Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications

EU Framework on Market Access and Financial Transparency of Ports: Discussion with Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport

9:30 am

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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The purpose of this meeting is to engage with officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in order to further scrutinise COM (2013) 296, establishing a framework on market access to port services and financial transparency of ports.

On behalf of the Joint Committee I wish to welcome Ms Mary Lally, Ms Catherine O'Sullivan and Mr. Garret Doocey of the Department's marine transport division. I wish to draw the attention of witnesses to the fact 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. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a 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, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also wish to advise the witnesses that any submission or opening statements they have submitted to the committee will be published on the committee's website after this 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 an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I now call on Ms Mary Lally to make her opening remarks.

Ms Mary Lally:

Thank you, Chairman. I am joined today by my colleagues, Ms Catherine O'Sullivan and Mr. Garret Doocey, from the maritime transport division of the Department. Collectively, we are responsible for national ports policy, among other things. We will also be participating in working group negotiations on this proposed regulation on port services and financial transparency.

Within ports policy generally here at home, we are currently working on the implementation of the new national ports policy which was launched by the Minister in March of this year. As the committee will be aware, one of the key proposals within the new policy was a categorisation of our commercial ports into three tiers: ports of national significance, tier 1, which are our largest ports at Dublin, Cork and Shannon-Foynes; ports of national significance, tier 2, Waterford and Rosslare; and ports of regional significance - Drogheda, Dún Laoghaire, Galway, New Ross and Wicklow.

As regards the ports of regional significance, the new policy recommends the transfer of control from central to local government. This transfer process will also require amendments to our current legislation, the Harbours Acts. We have just concluded a consultation period in terms of identifying the best model for these ports into the future. As part of this process we drafted and published a regulatory impact analysis type document which is available on our website and which I can forward to the committee if members so wish.

We are also finalising a review of Rosslare Europort, which was carried out by Indecon economic consultants. The review was tasked with examining the current commercial and operational efficiency and to advise as to whether the port is maximising its potential. This work is practically complete and we expect to bring the final report to the Minister shortly.

Turning to the proposed regulation on port services and financial transparency, the committee will be aware that it was only published at the end of May and so we are at a very early stage in the European legislative process. The regulation will be examined by a working group but the first meeting is only scheduled to take place tomorrow. To date, there have been no meetings of this working group.

Broadly speaking, the regulation covers two areas: opening up market access to port service providers and ensuring financial transparency with those ports that receive public funds. The services covered by the regulation are bunkering, dredging, mooring, port waste reception facilities, pilotage and towage.

The regulation will apply to those ports which fall into the new TEN-T core and comprehensive networks. The regulation does not apply to cargo-handling or passenger services within ports.

As a basic principle, the regulation requires port authorities to open up the provision of the covered services to any interested party. There is scope for restricting this through ensuring that these interested parties meet minimum requirements, or arising from space constraints within a port, or because of a public service obligation imposed upon ports.

In terms of financial transparency, the regulation seeks to ensure that any public funds made available to a port authority are reflected in a transparent manner in the port authority's accounts and clearly show how these public funds are used.

The regulation will require governments to designate a national supervisory body to be responsible for its implementation and monitoring. It will apply from 1 July 2015.

Upon publication of the regulation this Department immediately surveyed the affected Irish ports to gain an initial understanding of the position on the ground in these ports. This consultation showed that the Irish ports sector already fulfils the vast majority of the regulation's provisions. Our port services market is largely open and generally port services are provided by private sector interests on licence or contract from the port company. A universal exception in Irish ports would be pilotage which is statutorily required to be provided by port companies. There are also one or two instances where ports provide some of the covered services themselves, such as towage in Dublin and mooring in Shannon-Foynes, but generally this is in competition with others or it is open to others to enter the market should they so wish.

It is Government policy, restated in our national ports policy, that our commercial State port companies do not receive any public funds whatsoever, so the financial transparency elements of the proposed regulation will have no real effect.

Following on from the initial consultation the Department prepared a regulatory impact analysis-type document which was published on our website and notification of publication issued to various bodies, including the committee. This document went into some detail about the regulation and its potential implications in an Irish context and sought the views of stakeholders as regards its appropriateness or otherwise in Ireland. The consultation period closed on 20 September. However, if the committee or individual committee members wish to make a formal submission we would be delighted to receive one. We are awaiting a written submission from ICTU but otherwise we received submissions or comments from three bodies, the Irish Ports Association, the Competition Authority and Dublin Port Company. We also met with ICTU recently.

There would appear to be a consensus among the industry that the proposed regulation will be of little discernible benefit to Ireland. This is due to how our ports sector is structured and the fact that the problems the Commission is seeking to address do not really apply in Ireland. The sector broadly welcomes the desire of the Commission to open up market access to service provision and its recognition of the autonomous need of the port authority to set its own charges.

