Thursday, 20 November 2008
Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008: Committee Stage (Resumed)
In case we have lost track of what has happened since we last debated this two weeks ago, the amendment proposed by Senator Donohoe states that "public consultation" means a publicly advertised invitation for submissions from stakeholders and the public. I am support this issue and I spoke about it with some brevity on the previous occasion.
In case I had the wrong meaning of the word "consultation", I did a Google search on the word and looked up some dictionaries as well. It means meetings, discussions and decisions, among other things. In old English law, it refers to a writ returning a case to an ecclesiastical court from a temporal one. In Australia, it can mean a lottery. In the old Latin dictionary, consultatus or consultare mean that there must be discussion between people. In support of the amendment, my understanding is that such a consultation process has not taken place.
I acknowledge the olive branch offered by the Minister of State, when he stated that he might be prepared to accept consultation in the Bill. I mean no disrespect to him, but the difficulty is that this reminds me of someone being taken to the gallows. The person is prepared emotionally and physically for this trauma and the hood is put over him. He is then told that we may not decide to put the rope around his neck and let him swing for an indefinite period. The enactment of this Bill effectively states the same thing. When section 18 is enacted — I have not dealt with that yet — Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners will be no more.
This legislation may be described by some as "enabling", but I see it as totally disabling the current situation in Bantry. I must labour this point and will do so next week or whenever the Bill comes before us again, although I will probably be running out of ammunition. It is a central plank of my argument that the consultation referred to by Senator Donohoe and supported by me and other speakers, has not been adhered to up to now. It is little solace to the people of the greater Bantry area, and those using the port, to know that when the legislation is in place we will be consulted, having by then been crippled by the Act. That applies across the board whether at Whiddy Island, or the mussel or salmon farms, or the stone-exporting industry at Leighhill in Adrigole, or to other port users. It goes against the grain. Since contributing to the debate on the last occasion, I have spoken to the west Cork manager and other interested parties who are somewhat despondent and disillusioned that this step is being taken despite the fact that a number of discussions had taken place.
I wish to put on the record what has been happening for some time regarding Bantry Bay. Although I was not present at it, I was involved in setting up a meeting on Wednesday, 7 July 2004, at the Port of Cork offices. I have a memorandum from the Harbour Commissioners about this meeting which was to discuss a proposal from the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources re Bantry Port's future. Present at the meeting were Mr. Vivian O'Callaghan, Mr. John O'Riordan and Mr. Alec O'Donovan from Bantry, while the Port of Cork representatives were Mr. Dermot O'Mahony, Mr. Brendan Keating and Captain Pat Farnan.
On that occasion, which was only four years ago, but it is significant, it was said by some people from the Port of Cork, regarding the issue of consultation, that Cork would agree to join with Bantry — not for Bantry to be subsumed — only with agreement with Bantry, provided the Minister approached them and there was a consensus. They had detailed discussions with some Department officials and the whole tenet of those discussions on that date, 7 July 2004, was of joining up and becoming a partnership, which is not envisaged in this Bill. That is why Senator Donohoe's amendment is so pertinent.
I am loath to mention people outside the House but the then chairman of the board of the Port of Cork, Mr. O'Mahony, said that if agreement was reached the condition would be that the Department would bank-roll all the costs involved. I think the agenda was that outstanding issues for Bantry would be dealt with prior to any partnership. At the same meeting, according to a synopsis of the minutes taken, Mr. O'Riordan from Bantry Port said that Bantry was viable as a port and had no outstanding financial commitments. Mr. Vivian O'Callaghan went on to say that one of the prerequisites was that a pier must be built. We have no plans at the moment in that regard. We all know that if Cork Port takes us over that will not happen in this century, whatever about the 22nd century.
Mr. Brendan Keating from Cork Port said quite clearly that whatever happened consent would have to be forthcoming and available from the Bantry board. In the ongoing discussion, Mr. O'Mahony went on to say what Cork would bring to Bantry in this whole area. This was all about consultation which, unfortunately, seems to have petered out. It was suggested that the Conoco facilities at Whitegate and Bantry could perhaps generate more cargo.
As I said previously, this all concerns consultation or the lack of it. I cannot emphasise that enough. At that meeting, Mr. Vivian O'Callaghan pointed out, as was agreed by many, that health and safety was the main aspect behind the pier because our facilities are inadequate in that respect. On the last occasion, I read into the record some of the comments made by the eminent former High Court judge, Mr. Justice Costello, regarding the Whiddy Island disaster.
It was said at the time that the Whitegate and Whiddy facilities would envisage progress but it was pointed out that, apart from the cargo trade, Bantry also had recreational potential. A very important point was made at that meeting when the weasel question was referred to by Mr. Dermot O'Mahony. He asked clearly and succinctly if there was a dredging problem for Bantry pier and the inner harbour. The facts are, and I am deviating slightly——
I am still on the question of consultation which is tough, but I must read it into the record because there is still a problem in that regard. Mr. O'Mahoney suggested that Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners should write to the Department before they would consider any amalgamation or partnership. The whole pier would have to be sorted out financially and the dredging done before any partnership. In other words, the chairman of Cork Port said that they would not have anything to do with Bantry if there were outstanding issues which cost money, such as building the pier extension or dredging. Reading between the lines, he was saying that they had no notion of spending Cork Port's money for Bantry's extensive plans.
At the same meeting, they also discussed the commitment to €1.9 million for the pier under the national development plan. Those were among the points raised at that important meeting. However, had more such meetings taken place, I would not be standing here today facing up to the issue again. This all concerns the process of consultation as referred to in the timely amendment tabled by my colleague, Senator Donohoe.
Subsequent to that meeting, on 8 July 2004, the then chairman of Bantry Port, Mr. Vivian O'Callaghan, wrote to Mr. Michael Guilfoyle, an assistant secretary at the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, at 29-31 Adelaide Road, Dublin. The letter states
Dear Mr. Guilfoyle,
In my capacity as Chairman of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, I had a recent meeting with the Chairman and some officers of the Port of Cork, with a view to discussing matters of mutual interest. At this meeting it emerged that you had recent discussions with the Port of Cork, concerning the possible amalgamation of the Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners and the Port of Cork. Needless to say this came as a bit of a surprise to me and the other members of my Board, who were present. Mr. Dermot O'Mahony, Chairman, Port of Cork, also advised that you had indicated that you proposed to come to Bantry to meet the members of my Board, that meeting occurring some time at the end of May.
This is important because the meeting never occurred and even though Cork Port knew about it, Bantry was not told. The letter continued as follows:
As this meeting has not taken place, I can only conclude that the discussion concerning the future of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners is continuing without any input from my Board. As one who has served on the Board of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners for over twenty-five years and am currently the Chairman, I find it quite remarkable that any of these suggestions should be discussed in the absence of an opportunity from my Board Members to have a serious input.
