Seanad debates

Thursday, 25 February 2010

11:00 am

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House to accept this motion on the Adjournment. He is familiar with the circumstances of the situation in Castletownbere. Substantial business is being lost to the town and to the peninsula because we do not have a full-time harbourmaster. An investment of almost €40 million has been made in Castletownbere Harbour, which is of significant importance for the future, and I accept that the fishing industry is the prime motivator of business in Castletownbere. Nevertheless, vessels have recently been directed away from Castletownbere because they could not be properly berthed. A full-time harbourmaster with the goodwill of the district in his focus would ensure no business was lost to the harbour. The owner of a local oil company which supplies boats in the harbour says his business has declined by more than 50% in the last 12 or 15 months owing to uncertainty. On four occasions ships of the Naval Service could not come into the harbour because berths were not available. EiraNova, a Spanish-Irish ship processing company is now landing many of its vessels in Dingle. This sends out a very bad signal in difficult times.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food indicated that he is anxious that a new harbourmaster be appointed. I urge that this be done sooner rather than later. I will be in Castletownbere next Monday to meet 15 companies, big and small, which do business in the harbour. They are seriously concerned. One company will lose three or four jobs if the current state of play continues indefinitely. There has been a lapse of two years during which the former harbourmaster was ill and a temporary person was appointed. This creates considerable uncertainty at a time when the fishing industry faces significant difficulties. It would be a pity if related industries on the peninsula and in the greater west Cork area were allowed to suffer.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator O'Donovan for giving me the opportunity to outline the up-to-date position on this matter and to acknowledge that he has been raising issues relating to Castletownbere, including this one, for a long time. The Department has responsibility for the management and development of six fishery harbour centres located at Killybegs, Dunmore East, Howth, An Daingean, Ros an Mhíl and Castletownbere. These centres are located strategically around the coast of Ireland and provide an essential service for our fishing fleet and its fishermen. The six fishery harbour centres accommodate various fishing related industries which generate local employment. They provide facilities for the repair and maintenance of the shipping fleet and for the support of passenger and car ferries to the islands and play an important role in the Irish tourism and marine leisure industry.

Castletownbere is Ireland's second largest fishery harbour centre. In recognition of the important role played by the fishery harbour centres and in this case by Castletownbere, the Department has invested €33 million to date in a major capital infrastructure project to upgrade facilities at the Dinish Island wharf which is located within the Castletownbere fishery harbour centre. Dinish Island is owned and managed by the Department. Such investments help to underpin and develop the important role that the fishery harbour centres, including Castletownbere, play in the fishing industry and local economies. The specific importance of Castletownbere can be seen in the fact that the income generated in 2008 at Castletownbere fishery harbour centre was €0.136 million and fish landings are in the region of 20,000 tonnes at Castletownbere per year. This activity sees some of the largest boats in the Irish fishing fleet operating out of Castletownbere along with vessels from other EU states. There has also been an increasing volume of commercial and cruise liner traffic at the harbours.

The role of harbourmaster in any of our fishery harbour centres is varied and demanding and is central to the continued efficient and effective management and development of the harbours. The principal tasks which harbourmasters are expected to undertake include the enforcement of harbour by-laws, rules and regulations, the maintenance of control over all shipping, fish landings and passengers entering or leaving the port by sea, ensuring compliance with the wide range of health and safety requirements in respect of the harbour, ensuring the proper functioning of all harbour facilities, and supervising the staffing complement on each harbour.

In recognition of the role undertaken by harbourmasters, specific qualification and experience requirements are in place within the recruitment process. The most recent appointment of a harbourmaster in Castletownbere was made in October 2005 following an open competition run by the Public Appointments Service. In November 2009 the harbourmaster in Castletownbere retired from his post. To address the situation whereby the harbourmaster post was effectively vacant for a prolonged period prior to this, the Department appointed an officer to take on the duties of harbourmaster in an acting capacity with effect from November 2007. While the position remains that an officer is taking on the role of harbourmaster in an acting capacity, the Department is anxious that the post be filled on a permanent basis now that the previous harbourmaster has officially retired. As I have previously noted, the position of harbourmaster is a specialised post and a targeted recruitment process would have to be put in place to recruit a full-time harbourmaster for Castletownbere.

However, owing to the need to further control public expenditure and the numbers of public sector employees, the Government decided in March 2009 to introduce a moratorium on recruitment and promotion in the public service. This moratorium forms a central plank in this Government's programme to control public expenditure. It is recognised, however, that in specific and limited cases there will be circumstances in which the specialised nature of certain posts will mean that work cannot be reorganised within a Department to address the effect of a post falling vacant. It is my view that the post of harbourmaster in our fishery harbour centres is one such post. Within the terms of the moratorium on public sector promotion and recruitment it is open to Departments to request an exception to the terms of the moratorium. Any such exceptions are understood to arise in very limited circumstances only and require the prior sanction of my colleague, the Minister for Finance. Given the specialised nature of the post and the important role which the fishery harbour centres play, my officials are pursuing this option with the Department of Finance with a view to proceeding with a recruitment process to fill existing harbourmaster vacancies in the Department.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for State. I understand from what he says that the moratorium is tying his hands. I hope he can use his influence with the Minister for Finance to establish the exception he suggests in his reply and that the post will be advertised and filled before the longest day of the year.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I assure Senator O'Donovan that I will pursue that matter.