DÁIL SPEECH ON URGENT NEED FOR DREDGING OF HOWTH HARBOUR

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Howth is one of the most beloved and visited seaside towns in Dublin and Ireland and one of the country’s six national working fishery harbours. It is also the premier fishery port on the east coast with a synchro lift and repair yard. Tourism to Howth port and peninsula has increased greatly, with as many as 2,000 visitors per day and as many as 750,000 visitors per annum. Howth is an historical area, which was recognised as a trading port in the medieval era and was the port of Dublin in the early 19th century. It has many great working fishery and marine leisure traditions and is also famed for delicious white fish, when in quota, and Dublin Bay prawns caught off this picturesque part of Dublin Bay. The peninsula also has had a special amenity area for two decades and is part of the new Dublin Bay UNESCO biosphere reserve, which I proposed.

In recent weeks, I have been contacted by members of the Howth Harbour Users Action Group who are very concerned about the build-up of silt in the harbour and the damaging effect this is having on all aspects of this important harbour. Howth Harbour has not been dredged for decades. I understand it was last dredged in 1981 or 1982 and I do not recall a dredging programme in the harbour in many years representing the area. The action group reports that this neglect has led to almost 6 ft. of silt building up in the harbour and an operational crisis for all the fishing and leisure craft which use it.

In reply to a recent question, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, referred to the fishery harbour and coastal infrastructure development programme 2011 to 2014 and noted that a sum of €4.2 million that was invested in maintenance, development and upgrading works at the Howth fishery harbour. Funding of €1.79 million was approved for maintaining and developing the harbour centre this year. I understand the funding this year was allocated to continue work on upgrading the electrical system, provision of a small craft pontoon and traffic management works. While this investment is very welcome, it is also critical that the harbour does not become unworkable as a result of the build-up of silt.

The Howth Harbour Users Action Group, led by Mr. Sean Doran and made up of representatives of the yacht club, the boat and sailing clubs, a large trawling company and local businesses, states that the lack of action on dredging is threatening the future of Howth Harbour. The build-up of silt is affecting fishing fleets entering the harbour as they are fearful of being run aground at low tide. As a result, they must lie off the port. The group reports that even medium-sized fishing trawlers cannot enter the harbour at low tide because the draught is so shallow and that groundings of vessels are much more commonplace than previously. The successful Dublin Bay ferry has also been badly affected since the build-up of silt makes it virtually impossible to adhere to published timetables. Marine tourism and leisure use at the harbour is also seriously disrupted by the large build-up of silt. The action group states that this also compromises the safety of harbour users from the boat and yacht clubs. The group is fearful that a serious accident could result if the port is not dredged soon.

It appears from the budget allocation to the Department for 2016 that funding is available to carry out a dredging programme. Budget 2015 provided for the first increase in funding in the marine area since 2009. Almost €18 million was spent on fishery harbours development last year, with €14.9 million specifically allocated to the six fishery centres. Last month, in a reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister informed me that €150,000 had been provided for site investigation works to investigate the material to be dredged in any future dredging project. Has this money been spent and has the study been carried out and completed? Will the information gathered be necessary for a dumping at sea licence? If the report on the investigative works is available, what is the timeframe for proceeding with the dredging project?

It is incomprehensible that a dredging programme has not been carried out in Howth for nearly 40 years. The Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, is not directly responsible for the matter I raise. It is disappointing that the Minister is not present to respond. I understand this problem was raised when the Minister’s father was the Minister with responsibility for the marine in the mid-1990s and nothing has been done since.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this issue. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is responsible under statute for the six designated fishery harbour centres which are located at Howth, Dunmore East, Castletownbere, Dingle, Rossaveel and Killybegs. All six fishery centres are, first and foremost, working fishery harbours which provide essential services and facilities to the fishing industry around the coastline. Each fishery harbour centre has unique features which facilitate a broad range of other diverse activities which are important from both an economic and social perspective. The Department is conscious of the importance of both fishing and non-fishing activities at the harbours. This involves day-to-day operational support by harbour staff and management and development and repair of infrastructure, subject to available financial resources.