I feel I should also point out that the lifetime of this Board will conclude in October and I would suggest to you with great respect that you might avail of this opportunity to come to Bantry to discuss the matters raised above.
This was as clear as a letter can be about consultation, whether a lack of it or urging it. It is a notice to treat by the Bantry harbour board asking Cork Port to come to discuss this issue.
Senator Paschal Donohoe, for whom I have great respect and who has recently been promoted, tabled this amendment, which states:
In page 17, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
"'public consultation' means a publicly advertised invitation for submission from stakeholders and the general public;".
In other words, he is making the important point that consultation should take place. I argue it has not taken place and that even if we are promised it into the future, it is like closing the stable door when the horse has bolted. When the horse gets out and the stable is bolted, there is nothing in the stable.
I will continue with your kind indulgence, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I have only about an hour left and I promise we will move as quickly as possible. I wish to read into the record a further letter regarding consultation with Cork Port. On 4 August 2004, the board chairman, Mr. Vivian O'Callaghan, wrote to the then Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy John Browne, at Leeson Lane, Dublin 2. The letter reads:
I refer to my letter of December 3rd 2003, in which my Board requested you to meet us to discuss a number of items. We are quite amazed and surprised that eight months later, we still have not received either an acknowledgement or reply to our letter.
One can understand the disquiet and lack of faith, so to speak. The letter continues:
You will recall that subsequent to the letter referred to above, Deputy Denis O'Donovan TD and I met you in your office in Leinster House in early March 2004. At that meeting you indicated that you proposed to travel to Bantry to meet the Board sometime after St Patrick's weekend. This meeting has not yet taken place. You also indicated on that occasion that you proposed to dispatch Mr Michael Guilfoyle to Bantry to discuss the possibility of amalgamating our Board with the Board of Cork Port Company.
These were open, transparent discussions set out by the harbour board vice chairman. The letter continues:
You can imagine our surprise recently at a meeting held with the Cork Port Company, to discuss items of mutual interest, it emerged that Mr Guilfoyle has already held meetings with Port of Cork management concerning this amalgamation. This despite the fact that no meeting of any description to discuss this matter has been held with Bantry Harbour Commissioners.
I feel quite sure you can appreciate how disappointed and annoyed my Members feel at this kind of treatment from the Department. You are probably aware that the present Board of Bantry Harbour Commissioners will leave office in October 2004. I am determined to ensure that, as the last Chairman of this particular Board, that this Board not be treated in such a cavalier fashion.
I await your response with interest.
Vivian O'Callaghan, Chairman.
In case anyone suggests I am in any way transgressing in my manner of dealing with this debate, all of this concerns consultation or the lack of it. I have to get a clear picture of what has happened in recent years and put it on the record. This is important as I may never again have the opportunity to do so.
In the same year, 2004, the chairman also wrote to Mr. Creaney, private secretary of the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, stating:
Dear Mr Creaney,
With reference to your letter of 9th August 2004 the members of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners would be available to meet the Minister of State, Mr John Browne on the occasion of his visit to Cork on the 6th September.
Again, they are seeking meetings, not shying away from them. The letter continues:
I feel the following items in relation to Bantry could be discussed to our mutual benefit at this meeting.
3) New Pier Funding.
4) The Burke Report.
May I suggest our office at Wolfe Tone Square, Bantry as a suitable venue for the meeting.
There is a further important letter, written on 16 September 2004 on the headed paper of the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, to the then chairman, Mr. Vivian O'Callaghan, Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, Wolfe Tone Square, Bantry, where it was received and stamped on 17 September 2004. It reads:
As agreed at our meeting on 6 September last, I am writing to set out my understanding of the outcome of the meeting and of how to ensure that the dialogue between the Department and Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners can be progressed in the future on a positive basis.
As stated at the meeting, the interruption in the dialogue with the Commissioners and the referral of the matter to the Attorney General was a direct consequence of the unilateral decision by the Commissioners to place a contract while discussions with the Department on the viability of the project were ongoing. Up to the point of interruption of the dialogue, the Department had not been satisfied that the project was viable and would not have resulted in serious financial harm to the Commissioners. For this reason, the Department officials were most surprised at the decision taken by the Commissioners at that time to enter into the contract in March 2002, given that there was not a shared understanding on the viability of the project, in respect of which the Department was being asked to provide support.
I am keen that the Commissioners and the Department re-engage in a constructive and fruitful manner, having regard to previous expression of support for the project. I can assure the Commissioners that the services of the Department and myself will be applied positively to this end.
From our discussions, I understand that the Commissioners believe that the business environment for the project has shifted from that originally envisaged. As you are aware, the projected costs have escalated since the consideration of Exchequer support of €1.9 million by the former Minister. Furthermore, no progress appears to have been made on the conditions contained in the former Minister's letter of 15 May 2002 ... which letter expressly instructed the Commissioners not to enter into any contractual commitments pending a report on progress in relation to the two stipulated conditions [In the event, the contract had already been placed]. Accordingly, I would propose that the project be reviewed in terms of its viability, the financial implications for the Commissioners of increased borrowings for the project due to its escalated cost and the risks to the project posed by the dominant position of the terminal operator. To this end, I invite the Commissioners to submit for consideration a ... detailed updated proposal for the project, including a comprehensive business plan with financial projections. The Department is available to assist the Commissioners in elaborating its requirements in terms of the proposal.
I believe that plan was submitted. The letter continued:
The future management of Bantry Harbour
You will be aware that the Oireachtas decided in 1996, through the passage of the Harbours Act 1996, that the latter represented the best legislative model within which a commercial port should operate.
It is thus a matter of longstanding policy that the Harbours Act 1946 is no longer regarded as a suitable instrument for the management of State harbours. Accordingly, it is proposed, over time, to effect the dissolution of all the harbour authorities currently operating under the Act and, where appropriate, to transfer responsibility for the control and management of each harbour to a local authority or to a port company.
I regard Bantry harbour as a significant port in terms of business and location in the Southwest. It is therefore, firm policy to maintain the harbour and, where possible and appropriate, to develop it. Consideration has been given to the best means of ensuring that Bantry harbour is positioned and equipped to fulfil its commercial port functions in a modern, professional way. It is essential, in that context, that Bantry has available to it the best marketing, project management and technical and general management skills as befits its importance and potential.
I cannot disagree with any of that. It further states:
It is my view that the harbour should be operated within the provisions of the Harbours Act 1996. This Act, together with the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, will provide the necessary framework to ensure the effective corporate governance of the State body concerned.
It is the Department's view that the business associated with the harbour falls below the minimum level of activity necessary to justify the establishment of a new company when compared to the alternative available to the State and that the Port of Cork Company is ideally positioned to ensure that Bantry has access to the best regional port management expertise, marketing skills and strategic development planning.
I would urge the Commissioners to assess fully the pros and cons of the options mentioned above and to explore fully with the Port of Cork the conditions which might surround any amalgamation of Cork and Bantry, which would protect the interests of Bantry. I fully appreciate that the Commissioners will enter any discussions with the Port of Cork Company on a 'without prejudice' basis and I can assure the Commissioners that no final decision will be taken other than in full consultation with them.
