The ongoing failure to transfer a foreshore licence to a Donegal family, as part of a deal to dredge Burtonport harbour, was raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin Deputy Pearse Doherty.
He said the story originated in 2003 and had gone on for over a decade. Donegal County Council was charged with dredging the channel at the harbour at Burtonport in 2003. The council ran into difficulties regarding the disposal of the spoil, the dredged material. It reached an agreement with a local family, the Boyle family, to use some of the Boyle lands, comprising a small number of islands adjacent to the harbour, as a solution to the dumping problem in removing the silt. It was agreed to use the rock contained on the small islands owned by the Boyle family as a bund and to store the dredged material within the bunded area. The result from the point of view of the council is a saving of over €500,000.
“The result of this work was a new plot of land consisting of Mr. Boyle’s original islands and the new reclaimed foreshore,” he said. “The agreement with the family was that the new piece of land, the reclaimed foreshore, and the original land owned by the family would be transferred to him by the council as part of the original agreement. The intention of the family was to build commercial, community and retail units and a marina that would create dozens of jobs and kick-start the local economy, not to mention bringing in taxes to the local exchequer and rates to Donegal County Council. Part of the agreement was that the Boyle family would transfer to the council part of the land to assist the council with car parking. What has happened in the past ten years? The harbour has been dredged, the infill has happened and the rock owned by the Boyle family was used by Donegal County Council, saving the council over €500,000. However, the transfer never took place because it was caught up in some legal wrangle, according to answers to parliamentary questions from Deputy Coveney, Deputy Hogan and Deputy Ó Cuív.”
Deputy Doherty said it is now over four years since Donegal County Council paid €130,000 as the agreed fee for the transfer of the foreshore licence. The Boyle family was chosen as the preferred partner to develop the marina project and a grant of €465,000 was allocated for the project. Unfortunately, the grant was lost and it is claimed it was lost because of the delays in the project.
“As entrepreneurs, the Boyle family have come up with another proposal to develop the area to enhance it in respect of tourism,” he said. “This is all dependent on the transfer of the foreshore licence.”
In reply, Minister of State for Planning Jan O’Sullivan said that at the time of the original application, Donegal County Council wanted to purchase the foreshore in question. However, the position of the then Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources was that a lease should instead be granted for the maximum term of 99 years. As a matter of routine, sanction from the Department of Finance, now the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, is required for lease terms in excess of 35 years. Sanction was secured in October 2007, subject among other things to a valuation being obtained and agreed by the council. After a series of negotiations, the valuation was finally agreed with the council in October 2010. The council elected to lodge payment in respect of )the leasehold premium in October 2010, in advance of any request for payment from my Department or any lease agreement being in place.
“Over time, the nature of the proposal for which the council had originally intended to make the third party sublease changed substantially,” she said. “This gave rise to a number of legal issues, on which my Department needed to seek legal clarification. My Department has been engaging with the Chief State Solicitor’s office on this case since November 2010. The present position is that legal advice is awaited from the Attorney General’s office and, until this advice is received, it is not possible to indicate when this matter will be concluded. My Department’s legal advisors have been appraised of the pressing need to resolve legal matters relating to the case. My Department is in regular contact with the county council to ensure it is aware of the position, with the most recent contact taking place in December 2013.”