A NEW Harbours Bill will give State-owned port companies the power to invest outside their own harbours as part of a Government move to encourage the ports to boost their commercial activities.
The Bill, announced by Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey, facilitates the proposed building of a new deepwater port at Bremore in north Co Dublin by Drogheda Port Company.
Mr Dempsey said the Harbours (Amendment) Bill 2008 will allow the 10 State port companies to pursue a "robust commercial agenda" both in and outside the State and would boost the commercial mandate given to them in the Harbours Act, 1996.
Drogheda Port Company asked the Department of Transport for permission to alter its geographic limits to proceed with its proposal for a €300 million port at Bremore, which it is developing with a property firm ultimately owned by Treasury Holdings.
After taking advice from the Attorney General, the Government decided that an amendment to the 1996 Act was necessary.
The change to the rules will also facilitate plans by other State ports to expand in order to meet the State's future trade needs.
"Notwithstanding the current economic slowdown, the port authorities should continue to plan for growth in the medium and long term. This legislation is designed to help them do that," Mr Dempsey said.
The port companies will be given greater powers and flexibility to borrow money to add to their capacity under the Bill.
The ports will be permitted to borrow up to €200 million or 50 per cent of the value of their assets with the consent of the Minister for Transport, with the Minister having the power to vary this percentage depending on the needs and stability of the port.
Among the other changes in the bill is a proposal to cut the number of directors on a port company board from 12 to eight, with one local authority member appointed to the boards from among the Minister's statutory nominees.
Port companies will be obliged to follow Government guidelines in relation to the disposal as well as the acquisition of land. Under the Bill, An Bord Pleanála will in future deal with compulsory acquisition of land by port companies, not the Minister of Transport. The 10 State-owned port companies are in Dublin, Cork, Drogheda, Dundalk, Dún Laoghaire, Shannon/Foynes, Galway, New Ross, Waterford and Wicklow.
Despite the recession, Irish exports are still growing, putting further pressure on the east coast ports in particular. Some 95 per cent of Irish manufacturing exports pass through sea ports, with €135 billion of merchandise handled in Irish ports last year.
Bremore Ireland Port last month invited tenders for legal services on development and financing a deepwater port, logistics centre and business park at Bremore. A full planning application for the port is expected to be put forward later this year.
A study on the future of Dublin Port is being prepared for the Government by Indecon consultants and is set to be finalised in 2009. A spokeswoman for the Department of Transport said the future of the Bremore project depended on the outcome of the Dublin Port study.
The Irish Times