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The call of the sea ignored by government

7th March 2008
The call of the sea ignored by government
It was a source of pride to the country's sailing community when Damian Foxall went to Aras an Uachtarain last month, because the visit brought state acknowledgement of the biggest sailing achievement in years.

Sailors believed it was through this epic victory - and other achievements like last year's Fastnet win - that the government (of this island nation) would respond to the call of the sea.

Instead, as it turns out, it’s hard to even figure out just who’s been left in charge of maritime affairs, now that the marine portfolio is spread over three separate government departments and the marine title doesn’t feature in any of them.

With 15% of all European waters surrounding our shores, the decision to break up the Department of the Marine affects more than sailing - it may be costing us all.

It is one of the reasons why Foxall lives in France and sails a French-flagged boat.

It’s a far cry from 30 years ago when a politician with some vision decidedto amalgamate all the marine functions in one department, a Department of the Marine.

After last year’s election, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern assigned the job of Minister for Transport and Marine to Noel Dempsey.

But fisheries was assigned to Agriculture under Mary Coughlan. There were reports of disagreements between the Ministers and it didn't all go smoothly. It was several months before the formal signing-over of Fisheries to Agriculture.

Today, there is still confusion over marine responsibility.

Eamon Ryan in Communications and Energy hung onto aspects of fisheries, drift nets, for example. But the marine leisure section - where did that go?

The Marine Industry Federation found that the leisure section was missing and put out its own alert, but it hasn't been located yet.

Sporting aspects of the water appear to come under the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, and it should be fairly acknowledged that the Department is supporting Galway ports' role in the 2009 stop-over of the Volvo Ocean race.

The Department of Transport would have no transport to deal with if it wasn't for the ships which bring in fuel. In fact, 95% of all goods come in to this country by boat, but it has decided it doesn't want any reference to the marine in its title, so its documentation is labelled "Department of Transport".

This is the Department containing the Coast Guard management which wants to close down the coastal radio stations at Valentia and Malin Head - and it
can't even include the title 'Marine' in its name.

All that is left is a marine division within the Department of Transport.

Four years ago Bertie Ahern tried to get rid of the marine department but ended up reinstating it after a campaign from different marine bodies.

This time he appears to have succeeded, but what does that mean for the pride of Irish sailing?

It may seem blindingly obvious, but it needs to be said: a single maritime authority that can make decisions relating to the sea is essential for an island people.

We’re about to lay claim to the seabed beyond the continental shelf. This claim will be laid with the United Nations and may bring a sea area of over one million square kilometres under national sovereignty.

Now that marine has disappeared off the radar again, what lies over the horizon for Irish sailors?

Maybe we are back to where we started, standing on the coast of an island nation looking inland even though, as seafarers like Foxall have shown, we
could be leaders of the maritime world.
Published in Editors Blog
Afloat.ie Team

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