On Wednesday, 24th September the Oireachtas Transport Committee heard from representatives from various ports and harbours, including Galway Port, as part of its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2014.
The Harbours Amendment Bill updates legislation from the late 1950s, provides for a new classification structure for ports and harbours and transfers the ownership of some ports and harbours, including Galway Port, from the Government to City and County Councils.
The representatives from the Galway Port outlined some of the plans for the port’s expansion and also highlighted some concerns regarding the legislation.
Unfortunately, Limerck TD Patrick O’Donovan launched what I’ve described as a ‘hatchet job’ on Galway Port’s plans and outlined why the plans should not go head.
Deputy O’Donovan’s contribution:
Patrick O’Donovan TD: I thank those who contributed on this for their attendance. I will be parochial in regard to my response to some of the comments made. In my view, the counties of Kerry, Clare and Limerick are very much in the west of Ireland and anybody who suggests their location has changed should look again at their geography. The Shannon Foynes Port Company in my constituency is a tier one port of national importance.
I direct my comments now at the suggestion from the Galway people here that existing policy may be against what they are trying to achieve. I looked at the annual report of the Galway Harbour Company before coming to this meeting and noted it had a total income last year of €3.19 million. Over half of that income was derived from non-port activities. Some €1.1 million came from rental income and €845,000 came from car parking charges. The contrast between what the Galway Harbour Company suggests and what is happening in the west further down the coast, in Shannon Foynes, could not be more stark.
Shannon Foynes Port Company handles approximately 10 million tonnes of cargo per year, approximately 15% of our national tonnage. Galway Harbour Company accounts for only 1% of national tonnage, with just under 500,000 tonnes. Shannon Foynes Port Company is open 364 days a year and has no difficulties in regard to berthing. It can berth ships of over 200 m with 10.5 m of draught. It is the deepest port in the country and does not have the constraints the Galway Harbour Company has. It is for that reason it has been designated a tier one port.
It is correct that there will be issues in regard to attracting investment into Galway. The main reason for difficulties with attracting investment into a second port in the west is that the facilities envisaged are already available in the west. We will have three ports of strategic national importance, one in the east, one in the south and one in the west. A motorway is under construction between Limerick and Galway and a report is currently being commissioned by the NRA to upgrade the N69 into Foynes. CIE has also already done some work in regard to reopening the railway line into Foynes.
I looked at the Galway Harbour Company prospectus for years one to five in the development of Galway harbour and much of the work envisaged there has already been done 40 miles down the road in Limerick, Foynes, Shannon, Tarbert and Moneypoint. I cannot understand why there is difficulty in accepting the Government’s policy in regard to the tier status of Galway port, given it handles only 1% of the national tonnage and has 13 people working there on an average salary of €90,000 a year. I feel the biggest hindrance Galway Harbour Company faces in regard to the development of its plans is dredging. It will have to put considerable capital investment into dredging and this will require significant outside investment. This can come from the State or A.N. other, but the State has already made its position clear.
Would Galway City and County Councils be averse to joining Limerick City and County Councils and Clare County Council with a view to establishing a clear transportation hub on the Shannon estuary akin to what has been done at Shannon Airport? We cannot have international airports at every crossroads and by the same token the size of the country places a limit on the number of ports of strategic national importance we can have, particularly in view of the investment required. This is unnecessary when there is a port 40 miles down the road that already deals with significant tonnage. Some of the largest ships in the world currently sail into Moneypoint, Foynes and Aughinish Island.
The Galway Harbour Company plan is very ambitious, but it bears no resemblance to what the Government is trying to achieve in its ports policy. Rather, it flies in the face of that policy. There is a reluctance to accept the fact that Galway has just 1% of the national tonnage and less than 50% of its income, €1.29 million, is derived from port activity. Instead, it believes it is in the wrong tier. I find that difficult to accept.
