Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 18 Jun 2014

Vol. 844 No. 2

Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Bill 2013 [Seanad]: Second Stage

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

I am pleased to introduce the Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Bill 2013 for the consideration of the House. The Bill is one of a number of legislative priorities that are being pursued in my Department. Its aim is to update and modernise ship registration legislation and enhance the safety of ships that operate domestically in Irish waters. The Bill recognises the importance of maritime safety given our island status and the need to ensure the safety of maritime transport services generally.

International maritime law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, requires that every state fix the conditions for the grant of its nationality to ships, registration of ships in its territory and the right to fly its flag. Ship registration is about conferring Irish nationality on ships, allowing them to fly the Irish flag and registering ownership. Our existing ship registration regime dates from 1955, the main Act being the Mercantile Marine Act 1955. It forms part of a wide-ranging code of maritime legislation that dates from 1894.

Under the provisions of the 1955 Act, as amended in 1998 and 2006, ships wholly owned by an Irish citizen or an Irish body corporate are obliged to register. Exemptions to this obligation include ships not exceeding 15 net tonnes and which navigate in particular areas, sea-fishing boats less than 15 m in length overall, and ships owned by Irish citizens not ordinarily resident in the State. As the flag state, Ireland has obligations in respect of ships on its register wherever in the world they travel, including in regard to any serious marine incident in which they may be involved. This highlights the importance of ensuring ships flying our flag are safe and seaworthy.

The need for an updated ship registration system has been growing against a background of international growth in maritime trade, an increase in the use of pleasure craft and an increasing emphasis on safety, security and environmental issues both at EU and international level. The Bill before us today is the outcome of a detailed review involving an extensive public consultation process, correspondence and meetings with interested stakeholders, as well as engagement with relevant Departments. It has been prepared mindful of the efforts of the International Maritime Organisation and the European Union, in particular, to enhance the safety of ships and prevent pollution from ships by addressing the issues of substandard ships and the obligations of states in regard to ships that fly their flag

The underlying focus of the Bill is a continuing desire and commitment as a maritime nation to achieve and maintain a fleet of Irish-flagged vessels that is safe. At the same time, the Bill provides a legislative basis for the establishment and regulation of a modern ship registration system around a new, centralised, electronic and accessible national ship register. It is hoped that the revised approach to ship registration will enable enhanced accuracy of central records of Irish ships and ships operating in Irish waters and assist in ship and owner identification, including to the benefit of search and rescue or other emergency operations. The motivation behind the Bill, therefore, is not simply to update the legislation but also to improve the way in which ships are registered, the administrative process involved and the manner in which ship registration records are stored.

Under the 1955 Act, my Department is the national authority with responsibility for the registration of Irish ships, although the statutory ship registration role is assigned to the Revenue Commissioners. Local registrars, who are Revenue officials, administer the registration process in 11 locations throughout the country. Each registrar maintains a register book to record all registration transactions that occur in respect of the port of registry for which he or she is responsible. There are 13 ports of registry designated under the 1955 Act at present. The local registrars hold all of the original official ship registration records and send details of entries in the register books to the mercantile marine office of my Department. There are currently more than 3,200 ships registered in Ireland on the national ship register.

The new electronic Irish register of ships will consist of different parts for the registration of different types of ships and for different registration purposes, such as visitor registration. The electronic register will facilitate easier access to ship registration information and thereby enable the generation of statistical information and reports about the make-up of the Irish fleet. The Bill also addresses gaps in the existing legislation such as the absence of a specific power to remove unsafe or unsuitable ships from the register, the absence of ship registration renewal and outdated enforcement and penalty provisions. As well as addressing these gaps, the Bill provides for improvements such as an extension of mandatory ship registration to additional ship categories, including fishing boats less than 15 m in length overall, personal watercraft such as jet skis, small fast-powered craft and some small commercial angling boats.

Subject to some exemptions, all ships operating domestically will be required to be on the register or have a current valid registration conferring nationality from another country. The comprehensive legislative framework provided by the Bill will be supported by secondary legislation which will provide the detail of the ship registration requirements. This will facilitate further evolution and improvement in the future if the need arises, including a potential to respond quickly to any emerging policy issues of concern at a domestic, EU or international level. The regulations will be finalised following the enactment of the Bill.

I now turn to the content of the Bill, which is divided into nine Parts and has four Schedules.

Part 1, sections 1 to 8, inclusive, contain standard provisions, including interpretation, fees, expenses, regulations, repeals and revocations. On fees, a scale of charges based on the categorisation, size and use of ships is proposed. The levels have yet to be decided and, in accordance with section 3, will be prescribed in regulations to be made with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

At this point, it is not anticipated that the current maximum registration fee levels in the range of €201 to €251 will be exceeded. The registration fee for the new ship categories, such as personal watercraft or small fast-powered craft, will be less than the registration fee for large commercially operating ships. A fee structure under €100 is envisaged for smaller vessels. There will be renewal of registration up to five years after initial registration and up to every ten years after that. It is anticipated that renewal fees will be lower than the initial registration fee, in particular in cases where there has been no changes made to the ship in the intervening period. The fee for visitor registration will be a nominal fee, probably under €50, and a simplified and straightforward application process is proposed so as not to impact negatively on tourism.

Part 2 deals with registration of ships. The framework for the new Irish register of ships, the new ship registration process and its administration is established in sections 9 to 32, inclusive. The modernised central Irish register of ships to replace the existing primarily paper based system will be established under section 9. In line with e-Govemment policy, an electronic register is proposed consisting of separate parts for the registration of different ship categories and for different types of registration. The detail of the structure of the register and the different registration requirements for each part of the register will be set out in the regulations to be made under the Bill. At this point, it is envisaged that some parts of the register will be established and implemented on a phased basis.

The current thinking on the structure of the register is that there will be a part for new passenger and commercial ships, existing large passenger and commercial ships 24 m in length and greater and the larger recreational craft. A second part will be for licensed sea-fishing boats, a distinction being made between fishing boats over and under 15 m in length. A third part will include the registration of existing passenger and commercial ships less than 24 m as well as personal watercraft, small fast-powered craft and small commercial angling boats. A fourth part will contain the detail of ships that are the subject of visitor registration or a temporary registration and there will be a part for information on undischarged registered mortgages in respect of ships that have been removed from the register.

A facility to initiate ship registrations online is envisaged and it should be possible to substantially complete many straightforward renewals in this way. However, given the nature of ship registration and some of the documents required, it will be necessary to maintain some element of paper documentation in the registration process. The new register will be maintained by my Department and the Bill allows for the designation of officers of my Department, of another Minister and officers of the Revenue Commissioners to be registrars of ships to administer the register.

