Wednesday, 9 April 2014
Harbours and Piers Development
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I am very grateful to him for coming before the House to take this matter, which relates to Ros a'Mhíl harbour in Connemara.
In 1999 HGL O'Connor & Co. carried out a feasibility study for deep water jetty at Ros a' Mhíl for Roinn na Gaeltachta. In 2000 the then Department of the Marine and Natural Resources commissioned O’Hare & Associates to assess the viability of the development of a deep water pier in Ros a' Mhíl. This report justified the development on safety and economic grounds and recommended that there be two separate developments, the first of which related to the provision of a dedicated ferry berth and the second to the construction of a deep-water pier, 200 m in length and with minimum depth of 8 m. Mott McDonald EPO Limited produced design and costings for the development at that time and estimated that the overall cost would be £21 million. In November 2000, the then Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources announced the provision of £14.8 investment for Ros a’ Mhíl Harbour under the national development plan, NDP. In December of that year some £7 million was allocated to Ros a’ Mhíl under the budget for 2001. To date, some €6 million has been spent on the project. Planning permission has been obtained for the further development of the deep-water berth and all necessary statutory permits are in place. The only requirements necessary for this project to proceed are funding and support from the Government.
The development to which I refer is needed because Ros a’ Mhíl is a major fishery harbour centre and it is situated closest to the most productive fishing grounds in western Europe. Landings of fish have declined in recent years as the new generation of vessels produced under the whitefish fleet renewal scheme require greater depth and cannot access the pier on a 24-hour basis. Fishing boats over 100 ft. in length have been prohibited from entering the harbour due to a lack of deep-water berthage. Unless deep-water facilities are provided at Ros a' Mhíl this declining trend in fish landings will continue.
From a tourism perspective, Ros a' Mhíl is the main port of access to the Aran Islands, with an excess of 350,000 passenger movements per annum. It is the fourth largest port in the country in the context of passenger movements. Given that a ferry company is operating out of the harbour, this makes it a very important tourism hub. We are delighted by the fact that pontoons have been put in place in the harbour to facilitate the ferry services.
In the context of the commercial aspect, Coiste Pobail Ros a' Mhíl has surveyed 50 national and international companies operating in the area. All the companies which responded stated that the development of a deep-water harbour at Ros a' Mhíl would allow them to expand their operations and create additional employment. The development of a deep-water harbour would give rise to a domino effect, encourage the growth of entrepreneurial ventures in the region and create a new gateway into the west of Ireland. Marine transport is the most cost-efficient method of bulk transport. A deep-water pier would facilitate the development of industries in the Border, midlands and west, BMW, area which produce bulk cargos. This method of transport dramatically reduces the number of heavy goods vehicles on the roads. A deep-water pier would also be ideal in the context of servicing other industries in the region.
From a services perspective, the development of Ros a' Mhíl would create employment in related service industries, such as transport, engineering, hotels, restaurants, etc. In addition, a deep-water facility would provide a safe and accessible harbour for State services operating off the west coast.
Ros a' Mhíl is a safe, sheltered, natural harbour located 24 miles west of Galway city. Most of the land in the harbour area is State owned and designated for industrial development. The road infrastructure could be improved if the outer ring road is upgraded. The project relating to Ros a' Mhíl has been actively supported by a number of Government Departments. Where does the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine currently stand in the context of the development of Ros a' Mhíl as a port, particularly in the context of the putting in place of a deep-water berth there? If the harbour is developed, this will ensure the best possible use of facilities in the west and will give rise to the creation of much badly-need employment. The western region has been badly affected by the emigration that has resulted from the economic downturn. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply, which he will deliver on behalf of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, who is unable to be present.
