Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 18 September 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications
Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company: Discussion with Chairperson Designate
I wish to point out that Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor shall deputise for Deputy Noel Harrington. I shall now deal with item 7, a meeting with Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon, chairperson designate, Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the approach she will take in her proposed new role and her views on the challenges facing the company.
Members will be aware of the Government decision in May 2011 that put in place new arrangements for the appointment of persons to State boards and bodies. The committee welcomes the opportunity to meet the chairperson designate in public session in order to hear her views. We trust that the meeting will provide greater transparency to the process of appointment to State boards and bodies. On behalf of the committee I welcome Ms Scott-Lennon.
I advise the witness that, by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Any submission or opening statements that witnesses have submitted will be published on the committee website after the meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or any official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite Ms Scott-Lennon to make her opening statement.
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh. Good morning, everyone. My name is Eithne Scott-Lennon. I live in Blackrock, County Dublin, along with my husband James and four sons. I am the owner and managing director of Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel in Killiney. It is a four star hotel that employs 120 staff.
The hotel and tourism industry has been a constant in my career and, indeed, throughout my life. I have travelled extensively, promoting Ireland as a destination. I have gained great insights over the years into tourism and hospitality worldwide, seen the best in class and understand that we must always strive for new and innovative ways to develop our industry.
I attended primary school in the Loreto convent in Wexford, where my father then worked for the Stafford family in the Talbot Hotel. My family moved back to Dublin in the late 1960s when my father took up the position of group general manager for P.V. Doyle and his growing Doyle Hotel Group. After that move I attended the Holy Child school in Killiney. In 1970 my father purchased Killiney Castle and it has been the flagship of our hotel business for the past 43 years.
On leaving school, I trained in the hotel industry in Switzerland and the United States. After returning to Ireland, I set up a sales and marketing division of the family business, Fitzpatrick Hotels, which by then had acquired its second hotel in Shannon. The group eventually developed into a substantial family run business with hotels in Dublin, Cork, Shannon, New York and Chicago.
I passionately believe in the power of dedicated and motivated staff because they are the ones who make a difference. Our ethos is a personalised professional organisation with its staff and customers always to the fore. The focus of our hotel business is excelling in customer care and service.
I took over Killiney Castle when my late father, Paddy, passed away in 2002. I have since invested heavily in the business. Unfortunately, I have had to make some harsh decisions over the past trying four to five years, but we have survived, albeit with turnover reductions and a rationalisation of overheads.
I was appointed to the board of the national tourism development authority in May 2003 and served two terms. I have chaired numerous committees, including the audit committee and the exciting Ryder Cup Committee during 2007.
I was first appointed to the interim board of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company in 1994. I was subsequently reappointed by various Administrations for a number of terms on that board. I am honoured to have been invited to take up the role of chairperson of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company.
For members who are unfamiliar with Dún Laoghaire Harbour, I will highlight a few facts and figures before outlining my vision for the future. The harbour has a unique and beautiful location as a leisure harbour close to Dublin city. The Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company is the statutory commercial body charged with maintaining and developing the harbour as a marine tourism gateway to Ireland. The harbour was built as a port of refuge between 1817 and 1842, and is widely recognised as one of the finest man-made harbours in the world. It was formed by the two breakwaters that we commonly know as the east and west piers, each of which measure approximately one mile. The company controls an area of 297 acres, of which 47 is land.
In recent years the company has undergone a major transition involving, in particular, the implementation of a restructuring plan. The company employs 19 people, down from 42 in 2009. It has a three person management team, which has halved in recent years.
The company operates modern passenger ferry facilities and the largest marina in the country for recreational vessels. It offers a great infrastructure for those with an interest in sailing, with four yacht clubs, sailing clubs and other marine-related activities. It has become successful in attracting and hosting exciting major events to our shore, such as the last year's world junior sailing championships. The company’s main source of revenue was traditionally from ferry operations. However, due to a number of factors, particularly the high cost of the fuel on which these vessels operate, this source of revenue has significantly contracted.