Section 10 provides for service agreements with State agencies to undertake elements of the ship registration administration process, if the need arises in the future. If this happens, officers of the State agency can also be designated as registrars of ships. Given our international responsibilities under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the need to retain control over the registration of ships on the Irish flag, it is not proposed to outsource the entire ship registration process. The administration of ship registration will have to be carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Bill and any regulations made under it.

Section 11 sets out the ship registration requirements that will apply to ships that operate domestically. Arising from the Bill, mandatory registration will be extended to personal watercraft such as jet skis, small fast-powered craft and all commercial angling boats regardless of size. Other recreational craft less than 24 m in load line length, including small angling boats used solely for recreational purposes, will not be required to register. However, owners of such vessels may register voluntarily if they so wish. To underpin compliance with safety standards, registration will also be extended to fishing boats less than 15 m in length overall. When commenced, the provisions of the Bill will result in the majority of ships operating domestically in Irish waters being required to be registered. The extension of mandatory registration to high risk vessels, such as personal watercraft and small fast-powered craft, is a response to the growth in their use in recent years and the need, in the interests of safety, to exercise some degree of control over them.

The policy decision involved also responds to and implements recent recommendations of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board in regard to the registration of jet skis. The 2013 Irish Coast Guard statistics show that incidents of jet skis requiring assistance were up 189% on 2012, perhaps due, in part, to the good summer we had last year but also because of the proliferation of these craft. Registration will act as a support to general maritime law enforcement and make it easier to prosecute offending users through the identification of owners.

A simple form of registration is envisaged for personal watercraft and small fast-powered craft operating domestically. As a result of the new provisions contained in the Bill, a registration requirement will apply to all passenger and commercial ships and boats, recreational craft 24 m and greater in load line length; all fishing boats that hold or are required to hold a sea-fishing boat licence granted under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003; personal watercraft, including jet skis, small fast-powered craft; and all commercial angling boats, including certain small angling boats carrying no more than three passengers that are exempt from the requirement to have a passenger boat licence.

State-owned ships in the relevant categories will be required to be registered but, consistent with international practice, warships will continue to be exempt from registration. As mentioned earlier, a current valid registration conferring nationality from another state will be an acceptable form of registration.

Arising from section 12, to be entitled to register, the ship owner must be a qualified person in accordance with section 15 and the ship must comply with prescribed conditions or other requirements which may relate to such matters as safety, environment and security, type, age, size, and trading pattern. These provisions will reinforce the standards required for registration and allow the State to exercise greater control over the condition of ships that choose to register on the Irish register of ships. All Irish ships will have to have their operations controlled and directed from within the State, although different requirements will apply to the different categories and types of ships.

Under section 14, ships that are registered on the existing register books when the new Irish register of ships is established will be automatically transferred to the appropriate part of the new register free of charge and, subject to compliance with the requirements of the Bill, will be registered for a period of up to five years from the date of transfer. Following this period, they will be subject to a requirement to renew registration at intervals of up to ten years in duration.

To ensure equality of treatment, all ship registrations on the new register will be for a period of up to five years, be they existing registered ships that are transferring to the new register or ships registering for the first time. The renewal requirement will allow transferred ships that have ceased to exist to be removed from the register when their registration is not renewed and will ensure that such vessels will not remain on the register indefinitely, thus improving the accuracy of the register.

Persons known as qualified persons will be entitled to register their ships. As outlined in section 15, these include a ship owner who is an Irish citizen, a national of another EU member state and certain corporate bodies. Section 16 requires a qualified person who is not resident in the State or who does not have a registered office in the State to appoint a representative person who resides or has a presence in the State.

Registrars of ships will be designated under section 17 which allows for the continuing involvement of the existing registrars of ships, who are officers of the Revenue Commissioners, in the immediate term. It is proposed that this arrangement will continue until the new register and administrative system is in place and the necessary regulations that will flow from the Bill have been made.

Section 18 provides for the application for and grant of ship registration, including provisional registration where a ship is under construction and non-operative registration to allow for the certification or licensing of a ship, such as for a passenger boat certificate or a sea-fishing boat licence. The section enables the regulation of a range of matters connected to registration application requirements, including procedures, information, declarations and documentation.

Section 19 provides for the renewal of ship registration which is one of a number of new initiatives being introduced. Renewal acts as a checking mechanism to ensure that ships continue to comply with any relevant safety certification or other requirements that apply to them. Section 20 requires the measurement of ships for the purposes of registration and the issuing of a certificate of measurement.

Another of the new concepts in this Bill is the introduction in section 21 of a facility to refuse to register a ship and to remove a ship from the register in a range of circumstances, including those relating to safety, pollution prevention, qualified persons and compliance with standards and conditions. These quality-driven measures, along with registration renewal, are being introduced in the interests of preserving the integrity and improving the accuracy of the register. An appeal process is provided for in specified circumstances, as outlined in section 22.

Provision is made in section 23 for temporary registration of recreational craft under 24 m in load line length. That will accommodate the navigation of such vessels owned by a person normally resident in the State from another country to the State, and will ensure the ship is not detained for not being registered when in foreign waters where ships are required to be registered.

Section 24 introduces the new category of visitor registration. That will accommodate ships that are not registered in another state, in particular non-commercial ships that wish to visit Ireland for short periods not exceeding three months, for example, persons on holiday or taking part in sporting events. It will only apply to personal watercraft, recreational craft 24 m in load line length and greater, small fast-powered craft and small commercial angling boats Without visitor registration, such craft would be required to have full registration on the register under section 11. Ships holding a visitor registration will not be known as Irish ships. A simplified registration process with a nominal fee is envisaged. The details of temporary and visitor registration will be set out in regulations to be made following the enactment of the Bill.

As is the situation currently and common practice internationally, sections 25 and 26 provide for regulations to set out the requirements for the naming, carving and marking of ships in relation to a range of matters such as the official name or number of the vessel or the port of registry. Different carving and marking requirements will apply to different types of ships. Similarly, it is envisaged that the regulations on the naming of ships will allow for a variety of ship name requirements, as well as circumstances where a ship name may not be required for practical reasons in the case of particular types or sizes of ship.

Sections 27 to 29, inclusive, address important issues relating to certificates of registry and requirements for carrying documentation on board the ship. It is normal practice for a ship to be registered by reference to a particular port of registry. In Ireland, there are 13 such ports and those are retained under section 30 and the associated Schedule 3. The Bill enables new ports of registry to be prescribed or a port to cease to be a port of registry. Section 30(2) sets out the considerations that would inform such a decision.

