With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about the first North/South Ministerial Council sectoral meeting for the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. The first meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council for Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission sector took place on 9 February.
Following nomination by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, Mr Dermot Nesbitt and I represented Northern Ireland. The Irish Government was represented by Mr Frank Fahey TD, Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources.
The papers for the Council were cleared in draft by the Executive Committee on 1 February and were circulated in final form on 8 February.
The main thrust of the meeting was to give impetus to the new Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission. Accordingly, the meeting opened with an oral progress report from Mr Peter Savage, the chairman of the Commission, and Mr Derick Anderson, the chief executive (designate), who attended for this item only. They were able to confirm that staff had transferred without difficulty from the Foyle Fisheries Commission, that the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) Order 1999 had also transferred successfully their prosecution and enforcement powers, and that good progress was being made in respect of their new headquarters. In addition, they described the interim agency arrangements which allowed the Commission to exercise its jurisdiction in respect of the Carlingford area through the Fisheries Conservancy Board and the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board.
The Council noted that the legislation to give the new Commission its powers to develop and license aquaculture forms part of the Executive’s legislative programme, and Mr Fahey confirmed that he would aim to keep in step with the progress of the Northern Ireland legislation in making parallel legislation in respect of the Irish jurisdiction.
The Council also took note of a progress report on the transfer of Irish Lights to the new Commission. Mr Fahey confirmed that the Irish authorities were content with progress.
The Council discussed the consultation arrangements which should apply in respect of the new Commission. The Council considered that it was important that the Commission should, as a priority, bring forward proposals for a new non-statutory advisory body which would draw in a range of those affected by its functions.
The Council approved a list of key duties which it wished the Commission to bring forward at an early date. These comprised: appointment procedures and terms and conditions for chief executive; mission statement; year 2000 corporate plan proposals; staffing proposals, structure and terms and conditions; proposed revisions to staff contracts; draft code of conduct for board members and staff; and finally, proposed programme of work.
The Council discussed the schedule of sectoral meetings likely to take place during 2000. These were provisionally set for early May, September and the first week in December. The Council agreed to meet again in this format in early May 2000.
Finally, the Council considered and approved the draft joint communiqué, copies of which have been placed in the Assembly Library.
Can the Minister enlighten us a little on the new non-statutory advisory body? There is already a substantial amount of money being expended on the North/South body itself. How much is this non-statutory advisory body going to cost? How many members will it have and who will they be? Is it going to be more jobs for the boys?
There are no proposals as yet and, as I reported, this is a matter that will be considered. Many people from the fishing industry who use the Foyle and Carlingford Loughs have expressed concerns to my Department, and I think it would be useful to consult with them. I assume that the advisory body will be a means of taking on board the views of people who are not actually on the Commission, but as yet there are no proposals.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. My question is about lighthouses and the Commissioners of Irish Lights, and arises from the report which was presented to the Assembly by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister on 18 January 1999. Under the section relating to the North/South body in aquaculture and marine matters it says
I understand that the context is that for over a century now lighthouse provision in this island has been funded out of a general lighthouse fund to which the current Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, John Prescott, acts as trustee. He subsidises the operation of lighthouses in the North and, it has to be said, in the Republic of Ireland as well.
Were arrangements relating to the East/West aspect of lighthouse operation discussed at the recent meeting which the Minister reported on?
Legislation is being prepared to deal with the important issues that come under the jurisdiction of the Commission of Irish Lights, in particular, where the British Government has a concern. However, the arrangements were not discussed at the last meeting.
Will the Minister tell the House which waters the Irish Government now controls but did not control prior to the setting-up of this body? There is, take it from me, deep concern in the Carlingford Lough region about what is happening there.
Will she explain how the body has an estimated spend of £431,000 since it was set up? What has that money bought for the people of Carlingford or Foyle? I would like to know where the money is to be spent or was spent. According to page 25 of the Northern Ireland Estimates 2000-01 it will be spent on services under the Government of Northern Ireland for the year ending 31 March 2001.
The Commission is now responsible for the Newry area including the Newry canal, Clanrye river and others.
The rest of the question related to the money spent on—
Order. May I remind Members that these are questions to the Minister about the statement. Questions to the Minister on the Estimates, for example, will be taken at another time. Clearly the Minister cannot be prepared for questions on Estimates when the statement is about the North/South Ministerial Council meeting. The purpose of the questions is to address that particular issue.
I note from paragraph seven of the Minister’s report that the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Mr Fahey, confirmed that the Irish authorities are content with the progress of the transfer of Irish Lights to the new Commission. Will the Minister say whether the transfer will have any bearing on the jobs of those currently employed by Irish Lights?
I thank the Member for that question. No, it is intended that the contracts of employment of Irish Lights staff will transfer with their functions and there will be no detrimental change in their working conditions.
Aquaculture is one of the important functions of the new body. Given what she has said, will the Minister expand on the timescale for legislation in this area?
I noted her comments on the idea of an advisory body to work with the cross-border body. Given the wide range of functions included in that body’s remit, I find it difficult to see why representatives of anglers or landowners on the Owenkillew river would necessarily want to be on the same advisory body as those who fish or sail on our saltwater coasts. Will the Minister give consideration as to whether more than one body might not be more appropriate?
