Tuesday, 28 June 2005
Maritime Safety Bill 2004: Motion for Earlier Signature.
That pursuant to subsection 2° of section 2 of Article 25 of the Constitution, Seanad Éireann concurs with the Government in a request to the President to sign the Maritime Safety Bill 2004 on a date which is earlier than the fifth day after the date on which the Bill shall have been presented to her.
I would like to thank the Minister of State for coming here today. This Maritime Safety Bill, since it was first presented in the Seanad, has undergone a complete metamorphosis into its finished form. It is far better legislation now than when first introduced and I thank everyone for their input into it. I previously thanked the Minister and his official Mr. Tobin for the briefing documentation they gave us and they came up trumps again today. If everybody did that, it would certainly make our lives here much easier and facilitate the expeditious passage of legislation.
I am happy to support the earlier signature motion. Each local authority will be different, even those in Sligo and Donegal that have the same type of coastal zones. If there must be a consultation process between the Department and local authorities, an attempt should be made to liaise with jet ski users as they are the people who see the risks. I do not know if they have a network or umbrella grouping. Perhaps Senator MacSharry might be able to help us out on that point as he is much younger than I am and he jet skis every weekend. Jet ski users also see other risks. Friction exists between jet skiers, water skiers and other players off the coast and consultation should also occur between local boat clubs within the different regions.
Regulations are important but the question of the Garda Síochána and the Coast Guard enforcing them is a grey area. I have already asked my own leader, Deputy Kenny, to raise an issue regarding quads and motorcycles in a special area of conservation in my locality by means of parliamentary questions. I can speak with the Minister of State afterwards on this matter. The Garda Síochána and the local authority cannot come together to enforce the law. I know it is outside the Minister of State's brief but he would have a special interest in the matter as it relates to Donegal.
In my parish a golf course was not allowed to be developed over sand dunes in a special area of conservation but scrambling, quad and motocross races take place every weekend in that area. The Garda and local authority know about it but the law is not being enforced. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has already replied to me stating it is against the law, yet we are introducing similar laws here. I wish to highlight that grey area.
I commend the Minister of State on his work on this necessary legislation. Reference has been made to jet skiing, clearly an issue of which people have experience. It has become popular during the past few years and is in need of regulation. Senator McHugh raised an important point in that putting the law in place is one thing while enforcing it is another. The framework devised by the Minister of State and his officials is certainly one which, if enforced, will be effective. The test will be in its enforcement and seeing how problems are solved and eradicated.
We cannot make progress without legislation on the Statute Book. I look forward to seeing this Bill's provisions being implemented and to the introduction of regulations which make maritime activities safer and allow everyone to enjoy our fabulous maritime amenities. There is no reason this should not happen if this legislation is enforced.
I take this opportunity to thank Members and officials of the House for their assistance over the past number of weeks in ensuring this Bill could be enacted, subject to its earlier signature by the President, within the next number of days.
I also thank the officials in my Department who worked exceedingly hard, burned the midnight oil and even returned from holidays, as they realised the seriousness not only of the maritime safety aspect but also the aspects relating to the foreshore and the certificate of compliance for vessels under 24 m. I am extremely grateful to all of them. We would only realise the importance of the work we have done today in its absence. I am not presumptuous about what the President might do but if we did not do this, it would be extremely serious for all coastal regions.
We can regulate as much as we like but individuals and groups must realise they are responsible for their own safety. We cannot insist that everyone who goes out wears a life jacket irrespective of age. We can only suggest it as one cannot have an official at every small port around the country ensuring it is done.
Senator McHugh's point on the sand dunes is correct and I know the area he referred to quite well. The existence of the special area of conservation and national heritage area meant it was not possible for one of our finest professional golfers to build a links course there. If that was not acceptable, it is wrong that others should cause such damage.
It is not difficult to deter but it is difficult to detect. All we need do is drive along the roads, particular in rural areas, and see marks made by people who put their lives at risk by doing "wheelies". I state to those who use the sea that they are responsible not just for their own safety but also that of others. They should behave responsibly at all times. We have regulations, statutory requirements and guidance from safety and other experts. That guidance should be followed.
The proper operation of vessels requires the constant and skilled attention of the persons in charge of them. Alcohol and drugs can seriously interfere with the performance of duties. The clear message we all want to send out from this House is that no one who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs should go to sea. I thank the House and am grateful to it for agreeing to take this vital legislation in the last week before the summer recess. Many people would have been adversely affected had the House not agreed to take it.