Our challenge is to ensure that the impact from the economic downturn and the changed profile of the traditional ferry business will be offset through generating sufficient revenue from a broader range of commercial operations in the harbour. That is why the company produced a comprehensive masterplan in 2011. It sets out plans for the long-term development of the company, and aims to develop the harbour as a marine, leisure and tourism destination of world-class calibre.
Dún Laoghaire Harbour wishes to enhance its attractiveness as a major destination for tourists to Ireland. The masterplan seeks to extend the recreational and amenity value of the harbour, to promote investment, and to generate sufficient revenue from commercial operations to ensure the sustainability of the maintenance programme and the marine facility that the harbour provides. In short, the objective is to transform the harbour into a living, vibrant area offering facilities for people to live, work and relax in. The masterplan, which envisages development over 15 to 20 years, will be reviewed every five years.
I will bring members up to date on the progress that has been made on some of the plan’s key elements. A key objective is to develop the harbour as a cruise ship facility, and this summer has seen a breakthrough for the Dún Laoghaire cruise stakeholder group. We had 14 visits in total, including the high-profile Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Elizabeth. More than 30,000 passengers and crew visited our shores through Dún Laoghaire. The stakeholder group, which we established to promote the cruise business, has engaged with An Bord Pleanála, under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006, with a view to building a new facility for the next generation large cruise ships. There are no facilities for such ships in Dublin, and this lost opportunity needs to be addressed urgently.
With our unique setting and recent categorisation as a leisure port in the Government’s port policy, I strongly believe that Dún Laoghaire Harbour offers the most suitable home for a cruise facility. This would complement Dublin Port's core industrial focus and concentrate on roll-on, roll-off and load-on, load-off ferries. I envisage a relationship similar to how Cobh takes all the visiting cruise ships to Cork city and allows it to focus on industrial traffic.
The number of cruise passengers visiting Ireland could quadruple over the next ten years, but only if we invest in the right facility in the right location. The Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company would welcome the opportunity to engage further with members of the committee on this matter over the coming months.
Another key element key of the masterplan is the development of an urban beach facility that will be located next to Berth 1 on the east pier of the harbour. It will comprise a floating swimming pool containing fresh seawater and be permanently heated to 26° Celsius using renewable energy sources. The floating structure will be a recycled barge or similar, which will house both the swimming pool and an urban beach approximately 240 m².
As members may have seen in the media, public pre-planning consultation on the project has commenced and we have undertaken a number of meetings with key stakeholders. We hope to go to planning later in the year.
Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company is conscious of its responsibilities as guardian of the history and heritage represented by the harbour. Dún Laoghaire retained a special place in the hearts of the hundreds of thousands of Irish people who emigrated through the harbour from the middle of the 19th century up to the final sailing of the mail boat in 1976. For this reason, it is particularly appropriate that one of the key proposals contained in the master plan is the construction of a diaspora centre on Carlisle Pier, which marked the final point of embarkation for many of those who left us behind. Significant work has been done to advance this project, which would provide a unique visitor attraction. Not only would it honour the diaspora, but it could also provide a significant economic boost for Dublin, Dún Laoghaire and the country generally. To be known as the Irish International Diaspora Centre, it would be an important outreach and networking resource for Irish communities to discover their heritage and connect with their global diaspora, as well as being a major tourist and visitor attraction. It would also act as a place for Ireland's new communities to connect and collaborate in maximising the value of the diaspora and diaspora engagement. A diaspora centre trust has been established to oversee the project in addition to a leadership council comprising prominent members of our diaspora.
As members may be aware, the Government's infrastructure and capital investment framework, published in November 2011, includes a commitment of support for a diaspora centre or museum. In light of this, Fáilte Ireland was asked to carry out a scoping study on the development of such a centre and the most suitable means by which it could be financed, developed and managed. I understand that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has received the outcome of this study and is considering the appropriate next steps.