That statement that no final decision will be taken without full consultation with them is critical. That has not taken place and that is the reason my colleague's proposed amendment is critical to this issue. This is material I have researched since the last occasion I spoke here.
This letter, which is dated September 2004, further states:
As was agreed at our meeting, Mr Michael Guilfoyle, Assistant Secretary General, will work with the Commissioners in identifying the issues to be addressed in relation to the pier development and the future of the harbour. He would envisage, as agreed at our meeting, meeting the existing Board again (or a subgroup) on these issues at an early date. Prior to that meeting, it would be useful and productive if the Commissioners had progressed a project plan for the pier development and had some discussions with the Port of Cork.
It goes on to state:
As you are aware, the powers of harbour authorities to make bye-laws for the good rule and government of a harbour are set out in section 60 of the Harbours Act 1946. Specifically, in relation to pilotage bye-laws, the Attorney General advises my Department that no further bye-laws can be made under the Pilotage Act 1913 following its repeal.
In relation to past proposals of the harbour authority for bye-laws to be made under section 60 of the Harbours Act 1946, the Department's file indicates that there has been ongoing correspondence between the harbour authority and the Coastal Zone Management Division of the Department. Arising out of this process, the Commissioners were invited in August 2003 to submit redrafted bye-laws taking into account objections received and changes agreed with the Coastal Zone Management Division.
Where now lies the coastal zone management division? Is it extinct like the famous dodo or does it operate in some other guise? That division had an important role to play in the overall strategy and development of coastal zoning in all of west Cork. I understood it acted under the remit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government but I could be wrong on that. The Minister, when responding, might reassure me as to its role and status currently and into the future. The letter further states:
I can assure you that we will deal expeditiously and constructively with any resubmitted byelaws and will address concerns regarding pilotage in that context. You should contact Patrick McHale, Assistant Principal, at 01-678 2271 in that context.
It goes on to state that Patrick McHale should be contacted and gives a telephone number, which is not relevant to the issue.
To come to the conclusions in this important letter, the last sub-heading concerns the proposed sale of foreshore at the inner harbour. It states:
As the Commissioners are aware, under section 159 of the Harbours Act 1946, the sale of surplus land requires Ministerial consent. Also directly applicable is section 5 of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies which deals with disposal of assets and access to assets by third parties. Specifically, the Code states that it should be standard practice that the disposal of assets with an anticipated value at or above a threshold of €70,000 should be by auction or competitive tendering process, other than in exceptional circumstances. The Code provides guidance in relation to the determination of the anticipated value. A copy of section 5 of the Code is attached for ease of reference.
I wish the Commissioners well in their remaining endeavours; I assure them of my continuing support and thank them for their important contribution to making the Harbour a successful and strategic element in the State's port infrastructure.
The letter is signed by the then Minister of State, Deputy John Browne. That is a significant and important letter because it sets out certain facts and a road map for progression in terms of Bantry Harbour Board and port.
I accept and say to the Minister of State and his advisers that Bantry Harbour Board may have made certain procedural and basic errors in some of its dealings over the years but as a former member I contend that any such deviations from protocol, rules or corporate governance views were unintentional. It should be remembered that the Bantry Harbour Board is made up primarily of what I would call ordinary people. We do not have a chief executive, a full-time chairman or paid directors. It has people from the chamber of commerce, county council members, town council members, people from the port users association and a minimum requirement of at least one union representative.
The board did not set out in a premeditated way to antagonise the Department. I welcome the fact that this letter examined the consultation and some would say courtship process among boards. The culpability that lay with the board appears to have been forgiven. A clear message was given at that point to move forward, and that is what has happened.
On 9 November 2004 a letter was sent from the board and it relates to the process of consultation or lack of it on this amendment. It is a short letter. It was written to Mr. Michael Guilfoyle from the Bantry Harbour Commissioners. Mr. Guilfoyle was then assistant secretary at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. It is dated Dublin, 9 November 2002. It states:
Following our recent telephone conversation, I now wish to formally request a meeting with yourself and a delegation from the Harbour Board.
The purpose of the meeting is to reengage with the Department in a constructive manner. As Chairman of the new Board, I would like to take a fresh look on how we can go forward with the full co-operation and support of the Department.
The main topics of discussion will be (a) new pier and (b) the future of Bantry Harbour Board. We would appreciate an early response to an agreed date for a meeting.
Aiden McCarthy Chairman.
The issue is set out in clear terms in the correspondence to the Department, from the Minister, and by the two chairmen, including Vivian O'Callaghan, and it tries to set out a road map for the future in terms of consultation. I am grateful to the Minister for his suggestion — I accept it is not a guarantee — that he might incorporate Senator Donohoe's amendment to allow for consultation on Report Stage. My view is that at that stage a shotgun marriage — I know the Minister does not like that phrase — will have taken place and the potential for Bantry Harbour Board to have some magnanimity and strength in the future will be severely curtailed because it will have no wriggle room, so to speak, and will be subject to restrictions in that way.
A meeting took place at 11 a.m. on 6 September 2004. It was one of those meetings we all look forward to, where there was consultation. We awaited with great expectation the visit from the Minister and some senior people from his Department. That meeting was attended by the then Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, Mr. Michael Guilfoyle, and, present from the Harbour Board, Mr. Vivian O'Callaghan, chairman, Mr. Pat Kelly T. C., Mr. John Hunt representing the port users, Mr. Michael Hennebry and Ms Patricia Murphy representing the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. John O'Riordan, Mr. P. J. Sheehan MCC, now Deputy Sheehan, Mr. Timmy Minihane, a trade union shop steward living and working on Whiddy Island, Mr. Eugene Cronin T. C. and me. There was full attendance. That meeting took place in Bantry.
Some important issues about discussions and consultations took place at that meeting and the minutes are as follows:
The chairman thanked the commissioners for taking time out to attend the morning meeting [it was a special meeting]. He reminded all present of the agenda which was agreed for the meeting and asked members to adhere to it [and not to stray]. He said he would inform Mr. Browne of the appalling way in which the Harbour Board has been treated and request him to clear up many out-standing issues.
The commissioners were joined by Minister John Browne, Mr. Michael Guilfoyle [and me].
The chairman welcomed Mr. Browne TD and Mr. Guilfoyle and thanked them for meeting the commissioners. He informed the gentlemen that the current board would be leaving office shortly and that the commissioners were keen to establish what the status was in relation to funding for the pier. He said despite numerous requests, the commissioners were not afforded a meeting with Minister Dermot Ahern [who was then senior Minister]. He said the impression of the local community in Bantry was that the current commissioners did not undertake their duties in a proper manner. [This is still the view and is a cause of serious concern and disquiet.]