However, there is concern within the industry that some of the regulation's provisions are overly bureaucratic and will result in additional administrative burden with no real return in Ireland. Another concern expressed was that the regulation allows for the Commission, through delegated acts, to regulate charging through establishing common classifications of vessels, fuels and types of operations and specifying common charging principles in respect of this across the Union.

The Competition Authority broadly welcomes the proposal although it noted that the regulation does not cover cargo handling which represents the largest percentage of the total cost of using a port. As for the national position, as I mentioned, we are at a very early stage of the legislative process and the first working group meeting has yet to be held. The problems the Commission is seeking to address with the proposal are not an issue within the Irish ports sector. By the end of the year the Competition Authority will have published its market study of the ports sector. This study will be the first such comprehensive overview of competitive conditions within the sector since corporatisation. This Department and the Competition Authority have worked closely over the last year and a half to keep each other informed as we progressed the review of ports policy and the authority progressed its market study. The Competition Authority's study will represent a comprehensive overview of competitive practices in the ports sector.

One of the requirements of the regulation is that member states establish a supervisory body to oversee its implementation. In countries such as Ireland where state ownership of ports exists, there must be a structural separation between the functions associated with the ownership of the ports and those associated with the implementation and monitoring of this regulation. Previous studies of the Irish ports sector, such as the high level review in 2003, concluded that there was no case for the establishment of an Irish ports regulator and that the costs associated with the establishment of such a body would be too high given the scale and nature of the sector. These arguments would be largely valid still in the context of this new regulation.

Committee members will probably be aware that this is the third attempt to legislate at a European level in the area of ports and port services. The two previous attempts, which were directives rather than regulations, failed in Parliament and met with stiff opposition from a range of stakeholders. While the omission of cargo-handling and passenger services from the scope of this regulation is clearly an attempt to avoid some of the opposition witnessed in the past, it is uncertain as to whether this will sufficiently calm the opposition in Europe to this latest proposal. During parliamentary scrutiny of the proposal earlier in the summer, some parliaments including France, Poland, Spain, Italy, Latvia and Sweden raised subsidiarity concerns which might reasonably be taken as an indication of their emerging position during later negotiations at Council and the European Parliament.

I hope I have provided the members with a useful introductory overview of the proposal and my colleagues and I are happy to help them with any questions they might have.

9:40 am

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I thank Ms Lally for that.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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As Ms Lally gave such an outstanding overview we have no questions.

Ms Mary Lally:

Thank you.

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I note attempts to legislate have been rejected twice previously but I think Ms Lally has explained the position. How is this regulation different from the previous two measures?

Ms Mary Lally:

Those in Europe have tried to address the issues that caused problems in the past by removing the labour issues regarding dock workers, for example, which is a huge issue in France and providing for that in social dialogue. They have not included that in the regulation. They are not talking about ferry operating services in ports. They tried to take those issues out of the regulation to get it through.

The ports sector in Ireland is very different from the ports sector in Europe. Our ports are limited companies. They are structured in a totally different way. They do not get financial aid from the Government. They are subject to company law and the Harbours Acts. They are expected to operate in a way that maximises the profits of the State asset and that pays a dividend back to the State. Our ports sector is different from most of the ports, and the way they are structured, in Europe. Many of the issues that caused problems in the past have been removed from this regulation and they have tried to deal with them in a different way.

The subsidiary issue is not an issue here because of the way our sector is structured but it is an issue in other countries. We do not know how this will progress as it is dealt with by working group but we will keep the committee informed. We can keep the ports sector informed as the working group progresses its work and we will consult with them if issues comes up.

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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I can think of at least one private port we have. Will it be affected by this new regulation?

Mr. Eddie Burke:

It will be affected if it is within the TEN-T core or comprehensive network. In Ireland Greenore would be the only privately owned port. It will not be affected because it does not fall into those comprehensive or core networks.

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ms Lally, Ms O'Sullivan and Mr. Doocey for attending and putting their presentation on the record.

I propose that we take our decision on what to do next with a proposal to be taken in private session after we have concluded our session with the Secretary General of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee went into private session at 10.29 a.m. and resumed in public session at 10.31 a.m.

9:50 am

Photo of Noel HarringtonNoel Harrington (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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In relation to COM(2013)296, establishing a framework on market access to port services and financial transparency of ports, it is proposed that the committee will proceed by writing to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to ask it to take into consideration the committee's views and observations, as expressed at today's meeting, and to keep the committee updated on the proposal. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 10.32 a.m. and resumed at 11 a.m.