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Conor Murphy signals the way ahead on the ports policy review

29 February, 2008

"A vibrant, efficient trust ports sector is vital to our economy," Regional Development Minister, Conor Murphy MP, MLA, said today,

Outlining his conclusions to the Ports Policy Review the Sinn Féin Minister said:

"It is essential that the ports can respond quickly to commercial opportunities as they arise, and that they are able to compete effectively with each other. At the same time, the trust ports should be appropriately accountable for the significant assets which they control."

"Following detailed consideration of the issues identified in the 2006 public consultation on the Ports Policy Review, I have decided that the trust ports should be given a range of extended commercial powers. To maximise the value of these additional powers, it is vital that the trust ports are no longer subject to the constraints of the public expenditure system. I therefore intend to seek that they should cease to be public corporations. They must, however, operate in an accountable and transparent manner.

"From my discussions with the ports, as well as a very constructive engagement over recent months with the Regional Development Committee and recent consideration by the Executive Committee, it is clear that there is widespread consensus on the policy agenda I have set out today.

"Later this year I will bring forward for consideration by the Assembly a draft General Harbours Bill setting out a new legislative framework for the North's ports. At the same time a revised Code of Practice setting out a range of accountability, transparency and good governance requirements on the trust ports will also be developed." ENDS

Notes to Editors:

  • Trust Ports are autonomous, self-financing statutory bodies whose constitutions are set out in legislation. They operate on a commercial basis with the profit generated by their activities re-invested to improve their facilities.
  • There are four commercial trust ports in the North of Ireland: Belfast, Derry, Warrenpoint and Coleraine. Collectively these ports handle 84% of the North's seaborne trade. The remainder is handled by the privately-owned Port of Larne.
  • The Department is responsible for ports policy and sets the legislative framework within which all ports operate in the North of Ireland.
  • The trust ports are currently identified by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) as public corporations and hence fall within the public expenditure system. Whether or not a body is to be regarded as a public corporation is an issue for objective determination solely by ONS based in its assessment of the entire range of control exercised by Government. Similarly, the public expenditure treatment of bodies is a matter for the Treasury.
  • The Department for Regional Development (DRD) launched a paper for consultation on 21 June 2006.
  • The Regional Development Minister, Conor Murphy MP MLA, identified the resolution of the Ports Policy Review as one of his priorities since taking up the Regional Development portfolio upon the restoration of the institutions.
  • The Executive Committee, at its meeting on 31 January 2008, endorsed the policy conclusions reached by the Regional Development Minister. The Executive Committee also agreed to the drafting of a General Harbours Bill, associated subordinate legislation and a revised Code of Practice.
  • The recently-adopted Programme for Government sets out a commitment to have the new General Harbours legislation in place by January 2009.

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