Mr. O'Riordan said while the commissioners always showed respect for officials in the Department of the Marine, they were now very angry. He proceeded with the various events which have occurred, beginning with Minister John Wilson's pledge in 1993 towards dredging of the existing pier and ending with the present position, including awaiting the outcome of the Attorney General's response. He said the board had purchased land at Whiddy for ready access to the island and reminded the meeting that the pier option chosen would not require dredging. Mr. Hennebry [one of the board members] concurred with Mr. O'Riordan's presentation and said he was very surprised with the delay from the Attorney General's office. Ms Murphy said following the installation of the single point mooring, the necessity of on-shore facilities were over-looked. She said the Government should learn from a tragedy such as the Betelgeuse disaster in 1979.
Mr. Browne TD thanked the commissioners for their invitation to Bantry. He said there was no slight on the commissioners and he came to open discussions. He said there are ongoing talks about the amalgamation of ports and this is taking up much of their time. He said he had read the Bantry file and it appeared it did not contain a business plan. He said this was a matter of concern for his officials but that talks would continue. Mr. Browne said he visited the pier on Sunday evening and he appreciated what was required.
Privately, the then Minister, Deputy Browne expressed to me that he was appalled at the lack of facilities at low water at Bantry pier to do with any type of access to or from Whiddy Island, the terminal, the islanders or any boats. When he visited in 2004 and saw the pier, it was plain to be seen how inadequate the facilities were, and unfortunately they have not improved. I will continue to read the minutes of this meeting:
He said he also wanted what was best for Bantry and understood Mr. Denis O'Donovan's keen desire to get the pier under way. He said he would put a timescale of year-end for discussions. [Four years have passed since that meeting on 6 September 2004.] Mr. Sheehan reminded Mr. Browne TD and Mr. Guilfoyle of the Department of the Marine's suggestion that the board apply for funding of IR£2 million from NDP in July 2001 and of Minister Joe Walsh's media announcement in May 2002 that this funding had been granted. [This was a correct assessment.] Mr. O'Riordan said a business plan was prepared by PriceWaterhouse had been lodged with the Department of the Marine. [Again, there is a lack of consultation or wires crossed. PricewaterhouseCoopers did a very comprehensive report and that report was presented and forwarded to the Department.] Mr. Michael Guilfoyle said the board's signing of contracts came as a shock to the officials in the Department of the Marine. He said prior to this, discussions were ongoing. But following this, he said it was difficult for them to engage in further discussions. He said this was the first time that contracts had been signed without prior approval. He said they were not aware of the NDP funding approval. However, some correspondence mentioning this may have been construed as approval, this was not the case. He said the situation with the Attorney General's office is that they have offered a consultation with the Department of the Marine.
Mr. O'Riordan said the Department of the Marine was made aware that the contracts were being signed and it took six months before the commissioners were made aware of any disquiet on the issue in the Department of the Marine.
A contract was signed with a contractor in spring 2002, around the time of the visit of the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, to the port. In late April or early May 2002 it was widely perceived that a pier development would begin, the money was in place and a contract should be entered into. That is history. Consequent to this, the Department, in its wisdom, referred the matter to the Attorney General's office and a legal opinion was got by the board and the Department on the propriety or otherwise of that contract. Although that is history, despite those announcements by the then Minister, Deputy Joe Walsh, and the then Taoiseach on his arrival in Bantry, we have not moved an inch from that time. That is a serious worry to me and the people I represent. I will continue to read from the minutes of this meeting, which I attended:
Mr. Guilfoyle re-iterated the alarm expressed in his Department when it was discovered that the contracts were signed, particularly Mr. David Glynn. He said they have to be satisfied that adequate finance is in place to support any loans. Mr. O'Riordan said in 2002 this was a viable project. He accepted matters have changed but now it was time to work together towards a new plan.
In 2001-02 the board, in consultation with and with prior knowledge of the Department and the Minister, examined the possibility of borrowing money. I was present at some of the meetings with the banks. That may not be considered appropriate in the current economic climate. There was a receptive, accommodating view by the banks that they would provide substantial borrowing to the board. The board had the capacity, from the income it was making primarily from harbour dues from the ConocoPhillips oil terminal at Whiddy Island and Bantry Bay, to repay a substantial loan. They also envisaged that they would get almost £2 million, which had been committed — I would say promised — by the Government at that stage. Furthermore, they believed they would get assistance from the local authority, Cork County Council, in providing infrastructure. That is history. Nothing has happened since, unfortunately.
The minutes continue:
Mr. Denis O'Donovan TD said the Board was under the impression that it was all systems go. He said there are other issues also, safety and social issues and he highlighted the importance of access to Whiddy Island.
Ms Murphy requested that in the future, there would be free movement of information between the Dept and the Harbour Board. Mr. Kelly said An Taoiseach Mr. Bertie Ahern complimented the Harbour Board on its achievements and enquired if he had informed the Dept of the Marine of any concerns he had with the contracts being signed.
Mr. Browne said the departments work independently of each other. It was agreed Mr. Guilfoyle would revert to the Commissioners on matters pertaining to the Burke Report and would bear in mind the short time-scale involved for the current Board.
That was in view of the fact that the board has a five-year cycle. A new board was due to be put in place, for the following five years, in October of that year. The last time the House considered this Bill, I made the point that this enabling legislation — or disabling legislation, as I call it — is not of critical importance, other than in so far as it provides for corporate governance and tidies things up for the Department. The board can roll over from October 2009 to October 2014, within which time the courtship of Cork Port could be completed and the two most important outstanding issues, the extension to the pier and the dredging, could occur in calmer waters.
The minutes continue:
When asked to comment on the subject of Corporatisation, Mr Guilfoyle said cost-cutting factors are being looked at for all ports and he encouraged talks with the Port of Cork on the subject of amalgamation. Mr. Hunt reminded the meeting that the situation in Bantry is very different to other ports in that it's activities are not duplicated elsewhere.
This is an important point because Mr. Hunt is a fully licensed pilot. He is a man of significant international experience with ocean-going tugs etc. He made the valid point that Bantry Port is very different from other ports as its activities are not duplicated anywhere else on the island of Ireland. I could not have made that critically important point any better.
At this stage, I remind the House of an important fact. Many Members may not be aware of the aguisín I wish to put on the record. In the event of a major international problem or catastrophe, it is proposed that much of this country's national oil reserve — not all of it, unfortunately — would be stored in the Whiddy Island facility to keep this country ticking over. I am aware that some of the reserve would be stored in places like Norway. That gives Bantry Bay and Bantry Port an added dimension to which I have not referred before now.
The minutes continue:
On the subject of Bye-Laws, Mr. Guilfoyle undertook to revert to the Board at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Chairman informed Mr. Browne TD of the request from a local developer to purchase some foreshore from Bantry Harbour Board and of the limited time scale on the developer to commence the proposed development.
