Thursday, 28 June 2007
Dublin Port is the country's premier port. In 2006, it handled 79% of the ro-ro trade and 62% of the lo-lo trade. Therefore, the capacity provided at Dublin Port is of critical national economic importance.
The national spatial strategy identifies strategic merit in relieving pressure on Dublin through targeted interventions in building up port capacity elsewhere. In 2006, Dublin City Council commissioned a wide ranging economic, amenity, recreational and environmental study of Dublin Bay, including the port area. I understand this study is nearing completion.
The National Development Plan 2007-2013 contains the following paragraph:
The Government proposes to undertake a comprehensive study of the role of Dublin Port, taking account of locational considerations, in the context of overall ports policy on the island of Ireland, wider transport policy, urban development policy, the National Spatial Strategy and national economic policy. This review will take account of the findings of the study on the role of Dublin Bay and the Dublin Port Area commissioned by Dublin City Council.
The terms of reference of the proposed study under the NDP will be finalised in the light of the outcome of Dublin City Council's study.
I appreciate that the Minister is new to his brief but in my question I asked him to outline Government policy. I am aware of the report and study Dublin City Council has carried out, which I understand is due to be published tomorrow, and the further review that is required, but that is primarily in regard to Dublin Bay. It will take into account the port but also other issues in regard to Dublin Bay. What is the current Government policy on the future of Dublin Port?
The current policy on the port is as I outlined. It is a strategic port and of national importance. It is nearing its capacity and we must examine ways and means of either expanding that capacity or operating in a different manner. We cannot do that in isolation from a range of considerations in regard to Dublin Bay, urban regeneration and various plans on which a variety of groups, including Dublin City Council, the Rail Procurement Agency, the National Roads Authority and various other bodies would have to be consulted. The current policy is that the port remains the premier port and that there is an urgent need to examine its future, how it might be developed and how that might be integrated with a range of other transport policies, urban regeneration policies and so on. That is the current position.
Part of the difficulty in regard to Dublin Port over the years is that it has not been examined strategically, rather it has been examined as a port. Furthermore, the port authorities decide to do something with little or no reference perhaps to Dublin City Council, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, developments such as national transport policy and so on. One of the benefits of having all transport within the remit of the Department of Transport and the Marine is that we can examine these issues in an integrated way, and that is what I intend to do.
The Minister accepts there is an urgent need to examine the future of Dublin Port. Given that we will shortly have the Dublin City Council report, what are the Minister's proposals for urgently examining the future of Dublin Port? What process does he propose for doing that? Will it be headed by the Minister or his Department? Has he any plans at this point to examine urgently the future of the port?
What is the Minister's view on the proposal being promoted by a number of interests to relocate the port to Bremore, to move it out on a phased basis, perhaps over ten or 15 years, from the city centre area and possibly to redevelop that area as a housing and retail development space? What is his initial reaction to that proposal?
The Minister spoke of the need for targeted intervention being identified to relieve pressure on Dublin Port. What, if anything, has the Department done to provide those targeted interventions?
Dublin Port is an independent entity. It is up to the port to decide what it will do in regard to targeted intervention. Since I took up this brief, I understand it has purchased a port at Greenore and that it is transferring some of its business there. That type of decision is one for the port, not for the Department.
Regarding proposals that have been put forward about Bremore, that is a decision for Dublin Port. My understanding of the Bremore project is that Drogheda Port is in the process of developing a plan and a proposal for that. If Dublin Port has an interest in that, it should at least talk to the harbour board in Drogheda to ascertain if they should become joint partners or whether there is any prospect of their doing business together.
It was clearly set out a number of years ago that Government policy was to make the ports independent, commercial entities. A ports policy was clearly outlined, namely, that they are to operate in a commercial manner. There has been a loosening of various ties, strings and control over recent years to try to allow them to be commercial. As far as I am concerned, policy will continue in that direction. The ports must make these decisions. As a shareholder, along with the Minister for Finance, I will have an interest in how matters proceed. If proposals are made, I will, as a shareholder, consider them. However, I will do so only in that capacity. The ports are independent in terms of how they decide to proceed.
I indicated that we are discussing a comprehensive study of the role of Dublin Port. This will have to be multifaceted and it will be carried out under the auspices of my Department. Obviously, however, other Departments will be involved.