Thursday, 10 May 2012
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, to the House. I wish to raise the matter of the draft fishery harbour centres rates and charges order 2012. The order will see charges for yachts and commercial vessels berthing in any of the State's main fishing harbours increase by up to 800%. I understand the harbour in Dunmore East, County Waterford, will have to apply such charges.
Due to the neglect of previous Governments, many fishing villages across the country have been devastated because of massive changes in the fisheries sector. Many ancillary services and businesses which depended on the fishing sector have also suffered. The harbour at Dunmore East is now so shallow due to the build-up of mud and silt that some of the larger fishing vessels can only enter and leave at high tide. The harbour's Syncrolift, a device for repairing vessels, has so much mud underneath that it can only cater for smaller boats. Some of the larger vessels are now repaired in other ports and even outside of the State. This has a knock-on effect for local businesses and employment in Dunmore East. The harbour badly needs to be dredged which is estimated will cost between €4.5 million to €6 million. When one considers the harbour turns over millions of euro every year and its benefit to the local community and the region, the cost for dredging is a small amount and would be well invested.
On top of these concerns, the Department has proposed to increase harbour charges. The view of many is that this will add to the woes of local businesses. Dunmore East attracts many tourists, visiting yachts, motorised pleasure craft, as well as having an adventure centre operating from the port. It also gets several luxury cruise liners which have a positive impact on the south-east region's shops, hotels, restaurants, visitor centres and other tourist attractions when one considers the thousands of tourists such a visit generates. The Government has put a major focus on tourism as one of the key drivers for economic recovery. There is a concern these charges could have an impact on these tourism activities. I am not the only one concerned about these charges. The chairperson of the Irish Marine Federation, Mr. David O'Brien, stated that for every euro spent on a berth in a harbour, €10 is spent by yacht owners in local shops and restaurants. The same would apply to luxury cruise liners. Any increase in harbour charges will also apply to commercial and fishing vessels.
Has a cost-benefit analysis of these increases been carried out? Does the Minister have any concerns that increasing charges could have a negative impact on local businesses? Will the Minister allay some of the concerns of local communities which will be affected by these increases in charges?
I am replying on this matter on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney. From a young age, I had a fixation with harbours but then that was lost for a long time. Going to a harbour, such as Dunmore East or Killybegs, is an attraction. This morning on the radio it was stated fish is the most sought after food in Europe. Our senior Minister has done a great job in Europe in that regard.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to deal with and provide some clarity on the draft new rates and charges order for the six fishery harbour centres operated under the aegis of my Department, one of which is at Dunmore East, County Waterford. It sets out proposed changes to the fee schedule for the use of the facilities at each of the six fishery harbour centres located at Dingle, Castletownbere, Dunmore East, Howth, Killybegs and Rossaveal. The draft has been published following an extensive review of the existing rates and charges order for the fishery harbour centres that came into effect in 2003. The draft order was issued for public consultation on 31 March last and that 21-day period closed on Friday, 20 April. A total of 85 submissions were made, of which six were from fishermen's representative groups, two were from individual fishermen, 18 were from the tourism and marine leisure sector, 12 were from passenger vessel operators, one was from a local authority, 15 were from marine business interests in the fishery harbours, six were from harbour users groups and islanders, and 25 were from private individuals. This is a significant response from a wide range of stakeholders in our fishery harbours and I am gratified to see the level of interest and commitment that they represent.
The responses received are being examined closely by my Department and all submissions will be given full consideration before the new order is finalised. It is important to stress that a public consultation process is exactly that, a consultation process that provides a valuable opportunity for me and my Department to hear and to consider the concerns of our customers. I want to assure the House that no decision on the final text of the new rates and charges order will be taken until all of the submissions made by the stakeholders have been considered and evaluated and I expect that process to be completed shortly.
