role effectively. There will also be substantial challenges for local fishing communities as new practices are necessary to maximise the potential of this natural resource. Significant investment will also be necessary and the Loughs Agency has the capacity to guide and administer the communities in this area. Very substantial financial reward is possible to enterprising people.

Mussels, for example, have undergone a huge price rise in recent years. Only four or five years ago wild mussel would have fetched maybe £100 per tonne, whereas now the price of good quality mussel is anything between €1,200 and €1,500 per tonne. That gives some indication of the capacity for significant financial reward for those involved. The Dutch provide the best example of good practice in this area, having improved their processes over generations. They grow the product and harvest it using substantially enhanced techniques. Added value is key to their industry and we can easily replicate that in Ireland, giving the sector a huge impetus.

Licences will undoubtedly cause controversy and we have already heard that Members have received representations. Perhaps we should keep our constituency offices open a bit longer because if this legislation comes into effect, we can all expect additional representations from people in that area. We need to enact it first, however, and I hope in doing so we can combine loyalty to those who have been involved in the industry with new enterprises whose investment may be necessary to capitalise on the full value of this huge resource.

I said this legislation was overdue, as it is, but I acknowledge the difficulties involved for the draftsmen as they try to make sure every comma and full stop in the Bill in this jurisdiction is replicated in the legislation on the northern side of the Border. I hope the legislation will pass quickly but I acknowledge that it is imperfect. I also acknowledge that, because of the cross-Border dimension, there will be huge difficulties amending it. Nevertheless, I wish it a fair wind and look forward to communities around the two loughs having significant additional opportunities as a result of it and the work of the Loughs Agency. Long may it continue.

The Foyle and Carlingford Fisheries Bill 2006 is finally before the House. It has been like Lanigan's Ball. Instead of "He stepped out, I stepped in again" it has been "We will wait for the Executive — no, we will go on without it; we will wait for the Executive — no we will go on without it". The Bill has been long awaited in my area. I agree with Deputy Morgan's final point and feel this is only the start of the trouble.

I begin by declaring my interest — I live on the banks of the Foyle, one of the most beautiful places in the world. Seldom does any Bill going through the House have implications for only one Deputy, but I am she on this occasion. That is why I was very despondent, having waited for this legislation throughout my political career, to be given a mere ten minutes to speak on it today. I am glad that my time has now been increased.

I am less despondent than I was earlier this month when I was made aware that aquaculture was not what I thought it was, namely, all mussels and oysters, and that there were to be separate regimes for spat, under the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, DARD, and the laid product under the Loughs Agency. That represents a reinterpretation of the word "aquaculture", because I thought shellfish were fish — the clue is in the name. I was very annoyed that everything seemed to change. In a bottom culture shell fishery, definitions between aquaculture and wild fishery are difficult to understand and would be impractical and impossible to operate successfully under two different masters, in this case DARD and the Loughs Agency.

I should apologise to the Minister for the tough time I gave him, the Taoiseach, the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, on this omission from, or reinterpretation of, the Good Friday Agreement. I will not annoy the Minister for the rest of this year.

I do not believe that.

I might not be telling the truth. This reinterpretation was driven by DARD in the Six Counties but I cannot apologise for being protective of the area I love and the people I represent. I cannot apologise for saying that we have an important and unique resource in the Foyle that we wish to grow, manage and see generations work and earn a living from. I cannot apologise for fighting a corner to have the right legislation and not some touching of a cap to the symbolism of a North-South body. We are a real community, dealing with the real implications of having no legislation. Those implications would be even worse should a quick-fix piece of legislation be pushed through to satisfy deadlines or optics. I appreciate that the Government has listened to my comments and I applaud the interest engendered and the work done by officials and Ministers, which I hope will continue.