I am pleased to advise the House that, notwithstanding the prevailing economic environment in which we operate, in excess of €4.2 million has been invested in maintenance, development and upgrading works at Howth as part of the Department’s fishery harbour and coastal infrastructure development programme between 2011 and 2014. The Minister also approved funding of €1.79 million for the maintenance and development of Howth fishery harbour centre in 2015. Major works for 2015 include the continued upgrading of the electrical system, provision of a small craft pontoon and traffic management works.

Siltation in Howth harbour is recognised as an issue and is being kept under review. It has been discussed with various stakeholders, and officials from the Department attended the Howth Harbour Users Forum on 29 January 2015 and used the occasion to have a number of tangential meetings with users, at which the issue of dredging was discussed. A further meeting with the Howth Yacht Club was held on 17 July at which the question of dredging was again the main item of discussion.

As part of the 2015 fishery harbour centre development programme, the Minister sanctioned €150,000 to carry out site investigation works in Howth for the west pier pontoon and middle pier upgrade. The site investigation contractor commenced work on site in early November and the work is expected to be substantially complete by the end of the year. It is anticipated that the report on the site investigation will be issued in early 2016. This report will include information on the nature of the material to be dredged and the extent of contaminated material within the dredge footprint. This information is required to prepare a dumping at sea licence application which will be necessary for the commencement of any dredging project in future. It will also provide the basis for an informed estimate of the cost of dredging the harbour at Howth. As with all other developments in the six fishery harbour centres, a dredging project at Howth fishery harbour centre will be considered under future capital programmes on the basis of available Exchequer funding and competing priorities. The suite of projects for inclusion in the 2016 programme is being considered and the Minister will make an announcement on these in due course.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I thank the Minister of State for his response, which provides information that I have received previously. As I stated, the expenditure of €4.2 million was between 2011 and 2014, as was the allocation of €1.7 million which was supposed to have been spent this year. The additional funding since 2011 was critical to preparing and commencing this urgently needed programme of dredging.

The Minister referred to a €150,000 preparatory report which will hopefully be ready in the next month or so. I will certainly welcome that. I hope it will be published widely and that we will then know exactly what has to be done. In his reply, the Minister of State said there was no information on costings except that the cost will be substantial. We know the cost will be significant, and I hope the Department begins to work on the costings immediately on receipt of the scoping report on how the dredging project can be carried out and its likely timeframe. The Howth Harbour action group accepts that the planning and licensing process takes time, but it could push the dredging project way out to 2017, 2018 or 2019. Obviously, that is not going to be good for any of the leisure users or the working fishery users of the harbour. I notice that in the 2016 budget expenditure report, the Minister has €200 million set aside each year for capital projects in 2016, 2017 and 2018. It would have been handy to have him here to discuss this. While in overall global terms it might be small, a significant sum of perhaps €2 million or €3 million should be set aside to facilitate proceeding with the project as a matter of urgency.

When I tabled a recent parliamentary question to the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, he could not give me figures on the employment statistics relating to the private and State organisations operating out of the harbour centre. Hopefully that information will become available now, along with information on all aspects of the economy of the centre. Mr. Doran’s enterprise alone supports approximately 100 jobs. The bottom line is that marine safety is the core value for all seafarers and their support workers onshore, including the Minister of State and me. The great inconvenience and danger posed to fishing and leisure craft must end and we must proceed with a dredging programme as quickly as possible. Hopefully, the Government might be able to include the dredging project for Howth as part of the good news in the pre-budget announcements before its term of office ends.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: It is an important issue and I agree with many of the points the Deputy has made. On the publication of the report early next year, local Deputies and interested parties may be in a position to meet with the Minister. I will do my best to facilitate that, as it would be the best way to proceed. I will ask the Minister about the capital allocation and see if he can move the issue forward. Howth Harbour is a wonderful amenity, and the issues the Deputy raised are extremely important. We must be in a position to act on them and proceed in an appropriate manner once the report is available. It should be published, available and transparent and we should be able to act on it as soon as it is there. Deputy Broughan and I can facilitate a meeting with the Minister to ensure that we can act on it.