Thursday, 27 April 2006
Harbours and Piers.
In recent years, Fenit Harbour has been largely neglected, especially in comparison with the other west coast ports of Killybegs or Castletownberehaven. A grant received in 2004 was welcome but totally inadequate relative to the vast level of safety and structural repairs needed to bring Fenit up to an acceptable standard and make it competitive. Costings of more than €6 million for work to bring the port up to a competitive level and modernise it have been forwarded to the commercial harbours division. That work is urgent, as the port's continued operation is at stake and thus the continued existence of 420 jobs at Liebherr in Killarney, for example, as well as those at the port itself.
The harbour board has once again outlined the type of work to be completed, including repairs to the viaduct, dredging, rotary fendering on the main pier, remedial work to the west wall and the cross quay, refurbishment of the main pier and replacement of the crane. Of the €750,000 national development plan funding promised by the then Minister, Deputy Fahey, some years ago, only €93,000 was received and invested in a second-hand crane that must now be replaced.
The strategic importance of Fenit Harbour is often overlooked in a national context. Without it, Liebherr could not operate. It also has major national and regional importance. For example, during the year, 45 m blades for wind turbines were landed there. They could not be shipped through any other port owing to the road network. Fenit is also a sheltered harbour that allows large trawlers and small ships to dock regardless of tidal conditions. There are no lock gates such as in ports including Kilrush and Galway, and trawlers can enter at any time while for the most part they can enter Dingle only at high tide.
Another important consideration is Fenit's proximity to the South Porcupine Bank. It is expected that major exploration for offshore oil will be encouraged soon owing to its high price, and Fenit could provide an ideal base for the oil industry if the Porcupine Bank took off. Recently a major gas find was announced approximately 120 miles off the west Kerry coast. There may be some activity there in the near future, and Fenit would be an ideal base for contract crews and so on. It is also very close to Tralee station and Kerry Airport, meaning that it is ideally located. I do not know whether the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has any responsibility in the area. I cannot impress enough on the Minister the importance of making significant investment in the harbour. I appeal to him to urge his Cabinet colleague to consider carefully and positively the recommendation made by the harbour commissioners for this funding.
I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Transport. Responsibility for Tralee and Fenit harbour and for 12 other regional harbours operating under the Harbours Act 1946 transferred from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to the Department of Transport with effect from 1 January 2006. The Tralee and Fenit Harbour Commissioners are responsible for the control, operation and management of the harbour.
The Government's ports policy statement, which was launched in January 2005, states that the continued operation of the regional harbours, operating under the outdated provisions of the Harbours Act 1946, is unsustainable on the grounds of good governance. The policy statement reiterated the view that most of these harbours would best achieve their potential through their transfer to local authority ownership or where this is not possible, through sale to the private sector. In harbours where significant commercial traffic exists, such as in Tralee and Fenit harbour, consideration will be given to bringing such harbours under the control of a port company.
My colleague's Department is working with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to advance the implementation of the ports policy statement with regard to the transfer of the designated regional harbours to their respective local authorities, where appropriate, and to proceed individually in conjunction with the relevant local authorities and harbour authorities, having regard to local requirements in each case.
Funding of €600,000 was provided in 2004 to Tralee and Fenit harbour for repairs to the viaduct and the widening of the pier. The harbour commissioners were made aware in correspondence at that time that there was no commitment to provide further Exchequer funding for additional works and that they would have to make arrangements to provide funding for additional works from their own resources.
The limited resources available in the Department of Transport for expenditure on regional harbours are being concentrated on essential safety and remedial works, pending the transfer of the harbours to local authority or port company control.
The commissioners have recently sought additional funding for remedial works at their harbour, which Deputy Deenihan mentioned. Their funding proposals and those from the other regional harbours will be considered over the coming months in the context of the necessity to prioritise the limited available budget towards essential safety and remedial works.