Dún Laoghaire, as a town, has faced some difficult times recently. The harbour has a significant role to play in the future economic regeneration of the town and the wider economy. The implementation of the master plan will provide significant employment opportunities. The proposed mix of uses will provide direct and indirect employment for 1,400 employees thereafter. I have a great love for Dún Laoghaire and its people. I have a particular appreciation of the harbour, of what it represents and the potential it offers. I am constantly reminded by my customers and visitors to Killiney of the incredible beauty and outstanding resource that we have in the harbour. It is a jewel with considerable potential. People are blown away by its natural beauty and its proximity to the city.
If I am confirmed in the position of chair of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, I assure committee members that I will devote my energies to helping the company in effectively discharging its mandate. I will ensure it is run in an efficient and effective way and that it meets the needs of all those who use it. I look forward to working with the committee in my term as chair and thank members for their engagement today.
I thank Ms Scott-Lennon for her comprehensive presentation on her background, the harbour's strengths and challenges and her plans. I was interested in how she mentioned the port's importance for Dún Laoghaire town, the difficulties facing which have recently received attention. I will not ask questions. Rather, Deputy Dooley will speak as a member of the Opposition, then it will be a Government member, then an Opposition member and so on.
I welcome Ms Scott-Lennon and thank her for her presentation. On behalf of the Opposition, I thank her for accepting the job. We have no hesitation in confirming her as chair of the harbour's board. Often, I am taken by people like Ms Scott-Lennon who allow their names to go forward despite it being a considerable distraction from their own businesses. It is fantastic that someone of her calibre is prepared to take on a public service role.
Ms Scott-Lennon has demonstrated to me her passion for the tourism business as well as Dún Laoghaire. She is an excellent fit for the role and I wish her well in it. I like the fact that she has indicated her desire to remain in touch with the committee and to revert to us concerning future development plans. She knows what she is getting into, as she has sat on the board previously. The committee has encountered chairpersons from various sectors who did not have the necessary experience to take on their roles.
Ms Scott-Lennon referred to the diaspora centre and clearly set out her expectation that the State would provide some funding. How will the other activities envisaged in the master plan be funded? Is it hoped to fund them privately or is State assistance expected? What other difficulties will present in developing the master plan? I understand that it is before An Bord Pleanála. The planning process can be a question of how long is a piece of string, but does Ms Scott-Lennon have a timeframe for a decision? What is the timeframe for the project's completion?
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
Our plan has phased stages, the most progressed of which is the urban beach project, which we are undertaking in conjunction with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. We are hoping that it will be ready for planning in the latter part of this year. It is going through the public consultation process. A stakeholder group has been set up to develop the cruise ship facility. The harbour company will need to commit some resources to the planning, but it will not necessarily be the main contributor. It is a combination of contributions from the county council, which has committed to doing so, the harbour company and the local community and business associations. As I have often been reminded by the Department, there is no money in the Exchequer. We are conscious that we must be resourceful in our fund-raising efforts, particularly regarding the diaspora centre, which will rely on a combination of philanthropic, commercial and other funding sources, for example, the European Investment Bank, EIB.
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
We are working hard at it. Much of the work done on the diaspora centre so far has been provided on a pro bono basis. Our leadership council has shown a willingness and dedication. It comprises a broad range of people with unbelievable experience in this area. We are confident that we will not proceed with any plan unless it has a realistic funding model and is both believable and deliverable.
I thank Ms Scott-Lennon for her comprehensive statement. As a woman, I am in a minority in the Dáil and am delighted to see a woman being proposed by the board as chairperson.
Ms Scott-Lennon outlined her plans and vision for the future. I liked how she also referred to the challenges, for example, the recent challenges with passenger ferry facilities. The company must approach it with a commercial eye.
I presume that Ms Scott-Lennon's business experience will be hugely important in her forthcoming role as chairperson of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company.
I have seen the cruise ships coming in and I am amazed as a person living in the area. I would like to know how Ms Scott-Lennon did it. Two years ago, there were no cruise ships, yet 30,000 people were brought into the town this summer. Perhaps she could tell us how she plans to quadruple that number in future, without telling other Deputies how to do it in their towns.
I would also like Ms Scott-Lennon to tell me about her relationship with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and the business associations in the area. It would be valuable to hear that.