With regard to the licensing of aquaculture, the legislation amending the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952 to extend the functions of the Loughs Agency, including the development and licensing of aquaculture in Lough Foyle, continues to be progressed. A number of policy matters between the two Departments sponsoring the Loughs Agency — the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources in Dublin — proved more difficult to settle than anticipated. However, instructions are now being finalised and forwarded to the draughtsmen in both jurisdictions. I hope that the legislation will be brought forward in September.
The second part of the question related to consultation. We are awaiting proposals which will include sub-committees for the areas and functions.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. I wish to draw attention to the need for work to be done on the conservation and management of our fishery stocks as a natural resource. Does the Minister agree that that should receive priority status amongst the work of the Department and the council?
I wish to thank Éamonn for that question. The Commission will deal with the need to conserve stock, to develop the fisheries and to manage the whole area. The answer to the question is "Yes". I accept the importance of the issue, and I look forward to seeing the Commission work very fruitfully in that area.
In her statement the Minister said that good progress was being made. Is she concealing the reality of the situation? A departmental memo from Mr Derick Anderson to a Mr Lavery contains the most disturbing news that seizures of illegal nets and boats on the tidal Foyle have fallen from over 700 nets and 80 boats in 1996 to 350 nets and 40 boats in 1999, and that illegal fishing has been taking in excess of 10,000 salmon from this area per annum.
That is the equivalent of between one half and one third of the legal commercial catch. As the Department is unable to recruit the temporary staff required to maintain this river, should the Minister not have brought this material to our urgent attention in her statement today, to make us all aware of the current dire and, indeed, most disturbing situation?
My report was on the central meeting, which dealt with the legislative and administrative arrangements that must be put in place to deal with the many issues that will come under the commission’s management. There is good evidence of deterrents: continuous vigilance will be needed, and temporary staff are, in fact, being recruited to deal with this. I was reporting on the discussions we had on putting the arrangements in place. There has, of course, been a three-month gap. We had intended to have a meeting in May, but, unfortunately, we were unable to. We hope that that meeting will now take place at the end of this month.
I can assure Mr Dallat that I want to see the Commission developing the tourist potential of angling and fishing in particular, on a North/South basis, and I have no doubt that it will proceed to do that.
The Minister thanked the hon Member for South Down, Mr ONeill, for his question — and very helpful it was too — but I can assure Members she will not be thanking me for my question. Will the Minister take it from me that many of the anglers who fish in the waters that flow into Carlingford Lough remain totally and implacably opposed to this whole process? They see this as artificial interference in the good management of Carlingford Lough, as was carried out by the Fisheries Conservancy Board, and they also see it as being done for pure political expediency.
Many of the anglers feel very aggrieved that they now have to liaise with a body whose local office will probably be based in the Irish Republic and that they will have to buy two licences, one from the old Fisheries Conservancy Board, and one from this new body. This will do absolutely nothing to promote angling and fishing in Carlingford Lough, and there will not be one more fish left alive as a result of this vast expenditure.
I thank the Member for his question, which is, indeed, very welcome. All questions are welcome; that is what I am here for. In relation to the licensing situation, the Fisheries Conservancy Board in Northern Ireland and the Eastern Fisheries Board in the Republic of Ireland operate as agents of the Commission in delivering services. Arrangements are in hand for the commission to begin delivering services itself as soon as possible. The commission has approved staffing and accommodation, and there are other proposals which await approval. The Commission will be taking over the ongoing work.
The staff of the Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission have an effective track record in the protection of fisheries in the Foyle area as part of their role in the Foyle Fisheries Commission. I expect that they will continue to deal effectively with poaching in their extended areas of responsibility. In relation to licences, it is not true that people will have to pay for two. Those who have mistakenly bought a licence to fish in one or other area, will, if they write to the Commission, be given the right to fish in both areas.
With regard to the areas which come under — [Interruption]
They will be allowed to fish in both areas with whichever licence they have bought. There is no problem with that. When they want to fish in areas that come under the Fisheries Conservancy Board, they will be able to buy, at a very cheap rate, an endorsement of the licence they have, not two licences. The licence that they already have can also be endorsed at a very small fee, which is much less than the sum of the two fees added together.
The Minister said that there was no real difficulty for employees of Foyle Fisheries Commission to transfer to the Implementation Bodies. I know, from Foyle Fisheries Commission employees, that they have had great difficulty and could not understand why they were doing it. Following on from that, can the Minister guarantee that those people who have transferred their pension rights, employment rights — and every other accompanying right — will have those rights safeguarded?
My other question concerns the North/South Ministerial Council. My understanding is that Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners, who control a fair portion of the River Foyle and have a reasonable amount of activity on it, have not been consulted on any issue concerning the area they control. I hope, that when the Minister sets up the advisory committee about which she is now talking, the Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners are brought into the equation. She may rest assured they have a great deal to say concerning the whole issue of this advisory panel now being set up by the Minister. I wish to make it clear to her that Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners very much wish to be contacted by her concerning the whole issue of the area they control.
I thank the Member for his question and advice. I hear what he says about Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners. As I have already stated in response to an earlier question, employees of the Foyle Fisheries Commission will be guaranteed that there will be no detrimental impact on their employment, and their contractual rights will be transferred.