We are discussing a North-South body, but approximately 95% of the fishermen involved are from County Donegal. The proposal before the House needs the consent of both jurisdictions and I ask that all sides embrace the Attorney General's opinion that the Good Friday Agreement envisaged the Loughs Agency as a body for all fisheries, not just farmed aquaculture. The legislation should not be delayed further as those involved in delaying its passage will do fishing communities a disservice.

My constituents and I are attention seekers in this regard. We want the Government to be involved in our struggle to be heard and we want our opinion to be taken on board, not only at national level, but at every level, including in the Loughs Agency, which will gain the power to license fishing through the Bill. We want consultation and input on a regular basis, not just when a Bill is published, and a say in our future. We have fishing expertise because we are a coastal community. We know what it is to suffer quota cuts and increases in regulation, whether on the lough under the Loughs Agency or on the sea in terms of the large whitefish fishing community at Greencastle.

Any fisherman will accept that stock conservation is vital to the sustainability of the industry, which can only be the case if stocks are managed. Once amended, the Bill will aim to license all fisheries in the Foyle. No other area would have sustained a situation whereby the only licensing that took place since 1952 was in respect of salmon. Our fishermen feel aggrieved that we had a strong management system for salmon fishing in the form of the Foyle Fisheries Commission, subsequently the Loughs Agency, but we have succumbed to the same penalty as all other rivers that might not have paid the price down the years, as it were.

Feelings are understandably running high and it is difficult for people to get over their sense of deep mistrust. A speedy resolution to the issues of compensation and the community moneys promised would help and would tie into this legislation neatly. Being blunt, there is a feeling of "us and them" among the key stakeholders, whether they are salmon, oyster or mussel fishermen.

While there has always been an advisory committee to the commission, those who served on it told me that they were often held back from being too forceful for fear that they would not be awarded their licences in future. When I entered politics, I spent much time listening to complaints about the commission. Opinions given at advisory committee meetings were treated like token opinions. According to the people who matter, the fishermen, while the advisory committee was a good idea in principle, it was not as effective as it could or should have been. A proper consultation process that takes cognisance of and acts upon recommendations and input from key stakeholders would help to heal much of the mistrust.

Many years ago, the salmon drift net fishermen walked out of the committee and refused to return, but the only way forward in any issue is via communication. Recently, a new burden was placed on them. The Loughs Agency is examining the option of reducing the number of fishermen working on the river from 112 to 30.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, a new, wider-based advisory forum was created, but, like many organisations, it was considered a talking shop. The Loughs Agency seemed to railroad through its views. A fisherman to whom I spoke provided an interesting quote that applies to a Deputy sitting across from me. I will not name the fisherman who stated:

The present Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission is politically appointed and knows very little about fishing. Andrew Ward, Arthur Morgan and Lord Glentoran are the only ones who would recognise a fish without chips alongside it.

Whether that is a fair reflection, I wanted to give the House a sense of the feeling on the ground.

In the interest of balance, I found a degree of unanimity within the advisory group when I met it recently. Its members are interested in and aware of the issue and are on the ball. Sometimes, people are not au fait with all the facts, but I commend Councillor Peter Savage and his team.

The fishermen I represent have received bad press. They want regulation and to know who is the regulator. Falling between two stools for a short period until issues are resolved is one matter, but 13 years is a long time to be without a stool. In particular, oyster fishermen have seen their combined catch drop from more than 400 tonnes per annum to less than 100 tonnes. Recently, the agency gave me statistics detailing that the oyster fishery's catch is between 50 tonnes and 100 tonnes, which is worth €200,000 to €400,000.

The desired legislation to regulate, conserve, protect and improve oyster fisheries was promised, but never delivered. The Bill must offer that opportunity. Indeed, many fishermen blame the lack of legislation for allowing the bonamia ostrea disease to enter the fishery, despite our excellent record of being disease-free. The lack of regulation is adversely affecting stocks. A report by Friel on the Foyle oyster and mussel fisheries in 1997 stated that oysters should not be fished before November and that new legislation is the "ideal opportunity" to develop the industry. In its absence, spating takes place in late August and fishing takes place in September. Legislation is needed to protect fishermen who want to conserve stocks and wait until later in the year. The fishery is all but fished out by November. This legislation must not fail in its basic aim of protecting the stock.