I think Ms Scott-Lennon has a done a wonderful job, which has progressed a lot in the recent past. The urban beach project is going through the county council. In the past, we have had problems and have needed swimming pools in the town. Ms Scott-Lennon has responded well to that matter.
What is Ms Scott-Lennon's vision? Does she see her tenure as lasting five, ten, 15 or 20 years? Will she be in here every few years telling us how much the situation has improved?
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
I hope it will not be me here in 20 years. As I stated at the outset, however, this is a phased programme. The master plan has a span of 15 to 20 years and it will have to be reviewed every five years. As we all know, the world changes, as do economic circumstances. We do not know what we will be facing or what our environs will be like in five or ten years time. The situation will be under constant review on a commercial basis.
The cruisers secured for this year were significantly helped and encouraged by the stakeholder groups. Some representatives of those went to some of the cruise conferences abroad to promote Dún Laoghaire as a new harbour. Those who visited this year commended and complimented us on the welcome they received, as well as the aesthetics of the harbour itself. The harbour's two arms open out to welcome visitors and it is a beautiful place to arrive into. The positive comments were reiterated by the passengers and crew who came ashore.
In addition, we discovered that although some of the passengers boarded coaches and went into Dublin to see the Book of Kells, the Guinness Storehouse and all the usual tourist attractions as well as in the other direction to County Wicklow, including Glendalough, a number of them stayed around the Dún Laoghaire town and harbour area, including Sandycove, Glasthule and Dalkey, where we offer a number of very interesting things for people to do. In itself, that generates great hope for us that it will bring serious economic returns to the community and the hinterland.
I thank Ms Scott-Lennon for the presentation. Her portfolio is very impressive. I come from Finglas but I have spent quite a bit of time in the Dún Laoghaire area. In the 1970s, I did sub-aqua diving courses in Killiney. I am familiar with the area, which is fantastic and has a lot to offer. Some 19 people are employed by the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, which is down from 42. I know the company has plans to expand and bring in more cruise liners, but it is not impacting on the numbers employed there. Can Ms Scott-Lennon elaborate on how such expansion would create more jobs in the harbour apart from what is created locally with businesses?
The cruisers are one thing but there are various sports projects around the world, including yacht races. Are there plans to try to attract more of those? There is a big potential in that respect. We have seen famine ships and yachting regattas visiting Wexford, Waterford and other ports. Are there plans to attract more such events which would bring in many more visitors?
Ms Scott-Lennon said she was trying to create approximately 1,400 jobs in the area. Can she elaborate on where these jobs will arise? I do not always praise the Government, but there is no doubt that the 9% VAT rate to help the tourist industry, including hotels, has been a major incentive and has given value for money. While that VAT rate is up for debate, it is to be hoped we will see sense and retain it because it is very important.
There are some museums in the Dún Laoghaire area, but are there any plans to expand their number? The swimming pool idea is fabulous. I have not seen the master plan but it seems like a very good idea to attract local people as well as tourists to the harbour area. That will also generate more footfall and business generally. I wish Ms Scott-Lennon the best of luck.
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
I thank the Deputy for his questions which I will now address. The job creation potential will obviously not happen overnight. Each section of the plan - which is phased, ratified and justified - will bring a certain amount of potential employees with each project. There is no doubt that employee numbers will grow as we develop each project. There will continue to be an effective drive to attract more sailing, yachting and racing events. We work closely with the yacht clubs, of which there are many in Dún Laoghaire. That is a constant aim and ambition of the harbour. It is to be hoped we will drive forward with prudence and speed in terms of job development.
I welcome Ms Scott-Lennon to the committee. Like Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, I am delighted to see a woman in charge of such an important board. I have lived all my life in Dún Laoghaire, so I am well aware of her role as a pillar of the community. The Fitzpatrick's Castle Hotel is an excellent business and I have personal knowledge of it. It provides much needed employment and facilities in the Dún Laoghaire area. Moreover, that business has a great reputation of giving back to the community. Ms Scott-Lennon has shown a lot of commitment both through her management and ownership of the Fitzpatrick's Castle Hotel and also in her other role as a long-standing member of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company.