Section 31 facilitates the transfer of the port of registry of a ship from one port of registry in the State to another. Historically, ports of registry were chosen because they were the locations of the local registrars. A ship owner can choose a port of registry from any of the 13 ports, which are Arklow, Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, Limerick, Skibbereen, Sligo, Tralee, Waterford, Westport and Wexford. However, with the introduction of a central electronic register of ships, the ports of registry will continue in name only.

Part 3 deals with Irish ships and their national colour and character. Sections 33 to 38, inclusive, clarify which ships may be known as Irish ships, and the requirements that apply to the flying of flags by such ships. These include prohibitions on hoisting flags other than the national flag, on pretending to be an Irish ship, on concealing Irish character, and on assuming foreign character. The provisions are mainly based on the existing legislative requirements. Section 37 deals with offences relating to using or assuming Irish national character on a ship that is not Irish.

Part 4 deals with enforcement, which includes a number of improvements to the existing ship registration code under the Mercantile Marine Act 1955 where enforcement and penalties are limited. To address the situation, a number of changes are proposed, including an increase in penalty levels, authorised persons for enforcement purposes, the introduction of a system of fixed payments for certain offences involving personal watercraft, small fast-powered craft and small commercial angling boats, and a power of detention for marine surveyors for ship registration related offences.

A range of State personnel who are likely to come across breaches of ship registration requirements in the course of their normal day-to-day activities are designated as authorised persons under section 39 for practical operational reasons. The powers of the authorised persons are set out in section 40. These provisions enable enforcement of the Bill by marine surveyors of my Department, an officer of the Irish Coast Guard and the Revenue Commissioners, a member of the Garda Síochána, a harbour master or a sea fisheries protection officer, certain Defence Forces personnel and an authorised officer of Inland Fisheries Ireland.

Section 41 introduces powers of detention for marine surveyors in relation to a ship in a port in the State or in Irish waters, or an Irish ship in a foreign port, where breaches of specified sections of the Bill arise relating to registration requirements, the carving and marking of the ship, the certificate of registry of the ship, falsely assuming Irish nationality or intent to conceal Irish national character or assuming a foreign character. It is not envisaged that this power of detention will be used except in very serious situations. A system of fixed payments in lieu of prosecution for certain offences is provided for in section 42. That may be used for offences involving failure to register smaller vessels such as personal watercraft, small fast-powered craft and certain small commercial angling boats. Fixed payment notices may be issued by the authorised persons provided for in section 39 and by an authorised person appointed by a local authority under section 17 of the Maritime Safety Act 2005. Similar to the approach in the 2005 Act relating to breaches of safety by-laws or the operation of craft, the fixed payment notice will indicate that the person is alleged to have committed an offence, and if the payment specified in the notice, that is, €150 or such other prescribed amount, is made within 21 days of the date of the notice, court proceedings will not be initiated. Prosecution may be brought by the local authority concerned, Inland Fisheries Ireland, IFI, or the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, depending on who serves the notice. That is a more practical approach to enforcement than court prosecution for registration offence cases that involve small vessels.

Part 5 relates to legal issues. Sections 43 to 47, inclusive, carry forward general legal provisions in the Mercantile Marine Act 1955 relating to documentary evidence and declarations related to ship registration. Part 6 deals with private law provisions. Part 6 consists of sections 48 to 62, inclusive. It carries forward and updates where necessary a range of private law provisions for registered ships that were contained in the Mercantile Marine Act 1955. Those relate to title, ownership, transfer of ships, and mortgages on ships.

Part 7 relates to proceedings. Linked to improved enforcement under the Bill, sections 63 to 67, inclusive, contain provisions about proceedings for offences, summary penalties and the liability of both the owner and the master of a ship when certain offences are committed. Section 63 provides for prosecution proceedings under the Bill, the recovery of prosecution costs and the payment and disposal of fines. Summary prosecution proceedings may be initiated by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and, in the case of ship registration offences relating to personal watercraft, small fast-powered craft and certain small angling boats, by the local authority concerned or Inland Fisheries Ireland. That recognises the important role local authorities and the IFI can play given their location and activity on the ground throughout the country. It also adds to the ship registration enforcement capability.

As provided for in section 64, summary conviction, except where provided otherwise in the Bill, will give rise to a maximum fine of €5,000. That updates the penalties under the 1955 regime which do not exceed €635 on successful prosecution. Section 65 allows for the prosecution of both the owner and master of a ship in the case of certain specified offences linked to the carrying of a certificate of registry and related documentation, concealing the Irish national character of a ship, or assuming a foreign character. Offences committed by a body corporate are dealt with in section 66.

Part 8 relates to consequential amendments. The purpose of section 68 and the associated Schedule 4 is to provide for consequential amendments to a broad range of legislation. The majority of the amendments arise from the repeal of the provisions of the Mercantile Marine Act 1955 and the need to replace the references to it in the listed Acts with references to the new Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Act.

Part 9 deals with the safety convention. Section 69 provides for a small amendment to the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act 1952 to update the definition of "Safety Convention" which relates to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, SOLAS. The definition was last updated in the Merchant Shipping Act 2010 and needs to be further updated to facilitate the transposition and implementation of convention amendments agreed in May 2012 into Irish secondary legislation.

Schedule 1 deals with repeals. This Schedule and the associated section 7 provide for the repeal of a number of specified enactments, in whole or in part, that is, the whole of the Mercantile Marine Act 1955 and subsequent amendments to that Act in 1998 and 2006. The provisions of the current Bill will replace the 1955 Act, as amended.

Schedule 2, which deals with revocations, and the associated section 8 revoke a number of statutory instruments as a consequence of the repeal of the Mercantile Marine Act 1955. The statutory instruments were made under the 1955 Act and will no longer be required following the enactment of the Bill.

Schedule 3 relates to ports of registry. It is linked to section 30. Schedule 3 lists the ports of registry in the State for ship registration purposes. It comprises the 13 existing ports of registry.

Schedule 4, and the associated section 68, provide for amendments to a range of existing Acts arising from the introduction of the Bill. The amendments relate primarily to references in those Acts to the Mercantile Marine Act 1955, to an Irish ship, a registered ship, an owner of a ship, a port of registry, tonnage regulations or issues around load line certification.