I commend the Government on its grant aid for boats and BIM for its work with fishermen, but there is no legislative back-up. The Bill will open many development opportunities for BIM and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. Of the 75 boats in question, 60 are half-deckers and 15 are 40-metre dredgers. They employ approximately 200 people.

Between 10,000 tonnes and 15,000 tonnes of blue mussels are landed with an estimated value of €10 million. Approximately ten years ago, the landing at Moville was worth €1 million, which was a considerable amount at the time, and it was in this manner that we acquired the money to replace the collapsed pier. I welcome the fact that the catch has increased substantially due to investment in basic infrastructure, which was followed by investment in the Carrickarory pier. I also welcome the Minister's announcement of funding to continue the development of the Greencastle harbour.

A small, but important from the perspective of tradition, part of the industry is that of beach gatherers, who are not mentioned in any of the consultation documents. There has been a tradition of gathering winkles, seaweed and barnacles for the purposes of money and private consumption. Others ask about sand, namely, who owns it and regulates its removal. This reverts to the point made on the Crown estate.

The Foyle needs an overall development plan. The more aspects it embraces the better. I would go so far as to include the areas of marine leisure and recreation. Too many rivers, including the Swilly, to which Deputy Eamon Ryan referred, have had their potential ruined by a lack of co-ordination and proper planning. I do not want that to happen to the 188 sq. km. of the Foyle. While it will not be easy, a single co-ordinating unit provides hope. Like the Bill, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

Some site holders have spent time and money trying to establish which sites are suitable for mussel cultivation, but there is no provision in the Bill to recognise their pre-legislative investment in aquaculture. However, they have been supported by BIM. We must keep the door open for those interested in developing the fisheries and it would be unfair not to differentiate them vis-à-vis other licence applicants. Additional consideration should be given to those already in occupancy of sites when they apply for licences. However, I welcome the provision to vest ownership of aquaculture stocks in the licensees.

The Bill provides for the jurisdictional issue relating to the Foyle and, as the Minister and the Attorney General have stated, the first point of departure must be the definition of the lough. While aquacultural development has been undertaken in Carlingford Lough, with licences issued to promoters operating south of the navigational channel by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and those north of the channel by DARD, no such development has occurred in Lough Foyle due to the jurisdictional uncertainties. I query the status of the river bed in this respect. The Bill provides, for the first time, the opportunities to regulate and licence aquaculture in Lough Foyle and creates an offence for those interfering in licence areas in both Foyle and Carlingford.

There have been bad years when the "Foyle Fisheries Commission" were swear words in my community. Having walked the red beds with commission staff and seen many of the projects developed there, including the insertion of counters and stock conservation measures that others ignored, I commend the efforts being made by Derek Anderson and his team.

Some I know are still critical of the public consultation process in the North which had redefined aquaculture, blaming the Loughs Agency for that. Sometimes, however, it is wrongly blamed or is caught by legislation, such as the legislation on the drift net ban. We want real interaction, however, as this Bill is put into practice. When the new board is constituted in a year's time, the Minister should ensure that those from the fishing industry or from a fishing background will be appointed. Meanwhile I wish the old board well in what will be a challenging year.

Many people have said this will be a massive opportunity for the tourism industry. I am concerned, however, that it may become a tourism only event. Many in Donegal are worried that the highest bidders will get the licences. There must be respect for local people who have fished the Foyle and its tributaries for many years so they are not outbid or their applications considered less valuable than someone from Scandinavia. This is an opportunity to offer an added value product, linked to community support for drift net fishermen, to ensure conservation and development on the river.