I will explain the background to the funding mechanism involved in the day-to-day management of the six fishery harbour centres for the information of the House. The Fishery Harbour Centres Act 1968, as amended, sets out the mechanism to be employed in funding the day-to-day operational costs of the six fishery harbour centres. All income received at each of the six centres is effectively lodged to what is known as the fishery harbour centres fund. All of the day-to-day running costs of each centre is financed from the fund and it is the only source of income available to fund the day-to-day operational and management of the centres. The expenditure includes harbour master and staff salaries, electricity, lighting, fuel costs, security, harbour cleaning and maintenance, without which the centres could not function and provide a service to their customers, the harbour users. It is important to reiterate that all income lodged to the fund is invested back into the centres and is used for no other purpose.
The rates and charges order is the legal instrument that enables charges to be levied that provide the income necessary for the provision of the various services at the fishery harbours. There has been no increase in rates and charges since the current charges were set in 2003. It is important that the proposed new rates and charges are set at a level sufficient to provide adequately for the costs involved. At the same time I have tried to balance that need to finance the management of the harbours with the needs of the various harbour customers.
In drafting the new schedule of fees and charges, comparisons were made with charges in place at other fishery harbours in Northern Ireland and the UK and with non-fishery harbours and ports here in Ireland. The new charges will stand comparison with any of those. There are 28 scheduled charges in the proposed new rates and charges order and in most cases the charge to the harbour user will be the same or less than before.
I will take this opportunity to highlight some of the features of the proposed new charges and their likely impact on harbour users. The general fish landing charges set for all whitefish and fishmeal have not been increased in the draft order above the levels set in 2003. A new single entry charge has been introduced, at the request of some operators, as an alternative to the annual multiple entry charge structure in place since 2003 for vessels entering the fishery harbour centres. In order to facilitate those operators an alternative €400 single entry charge option has been provided in the draft order. The new charge will be available as an alternative, at the discretion of the operator, to the other annual multiple entry charge for fish landings outlined in the draft order. It is not an additional charge as suggested by some but is an alternative to facilitate operators who may find this a more satisfactory alternative for their particular pattern of harbour usage.
Charges for Syncrolift use have been the subject of complaints from users. In the light of those complaints, although the charge for standing in the covered repair bay has been increased from €50 to €100 per day, the charge for prolonged use has been halved, decreased from €400 per day to €200 per day. In order to ensure that the charge is fair I have introduced an exception to facilitate an inspection by a Government body, for example where a vessel is awaiting inspection by the marine survey office. Charges for use of the facilities in the centres by yachts and other pleasure craft have been introduced for the first time. It follows the provision of specialised marina facilities at Dingle and Rossaveal fishery harbour centres in particular, in response to the importance of such developments in the marine tourism area. The charges for passenger craft using the centres have been carefully calibrated in order to be fair and equitable but also to reflect the importance of the services provided by the ferry operators to the island communities.
The consultation process seeks to provide a platform to ensure a fair and equitable levying of charges as is possible. As I have said, my Department is working through all of the submissions made by the public. My officials are available to meet interested parties to discuss the draft rates and charges order and to provide any necessary clarification. They will listen to and consider alternative suggestions to the individual charges included in the draft order. A number of such meetings have been arranged, one of which is a meeting with stakeholders in Dunmore East early next week. After this series of meetings have been completed and the analysis of the submissions has been finalised, I hope to publish the new rates and charges order at an early date having considered all of the issues raised during the consultation phase. Copies of my speech are available for Members and there are more in the ante-room.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I understand that the consultation process has just ended and that no decision has been made. Therefore, I respect the fact that he does not have the decisions and outcomes of the consultation process yet. He mentioned in his speech that the Minister is seeking to balance the running costs of harbours against the impact that any increase in charges would have on customers. That is the point I am making. We must ensure that we do not, while increasing charges to ensure the harbours are run correctly, damage their ability to attract customers, whether they are using yachts or cruiseliners. It would also have a negative impact on local businesses. I am comforted by his comments. We must wait to see the details of the outcome of the consultation process. I thank the Minister of State for taking the Adjournment.