The aim in presenting this Bill for the consideration of the House is to replace, update and modernise the ship registration regime which dates from the mid-1950s, as well as to enhance in the public interest the safety of ships that operate domestically in Irish waters and that fly the Irish flag. This aim is progressed by placing a particular focus on maritime safety at the heart of ship registration requirements and providing a legislative framework for several new initiatives, including a modernised registration process incorporating the new central electronic register of ships. The introduction of ship registration renewal and the capacity to remove unsafe ships from the register, along with additional enforcement provisions, should improve the overall accuracy of the register.

Given time, I expect the policy considerations that drove the development of this Bill will see fruition and deliver an improved register of ships and registration system, as well as enhanced safety on Irish flagged ships, all of which will be to the mutual benefit of the public, ship owners, the environment and the State as a whole.

I commend the Bill to the House.

I wish to share time with Deputy Browne.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Fianna Fáil supports this Bill and agreed to its passage in the Seanad. As an island nation, Ireland is heavily dependent on the merchant shipping industry. The current proposals were initiated in 2008 when then Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, launched a national consultation on the registration of vessels with the objective of developing a modern, comprehensive central register. In particular, Fianna Fáil welcomes the fact this Bill will require registration of jet skis in Irish waters for the first time.

We need to ensure our regulations surrounding the merchant shipping sector are effective, straightforward and promote good practice on our seas. The majority of goods and services which we import are carried by ship. Shipping lanes and the ships which carry those goods and services are the lifeblood of our economy. As such, they must be regulated in the most comprehensive fashion. For our economy to remain competitive, the ships which transport our goods to the world and which import goods from other countries must be allowed play on a level playing field. The legislation before the House goes some way in updating the Statute Book to ensure our shipping sector is governed by laws which reflect the needs of the 21st century.

We welcome the purpose of this Bill and agree with the need to update, restate and clarify the law on the registration of vessels. Ship registration is an important process for an island nation. It is important our ships, as well those which enter our waters, are documented, flagged and given nationality. The fact the nationality of a ship allows a ship to travel internationally as it is proof of ownership of the vessel is a key aspect in controlling the fleet of ships in this country. The ship registration in question applies to both domestic and international ships. On this front, it is vitally important the registration fees surrounding merchant shipping are kept in line with the international standard so as not to disadvantage Irish-registered ships in this competitive sector.

Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill's expansion of the categories of vessels to be registered. In particular, we welcome the inclusion of jet skis, given the many incidents which have threatened the safety of people using the sea. Will the Minister outline further what controls, if any, will be introduced surrounding the use of jet skis? Up to 123 people lost their lives in shipping or boating accidents between 2002 and 2012. It is important to recognise and regulate dangerous activity on our waters and take steps to prevent same. Members are familiar with the misuse of jet skis in coastal areas and on our inland waterways. If I recall correctly, local authorities can introduce by-laws to deal with the misuse of jet skis which can cause much annoyance to other water users. The fine weather we are having will obviously bring out people who want to enjoy leisure activities on the water. It will also bring out those who use jet skis. It is vitally important appropriate sanctions are in place to deal with those who act in a way that is a nuisance to other water users.

The chief executive of Irish Water Safety, Mr. John Leech, stated it has been calling for the registration of jet skis for more than 15 years. It is good to see that finally that will happen. Jet skis are extremely powerful and can accelerate as fast as a motorbike. If used improperly, they can be terribly dangerous. Many of the people who use them have no training whatsoever, which has resulted in deaths and numerous injuries, not just to users but others in their vicinity.

It is important registration is not seen as an end in itself surrounding maritime safety. The resources must be made available to ensure good maritime practice is observed and that the Bill’s legislative provisions are enforced. Will the Minister assure the House of these matters before the end of Second Stage?

The key elements of the Bill are necessary updates to existing legislation. We welcome the new planned central system for registration of ships. We hope this will make ship registration more efficient and provide a more complete and comprehensive database for the State authorities. The repeal, replacement and updating of the existing legislation, primarily the Mercantile Marine Act 1955, is also well overdue. The fact registration lasts the first time for five years, and on satisfactory completion and renewal for ten-year periods thereafter, makes sense. It is a straightforward way of ensuring the register is up to date.

The emphasis surrounding the national colours for a registered Irish ship are necessary. It is often disappointing to see some of our vessels do not seem to take pride in the national flag and fail to display it on their ships. As a nation which fought so hard for our independence, the display of our national flag should be a matter in which we take care and pride. I welcome the provision outlining the necessity that the flag must be hoisted for identification purposes. The application of these legislative provisions to foreign ships in Irish waters and ports is also welcome.

I note the Irish Sailing Association, ISA, welcomed the publication of the Bill, stating: "The ISA has for a long time been campaigning for a statutory register that may be made available for recreational craft as required." It is important to get the relevant stakeholders to buy into this legislation fully and ensure they are aware of what is required from them when this Bill is passed. Will the Minister explain how he intends to interact with those stakeholders to ensure they are familiar with all the Bill’s legislative aspects? Recreational crafts and transport vessels need to be made aware of the changes that will be implemented.

I hope the Minister will ensure the legislative provisions which affect foreign-registered ships will be publicised in a way to ensure awareness and compliance. I reiterate the support of my party for what the Minister is doing with the legislation before the House. I hope he will take on board my comments which are intended to be helpful and constructive and commend him on the work he has carried out on this legislation so far.

I welcome this Bill. Coming from a maritime county, I am very much aware of the different types of ships and boats that operate in our waters. This Bill is a long time coming. As Deputy Dooley said, Noel Dempsey, when Minister for Transport, launched a national consultation process on the registration of maritime vessels with the objective of developing a modern, comprehensive and centralised register.

This is what the Minister will implement.

The purpose of the Bill is to update, restate and clarify the law on the registration of vessels. Ship registration is the process by which ships are documented, flagged and given nationality. The nationality allows a ship to travel internationally as it is proof of ownership of the vessel, and ship registration applies to domestic and international ships. We welcome the fact the Bill will expand the categories of vessels to include jet skis. The situation regarding jet skis has been of major concern, particularly along the coastline, for quite a number of years. Every year Courtown in County Wexford has an influx of jet skis, and how the owners operate them has caused enormous concern for those who use the quiet beaches of Courtown and other parts of County Wexford. There has been no regulation or control and much anti-social behaviour by the owners of jet skis. More important, there have been a number of accidents resulting in people having to go to Wexford hospital and other hospitals in the area, which in itself causes major problems. I welcome the fact jet skis will be dealt with. We need very strong legislation and it needs to be implemented by various strands of the organisations in each county, with the Garda being the main organisation. Local authority beach officers and other people who work the beaches during the summer should have a certain amount of power to take on those who do not operate jet skis in a respectful way. Serious concern has been raised over the years and I welcome the fact the Minister will deal with it effectively.