One of the major polluters of the Foyle is Donegal County Council, which still lets raw sewage flow into it. Controversy exists about sewerage schemes but decisions must be made because the local authority is as liable to be fined as anyone else. Pollution cannot continue no matter who is responsible and the Minister should work with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensure tertiary treatment works are put in place for the Moville-Greencastle sewerage scheme. The river must have the chance to recover and if that means putting the outfall pipe into the channel, which might cost more, it should be done.

People tell us that a wind farm would be lovely because the smolts could swim around, becoming a tourist attraction. We want our smolts to go where they need to go and not to be prey for other species.

I welcome the Bill's aim of defining the area of jurisdiction over the Foyle. I ask the Minister to examine how we are paying for the British Queen's corgis through the seabed issue. The Loughs Agency was held up for years as an example of North-South co-operation, something that annoyed my constituents who dealt with the body. This legislation was held up as a further example of North-South co-operation but had the limited definition of aquaculture remained, I could not have supported it. I trust it will now provide recognition for those who have invested in mussels and oysters to date while giving opportunities for new people who are serious about fishing.

Achieving consensus on a policing or licensing regime is always difficult and this will be no easier. Hard decisions will be necessary but they must be informed decisions. A single regulator for all aspects makes sense. If possible an overall development plan for the Foyle should now be embraced to give a clear, co-ordinated river map. We could then ensure a less hazardous future than has been the case in other regions.

I appreciate that Deputy Keaveney knows a lot more about the Foyle fishery than I do, living in one of the most inland areas in Ireland with no access to the sea at all. I welcome the opportunity, however, to say a few words because this forms part of the Good Friday Agreement and, in that context, is extremely important.

It is unfortunate that the Northern Ireland Assembly is not in place to discuss this issue and then debate it with Members of this House who come from the affected areas. I hope that situation will soon be rectified and the season of Christian love and goodwill offer the chance to overcome the final barriers to the establishment of the Assembly.

The suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly has caused difficulties for the six North-South bodies, not least Waterways Ireland. It has held up progress on the Ulster Canal and other extensions to the Erne waterways, creating problems for tourism. The purpose of the Bill is to extend the functions of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission, one of the six North-South implementation bodies.

The definition of aquaculture only relates to farming. There is some anxiety about wild native mussels that are found in the Foyle. There are also question marks over the definition of jurisdiction over certain areas. I hope it will not be a major issue but we must address it. The mussel farmers have invested money but what protection exists for them?

We have heard much about consultation in the past but the consultation document for this was available in Northern Ireland but not to Deputies and Senators of these Houses, a point that was made to me before I came in.

My colleague, Deputy Perry, the Fine Gael spokesman on the marine, has raised these issues in detail. I do not know enough to go into detail but I could not help but agree with Deputy Keaveney's request to remember local people who have had access for years. We must ensure that whatever legal bodies are set up, these people are recognised and this does not become a haven for outsiders.

The agreement provides that the Loughs Agency would be given responsibility for aquaculture and fisheries and should have the power to promote and develop Loughs Foyle and Carlingford for recreation purposes. I concur with Deputies Keaveney and Morgan about widening the scope of this document to make sure it is fully utilised to encourage the development of both loughs. They are located near the Border in areas that have suffered great deprivation over the years. All funding that might become available should be used. The Minister also referred to the need for legislation in Northern Ireland. We can only hope the Assembly will resume next March or April and will deal with the legislation, rather than using the more complicated route through Westminster.

The Bill, when enacted, will provide a robust regime for the regulation of aquaculture on Lough Foyle. I hope that will be the case and that it will turn out to be as good as this sounds. The key provision, which confers power on the Loughs Agency to grant aquaculture licences, also permits it to issue penalties. I have not read the Bill in detail but I am concerned about penalties because I am reminded of what has happened in farming. I have dealt with a number of cases in the past few days of farmers who are in desperation and panic because they do not have a penny left as a result of penalties imposed on them. Where people do wrong, they should be liable for penalties but justice must be seen to be done so people are not subject to penalties they cannot afford. The farmers who came to my clinic recently are extremely worried and what is happening to them is unacceptable. A number of departmental officials dealing with them are not worried by this.