There is no doubt that she has the business experience needed for this role, as well as a deep knowledge of the Dún Laoghaire area. She also has wider board experience, such as her membership of Bord Fáilte, as it was known previously. That sits well with the task facing her as chairperson of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, once that position is confirmed by this committee.
I am particularly happy to see that she has had audit committee experience. Financial openness and transparency, particularly within statutory boards, is a key critical function and one that the chair of any board needs to have under their belt.
I turn now to Ms Scott-Lennon's presentation to this committee.
I could not agree more. Dún Laoghaire Harbour, as a leisure harbour close to Dublin, is a unique and beautiful location. As stated, it is one of the finest man-made harbours in the world. It has a hugely important tradition not only in the Dún Laoghaire area but in the history of the country. The number of people who emigrated from Ireland via the Carlisle pier, in particular to the United Kingdom, is well known nationally and internationally. I was delighted to take part in the one of the welcome home events of The Gathering held earlier this year to commemorate the number of people who cast their last farewell to the country via the Carlisle pier.
I have a number of questions relating to what has happened in Dún Laoghaire in terms of the run-down of the traditional ferry business and Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company's master plan, which is an impressive document and presents an exciting opportunity for the Dún Laoghaire area. I am pleased that the committee will receive further updates on the plan as it progresses. Like other particularly suburban areas, Dún Laoghaire has suffered very badly in the past years. The centre of Dún Laoghaire is very much like the centre of Arklow and any other number of towns in terms of the number of discount shops and empty premises therein. Only recently Marks & Spencers on the main street of Dún Laoghaire closed. There is no doubt there is a real issue in the area in terms of unemployment and business closures. The master plan presents an exciting opportunity for the area.
I have a number of specific questions for the witness. In terms of the lost Stena business, what was it worth to the area previously, what were the reasons for the decline in business and what is it worth now? There was a significant increase this summer in the number of cruise ships coming into Dún Laoghaire. It is a beautiful sight to see a cruise ship sitting on the waters. Is the chairperson designate happy that the Dún Laoghaire area and local businesses are benefiting from the increased number of cruise ships coming into Dún Laoghaire harbour? My own view is that the Stena business in terms of fees earned might have benefited the harbour board but it did not benefit the immediate local community in terms of business. Perhaps Ms Scott-Lennon would comment on what the cruise business as compared with the Stena business brings to the community in terms of employment opportunities. Also, does she have any views on what, aside from the construction of the larger docking station that will facilitate the cruise liners, can be done to ensure Dún Laoghaire and its hinterland benefit from this business?
I note from one of the longer term-----
In terms of the longer term benefits of the economics of the cruise business, Ms Scott-Lennon stated that approximately 30% of that income will accrue to Dún Laoghaire over the longer term. Could that be improved?
We have dwelt a great deal on the cruise ships aspect of the master plan. However, I am also interested in other aspects of it. I agree with my colleague that the urban beach is an exciting project. Am I correct that the funding required for that has been secured and that the project is now more or less ready to go? In terms of the international diaspora centre, how is it proposed to fund that? We have suffered a great deal from a withdrawal of access by ordinary people to the sea front in general. For example, the Colamore Hotel, where ordinary people rather than members of exclusive yacht clubs could go for a pint, has closed. Where in this overall plan is provision made for facilities for ordinary people? I am speaking in this regard not of pubs but of general access for ordinary people to the facilities that will be part of the larger plan. I wish Ms Scott-Lennon every success in her new role.
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
I thank the Senator. I would encourage her to visit our website where she can have a good look at the master plan. I was a member of the steering committee which developed the plan and as such I am conscious of access to water. One of the problems for local communities has always been a lack of access to water. Some people believe it is only for sailing clubs and so on. The master plan provides for so much more direct access to the water for every man, woman and child. It is really exciting from that perspective. I suggest that the Senator study the master plan. Every part of it provides for water access around the whole perimeter of the development, which is exciting. It even makes provision for sail training. I do not propose to go into the plan in detail now.