I missed the first part of the Minister's speech, but I am not aware of anything in the Bill about workers' rights. I do not know how he will deal with this. Many foreign ships come to Ireland and to the ports in Waterford and Dublin. Workers may not have been paid for weeks on end but we do not seem to have any control when this happens in Irish territorial waters. Can anything be put into legislation to deal with it? Usually the ship is left there for quite some time and the workers sit in protest, but no one seems to be able to make a decision on whether these workers will be paid. Serious concern has been expressed at Rosslare Port in particular. Recently I received a letter from workers in Rosslare Port with a heading regarding a threat to Irish seafarers' jobs on the Stena Line ferries. They feel that changes coming about will mean the jobs of Irish people will be replaced by yellow pack workers. Stena Line is seeking a 10% reduction in salaries over the next two years and a 10% reduction in employment. It is speaking about outsourcing the work. This will create serious problems for people in my constituency in particular. How can this be dealt with and how can the rights of workers be protected? There seems to be alarming concern about how workers are treated on ships, not only in Ireland but internationally. They do not seem to have any great workers' rights or conditions or adequate payment. It is not the Minister's fault, and no Minister has dealt with it, but perhaps the time has come to put it on the agenda and see how we can deal with it.

I welcome the fact the 1955 law on ship registration will be updated in the Bill. As Deputy Dooley stated, it is important that ships fly the Irish flag with pride. When one goes to Amsterdam or other ports outside Ireland one sees ships flying the national colours with pride.

I am sure the Irish Maritime Development Office is very supportive of the Minister. Does it still have a role in promoting and assisting the development of Irish shipping, shipping services and seafarer training; liaising with, supporting and marketing the shipping and shipping services sector; and advising the Minister on the development and co-ordination of policy in the shipping and shipping services sector? What role did it play in the legislation before us? Is it still on the ball? It was very good in the past and I am sure it is still the same.

In August 2013 a press release was issued stating a global shipping hub was planned for the Dublin docklands on the scale of the IFSC. I believe a private consortium put together the proposal to develop it. Coming from a maritime county I think it is a great idea and it should be supported by the Government, the IDA and other State agencies. When the Minister, replies will he tell us what stage this is that? It would be a very important development now that the Minister is introducing legislation to control and ensure our ships are registered, safe and up to date. Such a development would be an opportunity. We are a maritime country. It was stated that up to 3,500 jobs could be created, and in the current climate we could certainly do with this. It is important that the project be nursed along and brought to fruition as quickly as possible.

Overall I welcome the fact the Bill is before the House and that the legislation will deal with the registration of ships, safety, jet skis, ensuring ships are up to standard and safe and that those using them can travel in the knowledge their lives will not be at risk and legislation is in place to ensure their rights are protected. I welcome the Bill. When the Minister replies, will he speak about job protection and the rights of workers on ships?

Tá sé thar am an reachtaíocht seo a chur le chéile. Cuirim fáilte roimhe. This is a positive straightforward Bill which introduces a system of registration which is long overdue but very welcome. I am happy to speak on it. I am sure the Minister will agree it is long overdue and will take no offence when I state we required this type of legislation long before he came into office. From what I can see, the idea of a register has been welcomed by all involved in the shipping industry, including the Irish Marine Federation.

When a craft is registered in Ireland, it is allowed to confirm its nationality and fly the Irish flag. The Bill will modernise the registration process, allowing for a better log of who and what is operating in our waters and under our flag. Another important modern issue dealt with in the Bill is the need to register specifically as personal watercraft small fast-powered craft as well as ordinary small fishing and angling boats. Such craft, in particular jet skis, are now a regular feature in the bays and waterways of our country. At this time of year, with weather such as we are having, it is not uncommon to find these small fast-powered personal craft in operation. This is the key to why it is important we have a registration system. Regardless of their leisurely purpose, these are powerful craft which must be operated with the utmost regard for public safety. Everyone has heard, at least in passing, of tragedies involving jet skis. It is the responsibility of the State to ensure as much as possible that when these vessels are operated, they are in the control of responsible people who know what they are doing. We are behind many countries in this regard.

Such countries recognised before we did that there must be a registration process, as well as proper checks and balances, to ensure those who have such craft use them in a responsible way.

While many of the stories I have heard come from holiday destinations from far afield where such vessels long have been commonplace, local cases also highlight the importance of safety and the case of Mr. Alan Joyce is one such example. This young man died as a result of an accident while using a jet ski. A Marine Casualty Investigation Board inquiry into his death on Lough Beltra, County Mayo, found the craft he was operating should be licensed and that those using jet skis should be obliged to complete a mandatory training course. I definitely support this suggestion. The inquiry also found that those using jet skis that day did not receive training, were known to be poor swimmers and were not wearing lifejackets. This kind of failure to apply safety standards that would be the norm in other fields is a clear example of the need for the State to step in with regulation.

Safety on the water is key and to my mind is the most important part of this Bill. Members have debated the need for proper safety measures at sea for fishermen a number of times in the Dáil. Almost a year ago to the day, I secured a Topical Issues debate on marine safety. The Minister might recall I raised the need for personal beacons for fishermen, which could be integrated into their lifejackets or worn as wristbands. This could be done in a number of ways. The Minister might also remember this issue as it was raised twice by my colleague, Senator Cullinane, who hails from County Waterford where these are real issues and many locals have lost loved ones to the sea.

Anything Members can do to improve safety at sea both for fishermen and those who use pleasure craft should be considered. The wearing of lifejackets is essential. Irish people sometimes can have cavalier attitudes to their personal safety but they also have shown a great ability to change when an impetus to do the smart and safe thing is given. This can be seen in the introduction of seat belts, the smoking ban and the crackdown on drink driving. Standard mandatory requirements are needed for those who use these craft for pleasure purposes to minimise whatever threats or health and safety concerns might arise. The enhanced regulation of road safety, as well as a long public awareness campaign, brought about a stark shift in attitudes to safety among the public in these fields. Regulation can be used to improve safety standards in maritime life. One cannot ride a motorbike without a helmet, licence or insurance, and therefore it should be no different for a powerful and potentially dangerous craft at sea. In particular, jet skis must have strict regulations placed on them, not to criminalise those who use them but to discourage and punish misuse. This is in the interests of all involved, as are road safety issues to both driver and pedestrian.

