Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Inland Waterways: Statements
The Minister is very welcome. I will not refer to the fees other than to say that Members, namely, Senators Whelan, Norris and Kelly, have spoken very clearly on them. Fundamentally, the increase in fees will certainly reduce the usage of the waterways.
The major problem in the country is that there is no small ships register, so it is impossible to trace the ownership of most private boats unless they have a current licence for the Shannon. The move to charge vessel owners seems extremely strange without this basic item being in place. Will the Minister elaborate on how he will charge vessel owners without having any register? The Minister should be establishing the basics in terms of boating and the waterways before he puts more fees on boat owners. Why does the Minister not ensure that all boats are insured? Insurance is mandatory for a car but not for a boat at present. Why is that not the case for boats? Does he have any plans to change that system? It should be laid down in legislation that boats should have a minimum amount of safety equipment. We desperately need to get this right. As the Minister plans to put more fees on residential boats, we need to have some basics in place - for example, it should be mandatory for such boats to have an effluent holding tank. Those providing moorings, including local authorities, should have to provide basic sanitation onshore.
As many of the facilities at marinas are often accessed with a swipecard for security reasons, vandalism is not an issue. One of the major problems with the proposed charges is that the boat owner will receive absolutely nothing in return in terms of facilities. It is well known that most houseboat dwellers whose boats are not moored at fee paying marinas have a low level of income. We have heard about their situation. Is there a class issue in this regard? What will be said when boating is only available to those who are well-off?
I may be a little cynical, but it is likely that is too late to adopt the UK model, whereby every boat that uses waterways requires a boat safety certificate. The checks include gas and fuel lines, etc. The new scheme here will only provide loads of cash for inspectors. As a business person, I have major concerns about a move to have more barriers in respect of waterways which are a vital cog for the tourism sector. We have also heard plenty about this matter today.
Many other massive issues need to be tackled such as boat insurance, mandatory use of safety devices and certificates before we can impose fees on boat owners. We must have a situation where the customer - the boat owner - gets something back if he or she must pay fees. I do not think he or she will get anything back for the extra fees, which are substantial. To be successful in business, one must get the fundamentals right, but this plan does not deal with any of them.
I would be pleased if the Minister were to address my specific concerns, even though we are tight on time and others want to contribute. He is welcome. The fact that he has come here is greatly appreciated. Senator John Whelan has expressed our appreciation, but we must use the time available to influence him in some way.