Thursday, 31 January 2013
Harbours and Piers
I have twice raised in the House the issue of the need to provide funding to dredge the harbour at Dunmore East. It is a small fishing village on County Waterford's east coast. There is no doubt that the harbour needs to be dredged. The Department has recognised this need. Many vessels can only land at the harbour and the port at high tide because of the build-up of silt. This restricts the types of vessel that can land. Given the fact that Dunmore East is a fishing village and a harbour that needs a turnover of vessels, this situation is a major concern.
When the issue was raised, the Department's reply referred to the potential contamination of the silt and ensuing problems, for example, exposing contaminated mud once the harbour was dredged. The people in the area wonder how silt in Dunmore East could be any more contaminated than silt in any other harbour in Ireland or elsewhere. There is nothing peculiar about the harbour that would lend itself to that claim. People ask about the scientific analysis underpinning the Department's claims about contamination in the fear that it is only being used as an excuse not to provide the necessary funding.
The significant decrease in fish landings at the harbour poses a further issue. If we could deal with the dredging issue, large vessels could land there and commercial activity at the port would increase. This makes sense, as I am sure the Minister of State agrees.
The harbour is a designated fishery harbour at EU level. If foreign trawlers off the east coast of Ireland get into some sort of difficulty, Dunmore East is the designated port. As such, it is all the more urgent that the Government provides appropriate funding to ensure that vessels can land there.
This matter is not just important for the people of Dunmore East, but also for the east of the county. Due to many changes in the fishing industry, the fish processing plants, which employed hundreds of people in that village, have closed. I understand that the harbour's turnover is between ¤10 million and ¤12 million per year, but people genuinely believe that it could be significantly increased were the harbour dredged, as landing there would become easier for larger vessels. This would have a positive knock-on in terms of job creation.
If capital or maintenance funding could be made available to ensure that the harbour was properly dredged, the situation would improve. The harbour's turnover would certainly improve. I appeal to the Minister of State to make funding available to ensure that the harbour runs to its full potential and commercial activity increases, impacting positively across all of eastern Waterford.
I thank the Senator for tabling this motion on the Adjournment. The harbour at Dunmore East is one of the six designated fishery harbour centres owned, managed and maintained by the Department. Funding is made available on an annual basis by the Department to the fishery harbour centres, including Dunmore East, via the fishery harbour and coastal infrastructure capital development programme.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, is happy to advise that the Department has, over the years, continued to support the development of the Dunmore East fishery harbour centre and has provided significant funding for maintenance, development and upgrading works each year. Indeed, capital expenditure under the programme for Dunmore East since 2007 has been in the order of ¤4 million. This is in recognition of the valuable contribution the harbour makes, not only to the fishing industry, but also to the local community in terms of the support the harbour infrastructure provides to the development of the tourism industry and the local economy generally.
The Dunmore East fishery harbour centre provides a dedicated and essential service to our fishing fleet. Both local and visiting fishing vessels, including vessels of significant dimensions, are currently availing of its harbour facilities. The Minister is happy to report that the investment in the Dunmore East fishery harbour centre in recent years is bearing fruit. The data provided to him by the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority indicate a year-on-year increase in fish landings in recent years.
The Minister is cognisant of the need to be fully aware of the ongoing needs of the harbour users at Dunmore East fishery harbour centre. With this in mind officials from the Department regularly host a harbour users forum and meet with local stakeholders and harbour users. This forum provides a platform for harbour users to air their views and gives the officials an opportunity to hear at first hand the concerns and suggestions of the people using the harbour facilities. The Minister is glad to be able to advise the Senator that as recently as last July, the Dunmore East tourism group, which plays an active part in the harbour users group, formally complimented the appearance of the harbour and the good work being done there by the Department.
The need for dredging works at the harbour is recognised by the Department. Reports commissioned indicate that 80% of the harbour sediment contains tributyltin, TBT. Unfortunately, the cost associated with the disposal of dredge spoil containing TBT is significantly higher than for uncontaminated material. The most recent estimate for dredging of the harbour and disposal of the dredge spoil material in an appropriate manner is approximately ¤5 million. This represents a significant expenditure in the current economic environment. The Minister confirms that the engineering division of the Department has engaged consultants to examine and report on a number of alternative options in terms of the structuring of the works and the outlay involved. He expects to have the report in the coming months and will assess at that stage how best to proceed in relation to the dredging issue.
In the meantime, the Department will continue to provide investment in the Dunmore East fishery harbour centre facilities. The level of investment will of necessity be tempered by the availability of Exchequer funding. The Minister is happy to confirm that the programme of projects for inclusion in the Department's Fishery Harbour and Coastal Infrastructure Development Programme 2013 is at an advanced stage.
I thank the Minister of State for his response and acknowledgement of the importance of the harbour and funding required. The Minister of State indicated in the response that 80% of harbour sediment contains TBT, which may or may not be the case. Obviously, I cannot second guess that. Perhaps the Minister would request the Department to pass on the scientific evidence and reports which indicate same. I acknowledge that there is a report pending which examines alternative ways of disposing of the mud once the river is dredged. I again appeal to the Minister to ensure that those alternatives are fully explored and that the funding required is made available so that this issue, if real, does not in any way take away from the need to dredge the river. As acknowledged in the Minister's response, this is of huge significance and importance for the east of the county and every effort must be made to ensure it as easy as possible for as many vessels as possible to land at the harbour and port, which will have a knock-on positive commercial, economic and social value for the people of Dunmore East and the east of the county.
The reports commissioned by the Minister indicate that 80% of the harbour sediment contains TBT. The Minister has engaged consultants to consider the options for dealing with the TBT and expects to receive their report in the coming months. The Minister will then be in a position to address the matter properly.