However, despite my support for the Bill overall, I wish to speak in opposition to a trend I note has continued in this Bill and which has been a feature of current Government policy. That trend is the outsourcing of work which should be done by local authorities or other agencies under the State. The registration process should be carried out by a State agency, not a profit-making private body. In recent months, there has been the outworking of plans to privatise bus services. These moves are nonsensical, do not offer value for money and, in general, lead to a decrease in the quality and accessibility of service. This has been the case for driver licences as well. The current Administration in particular seeks to remove the State's responsibility from as many matters as possible. The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, at present is trying to redefine social housing out of existence. It is in the interest of the public at large that a proper ship registration process is in place. It should not be a money-making exercise.

At some point in his term of office, I hope the Minister will return with improved regulation for fishing vessels, having taken on board some of the points I made earlier about personal beacons. The Minister has done some work on the use of beacons on boats and improvements in that area, which is of huge importance. There have been far too many tragedies off our coasts and lessons are not being learned from them. Some of them could have been avoided had we had better safety equipment standards on boats and in respect of those who use them. I will support anything that will improve health and safety at sea. Maritime safety is most important, but since the 1950s, there has been no proper updating or enhancing of the legislative code for the national maritime sector, and this is long overdue. We are an island nation that depends on its ability to trade with other countries through its exports and imports. We need the highest standards with regard to registration, logging and monitoring, as well as the environmental issues, such as pollution, which have been experienced here every now and again. The ability to monitor the conditions of ships and other smaller vessels is important, given the number of accidents that have happened at sea and in our waterways. Search and rescue operations depend on a quick response, and this Bill also helps in making it easier to find a vessel through the registration and other methods proposed, which can help to monitor as well as meet international laws and best practices.

The ability to access online registration is also welcome. Fees must be reasonable, and while the Minister did not provide Members with details, it is important that Members have some idea about the fees and that they are fairly reasonable. I also agree that registration should be mandatory in these cases because this will help to provide a proper way to weed out those who are acting illegally. As for the consultation process, I am unclear as to whether many objections were received, but from the consultation process it appears as though most people were in agreement with much of what has been said. The manner in which the message from this Bill is disseminated is important because that will be a key to pulling in the horns of some of those who would abuse this, particularly those who would use jet skis on beaches. Members often will have seen instances of people driving up in cars onto sand and other places. It is not merely about the problem they create on the sea but also about when they come onto the beaches. The power of seizure should be considered by the Minister in the context of how to deal with such vehicles. Consideration also should be given to who could be authorised to seize such vehicles, be they members of the Garda or others. I generally support this Bill and look forward to its passage.

The next speaker is Deputy Finian McGrath, who has 15 minutes.

I understand I am sharing time with Deputy Higgins, who will have 15 minutes.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak on this new legislation. I welcome this debate as everyone must be vigilant in respect of shipping vessels, but I also believe in the importance of the seas, the fishing industry and the huge potential to develop further Ireland's tourism industry based on an island economy. It is important to make such points with regard to this legislation. Before coming to the details of this legislation, it is important to put down a few markers about the importance of the sea and of shipping in general. It is also important to highlight the issue of safety for sailors and fishermen, as well as the issue of the coast being used by gangs to bring in drugs to this country and as a gateway to the rest of Europe. This also is an issue which Members must keep an eye on. I also represent a coastal constituency, the new constituency of Dublin Bay North, which stretches from Fairview through Clontarf and Sutton out as far as Howth, and consequently I will keep a close eye on all issues relating to the sea and on legislation like this.

When one considers the details of this legislation carefully, one will note the purpose of the Bill is to update, restate and clarify the law on the registration of vessels. Ship registration is the process by which a ship is documented, flagged and given nationality.

The nationality allows a ship to travel internationally as it is proof of ownership of the vessel. Ship registration applies to both domestic and international ships. The Bill expands the categories of vessels to be registered. This is a welcome provision.

As I mentioned I represent a very important valuable State asset which is Dublin Bay and which is important to the people of Clontarf but also to the nation. For many years we had to fight to preserve Dublin Bay, in particular the 52 acres. The former Independent Deputy for my area was the great Seán Dublin Bay Loftus. He was elected on that issue. I wish to reassure the Minister and the Government that the tradition will continue. We will fight to protect and defend Dublin Bay at all costs. In City Hall we have people like Councillor Damien O'Farrell, the new Independent councillor who had the highest vote in the local elections in Dublin city. He will also be a watchdog in the protection of Dublin Bay.

A number of my colleagues spoke about the issue of safety in the seas with particular reference to the use of jet skis which is becoming out of control. There is a potential for more accidents if the use of jet skis is not regulated in bays and harbours and as I noted in Lough Derg, on our lakes. Public safety must be the priority and we need to keep a close eye on these Speedy Gonzalez merchants who sometimes exploit our bays, rivers and lakes.

The Minister might be one of those who has a jet ski.

It is more than what I tried in the stadium.

I did not realise the Minister was into jet skiing but I hope he will keep a very close eye on his mates if that is the case.

The Bill repeals, replaces and updates the existing legislation, primarily the Mercantile Marine Act 1955. Under the existing system, there are numerous registers and registrars and these will be replaced by one centralised Irish register of ships. The initial registration lasts for five years and on satisfactory completion and renewal, for ten-year periods thereafter. The national colours for a registered Irish ship, unless special exception is made, are the colours of the Irish national flag. There are times when the flag must be hoisted for identification purposes. Though predominantly affecting Irish ships, both in Irish waters and foreign ports, parts of the Bill also apply to foreign ships in Irish waters and ports.

There is a need to keep a close eye on the interests of the fishing industry which is connected to this legislation. In my new constituency I represent Howth which is an amazing place. I encourage the Minister to go there to see the beautiful-----

They have not elected the Deputy yet.

Dublin Bay North is part of my new constituency and Howth is a very important part of my new area. I will defend and stand up for the fishermen and the fishing industry in Howth. I will also strongly support those involved in tourism and the leisure industry which have significant potential and which have been neglected by this Government. We need to stand up and attract more investment and regard places like Howth as a national resource and a national treasure. Many people are concerned about the damage and suffering inflicted by the European Union on the fishing industry. Part of my remit will be to stand up for that issue because it is all linked into the debate on Ireland being an island economy which needs strong voices both in the Oireachtas and in Europe.

