There is an appalling piece of legislation called the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000. Actually, only part of it is appalling. The first 45 of 46 sections are OK: they’re all about investigating marine casualties, which is more or less what you would expect, and that’s fine. But Section 46 is a stinker:
The Minister may, from time to time, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, advance to a person, out of monies provided by the Oireachtas, for the purposes of marine or natural resource based tourism or heritage projects, such sums, by way of grant or loan, as the Minister may determine and upon such terms and conditions as he or she considers necessary.
First of all, it has nothing whatsoever to do with investigating marine casualties and, second, it allows a minister to hand out money to his mates on whatever terms he likes. This sort of addition to an irrelevant bill is what we might expect in the USA or in Greece, but it should never have got through the cabinet, never mind the Oireachtas. It is fortunate that the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources at the time the act was passed was a person of the utmost probity, one Frank Fahey.
In 2010 responsibility for Section 46 was transferred to Craggy Island by Section 3 (1) of SI No 677/2010 — Marine Tourism (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2010:
3. (1) The functions vested in the Minister for Transport by or under section 46 of the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000 (No. 14 of 2000) are transferred to the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs.
And in 2011 it was transferred again, this time to the Department of, er, Agriculture by SI No 163/2011 — Marine Tourism (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2011:
3. (1) The functions vested in the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs by or under section 46 of the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000 (No. 14 of 2000) are transferred to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
The Dept of Ag later became the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, although most marine functions are still in the Department of Transport.
On 13 February 2012 I wrote to the Dept of Ag thusly:
I would be grateful if you could give me a list of grants and loans made under Section 46 of the 2000 Act since it came into force, including the names of the recipients, the purposes for which the grants or loans were given and the details of your evaluations of the effectiveness of the grants or loans.
I would also be grateful if you could tell me whether your department intends to seek the repeal of Section 46.
After several reminders, I found a kindly chap who took up the matter. He has today written to say:
We sought the assistance of our Marine Agencies and Programme Division in Clonakilty, Co Cork and they have advised that the Department of Agriculture , Food and the Marine (formerly the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) has made no grants under Section 46 since responsibility for Section 46 was vested in the Department. If any grants were made under Section 46 prior to responsibility being vested in this Department the details would be held by the responsible Departments at the date of the decision. I regret that these details are not held by this Department.
In relation to the repeal of Section 46, it can be confirmed that there are no proposals at present to seek its repeal.
I am glad to learn that no grants have been made. The reply does not mention loans, so I’ve sent a follow-up question to ask about them. I’ve also asked why the blasted section is not being repealed. And I’ve written to Craggy Island (or rather its successor, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht) and the Dept of Transport to ask whether they made any grants or loans when they were responsible for Section 46.
Ireland is not Greece, a minister said today. So why has Section 46 not been repealed?