The Taoiseach needs to clarify a number of issues in his recent statements on the St. Andrews Agreement. He has made it clear funding will be provided by the Exchequer to underpin the agreement, which is vital. The Carlingford and Foyle boards will welcome this. It was stated the Ulster Canal and the road between Dublin and Derry, the fourth largest city on the island, will be upgraded. The Minister for Agriculture and Food issued a statement that the road between Dublin and Donegal, which goes through Derry, would be improved but the NRA has made it clear in the past few days that it has no plans whatsoever to upgrade the road between Monaghan town and the Border. We want the facts to be correct and to get everything right. I do not want to hear public statements that cannot be totally supported. If it is to ensure the Good Friday Agreement works and is meaningful, the Government and the party of which I am proud to be a member, will give 100% support but a realistic, factual statement about funding for the projects for the canal and road I mentioned is required. That is the least that can be done during this season of goodwill.

I wish everybody the best of good luck and a happy and holy festive season.

I join Members in offering the compliments of the season to everybody. I hope they have a nice, quiet, relaxed Christmas and a very happy new year. Halfway through the year we will be in a battle but we should make the most of the festive season.

I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate. They raised many issues, including the more general context in which the Bill fits, which is the St. Andrews Agreement, as Deputy Crawford mentioned. I will address that later. The only reason Deputy Keaveney promised she would not bother me between now and the end of the year is she probably thinks she will not see me but the Deputy never fails to take an opportunity to make contact. There is always one more issue with her but I wish her a very peaceful Christmas and I hope she will not contact me over the festive season about this or any other matter. On a more serious note, Deputy Keaveney and other Members have taken an interest in this matter and everybody is concerned, with the opportunity open to us, that we should make the legislation as good as possible. Members were generous in their acceptance of the need to introduce similar provisions in both jurisdictions so that the legislation can work.

I also thank Members for their acknowledgment of the work of the board in this case and the chairman, Peter Savage. As Deputy Morgan said, I know Mr. Savage almost as long as him but probably not at such close quarters. He is a good chairperson because he is a straight talker and he has little time for bureaucracy and red tape. He tends to want to get things done, which is a good trait in a chairperson.

Deputy Keaveney referred to a local authority polluting Lough Foyle and I will ask my officials to take that matter up with the local authority in question. The area is fragile and it must be ensured official bodies do not cause pollution or other difficulties.

Deputy Perry made a number of kind remarks about the work that went into the legislation by my officials and he referred to the exclusion of the shellfish regulatory powers. They are excluded because we had an issue about them but, following consultation, as I indicated in my opening contribution, those powers will be covered by an amendment on Committee Stage.

A number of Deputies referred to the need for consultation and this is something with which I agree. Fishermen have been consulted on the aquaculture implementation plan and they will be consulted on any regulations to be brought forward by the agency regarding aquaculture and fisheries. It is important that local people and fishermen understand and accept such regulations. Fishermen generally, and anglers in particular, represent a body, comprising mostly men but also women, that sees conservation as part of its role. We will try to ensure they feel part of the decision-making process.

Deputy Perry raised the issue of the cost of leases and so on and foreshore fees are being discussed by Department officials and the Crown Estates Commission. The Crown Estates Commission seeks economic rents but we feel fees for aquaculture in the Foyle area should correspond with those applicable in both jurisdictions, as far as possible.

Regarding Deputy Perry's point on the designation of areas for oyster, mussels and aquaculture, it is envisaged that the agency will carry out a full environmental impact statement which will allow it to determine areas for wild shell fisheries, aquaculture and areas required to be designated under EU environmental legislation. This is the first step towards making decisions on the various designations and it is an open and transparent public process.