In terms of the components of the plan, I agree that the ferry business was vitally important to Dún Laoghaire. I have already mentioned that one issue was that of the cost of fuel for vessels. The HSS could be compared to the Concorde. What Stena does is its own business. However, it has a contract with the harbour which does not expire until April 2015 and will honour that contract. What it proposes to do beyond that, we do not know. We are hopeful it will continue to hold a presence in Dún Laoghaire. It is possible it will put a traditional ferry in place. We will have the facilities to cater for ferries, vessels and, in time, the new age cruise ships. We have no intention of closing out ferry business, we will welcome it with open arms and will strive to retain it if we can.
In terms of the town, increasing the cruise passenger numbers will increase the flow up-town, thus helping in the revival of Dún Laoghaire. There is great community collaboration and co-operation between the county council, local business associations and ourselves. We have good relationships. I believe we can build on those and, if we work together, can achieve a great deal.
There is not much more I can add to what my colleagues have already said. I live within ten yards of Carlingford, which I believe to be the tourism capital of the country. I am lucky in that I live by the sea. It is very important to me, my family and my own diaspora when they return home. A number of colleagues were in Carlingford a couple of weeks ago at a think tank. They had a great weekend.
I believe the Dún Laoghaire harbour company will benefit from Ms Scott-Lennon's enthusiasm and gusto in terms of achieving the aims set out for the area. I have not visited the area in more than ten years but there is no doubt it is a great facility. Dún Laoghaire and the Dublin area in general will benefit from Ms Scott-Lennon's passion for her community and area.
Ms Scott-Lennon referred earlier to the junior world championships held last year in Dún Laoghaire. Does she envisage similar world championship events being held in Dún Laoghaire in the future? Also, what were the benefits to the people of Dún Laoghaire of the championships being held there last year?
As stated earlier, Dún Laoghaire is a beautiful harbour. I, too, wish Ms Scott-Lennon well. I believe she is the right person for the job. Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company is lucky to have a lady of her calibre at its helm.
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
My apologies, I thought I had addressed that matter. We understand there will be little, if any, State funding available. The diaspora centre funding model will depend on having a variety of contributors. It will definitely have some European and philanthropic funding and we envisage there will be a combination of funds. If, in time, a few quid is found in a corner of the State coffers, we will certainly beg to have it also. The funding model is nearly complete and we will make it available whenever it is. We do not want to show our hands to others who are planning diaspora centres.
I welcome Ms Scott-Lennon and thank her for her presentation. I confess that I do not know Dún Laoghaire Harbour. I see in Ms Scott-Lennon a nice mix of passion for the local area and the harbour business allied to good business experience and professional expertise. This is a good combination for a person taking up the position of chairperson of a harbour company.
I am impressed by the level of detail in the annual accounts of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. Perhaps other public bodies will take note of that. It is comforting for me and members of the public to have such a level of detail provided in accounts.
Given the contribution it makes to the economy, we should all be concerned about tourism. For this reason, the first point of contact tourists have with the country, whether with an airport or seaport, is vital. It is critical, therefore, that the plans laid out by Ms Scott-Lennon work well.
The Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company has a relatively small land bank of 47 acres. Is it fully developed and are all the buildings fully occupied? Will further land be required to meet the objectives set out in the master plan for the harbour?
While it is great that 1,400 direct and indirect jobs are envisioned as a result of the plan, the reality is that staffing in the harbour operation has reduced from 42 to 19 since 2009. This is a seismic shift in employment numbers. Has the employment potential of the plan been separated to reflect the various parts of the project? Has it been quantified for each step of the project? Will the harbour company monitor the achievement of its employment targets?
Ms Scott-Lennon referred to the cost of ferry operations. Is cost a problem in other jurisdictions or is it a particular problem in this jurisdiction? To what extent has competition from airline companies impacted on ferry company businesses here and in other jurisdictions?
I extend my best wishes to Ms Scott-Lennon as she takes up an important job, for which she has shown great enthusiasm.
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
I will answer the Deputy's question to the best of my ability. Much of the 47 acre land bank is vacant or open space. For this reason, part of the master plan involves development, although I do not anticipate a need to reclaim any more land. It is planned to develop the land that is available. We will be careful and sensitive in how the land is developed.
