Special Report 82 of the Comptroller and Auditor General: Financial Management and Reporting for Fishery Harbour Centres
Mr. Tom Moran (Secretary General, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine) called and examined.
Deputy John Deasy: The witnesses are all very welcome and I wish to focus on a particular harbour, Dunmore East. I will go back 14 years and refer to the studies and reports that were done in conjunction with Mr. Moran's Department and other Departments over that time span. In many cases, Mr. Moran and his officials will have been aware of reports, recommendations and findings but it is useful to go back and list recommendations and findings to show the lack of activity.
In 2000, KPMG drew up a consulting report - a technical and socio-economic review of infrastructural requirements in Dunmore East and the significant need for development of the harbour. This was followed in 2003 by a Kirk McClure Morton report, which was commissioned by the Department then dealing with this - it dealt with preliminary designs and an environmental impact assessment was planned. It was found that the existing harbour was too small and did not permit proper development so the report was, effectively, a reiteration of the previous one. In 2004, a public consultation process commenced and planning permission for the fishery harbour centre was granted in 2005. In 2006, some €300,000 was provided for design and another €300,000 was provided for site investigation. The first phase was to begin in 2008 but then the economy collapsed, as we all know.
In 2007, Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Limited was commissioned to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and found a number of weaknesses. The harbour was deemed to be very old and in need of a significant upgrade. No significant dredging had taken place for many years at that stage and it is now 22 years since such dredging. Most of the large vessels had to steam to Cork or Howth to dock and there was no safe access to the shore for yachts. These findings are from 2007.
The five-year business plan for Dunmore East was proposed to increase fish landings to 9,100 tonnes and grow harbour dues and revenue to €267,500 by 2013. As the witnesses know, on 20 March 2014 the Department sanctioned maintenance dredging in Dunmore East. Consulting engineers finalised tender documents and a completed tender package was advertised on 24 May. The tender submission stage ended on 7 July 2014 but we have now learned there is a delay. The €4 million involved in this relates only to the dredging of the inner basin - the idea of overall harbour redevelopment is unmentioned. In 2013, some €827,000 was made available and €450,000 of that was to widen and extend the slipway at the west wharf. Some €220,000 was for the extension of the fishery harbour building.
The Chairman spoke of legacy issues and if one goes back over the past 14 years on the Dunmore East issue, there is a legacy of bitter disappointment when it comes to what the Government promised and what it actually delivered, or not delivered. Dredging was announced earlier this year but what is the situation on the tender process? When will dredging commence?
Mr. Tom Moran: I thank the Deputy and the Chairman. Before I answer those questions, I should point out that fish landings at Dunmore East are increasing. Between 2010 and 2013 fish landing increased by 43%, from 8,386 tonnes to 11,994 tonnes, and this is good. I understand the Deputy's point on historical investment levels but between 2006 and 2013 some €5.4 million was invested in Dunmore East. It is a fine harbour but the Deputy is absolutely correct that there is a dredging issue. He is also correct that we intended to spend money on dredging in 2014 and allocated €4 million in the capital programme for that purpose.
We ran into a difficulty with the tender in relation to that on the issue of value for money. My information is that there is an absolute intention to begin that as soon as possible in the new year under next year's capital programme. It is a top priority.
Deputy John Deasy: When can we expect it to begin? Will it be early in the new year?
Mr. Tom Moran: Whenever it is appropriate for dredging to start. We have to re-tender for the work.
Deputy John Deasy: In the first instance, the Department has to re-tender so when is it expected to have the tendering process finished?
Dr. Cecil Beamish: The tenders that were received were deemed after assessment not to be value for money for the State and to involve potential cost exposures for the State to claims. The responsible decision, that everybody here would agree with, was not to expose the State by going with the available tender. Let me outline what is being done. Further sampling and analysis is being done and in greater detail on all the sediments; one of the issues is the level of contamination in some of the sediment areas. We are trying to see if we can more precisely define in the tender documentation the extent of the contamination and the appropriate treatments that would be requirements for different elements of the dredging. In that way, we hope to achieve more cost-efficient tender bids that can be advanced and proceeded with. The work is ongoing on the sampling exercise which will lead to the construction of a different tender specification, with the hope and expectation of getting a better value for money tender proposition.
Deputy John Deasy: When will that work be finished so that one can start the tender process. I need to know when it will happen. It is very important at this point that the people of Dunmore East have some certainty.
Dr. Cecil Beamish (Assistant Secretary General, Dept's Marine Division): The steps are to do the sampling and see the results. We are also testing the possibility of alternate ways of dealing with the contamination, because the technology is moving on as are the systems. When there is engineering advice available on both of those elements, and the sampling surveying has been completed and analysed, then a tender specification will be put together. The tender will be advertised and we will analyse the response. The earlier in the year that this can be done, the easier it will be for a contractor to carry out the works in reasonable weather conditions while also taking account of the times that others use the harbour. The objective is to get a new specification for the tender process as early as possible in the new year so that the contract decision can be made as early as possible.
Deputy John Deasy: Mr. Moran has listed off the amount of money that has been invested into Dunmore East since 2006. I have the figures in front of me for the period 2008 to 2013 and the total in that period was €4.76 million. If I went to the other five ports and fishery harbour centres, I would probably find that the equivalent amount went into them. That is fine. When it came to the slipway in the west wharf, the level of effort and lobbying I had to do to get that money, €450,000, to extend the slipway was incredible. Dunmore East is a neglected port and has been for a long time. There is a litany of reports but no action was taken as a result, which is absolutely incredible.
I am going to chase the officials on this project for as long as it takes to get the dredging done. There comes a point when one cannot answer reasonable questions from a fisherman or a businessman in Dunmore East. It has come to the point that I have become hesitant about giving affirmation to any Government announcement as it affects Dunmore East, which is an unfortunate situation to be put in.
Not so long ago, we were talking about investing €60 million in the harbour and the studies were done.
The business community in Dunmore East is very resilient. The Waterford Institute of Technology has secured funding under the fisheries local area development scheme for feasibility studies of ideas that would stimulate job creation and economic activity in Dunmore East. The deficit has been on the Government side. The people of Dunmore East are trying to keep this village vibrant. There was a meeting last night about all of the issues. The Department has to focus on the infrastructural issues that have been identified ad nauseam for the past 20 years in Dunmore East but have not been acted upon.
I have made the case. It is not a personal criticism, but there is a case to be answered with regard to Dunmore East.