It understandable and natural that a TD would promote and fight for his/her own constituency. However, the attack on the plans that Galway Port have was completely unwarranted and one can only assume that the Port of Shannon/Foynes and Deputy O’Donovan feel threatened by the Galway Port’s expansion plans. I made the following contribution at the Committee Meeting:
Sean Kyne TD: I am not a member of the committee either but I am a former director of Galway Harbour Company. I spent a number of years as a member of Galway County Council. Like Deputy Walsh I fully support the plans for the redevelopment of Galway harbour and have made a submission to that effect to An Bord Pleanála. It is regrettable that Deputy O’Donovan chose to leave the meeting. Getting parochial is fine and he is fully entitled to support his local port of Shannon Foynes but I always believe that to promote oneself one does not have to attack somebody else and he tried to do a hatchet job on Galway. I agree with my colleague that he must be concerned about Galway getting planning approval or perhaps he is acting on behalf of Shannon Foynes in that they are concerned that the Galway expansion would go ahead.
I addressed the Merchant Shipping Bill in the Dáil last week, when I invited the new Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to come to Galway to see the plans. He indicated that he would be happy to do so and I presume that can be arranged with the witnesses. The Galway Harbour Company has been hindered by its current gates. The potential of this development for the port is astronomical, not just in increased shipping but also in the tourism sector and the cruise liners. Other ports could not compete with that because Galway port is at the heart of the city. It is within walking distance or a very short bus journey from Eyre Square for tourists. We have seen many tourism initiatives in recent years such as the Wild Atlantic Way and similar. The captain spoke about the Volvo ocean race which was a huge success. Part of that success was due to the fact that the port is at the heart of the city. It would not have worked if the port was 50 miles away. People within the city could come out and experience the Volvo ocean race.
Will port policy hinder planning permission or, if secure planning permission is secured, will this strengthen the case for having the port policy changed? Will the envisaged co-operation with Galway City Council help in terms of redevelopment of the inner dock, which has great tourism potential? Is the funding dependent on a move to tier 2 or are there any alternatives? If tiers 1 to 3, inclusive, are not used as criteria, what should be used? Mr. Bradshaw referred on the change of status to a mechanism to allow for the port to be upgraded to a higher level and pointed out that no such facility is included in the proposed legislation. On what basis or according to what criteria might this be allowed? Should it be based on expansion plans, for example? There has to be something to go to Government with and expansion plans would be one possibility. I reiterate my support for the plans. It is hugely important for Galway city and the surrounding areas that this plan goes ahead. I am confident that it can.
The representatives from Galway Port – Eamon Bradshaw, CEO, and Capt. Brian Sheridan addressed some of the questions and issues raised:
Mr. Eamon Bradshaw: Deputy Ellis asked a few questions before he left including whether the enterprise park would be doubled with the new port. It would and a further 500 jobs are envisaged in that respect. The Port of Galway has a regional focus and very little of the produce going through the port – approximately 600,000 tonnes – comes from the city itself. The majority of the produce comes from outlying areas, including Mayo and County Galway in particular. The funding of a port of regional significance is much more difficult than funding a tier 1 or tier 2 port. The reasons are obvious. Investors will be much more attracted to investing into ports which carry much larger volumes. They will see the potential there. In our case, what we have decided to do is get our planning permission at which stage we will have a product we can offer. We have gone through significant research and the production of various funding strategy documents to demonstrate that we can fund the development of the port and we are comfortable that it can be achieved.
Governance issues were raised. Clarity is vital when one is running a commercial entity. It is vital from the point of view of the port of Galway that we are clear where responsibilities lie and who are the decision makers. Is it within the local authority? Is it within the executive of the local authority or does it rest with the councillors? That is very important from our point of view. Clarity on governance issues is vital to the running of a commercial entity in a very difficult environment.
Mr. Brian Sheridan: It is worth noting what is the definition of a port. A port is no different from a motorway in that it is a piece of infrastructure that facilitates the movement of goods and people. In the Galway case, it is an infrastructural deficit which makes up the shortfall in that the port has outgrown itself. Given its medieval harbour, the points raised by Deputy Boyd Barrett about heritage ports might offer new opportunities for Galway.
I believe there is too much emphasis and a bit of a hang-up on the strength of the balance sheet of the port companies when we look at these issues. In fact, it is the economic benefit that it brings to the region. Not all ports are profitable. For example, the port of Miami is propped up to the tune of €9 million each year by the city of Miami because of the benefit the 4 million passengers who run through the cruise terminal there bring to the city and the region. The ports are there for the benefit of the economics of the region rather than the balance sheet of the port company.