Deputy Perry and a number of other Deputies, including Deputies Eamon Ryan and Broughan, referred to the need for fines for offences in the inland fisheries sector, especially the salmon sector. My Department, in consultation with the National Fisheries Management Executive, is reviewing all 17 statutes that apply to the inland fisheries sector with a view to modernising and consolidating the legislation into a single statute. This exercise will examine penalties and make recommendations on appropriate penalties for specific offences.

A number of Deputies inquired about the issue of regulations on mussels. There is an all-island system overseeing the allocation of mussel seeds and the agency participates in decisions regarding allocation. It is important this system operates on an all-island basis as it ensures all operators in need of access to mussel seeds are treated fairly, regardless of their locations on the island. It is planned to make the agency an authorised officer, under the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, to enforce mussel seed allocation regulations in the Foyle area.

A general question was raised on the scope for expansion of North-South co-operation. A review group exists, under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council and it will report its recommendations to the council when the terms of reference are agreed, the Northern Ireland Assembly is restored and the review is completed. At that stage we will know what kind of expansion in North-South co-operation is possible.

Deputy Broughan raised the issue of funding for the Loughs Agency and I am delighted to tell him that it has been well funded since its foundation. Funding is provided by the Exchequer and the UK Treasury and the agency has been unable to spend all of the money available to it in recent years while it awaits the allocation of additional functions provided for under this Bill. We do not anticipate a shortfall in this regard.

The Deputy also raised the question of fees, jurisdictional claims and the Crown Estates Commission. As I mentioned, the fees relating to foreshore licences will be agreed without prejudice to jurisdictional claims. Aquacultural licensees in the Foyle region will pay fees directly to the agency and not to either the Department or the Crown Estates Commission. One of the benefits of this Bill is that such payments will go directly to the body responsible.

Deputy Broughan raised a question relating to the protection of investments made by people currently engaged in aquaculture in the region. The implementation plan for aquaculture licensing shows account will be taken of previous experience of aquaculture in Lough Foyle in addition to previous investment there. In drawing up the regulations for aquaculture in the Foyle, the agency will incorporate provisions setting out the criteria for the award of licences. The investment made by the people referred to by Deputy Broughan will be one of the criteria.

I mentioned the issue of consultation earlier and I agree with the point, to which I referred, made by Deputies Broughan and Perry. The Loughs Agency has an advisory forum which comprises approximately 50 local representatives, including fishermen and people with various relevant interests. It is kept informed of developments affecting the Loughs Agency by the agency itself. The Northern Ireland consultation process allows for the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly is currently suspended. The normal consultation process on Bills in this jurisdiction has been followed regarding this Bill.

Deputy Broughan, with a number of other Deputies, raised the issue of accountability. The agency is accountable to the North-South Ministerial Council and both sponsoring Departments. It is accountable in the same way every other non-commercial, semi-State body is accountable to its parent Department.

The penalties specified in the Bill are the maximum available to the courts for offences under the proposed legislation. The courts will, as always, have discretion regarding the penalty to be imposed for a particular offence.

Regarding North-South co-operation while the Northern Ireland Assembly is suspended, it is obvious that there are benefits in working together to develop practical co-operation for mutual gain. The British and Irish Governments have been working together on projects, this Bill being one such example. We have undertaken a lengthy negotiation process and, once this project is in place, the current temporary facilities for the regional office in Carlingford will be replaced by a new purpose built building which will provide suitable accommodation for Loughs Agency staff based in the town. A site has been identified and we intend to proceed with it in 2007. Meanwhile, the Loughs Agency has continued to carry out its functions under existing agency legislation.

Once the Stormont Assembly has been restored, meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council will resume. North-South bodies will be able to operate without the restraints that have been imposed on them during the suspension of institutions and the Government will seek closer co-operation with Ministers in the restored Northern Ireland Executive.

I thank Opposition Deputies for their co-operation on this Bill because it is important that we introduce it in tandem with the consultation process taking place in the North. I wish Deputies, staff of the Houses and the officials in my Department a happy and holy Christmas.

Question put and agreed to.