Seanad debates

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Commencement Matters

Harbour Authorities

10:30 am

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this matter for discussion on the Commencement. I am delighted to see Senator Horkan, a former member of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, in the Chair. I was also a member of the council and was first elected to it in 1999.More importantly, I served two terms as a director of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company.

I am conscious that I am in the Houses of the Oireachtas and that I have privilege. I have checked the limitations and possibilities under that privilege and I want to be responsible. It is too easy to come in here and start roaring and shouting without getting very far. I record, however, that I received two days ago from a very large legal firm in Dublin some communication in respect of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. I reflected on it, as I do on every item of correspondence crossing my desk, and contacted the firm to say I would facilitate it as best I could.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has responsibility in this area. This is a complicated matter and many people may not quite understand that harbours come under the transport portfolio. The Taoiseach was one of the Minister's predecessors and he possesses a lot of knowledge of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. It is important to state that because I make a plea today to the Taoiseach, the Minister and the Ministers for Finance and Housing, Planning and Local Government that no order be signed to transfer Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council until they meet all Senators, Deputies and county councillors from the functional area of that local authority and provide an absolute commitment and indemnity to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council's executive and elected members that the local authority will not be saddled with a massive debt. Correspondence I studied late into the night advises me that there is a potential exposure of €43 million which is spread over many areas, including pensions, the deficit and other liabilities. This falls out of part of a due diligence document which I have seen. I am not sure there has been full disclosure in relation to this company. I challenge all of the political masters of the relevant Departments, who I have just named, to plead with the Minister, Deputy Ross, not to keep the pressure on to have this company transferred. It is unfair to place that liability on the local authority.

I single out the Minister, for whom I have a great deal of regard notwithstanding our challenges and difficulties, because he is acutely aware of the issues. He has promoted the idea of spending capital funds from that local authority on Glenalbyn swimming pool, a running track in Marlay Park, arts, culture and sport, a master plan for Marlay Park and the roll-out of phase 2 of the Fernhill Park project. That cannot happen if the local authority's capital funding is to be bled off. I acknowledge that the Minister of State in attendance is not the line manager, but my message is that the Government should not expose the councillors or executive of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to a liability and debt which will ultimately fall on taxpayers. The Minister of State and I know that this is what will happen. There will either be an increase in the local property tax in that local authority area or a clearing out of the capital budget in circumstances where it will be simply impossible to roll out the capital plan. For any Minister to tell me that the local authority has capital or can cash in assets is wrong. It should not have to cash in the assets. It should be given a remuneration package, compensation and an indemnity and it should not be exposed.

I will not be found wanting - from today until the process is closed - in pursuing all of the political people I have mentioned. Common sense must prevail. This should not be inflicted on the local authority. What is the rush? Before I came to the Chamber, I received a call to my office from a member of the Minister's staff to ask if she could be of assistance to me. There is no point coming to me ten minutes before a Commencement matter to offer assistance. Last night, I received another official acting on the Minister's behalf asked for a press statement that I may or may not have issued. I am sorry but I was burning the candle until 1.25 a.m., fielding questions and telephone calls and I was back in here at 7.30 a.m. It is too late. The politicians have left it too late. It is time to row back from exposing this local authority. I appeal to the Taoiseach, who has a great deal of knowledge of this company, to contact the Minister and direct him not to put pressure on or sign off on a transfer until the issues I have raised have been explored in great detail. I thank the Acting Chairman for granting me time and latitude to discuss what is a very important issue.


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