As I stated, the vision for Dún Laoghaire Harbour is for it to be a living and vibrant place. Currently, it closes down at 6 p.m. If any of the members were to walk around the harbour after daylight hours, they would find the area is dead. Our vision is to bring the area to life and for this reason our plans include an element of living. We will focus on that and job creation will come from some of the retail plans we have. There will be a good mix and balance of retail and residential development. That is where we envisage job creation taking place. The development will be phased and planned and will be ratified with each section of the plan as we proceed.
On employee numbers, I agree that we have faced significant challenges. Management has had a very challenging time purely because of the decline in ferry business, which has suffered because of low cost air fares. I am great believer that all things are cyclical. If one can be innovative and creative and work closely with carriers, one can offer exciting alternatives to queuing up at airports and facing hand baggage restrictions and the many other awful things I personally hate when I have to go to an airport these days. There is hope for us yet.
I thank Ms Scott-Lennon for her presentation, which I followed in my office. My question does not relate specifically to Dún Laoghaire Harbour but relates to the cruise industry. Is there potential to develop a cruise around Ireland, perhaps starting and finishing in Dún Laoghaire? Would such a cruise be viable and could it be marketed to show off the Irish coastline in its entirety and share with peripheral areas the benefits associated with the cruise industry?
I apologise for being late. I was attending another meeting. I am not sure if Ms Scott-Lennon was asked a question on county councils. Meath and Louth County Councils are to work with Drogheda Port. I am interested in how this co-operation will work. How does Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon envisage such co-operation developing between the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council?
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
We are in the early stages of work on how we can collaborate with our new shareholder. According to the new ports policy, we will have a new shareholder in the guise of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. We have a very good and close working relationship with the county council. We are working our way through how we might structure Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company in that picture. We have held one workshop and we are beginning to engage with the county council and the Department. We hope to produce the right kind of model and have studied other models throughout Europe and elsewhere in Ireland. It is a matter of finding the right one and we are working to do so.
It would be great to offer a cruise channel around Ireland. I hope we will be able to encourage some of the cruise companies to provide one but we are reliant on how they plan their itineraries. Perhaps the possibility should be explored by Fáilte Ireland.
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
I think so. It might not be possible to encourage them to do the whole round of Ireland. Already we get ships that have stopped in Waterford or Cobh and they come up to Dublin Bay. There is no reason we cannot encourage them to come from the west and around. It would make sense. It is something for the future and it is probably within the remit of a national tourism agency to see how that might work and how all of us, as a country, might make that viable.
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
Yes, it will be self-financing. It is my understanding that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council will manage the facility under its leisure company. As far as I can remember the entrance fee is proposed to be about €10. The council has projected increasing figures over the years as it grows in popularity. Naturally it will not be open all year round - I do not believe our weather is sufficiently clement to allow that. The Berlin facility has the capability of being covered in the winter. As the business grows and develops we could envisage doing something like that, but it is down the road.
On the other aspects vis-à-vis Dublin Port and Dún Laoghaire, Ms Scott-Lennon clarified that she hoped to continue a ferry service at Dún Laoghaire. At one stage I thought she was suggesting that Dublin Port should concentrate on the ferries and Dún Laoghaire would concentrate on the cruise ships. Is there competition, co-ordination or both, or a plan between Dublin Port and Dún Laoghaire Harbour? Is Dún Laoghaire equipped to accommodate the biggest cruise liners?
Ms Eithne Scott-Lennon:
Competition is healthy but we need to be realistic. I would hope that Dublin Port, Dún Laoghaire Harbour and the powers that be would be realistic in their planning and their location of cruise facilities and where we handle heavy industrial lo-lo and ro-ro type ferries - it makes sense. However, that is not my remit. As chair of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, I will work hard on relationships with the various parties in Dublin Bay. It would only make sense for us all to work together for the better.
I thank Ms Scott-Lennon for providing us with a comprehensive overview and details of her plans and vision, and for answering all the questions submitted to her. I thank her for attending and engaging with us. I wish her well in her new position.