Mr. Denis O'Donovan TD [I was a Member of the other House at the time] said he would continue with his endeavours to get the new Bantry pier up and running and congratulated Mr. O'Riordan on his comprehensive presentation for the meeting.
Mr. O'Callaghan thanked Mr. Browne TD and Mr. Guilfoyle for meeting the Commissioners and said he looked forward to having many out-standing issues resolved at the earliest opportunity.
Mr. Browne TD said he would write to the Commissioners acknowledging the meeting and congratulated all concerned for their on-going efforts on behalf of the community of Bantry.
Mr. Kelly took the opportunity to thank Mr. V. O'Callaghan and Mr. P. Sheehan in particular for their long years of service to the Board of Bantry.
That was how the meeting concluded. The letters from which I have quoted are of pivotal and critical importance to the consultation process. We are moving away from that in this Bill, unfortunately. A new board was put in place in October 2004. Changes in legislation meant that as a Member of the Oireachtas, I had to step aside from the board, unfortunately. It is critical that the new board has been very co-operative. It has complied with the demands and requests made by the Department in respect of various issues. It has acted transparently, learned from its mistakes and done exceptionally well in its consultations and deliberations with the various authorities.
I wish to quote from the minutes of the meeting of Bantry Bay Harbour board at 9.30 a.m. on Monday, 13 December 2004. I am speaking about the consultation process, which is the subject of Senator Donohoe's amendment. At the meeting in question, the board met Mr. Michael Guilfoyle of the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The then chairman of the board, Mr. Aidan McCarthy, was present at the meeting. Ms Letty Baker, Mr. John O'Riordan, Mr. Donal Casey, Mr. Mario Minehane, Mr. Timmy Minihane, Mr. John O'Shea, Mr. Eugene Cronin and Ms Kathleen Tessyman were also in attendance, as was the secretary of the board, Ms Goggin. The agenda of the meeting primarily involved dealing with the proposed pier project, the Burke report and the issue of corporatisation.
While we are talking about consultation, I should mention that the proposed pier project is an old herring that has been under consideration for 20 years. I believe that the pier project, like the dredging project, will be abandoned if the provisions of section 18 of this Bill, which has yet to be debated, come into vogue. It is important for me to read briefly from the minutes of the December 2004 meeting:
An apology was received from Mr. Patrick Kelly. The Chairman opened the meeting by welcoming Mr. Guilfoyle back to Bantry and thanked the Commissioners who made the effort to come to the meeting.
The members of the board, all of whom are volunteers, had to make an effort to attend a meeting at 9.30 a.m. on a Monday morning. At that stage, they were not getting any stipends for attending the meeting. The minutes of the December 2004 meeting continue:
Mr. Guilfoyle thanked the Commissioners for their welcome and said he was in Bantry to progress relations between the Harbour Board and his Department. He said he and his colleagues are responsible to the Auditor General and the Secretary General of his department. They have to ensure that all processes are adhered to and ensure the tax payer gets value for money.
I suppose the latter point is a valid one, but I do not know where value for money was coming from when so little was being done. I remind the Members of the House that this meeting was an important one in the context of the discussion we are having on the amendment relating to consultation. The section of the minutes of the meeting that covers the discussion on the proposed pier project reads:
Mr. Guilfoyle said at a meeting on 6th September last in Bantry with the Commissioners and Mr. John Browne TD, it was identified to the Commissioners that his department were disappointed with the break-down in communications which had occurred. He said it was time to move away from this issue and focus on the future of the project and put some procedures in place. He said upon investigating the files, it had come to his notice that viability of the project had not been established at the time the contracts were signed and this issue was taken very seriously by his department. He recommended that we would return to the stage of appraising the project.
I remind the House that the project in question is the proposed pier project. The minutes continue:
He said neither the Minister of State nor the senior Minister have come to any decision. He also said there was a question in relation to the €1.9m and that this would not be confirmed until the entire project stacks up, there is a good return on the project and that borrowing will be met.
Everything comes down to consultation and relationships with Ministers and departmental officials.
The board sinned and made mistakes but most of the board members had different professions. The board did not have a full-time chief executive similar to major ports, such as Cork, Dublin and Foynes. The board members had other jobs. While they acknowledged their culpability and the somewhat careless approach in their naked ambition to progress the project, it does not auger well that a Department would have a stand-off with the board for two years on this issue.
The Department should have held an urgent meeting and called in the board members to tell them they had sinned and done wrong and to resolve the issue there and then. The stand-off and breakdown in communications did not help. The problem started with the actions of the board but I am totally unhappy that a Department should take such issue, like a sullen child in a classroom, stand back for two years and not engage with the board. That sticks in my craw a little. Reference was made to consultation and moving forward but I would like to turn the clock back to establish how we arrived at the current position.
The minutes of the meeting of 9 December 2004 further state:
Mr O'Riordan said in view of the fact that many of the current Commissioners were new to the Board, he wished to confirm that in the initial procedures, the project did stack up [that is, its financial viability], based on the then ambitions of the oil company. However, this could change again in the future. He reminded Mr. Guilfoyle that Mr. Glynn and Mr. Sheridan were furnished with Bantry's Business Plan. He also said it was regrettable the Commissioners did not sight the letter which was received by Mr. Denis O'Donovan because the Board would have had the opportunity to negotiate the matter of rates with the oil company.
Mr. Guilfoyle said his department would encourage any state body to engage with a private company, in Bantry's case, ConocoPhillips, thus taking some pressure off the state body,
Ms Baker enquired if the same criteria was applied to all ports when projects were forwarded to the Department. Mr Guilfoyle said it was factored in to any decisions and that he would leave some documentation with Mr A. O'Donovan [who is still acting harbour master] to this effect.
Mr. M. Minehane said the matter of Bantry starting at the bottom of the ladder should be taken into account, considering other ports would already have infrastructure in place. He added that ConocoPhillips Ltd have already invested much capital into the area and enquired as to the legitimacy to expect the oil company to provide further support.
Approximately €60 million was ploughed in by ConocoPhillips and its predecessors in developing and refurbishing the tanks and other facilities, including the setting up of the single point mooring, SPM, buoy for the loading and off-loading of oil and related products, such as bunker oil, at the facilities on Whiddy Island. Mr. Mario Minehane was an important figure because of his experience as a naval officer in his younger days. It was suggested ConocoPhillips should plough money into Bantry Port facilities again.
Since Gulf Oil arrived in Bantry in 1965, significant money was involved in movement of oil through Whiddy Island. For example, the oil tanker hijacked by Somalian rebels off the coast of Somalia was carrying crude oil worth €100 million and its crew has been taken hostage. However, it is much smaller than those that docked in Bantry. Mr. Minehane who worked with ConocoPhillips — I am not sure if he still does- wondered why the company should be asked to plough millions into the port to provide other facilities that should have been in place 40 years ago and which still have not been provided today.
The minutes continued:
Mr. O'Riordan said when Mr. Packar re-visited the Board's capital requirements, he put the Bantry project on a higher scale than it previously had been. He said the project had also been recommended for funding by Mrs. Mary O'Rourke TD, the then Minister for the Environment.