I refer to the Ocean Wealth conference held today in Dublin Castle at which the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, spoke on the subject of our natural resources. He announced a new tax regime for offshore petroleum exploration. I was optimistic that he had listened to many colleagues like Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett and Deputy Joe Higgins about the massive wealth in our seas and the opportunity to tax offshore exploration. International experts in the sector, Wood Mackenzie, were engaged to provide that advice. I question whether he has got the best international advice available. The Minister stated there will be no retroactive change to the fiscal terms applying to existing exploration authorisations. Does this mean he is leaving it as it is? This Government is looking to make cuts of €2 billion yet we have valuable resources offshore which could be put to use in order take the pressure off the disabled and those with medical cards and off the State.

The principal recommendations made by Wood Mackenzie are that for now, Ireland should maintain a concession system, with industry rather than the State bearing the risk associated with investing in exploration. In the future a form of production profit tax should continue to apply in Ireland, but for discoveries made under future licences the form of this tax should be revised. The tax should be charged on a field-by-field basis with the rate varying according to the profitability of the field and charged on each field’s net profits. The report recommends that the revised tax should include a minimum payment at a rate of 5% which would function like a royalty and would result in the State receiving a share of revenue in every year that a field is selling production. A red light warning goes on in my head when I read the figures. The report recommends that the revised tax rates should be higher than the profit resource rent tax currently in place, thereby ensuring a higher share for the State from the most profitable fields. This would result in a maximum rate of 55% applying in the case of new licences, compared with a maximum rate of 40% under the current fiscal regime. The corporation tax rate applying to petroleum production should remain at 25%. I highlight these issues because we have huge potential in our natural resources and we cannot allow the multinationals and the big oil companies to play poker with our resources and abuse people in this State and get away with murder, literally.

National colours is another way of talking about the flag that a ship has to fly for identification purposes. For Irish ships, the national colours are the national flag. There are some narrow exceptions, where the Minister outlines either an alternative or additional flag for State-owned ships, specified types of ships. A group or body can apply for a special design of flag, via an application to the Minister for a flag warrant. As stated, national colours are used as identification. As such, there are times in which the national colours must be hoisted. If not hoisted, the master of the ship commits an offence and is liable to a fine of up to €5,000. I refer to the reaction to the publication of this legislation. The Irish Sailing Association welcomed the publication of the Bill, stating that the ISA has long campaigned for a statutory register for recreational craft as required. I welcome this provision. The goal of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is to progress and update an enhanced national maritime legislative code for the Irish maritime administration. Under the current ship registration regime, ships wholly owned by an Irish citizen or an Irish corporate are obliged to register unless the ship is exempt from the requirement to register.

Exemptions include ships not exceeding 15 net register tonnes burden employed solely in navigation on the rivers, canals, lakes or coasts of Ireland, Great Britain, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man; ships acquired before the date of the passing of the 1955 Act; ships in respect of which the Minister has, under section 21 of the 1955 Act, consented to registry under the law of another country; ships owned by Irish citizens not ordinarily resident in the State; and a sea-fishing boat of less than 15 m. in length overall and required to be registered in the Register of Fishing Boats maintained under section 74 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 or which is exempt from such registration by regulations under section 76.

These provisions also deal with fishing boats. I commend all those involved in the Irish fishing industry. It is important to highlight this sector because our natural resources offer great potential to develop the country. Our seas hold natural resources other than fish, notably natural gas and oil reserves, and these could be of great assistance in the current economic circumstances. We must ensure we secure the maximum gains from these assets, which are frequently forgotten, as are the people who work in the oil and gas industries.

I urge the Minister to consider the points I have made and focus on the significant potential offered by ships, boats and sailing. In addition to leisure, we have a large commercial and industrial base which offers significant potential to generate additional taxation revenue. This is a sensible Bill. We must keep our eyes on the ball when dealing with broader issues related to ships, sea-fishing and sailing.

The Bill updates the principal legislation, namely, the Mercantile Marine Act 1955. It is appropriate to revise existing law and centralise the registration of ships in the manner indicated by moving from the current diverse and scattered procedure in which some 12 different decentralised authorities are responsible for registration. It is also appropriate to commence the process of regulating the use of jet skis which can be hazardous and a nuisance and should only be used in a manner that is environmentally friendly, safe and does not interfere with the right of others to enjoy their surroundings on or near bodies of water.

The registration process for ships is necessary and important. The Oireachtas Library and Research Service, in its Bill digest, sums up the position as follows:

Ship registration is the process by which a ship is documented, flagged and given nationality. The nationality allows a ship to travel internationally as it is proof of ownership of the vessel.

Providing for this type of information on registration is necessary given the risks that are often involved in shipping, by its very nature. The safety of crews and, in the case of passenger ships and ferries, passengers is paramount. Unfortunately, when one hears, as we frequently do, of mass tragedies in poorer and less developed countries where regulation is clearly lax and passenger ferries sink with huge loss of life, one appreciates all the more that the necessity to ensure safety is paramount. It is also necessary to have control in case ship or ferry operators take shortcuts with safety to maximise profit, thereby placing crew and passengers at risk.

It is also crucial to provide for protection of the environment and ecosystems, particularly from pollutants to which shipping can give rise. Unfortunately, major oil spills occasionally occur, causing huge environmental damage to the areas of ocean affected. I am sure there are also many unreported instances of pollution, with consequent damage to the environment, wildlife, etc. For this reason, it is very important that ships and tankers carrying oil and so forth are strictly regulated.

The Bill includes detailed regulations on many aspects of shipping, from rules regarding the hoisting of the national colours to the power of ship surveyors to detain a ship in certain circumstances. I am very concerned that the legislation does not make any additional provisions for those who work as employees on ships, namely, sailors and mariners, the men and women who keep international trade and passenger services going around the world. I have no doubt the Minister will argue that existing labour law includes provisions to protect such workers. The evidence shows, however, that specific measures are needed to protect workers in the shipping and fishing industries. It frequently occurs that ships pull in to a port in this country and it is subsequently revealed that workers have been highly exploited, have not been paid and are held virtually in bonded labour. Such workers are not protected by emergency action by the State. Mr. Ken Fleming, an officer of the International Transport Federation, ITF, has highlighted this issue and repeatedly sought to protect such workers. He and his federation have brought home to us the type of horrific exploitation that takes place in sections of the shipping industry.

The Bill provides for the right of ship surveyors or other designated persons to detain a ship. It should also provide a right for a workers' rights officer to detain a ship in an Irish port at short notice if there is credible evidence or a suspicion of exploitation or very poor conditions for the workers on board, for the purpose of rectifying and vindicating the employment and human rights of people who find themselves in such circumstances.

A serious issue arises with regard to workers on fishing boats around this island. Again, the ITF has made serious criticisms of the State in respect of negligence of the welfare of workers in the fishing industry.

