Wednesday, 23 September 2015
9. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport with regards to the 0.47 ha site that has been put up for sale by Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company, if he, as the main shareholder in the company, was made aware of this in advance of the site being put on a property website (details supplied); if his consent is required by the company to sell assets; if he considers it appropriate for the company to sell land while a due diligence into the finances of the company is still being carried out by his Department, and while the future governance of the harbour is being established by the Harbours Bill 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31917/15]
I have asked approximately 100 questions about Dún Laoghaire Harbour over the past four years and the fear that I and many people in Dún Laoghaire have about the creeping privatisation of Dún Laoghaire Harbour. This question relates to the decision of the harbour company to put up for sale 0.47 ha in an area called "the Gut", just off the west pier in recent weeks. Is this not proof of the creeping privatisation of Dún Laoghaire Harbour? Was the Minister made aware of the plan to sell this land, which in the Dún Laoghaire Harbour plan also was earmarked for residential development, which is strongly opposed by local people? Does the Minister think it appropriate that the company should put up for sale this land when the governance of Dún Laoghaire Harbour is going to change - it has not yet been decided fully - and when a due diligence exercise is under way to establish what the hell is going on financially within the harbour company?
I thank the Deputy for his question. At a meeting with the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company in May 2015, the company advised me of its intention to dispose of the site referred to in the Deputy's question. The company's master plan, published in 2011, earmarked this site for potential development. Under the Harbours Acts, there is no requirement for the company to seek my consent for the sale of this land. The disposal of land is a statutory matter for the directors of the company and not one in which I, as Minister or shareholder, have a legal function.
As the Deputy is aware, the Harbours Bill 2015 will provide the legislative provision for the transfer of ports of regional significance to local authority control. The due diligence process is currently being carried out by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company has advised the council of its plans for this site. I understand the proceeds from the sale of this site will be used for maintenance works in the harbour.
First, in terms of the legislation, the ultimate decision on what will happen in Dún Laoghaire Harbour is the Minister's. I had that confirmed in a rather bad-tempered letter I received from the chairwoman of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company-----
-----squealing, frankly, about some of the stuff I had been saying about the harbour company. I do not have time to deal with all of that now but the contentious issue is the question of privatisation of the harbour and the extent to which privatisation of the harbour is linked and contingent to this cruise berth plan.
Similarly, in the harbour master plan, other land at St. Michael's Wharf in the old harbour, as in the case of this site which the company has put up for sale, is earmarked for exclusive private residential development. First, the people do not want this and, second, the sale of land is clearly privatisation of the harbour. As the main shareholder in this company should the Minister be allowing this to go ahead against the background of huge controversy about it and given the future governance and plans for the harbour have not yet been decided and are ultimately in his hands?
On the latter point, the Deputy is aware of my views in regard to the ownership structure and future of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. I reiterate that I am certain a port of that scale, in terms of all of the things it manages, should be part of the local authority in that area, namely, the Dún Laoghaire local authority unit. I am certain that is the right way in which that port should be managed in the future. The legislation to allow this to happen which I am confident will be passed by both Houses this year, will put in place the statutory foundations for the governance and ownership model for that and other ports to be changed. I believe that is appropriate and that it will happen. I am committed to making it happen.
On the Deputy's allegation regarding privatisation of the port, I find that difficult to accept because I believe the port and governance model should remain in the hands of the public. I am certain that operation of the port into the future should be through Dún Laoghaire local authority and local government in that area. On the Deputy's final question regarding the sale of land, I have already explained to him that I do not have a role in decisions like that. I have to respect the independent role of directors in boards such as the board of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company.
First, the sale of public land is privatisation. That is what it is. Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company has now put up for sale part of Dún Laoghaire harbour. This is linked to a master plan which the Minister has acknowledged also proposes private residential development in the form of hundreds of private apartments on the site at St. Michael's Wharf and in the old harbour. That is privatisation. This is going on now. The company is pushing this stuff through. As I said, the people do not want this. The Minister is the person in charge, although I agree with him that this matter should come under the ambit of the council. This group of people appear to be a law unto themselves. The Minister said he cannot do anything about this because those involved are independent directors, even though he is the main shareholder. We cannot get proper answers from the council and these directors continue to sell off parts of the harbour, which are earmarked for private exclusive residential development. That is privatisation and the Minister is letting it happen. There was supposed to be a due diligence of the financial situation in the harbour.
Again, there is a due diligence process taking place between the harbour company and the local authority, which I support and believe must happen. The reason it must happen is because the appropriate way for that port to be governed, developed and operated into the future is through the local authority in the area. The legislation to allow that to happen will be enacted later this year. I have answered the Deputy's question on my role in regard to the disposal of land. As Minister my role is in regard to moves away from the core purpose of the port. I have been involved in decisions-----
I am not going to comment on local views or matters in the development of a particular piece of land. I have set out my position on what I believe is the right way for this port to be governed and developed into the future.