Seanad Éireann - Volume 190 - 10 July, 2008

Harbours and Piers.

  Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me raise this matter on the Adjournment. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, to the House. It is good that [997]the Minister of State with responsibility for the issue is here to respond and I hope he has good news for me tonight.

I raise the issue of Buncrana breakwater not only because it is long-standing but because it is an issue of health and safety. I have raised this issue many times, as I will demonstrate before I finish. Ned’s Point, Buncrana has been the location for the RNLI, an organisation that has been working well and which has continued to acknowledge the terrific work being done by the volunteers in the Buncrana area through providing bigger and better boats for the RNLI.

The RNLI, however, should be based out of Buncrana Harbour. There have been significant attempts within the council area to ensure that dredging takes place to enable boats of all sorts to get in and out of the harbour, but primarily the RNLI boat. Unfortunately, dredging has not worked and the harbour seems to silt up as fast as it is dredged. Therefore, the solution deemed necessary is a breakwater, estimated to cost approximately €1 million when the need was identified.

We have had announcements on funding for the breakwater at least twice, if not more. We have also had matching funds in place at least twice, yet there seems to be ongoing difficulty with regard to a lease. Now, so many years after we first raised the issue it has gone beyond a joke. On previous occasions when I raised the issue in the Seanad, I asked who will be responsible when and if the boat cannot get out. There have been instances already when the RNLI has not been able to respond as speedily as it needed and there have been times when it was unable to get back into the harbour. Fortunately, up to now no fatalities arose on those occasions, but in the nature of the job it is only a matter of time before they do.

All of us in the area are anxious to acknowledge the tremendous work of the volunteers in the area. We need the breakwater and this has been accepted by the Government and the Department but I wonder why, despite raising the issue with every Minister that has been in charge of this area, there is a delay or what is causing the problem. Can we get to a point where the problem is resolved?

Over a year and a half ago, at Christmas 2006, the county manager came to Dublin and sat with the Minister at the time, Deputy Noel Dempsey and me and we went through the issues. The Minister agreed what needed to be done and I was told in January 2007 that everything was in place and everything that needed to be done was being done.

I wish to give the Minister of State an idea of the written record of contact I have had with Ministers or officials on the issue. I wrote to then Minister of State, Deputy John Browne, in April 2006. In April 2007 a sum of €562,500 was granted for the construction of the breakwater. A sum of €900,000 was granted in 2007 and it was agreed to keep that in the 2008 budget. I asked parliamentary questions on the issue on 27 September 2006, 15 February 2007, 24 April 2007, 19 February 2008. I raised the issue in the Seanad in November 2007. I wrote to the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, in November 2006, the foreshore section in November 2006, John Quinlan in December 2006, the Taoiseach in January 2007 and the Minister of State here present, Deputy Killeen, on 26 June 2008. I also wrote to Deputy John Browne, former Minister of State, again on 31 October 2007 and in January, February, April and June of 2008.

If this is not evidence of the urgency of the situation, I do not know what more I can say to stress that this breakwater is vital. I do not know how much I can stress the need for a breakwater to protect RNLI workers. I hope the Minister of State has good news for me.

  Deputy Tony Killeen: Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir as ucht an ábhar thábhachtach [998]seo a hardú. There are two aspects to this issue. The first concerns silting of the harbour and in this regard successive dumping at sea permits have been issued to the council to facilitate maintenance dredging which would allow the RNLI to launch its boat on a 24-hour basis. The primary responsibility for this aspect rests with the local authority, which has been given assurances by the Department on several occasions that further requests for permits for ongoing maintenance would be given the highest priority in the interest of public safety.

The second aspect relates to the drafting and acceptance by the relevant parties of a lease in respect of the proposed breakwater at Buncrana. The council requested a reduction or total waiver of foreshore charges on the basis that the facility was to be used by the RNLI. Following extensive discussions and as an exceptional matter, the Department, with the agreement of the Department of Finance, informed the council that it would consider waiving the rental charges if the council could confirm that the proposed facility would be for the exclusive use of the RNLI. The council was also informed that if it was unable to confirm that the facility would be used exclusively by the RNLI, the Department was prepared to apply a reduced rental charge based on the ratio of usage of the facility by the RNLI.

The council subsequently confirmed that the works proposed at Buncrana Harbour are being constructed solely for the use of the RNLI and are not being constructed for the benefit of any other party. On foot of this confirmation the Department entered into detailed discussions with the Chief State Solicitor’s office with a view to preparing an appropriate draft lease to best facilitate the council’s proposal and safeguard the State’s ongoing interest in the management and protection of the foreshore in the public interest. The draft lease will involve the insertion of specific conditions that will reflect the fact that the arrangements involved are unusual and based on the need to provide a permanent location for the RNLI which will enable the launch of its boat on a 24-hour basis.

The Department’s discussions with the Chief State Solicitor’s office have focused on the public interest provisions of the Foreshore Acts, the proposed arrangements which the council will need to make with the RNLI and other legal issues designed to protect the interests of all parties. When drafted, the lease will require the agreement of all relevant parties. In the course of drafting the lease conditions the council was asked to supply plans for the structure which, when received, required subsequent clarification on a number of occasions. These clarifications concerned the type of structure and the scale of its footprint. These issues have now been substantially resolved from a technical perspective and the Department is in consultation with the Chief State Solicitor’s office on finalising the draft lease.

The issues associated with this application are relatively complex but every effort is being made to expedite completion of the draft lease.

  Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I acknowledge that the Minister of State is new to his job but does he accept that the answer from the Department on this issue has not changed in 18 months? Is there possibility of a notional time frame for resolution of this issue? This funding has been allocated on several occasions and, if it is not drawn down now, we fear that it will not be given again. Can the Minister of State confirm that funding will be available when the lease is sorted and tell us whether the issue will be resolved within weeks or months? I have indicated the frequency with which I raised this matter but the answer unfortunately has not changed.

  Deputy Tony Killeen: I cannot confirm a date at this stage because it is not possible to predict the time frame within which the information will be provided by the council. Many of [999]the delays on the project arose because of the inadequate nature of the information supplied to the Department. Due to the involvement of the Chief State Solicitor’s office and the complexity of the lease, issues arose which involved several parties. I can only speak for one of these parties but I will ensure that the Department deals with its responsibilities as quickly as possible once the other parties provide the information needed from them.