It alleges that there is serious exploitation of workers in sections of the fishing industry, that migrant workers here do not have legal documents to be in the State and are therefore vulnerable to exploitation and bullying which can put their lives at risk in the dangerous circumstances of the fishing industry. The ITF has recommended to the Government, for example, an amnesty to allow a space for workers who are in such difficulties to come forward to be regularised and have their rights vindicated. That would give rise to a healthier situation all round, safer working conditions and safety with regard to workers' lives.

Also, nothing in the Bill addresses the pernicious European Union rules which allow shipping companies to register under flags of convenience. There is a lot in this Bill about the rules on when the national flag should be hoisted but it is silent on the abuse of workers that happens under the flags of different nation states within the Union. We had here the notorious example of Irish Ferries in 2005, where an Irish company with some blue-chip capitalists on its board changed its flag from Ireland to Cyprus in order to carry out a massive exploitation of migrant workers and get rid of hundreds of the existing workforce who were on trade union rates of pay and conditions. This was a national scandal here in 2005 but they were let get away with it. The then Fianna Fáil Minister put his hands up helplessly, stating these were European Union rules and there was nothing the Government could do about it. It was an incredible step in the race to the bottom as far as workers rights, wages, etc., were concerned.

The Minister's colleagues in government - I went back over the Dáil record in preparation for this debate - were up in arms about this situation, as was the Labour Party. At the time, they were creating a huge ruckus in here in the Dáil, as I was also, demanding action from the then Government of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. They, and the Minister, have been in power over three years but there has been no attempt whatsoever to rectify and challenge within the European Union a situation by which EU rules can be used in order to create a regime of mass exploitation of workers plying important routes between Ireland and France or wherever, whether carrying merchandise or passengers. In my view, that should be a part of this Bill.

Maidir leis an mBille Loingis Cheannaíochta (Longa a Chlárú) 2013, aontaím gur cheart go mbeadh próiseas ann chun clárú lárnach a dhéanamh maidir le longa, báid iascaigh agus a leithéid. Is ní an-tábhachtach é clárú loinge. Ceadaíonn an próiseas seo do loingeas taisteal go hidirnáisiúnta agus dearbhaíonn sé úinéireacht loinge. Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh smacht ag an Stát seo ar shábháilteacht fhoireann loinge agus ar shábháilteacht na bpaisinéirí nuair is long a thógann paisinéirí atá i gceist.

Tá sé tábhachtach do chaomhnú timpeallachta agus don chomhshaol go mbeadh rialacha ann maidir le sábháilteacht timpeallachta agus caomhnú na timpeallachta ó thruailliú agus a leithéid. Mar a fheiceann muid, tarlaíonnn tubaistí móra le longa anois agus arís a dhéanann truailliú uafásach ar an bhfarraige, le doirteadh ola agus a leithéid. Déanann sin an-damáiste d'éin fiáine.

Baineann an-chuid den Bhille seo le rialacháin loingis agus bratacha agus mar sin de, ach níl focal ar bith le rá ann maidir le leas lucht oibre sa tionscal loingis, ar nós mairnéalaigh agus daoine ag obair mar iascairí. Cé go ndéarfaidh an tAire, b'fhéidir, go bhfuil dlithe ann cheana féin chun cearta lucht oibre a bhaint amach, is fíor go bhfuil daoine a oibríonn ins an tionscal loingis leochailleach go mór. Bíonn siad amuigh ar an bhfarraige agus go minic ní bhíonn ceardchumann acu. Dá bhrí sin, ba cheart go mbeadh rialacha nua sa Bhille seo maidir le cearta lucht oibre sa tionscal seo. Níl sin ann. Minic go leor, nuair a thagann longa go dtí an tír seo, feiceann muid go bhfuil fadhb mhór ag lucht oibre na loinge sin maidir lena gcearta agus a bpá agus feiceann muid nach bhfuil an tacaíocht chuí agus riachtanach ann dóibh. Ba cheart go ndéanfaí athrú ar sin agus go gcuirfí an chosaint sin isteach sa Bhille seo.

Rud eile, ba cheart na rialacha maidir le bratacha difriúla a athrú, mar faoi láthair is féidir le comhlachtaí dul faoi bhratach tír eile san Eoraip i dtreo agus gur féidir leo laghdú a dhéanamh ar phá agus ar choinníollacha oibre na foirne, faoi mar a dhein Irish Ferries i 2005. Ba cheart go mbeadh foráil faoi seo sa Bhille chomh maith. Labhair na páirtithe atá sa Rialtas anois amach go hard faoi seo sa bhliain 2005 agus ba scannal mór a bhí ann an bascadh a déanadh ar chearta oibrithe ag an am.

The Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Bill 2013 is a perfect example of the reform that is needed. The Bill replaces an Act of the Oireachtas that is almost 60 years old and takes into account the changes that have occurred concerning maritime issues in that time.

Charges are regularly made against the Government that it is not pursuing reform speedily enough or it is not ambitious enough. There is also an insatiable appetite for radical and sensational reforms that are often not thought through. This Bill demonstrates that meaningful effective reform takes time, thought, consideration and consultation and I note that public consultation has been carried out on this issue.

The Bill contains a number of important and positive developments. It is welcome that all ships, with defined exceptions, be registered to operate in Irish territorial waters, as is the creation of a new centralised electronic Irish register of ships. Furthermore, section 24 demonstrates a welcome flexibility by putting in place a specific visitor registration for small craft scheduled to operate in Irish waters for less than three months. This provision is especially vital for marine tourism, a sector with substantial economic benefits.

The focus on safety, also evident in the Bill, which is now so firmly at the core of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and championed by its Minister and Ministers of State. The provisions, such as those relating to the seaworthiness of vessels and the obligations for re-registration of vessels every ten years, mirror others, for example, relating to road safety, emanating from the same Department.

Section 17 deals with the appointment of registrars of ships, with subsection (4) empowering the Minister to appoint persons to carry out those duties. I note that the current arrangements for registration are undertaken by officers of the Revenue Commissioners and that this will continue until this Bill's various provisions have been put in place. It would be interesting to know the Minister's views on this and whether registration duties or functions will be placed with an existing State agency, or if a new one will be created. The former would be more appropriate in my view.

The issues of national flags, national colours and their display are addressed in sections 34 to 38, inclusive. These may seem antiquated or lacking in relevance to some, but the matter merits the focus and attention afforded to it. Aside from identifying vessels, particularly for an island nation, the use of registration for commercial benefit is also important. In the recent past, a commercial entity transferred the registration of its vessels from Ireland to other jurisdictions.

Debate adjourned.