Dáil debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage


3:07 pm

Photo of Cathal BerryCathal Berry (Kildare South, Independent)

I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, a good afternoon and thank her for coming into the Chamber to debate the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) (Amendment) Bill 2021.

By way of introduction, we are an island nation and our maritime domain is at least seven, and possibly even ten, times as large as our land mass. We are only getting to appreciate and recognise the importance of the ocean wealth that is out there, particularly from an offshore wind and offshore wave point of view. On top of that, we are looking at Brexit and we have a significant increase in the amount of shipping coming in and out of the island as a result. Some 99% of our trade comes in and out. The advent of climate change means we probably will have far more severe adverse weather conditions as well. I would make those three initial points.

The macro trends are obvious. We will probably have more maritime accidents over the next number of years and it is important we get ahead of that trend and that we get our house in order from a governance point of view. As an island nation, I very much welcome any improvements to the governance of our offshore resources and I welcome in principle the Bill before us.

I have three points to make. First, I agree with Deputy Catherine Murphy, and appreciate that the Minister of State was not here at the time and that she has inherited this anomaly. However, we should not be here even discussing this because when the structure of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, MCIB, was decided in 2000 it should have been obvious that there were two appointments on that board who would obviously be conflicted and they had no business being on the board at all.

Of more concern to me, though, is that it required the European Commission to get a judgment and ruling in the European Court of Justice for us to change our mind. As the Minister of State will be well aware, they do not do that lightly. They do not go to the European Court of Justice in the first instance. They go to the European Court of Justice as a last resort. Obviously, there were plenty of opportunities over the past number of years for Ireland to get its house in order without having to rely on a court judgment.

How much did that court case cost? It is ridiculous. If the Minister of State does not have the figure to hand, perhaps her officials will be kind enough to pass it on later. We should be embracing any logical points made from a corporate governance point of view, not resisting them. If an objective external observer looked at my constituency office and gave me some pointers that made sense, I would embrace them. I would not try to resist them and I certainly would not go to court to prevent them their implementation.

While the Bill is incomplete, as I believe the Minister of State appreciates, its provisions are Bill. It has good elements from a corporate governance point of view, particularly on gender balance. Having at least 40% male and 40% female makes perfect sense and is a good rule of thumb. We should use that in other boardrooms in both the public and private sectors. I also like the diversity approach taken in the list of desirable skills, be they legal or maritime, and that the list is non-exhaustive.

It is good that we are limiting the term of office to five years with only one roll-over allowed, giving a maximum term of ten years. That is a good way to do business. I also like the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Without casting aspersions on anyone who held these appointments, it is good that former and current ministerial advisers and current and recently retired civil servants should not serve on the board. That is a good way to do business. I welcome the provisions of the Bill while also recognising its deficiencies.

In light of recent events, I am interested in finding out how these appointments will be filled. Will the Public Appointments Service be involved? Will the board of between five and seven people be appointed directly by the Minister or through the Public Appointments Service? Will the roles be part-time or full-time? What will the salaries be? Will they be commensurate with the responsibilities?

I welcome the Bill in principle. I recognise that it is incomplete, as does the Minister of State. I look forward to debating the amendments that come before the House. Ireland is only one of two island nations in the European Union, alongside Malta. As the largest island nation, we should be setting the standard and ensuring we have world-class governance of our offshore resources. It is important that we do not just meet the standard but that we be the standard.


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