Mr. Guilfoyle read from a list of projects. Bantry was quite low on the list and therefore, NDP had been spent by the time Bantry's name was reached.
Mr. Cronin said the matter of inflation should be borne in mind as building costs have inflated in recent years.
When Ms Baker enquired if the application could be made under the heading of infrastructure, Mr. Guilfoyle said any available funding has been allocated and there was no programme in place for infrastructure. He said a new policy regarding ports will be put to the Government this week whereby all ports will be encouraged to attain support from the private sector. Projects requiring the least Exchequer investment will be considered favourably.
The minutes give a flavour of the position but I am concerned about what happened to the commitment to the €19 million allocation. Did it evaporate? Why was it not ring-fenced for this provision? I always had reservations about the major new pier being moved to a different location. The dredging of the inner harbour near the existing pier and an extension into deeper waters probably would have involved a less expensive project but that was shelved and the pier was moved from one place to another.
Notice taken that 12 Members were not present; House counted and 12 Members being present,
A bit like Bantry pier running out of water, the way I am going, I will soon run out of steam. I was in the process of reading into the record correspondence and minutes which deal with consultation and, in some cases, the lack of it. It is relevant to the amendment and to the section. Most of the minutes and letters to and from the Department refer to different areas of co-operation, consultation and so forth. I hope the Cathaoirleach will give me some indulgence in this matter. I will continue to read the minutes of the meeting of 9 December 2004:
Mr. O'Riordan said a matter that could be considered was that of the rates which are being paid to Cork County Council in respect of the SPM [single point mooring buoy], a facility which is unique to Bantry. These fees would be of immense assistance to the Port of Bantry. Mr. Guilfoyle said he would imagine the Department and the council would have strong objections to a diversion of these funds.
Will the Minister of State inquire as to the status of the rates being paid for the single point mooring buoy, how much is paid annually and how much has been paid since the buoy was put in place eight years ago? I do not want a side-step answer claiming this is a matter for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It is critical to the board's finances. Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners are historically, almost umbilically, tied to the Department for good or for bad.
The minutes continued:
Mr. Guilfoyle suggested he would arrange for a liaison officer in his Department, with whom the board would have regular contact with. Despite invoices being lodged with the Department, he said there was a query with regard to the €1.9 million as promised by [the then Minister] Deputy Frank Fahey, pursuance of same could be a legal matter.
The meeting then went on to deal with the Burke report. The minutes read:
Mr. Guilfoyle said this matter was tied in with issue of corporatisation. He said his Department's view was that it was in Bantry's best interests to amalgamate with the Port of Cork. He suggested to make contact with personnel there and to explore all aspects of the operations of an amalgamation that would best serve Bantry.
When the chairman inquired as to the public private partnership possibility, Mr. Guilfoyle said his Department would have an open mind on the issue.
I would imagine the PPP would have been involved in the construction of a new pier and other ancillary items such as dredging and the development of the inner harbour.
The minutes continued, "Ms Baker inquired as to the scenario if the board was not in favour of joining Cork, Mr. Guilfoyle said it would result in complex legislation." Interestingly, we are now in the throes of complex legislation which will have a major impact on Bantry. The minutes noted, "The latter said it was the view of the EU that Ireland has too many ports, hence all ports are being encouraged to work together." I must add the working relationship between the Bantry Bay and Cork Port authorities has been quite successful without any hitches in recent years.
The minutes continued:
Ms Baker inquired as to Mr. Guilfoyle's vision for Bantry. The latter replied that at the end of the day it was a matter for the people of Bantry.
That is a most critical response by Mr. Guilfoyle, an eminent official whom I got know and an honourable and decent man.
The minutes continued, "He [Mr. Guilfoyle] encouraged maximum utilisation of the port's natural resources." I cannot see how maximum utilisation of the port's natural resources can occur in a forced amalgamation with Cork Port. The authority has said there are certain aspects of Bantry Bay and workings of Bantry Port that are not an issue for it.
The minutes continued:
The chairman inquired as to the viability of a marina. Mr. Guilfoyle said they are satisfactory only in areas of high population. There was no provision for funding in the Estimates for marinas at the moment, nor in next year's Estimates.
I always thought marinas came under marine tourism. However, with so much reconfiguration of various Departments, I am somewhat confused. Is marina funding still under the Minister of State's remit?
The minutes noted:
With regard to the foreshore, the chairman stated the line identifying the watermark must be accurately established and developments are ongoing to clarify this matter.
At the suggestion of Mr. Timmy Minihane, it was agreed the chairman and Mr. Alec O'Donovan would accompany Mr. Guilfoyle to visit the pier while the tide was out [which was done].
The chairman, Mr. O'Riordan and Mr. Casey thanked Mr. Guilfoyle for coming to Bantry to meet with the commissioners. Mr. Guilfoyle said he looked forward to working with the commissioners in the future. The meeting was then closed.
I am running out of correspondence on this issue but I have a few letters still to read out. They all have to do with Senator Paschal Donohoe's amendment. The next letter is from the then Minister of State, Deputy John Browne, dated 8 September 2004, to Ms Laetitia M. Baker, An Muileann, The Quay, Bantry, County Cork, re her appointment to the board of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners.
Dear Ms Baker,
I am pleased to inform you that you have been nominated to be an appointed member of the Bantry Harbour Board until the day preceding the second Thursday of the month of October in the next election year.
It should be borne in mind that this Department is currently in active discussion with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the modalities for the transfer of harbours currently operating under the Harbours Act 1946 to local control i.e. to the appropriate local authority or port company. The tenure of harbour board members will end should the harbour be transferred to local authority or port company control subsequent to the 20.04 harbour elections.
The warrant of your appointment is enclosed.
The rest is not relevant as it is a letter of appointment. With regard to consultation, I am making the point succinctly that for good or evil, whether consultation took place during the past decade, we are at a juncture where the consultation process has been sidelined. It has received a yellow or a red card.
A critical event took place in Dublin on Thursday, 6 January 2005, at a time when many people would still be on vacation. A press release was issued from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and received by the Bantry Harbour board office. It states:
Marine Minister Pat the Cope Gallagher today launched the Government's Ports Policy Statement 2005. The Minister said that the policy statement aimed to better equip the port sector and its stakeholders in order to meet national and regional capacity and service needs through:
Clearer and more focussed commercial mandates for the ports and their Boards.
Enhancing Board performance through reform of the structure of port Boards.
An urgent search for good, viable projects to ensure that we do not suffer from capacity shortfalls.
Exchequer funding of major projects where necessary.
Encouragement of private sector investment and involvement.
Sanction for the use of non-core assets to fund new port development but not to mask inefficiencies.
Encouragement of healthy competitive conditions within and between ports.
Better consultation and dispute resolution between port companies and users through appropriate information sharing and arbitration mechanisms.