The harbour at Ros a' Mhíl is one of the six designated fishery harbour centres which are owned, managed and maintained by the Department. Funding is made available on an annual basis by the Department to the fishery harbour centres, including Ros a' Mhíl, via the fishery harbour and coastal infrastructure capital development programme. Ros a' Mhíl Harbour consists of the well-sheltered Cashla Bay, within which lies the inner harbour area. The bay is strategically located at the northern approaches to Galway Bay. It was designated as a fishery harbour centre in 1981. A phased programme for the infrastructural development of Ros a' Mhíl fishery harbour centre has been progressed in recent years. Over €22 million was invested in capital developments at Ros a' Mhíl fishery harbour centre between 2002 and 2013. This level of investment is a significant commitment to the harbour and has facilitated the manufacture and installation of modern ferry pontoons, dredging works and the provision of a small craft harbour. A state-of-the-art embarkation point for residents and visitors to the Aran Islands is now in place and this enhances the services provided to and the safety of all Ros a' Mhíl fishery harbour centre uses. This is a major contribution to local tourism, with an estimated 500,000 passengers having used the ferry since 2011.
As part of the 2014 capital programme, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has approved total funding of €329,000 for harbour maintenance and development at Ros a' Mhíl. Specifically, he approved €133,000 for the design and planning of a new slipway in Ros a' Mhíl Harbour. The latter will allow for greater use of the harbour by small craft, the existing fishing fleet and aquaculture operators.
Subject to available finances, the development will be completed in stages. The final cost is expected to be in the region of €2.5 million. Additionally, the Minister has allocated €31,000 as part of the 2014 capital programme to fund the design and planning of phase 2 of the small craft harbour which will further benefit and service the ever-increasing marine tourism and leisure activities on the west coast.
Proposals for the deep water quay at Ros a' Mhíl have been mooted for some time and planning permission was sought and obtained. Due to budgetary constraints, the project has not yet progressed. Most recently, an economic survey on Ros a' Mhíl has been undertaken by Bord Iascaigh Mhara with a view to informing further strategic development of the seafood sector in the area. It is expected that this will be published in the near future. Any future decision regarding the provision of a deep water quay at Ros a' Mhíl fishery harbour centre will be informed by sound economic considerations, competing priorities and the availability of Exchequer funding.
On a broader note, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine also funds local authority projects for the development of piers, harbours and slipways in local authority ownership in addition to separate funding for selected marine and other leisure projects. In 2013, €450,000 was spent on four Galway County Council owned harbours. The Minister has also allocated €3 million in 2014 for such programmes nationally. His expectation is to seek applications from Galway County Council for appropriate projects in the coming weeks. On 20 March this year, the Minister announced €8.5 million in funding for a programme to repair publicly owned piers, harbours and slipways damaged by the winter storms. This is a once-off measure as part of the Government's overall response to the damage inflicted on our national piers and harbours infrastructure this winter. In particular, €7 million has been allocated to 11 coastal local authorities in respect of 111 projects. In this context, the Minister has approved funding of €2 million for Galway County Council to repair 15 piers and harbours around the county's coastline.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I am glad Ros a' Mhíl is still on the agenda, but the economic case has to be proven. A great deal of documentation has been sent to the Minister on that. I will talk to local people who are on the committee to put the material back on the Minister's desk. Will the Minister of State indicate to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, that the potential to open up the land bank around Ros a' Mhíl and create a ripple effect for jobs on the west coast is completely dependent on the development of the deep water berth? It is essential that the Minister places the matter higher up the list of priorities as it is not just about the pier itself or a storm damage scenario but also an investment in the future that will create jobs and employment. The multiplier effect for the west in general would be very great.
As the embarkation point for 500,000 visitors to the Aran Islands, it is very much welcome that development aid provides for a dedicated ferry berth with a water depth of 3 m. Also included in this portion was provision for a limited amount of dredging in the inner harbour area and navigation channel, which has been completed. As the Minister said, a great deal of money has been spent to date. BIM is carrying out due diligence on the aquaculture potential of the area. I have no doubt that when that is on the Minister's desk, there will be a debate in the Seanad on how best to progress matters.