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Monday, October 13, 2008

Sitting at the dock of the bay?

Wexford Harbour Commissioners is a body that is responsible under law for the management of Wexford Harbour. It may surprise you that the commission is responsible for all water from the entrance to the harbour up the River Slaney almost as far as Enniscorthy. For the last 4 years I’ve been a member of the commission and it’s a board I enjoy being on. I was nominated by Wexford Borough Council to represent the local authority on the board. There are other stakeholders there too, sailing club members, former seamen, members of the county council, ministers representatives and at one time a member of a family heavily involved in mussel fishing in the bay. I always had a strong interest in marine matter having spent some time in a previous life working in mariculture so I like the topics covered and you do feel you’re making a difference.

This may well be coming to an end if Minister Noel Dempsey has his way. Section 10 of the 2008 Harbours Act removes the right of the local authority to nominate members to harbour boards and reduces the size of the board to 8. Legislation already in place provides for the transfer of responsibility of the harbour to the county council however given that our harbour is not a commercial harbour with respect to freight no one is interested in investing in facilities and without investment the harbour is going nowhere. So we have a catch 22, no money and yet the board where no member receives expenses is soon to be treated as though it is a major commercial port that should be able to raise its own finance. the County Council doesn't have the money and the board that's there cannot get the bye-laws passed by the department that could possibly throw it a lifeline. Instead we can expect nominees who may not be from the community and may not be accountable to any local authority on these boards.

There is no gain for either government, harbour users or commissioners. I don’t expect huge sympathy from the general public on this one however if you remove councillors from the board as they did from health boards, will there be any improvement? No! In reality this is a reduction in power for the ordinary councillor at a time when we're told that decentralisation is better. Labour’s Michael McCarthy has opposed this section in the Seánad. I hope enough FF senators have the backbone to say to Minister Dempsey that it’s time to think again and let councillors stay on harbour boards and that this section of the act is changed.

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