Encouragement of mergers where a business case exists.
Better transport policy coordination.
It was critical that the area of consultation was pronounced in this launch. A consultation process should have taken place between Cork Port Company and Bantry and possibly refereed and supervised by the Minister and the Department. The harbour board in Bantry was proactive in seeking to engage with Cork Port on consultation and to meet the Department. The publication of this Bill was like a bombshell to the consultative process that should have been let run its course. Perhaps then I would not be here fighting the cause in this regard.
The press release continued:
Minister Gallagher said, "The policy outlined here today will provide the framework for the efficient operation of our ports into the future. There are a number of areas which we must address to achieve this. Ports have clear commercial mandates and the challenge for them is to realise their full commercial potential so that they can provide adequate infrastructure and services to meet customer needs."
The Minister added, "To enable ports to achieve these goals the correct supports must be in place. We will also ensure that the future direction of our ports involves the input of the port users and all relevant stakeholders."
This is a critical line from the Minister of State, Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, which he stated in January 2005 and I emphasise it.
The press release continued:
The Marine Minister said that one of the key challenges that lay ahead was the timely provision of adequate in-time port capacity. The internal resources of our commercial ports are not sufficient in general to fund large-scale infrastructure projects. This is a significant challenge in view of the need for additional capacity at our ports over the coming years, particularly for unitised trade. The Government will part-fund such projects where own or private sector resources are insufficient to deliver on the capacity requirements for the growing Irish economy."
Minister Gallagher said that his Department will consult with the commercial ports concerned to determine their view of port capacity and how they intend to deal with the projected capacity needs.
Some of this may refer to other ports but a few more paragraphs deal with this issue and it is important to put them on the record. The press release also stated:
In this regard, the Department would seek to identify the key projects proposed by the commercial ports as essential to deal with anticipated capacity deficiencies to 2007 and beyond, and would establish whether the ports see these being funded from their own resources or in partnership with the private sector.
My learned colleague, Senator Buttimer, might be interested in how this relates to Cork Port, which is in courtship with Bantry or, should I state, like an angry father seeking a shotgun marriage. The major proposal which I supported was a major expansion of the freight capacity of Cork Port, which was ambitious. Under the Planning and Development (Critical Infrastructure) Act, Cork County Council was not involved but it went straight to An Bord Pleanála which rejected the ambitious and timely development in Cork Port. That was a mistake.
The press release contained additional information which explained that:
The State ports have evolved from being essentially public utilities with unclear mandates to entities with clear commercial mandates. They are generally regarded as being operationally efficient. Private sector involvement in providing services within the ports has increased.
This is critical with regard to consultation with Bantry.
In one of my little interactions here I made a point on the issue of the viability of Bantry. In every year except one of the past ten or 12 years it was in the black and commercially strong albeit relatively small in comparison to the major ports. It has an excellent track record. If we had lost €400,000 or €500,000 every year and had debts of a couple of million euro, I would not be here today to support the cause.
The Department pronouncement by the then Minister of State also states: "Current policy is to require the ports to operate commercially, without Exchequer support, and to provide adequate capacity for the future needs of the economy."
What is stated with regard to port company boards is important for this Bill and its wider remit as well as the lack of consultative process.
Board members should have the appropriate mix of competencies and skills to contribute to advancing the business and corporate governance of the company. Local authority representation will be reduced to one, staff representation will be confined to one and user representation will cease. A panel of appropriately skilled potential Board member candidates will be established.
The Opposition called a vote on this. We have dealt with the matter, but the Bill will affect it. It is a retrograde step that port user representation and local authority representation is at an end.
I will move on as I am mindful of the time. The next subhead in the press release is "Seaport Capacity and Funding" and it states: "A requirement for additional seaport capacity is predicted in the period up to 2014, with a particular emphasis on the growing unitised trade sector." As a matter of record, this is the period of time that I want the Minister to consider letting the status quo prevail in Bantry. The remainder of the paragraph states:
Given long lead-in times and the need to have in-time capacity in place, it is essential that a policy framework within which to identify, fund and progress any new capacity additions be put in place as soon as possible. The Minister envisages urgent consultation with ports and private sector providers on capacity needs and plans, and thereafter, identification of a small number of.high quality projects aimed at providing the required capacity. Clearly, not all proposals are likely to proceed.
The former Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, in this departmental press release of January 2005, is the third or fourth Minister to set out clearly the parameters for consultation and why it should take place. I will lead on to the more critical issue of due diligence in due course. That is central to the debate.
Under the subheading, Integrated Transport Policy, the document states: "Co-ordination with the Department of Transport will be intensified in order to ensure effective integration of transport policy across all modes." Under the next subheading, Competition, we are told:
Competitive conditions are present within and between ports. The Minister will seek to ensure that future capacity constraints do not lead to dominant or monopolistic conditions.
The document goes on to state under the subheading, Regulation:
The Minister considers that there is an insufficient case for the extension of an economic regulator to the port sector. He intends, however, that disputes between port stakeholders and the port will be addressed to an arbitrator whose opinion will be binding.
Will the Minister of State comment on the proposal to set up an economic regulator for the ports in the event of disputes between users and so on? Such disputes have occurred in the past. For example, there were tensions between the aquaculture industry in Bantry Bay regarding rights for shipping lanes. There was also, to a lesser extent, tension between the owners of pleasure boats and those engaged in inshore fishing. Whether Bantry stands alone or is amalgamated with Cork, there must be clarity as to how such consultation is proposed to take place.
Under the subheading, Mergers, the document states: "The Minister sees groupings and partnerships of ports as options to reduce costs, create synergies and improve marketing and critical mass." I have no difficulty with partnerships. This goes to the core of what I have been saying on this issue. However, what is proposed for Bantry is not that we will be partners of any description, junior or otherwise. Instead, we will be sucked in and taken over by Cork Port. It is infuriating that consultation will take place only after the event. I was never a trade union member, although I have great respect for them. If something similar happened in trade union circles, the ICTU and other organisations would kick up a stink. They would not tolerate a situation where one is presented with a fait accompli and only then is consideration given to consultation.
The document goes on to state under the subheading, Privatisation:
The potential and strategic significance of the ports varies between one port and another. The Minister intends to maintain an open mind on privatisation of port ownership and will seek to maximise private sector involvement in the ports, including funding.
Bantry Bay is of significant strategic commercial importance. It had the pride of holding the entire British navy when its fleet was at its largest. That entire fleet could be and, regrettably, was sheltered in Bantry Bay.
There are issues to consider in regard to the consultation process as outlined by the Minister of State before we come back on Report Stage, at which point I will have to sink or swim. First, under existing legislation, the Minister can, with the consent of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, sign an order to the effect that, for example, Bantry Bay Harbour will be taken over by Cork County Council. I hold some favour with this proposition.
