The Harbours (Grants and Loans Limit) Bill: Accelerated Passage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:45 am on 1st December 2020.

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Photo of Martina Anderson Martina Anderson Sinn Féin 11:45 am, 1st December 2020

I thank the Minister for being here and for introducing the legislation. As the Chair said, we, as a Committee, have scrutinised the legislation and the need for accelerated passage. This is not how any of us want to do business. Like other Ministers, the Minister has said that she is dissatisfied with taking forward legislation in that way. I do not think that there is one Minister who likes the accelerated passage process.

Given that we are on an island, it goes without saying that ports are a vital part of our economy. Foyle port in Derry, for example, is a key marine entry point into the north-west. Foyle port handles 2 million tons of cargo per year and supports 1,000 jobs. A data centre is also located there, and that has resulted in more inward investment coming in to boost the local economy. It is therefore a vital gateway for the north-west economy and has allowed capacity to grow as we move forward. COVID has brought additional challenges to a sector that was already dealing with the looming uncertainty of Brexit, and that is mentioned in the clause.

I understand that the loans and grants issued by the Department were, in the past, used for developments such as the renewable energy project at Foyle port, as well as purchasing new tugboats and cranes. While we have been told that the loans and grants are not expected to be used for sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks, they may be used for other measures relating to Brexit preparation — again, that is mentioned in the clause — and to help ports to grow their business in the post-Brexit environment. As the Minister and the Committee Chair said, the limit has not been increased since 1989, and the increase to £90 million is based on inflation, therefore I believe that it is a reasonable move to assist the ports in moving forward, particularly given that the Department stated that, if all the future loans identified by the ports were to materialise over the next five years, it would require a further £22·5 million.

I would like to take a moment to comment on the current position that the ports find themselves in — this is in relation to what the clause mentions at the end — with regard to Brexit. The British Government and Minister Poots have been somewhat lethargic, to say the least, in their efforts to prepare our ports for 1 January. We have talked about that extensively in Committee. Given that DAERA officials have been working very hard around the clock, and we need to acknowledge that, to make sure that the readiness plan is feasible, it is a pity that their efforts have been somewhat hamstrung.