The second issue is privatisation, as the Minister of State calls it, although we used to call it corporatisation. Is the Department now saying that this process is no longer an option for Bantry? If so, will he provide facts and figures to support that position? When we had a five-hour debate one night, going into the early hours of the morning, on the various options in Bantry, we all rejected the idea of being taken over by Cork Port. Nor did I favour corporatisation for various reasons, which I will expand upon when we discuss section 18.
The final paragraph, which has the subheading "Consultation with Port Users", is critical. It states:
The Minister is committed to ensuring that change at the policy-strategy level is designed, implemented and progressed in full consultation with relevant stakeholders. He intends to instruct ports to ensure that a forum exists within each port for local users to voice their views and concerns.
What is happening in Bantry is in total contradiction of what was envisaged by the previous Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, in this press release of January 2005. With all due respect, what has happened flies in the face of the notion of consultation as promulgated in this policy statement announced just three years ago.
That is why I am speaking in support of Senator Donohoe's amendment. It is there in black and white. I have great difficulty in understanding why this statement of departmental policy, issued only three years ago and clearly setting out the requirement for consultation with port users, has not been adhered to. I am now being told that consultation will take place when the Bill comes into law, having been passed by both Houses and signed by the President. The board of Bantry Port has looked at the possibility of judicial review and consulted eminent senior counsel to this end. There is a dread of what the future holds. This consultation should have been embarked upon and completed within a defined timeframe. The Minister should have come to the people in Bantry — the same could apply to Fenit or other ports — and said, "We are giving you 18 months to get your house in order and we are also asking Cork Port to negotiate and engage with you, to work out the pros and cons of such an amalgamation." If that had been done, according to the Department policy as enunciated in this edict of 6 January, I would be saying here that we had been given the opportunity and, for whatever reason, it was not successful. We would have to put our hands up and say we had failed to comply.
In the Department, and politically in the Minister, there has been a shift in policy within the past three years. I find that difficult to accept. The shift in policy will be detrimental, especially to the port of Bantry. The Minister says this is enabling legislation and might not come to pass in the short term. Why in the name of God put a poor old soul like me, in the month of the holy souls, under such stress and strain in the Seanad when it might never come to pass? Why was the consultation set out by the former Minister of State, Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, when he pronounced Government policy on 6 January, not followed?
Lest my good friend and colleague, Senator Buttimer, when he is travelling socially through the constituency, should say that I was giving out about Cork Port, its officials and so forth, I should point out I have nothing against the people there. Good luck to them. They have big plans and I support most of what they do. However, Cork Port will find it impossible in practical terms to work with Bantry if there is no consultation. If what is set out in Senator Donohoe's timely amendment were to be achieved, it would comply with clearly stated recent Government policy. It is not policy from the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s but policy from barely three years ago before the publication of this Bill.
I am dismayed, stung and surprised that we are now proceeding with certain aspects of this Bill that fly in the face of policy. In fact, I find it difficult to accept what is being done. I will be here until Christmas Eve and during next year saying that consultation, a key element in this amendment, has been sidelined. In case somebody should claim I am reminiscing, every word I have spoken into the record today is material I have gone to the trouble of finding, even over the weekends, in researching reports and finding issues of relevance to this Bill. My comments today and the quotations I have used have not been made by me previously. I am glad I went through that material and that I have put the final paragraph from the edict or policy statement by the former Minister of State, Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, in 2005 on the record. It deals with the kernel of the issue before us, what was said in 2005 and what I and the port users and members of the harbour board in Bantry understood to be the case.
Why the rush with this legislation and why the lack of consultation? There is a list of approximately 12 or 15 other small ports. They are not commercial, although that is arguable in the case of Baltimore in west Cork which has an unusual mix of sailing, fishing boats and trawlers and an important daily ferry to Sherkin Island and Cape Clear. It is in limbo. To emphasise the point about the lack of consultation, I believe this will happen to that port. It is not provided for in the Bill. I do not know why but perhaps it is not necessary because it can deal with Cork County Council.
I will outline the facts. I have been dealing with this on a hands-on basis for many years. I sometimes get strained because I feel very emotive about this issue. However, I will tell the story of Baltimore and Cork County Council in my own way. I knew a character at one time who has now gone to his grave. I was at his funeral. He was fond of the drop of Katie Daly or poteen. He was a fierce character and he courted a girl who was totally against the dropeen. It was a case of never the twain would meet. He always said he would never marry her unless he was drunk and she said she would never marry him unless he was sober. It never happened. It is the same story with Baltimore and Cork County Council.
The county council is saying it has no intention of taking over Baltimore because it has problems and no infrastructure. I accept money was spent on the harbour recently but there are complex issues such as the daily necessary ferry to Cape Clear, Oileán Cléire, and Sherkin Island. There are passenger ferries as well as ferries dealing with commercial traffic. If one wishes to build a house on Cape Clear, the blocks, gravel, timber and so forth have to be brought by ferry. There is a roll-on roll-off ferry for such traffic. There is also the yachting fraternity and the few surviving fishermen, to whom I am very close. There are also marine leisure facilities at the port.
Under this Bill, Bantry Harbour is being asked to allow Cork Port to take it over. Baltimore, however, is in limbo. I have encouraged meetings between the manager of Cork County Council and the Baltimore Harbour board to see if they can come together and work out a strategy for the future. The Department stands aside and says it will happen sometime. It will not because of the amount of money that was spent in Baltimore and to a lesser extent in Kinsale. Senator Ned O'Sullivan makes other valid points about places such as Fenit. There is a case where consultation has worked. I do not have in-depth knowledge but from my inquiries I understand that what happened in Sligo was the result of consultation and agreement. That model could be replicated. It is a different port with different issues but that example should be examined carefully.
Kinsale is another port in my constituency with a great history from before 1601. The situation there is another recipe for disaster. There are major potential problems. The harbour is close to Cork and has commercial activities, including fishing. I know the town well. It is a beautiful town that has a strong culture and heritage. More importantly, over the past 40 years it has become the culinary capital of Ireland with its great restaurants. However, unless there is consultation, there will be problems in the future for that harbour.
I can only speak on this Bill and about the issue of consultation. I might have time to put a letter on the record. It is a letter written by Mr. Aiden McCarthy, chairman of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, to Mr. Dermot O'Mahony, chairman, Port of Cork Company, Custom House Street, Cork. I will soon turn to the issue of due diligence which will take another couple of hours on the next day of the debate. The letter is dated 17 February 2005 and states:
As the newly elected Chairman of Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, I would like to arrange a meeting with you at your earliest convenience.
The main topic of conversation would be the Directive [this is the directive I referred to earlier] from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to explore the possibility of amalgamation. Following a meeting with Mr. Michael Guifoyle in Bantry, he encouraged us to set up this meeting as soon as possible.
We would be happy to travel to Cork when a suitable date can be arranged.
I look forward to hearing from you.
This letter shows the response of the board in Bantry, of which I was a member, to the edict or policy statement. The chairman, within roughly one month of getting that policy edict——