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Islanders who can't see the sea

18th April 2008
Islanders who can't see the sea
SEASCAPES – APRIL/MAY 2008
Life on Valentia Island and around Malin Head in Donegal is much different to that in Dublin. It is arguable that there is a better quality of life in the coastal regions, free from the everyday problems and pressures of life in the capital. People who live in the coastal areas have a pride in their home place, a love of the areas in which they live, steeped in maritime tradition.

It has been taken as an enormous insult by them that their lifestyle should have been insulted by the Department of Transport and senior Coast Guard management.

 

“They appear to regard us as of something of lesser standing than themselves, because they live in urban areas and we don’t,” I was told on Valentia Island in County Kerry. This view was echoed from Malin Head in Donegal, where the Department of Transport and the Coast Guard has recommended the closure of both locally-based coastal marine radio stations.


Not a shred of justifiable cause for the closure remains after the proposal was found to be devoid of any accuracy on its main claims, by both the ESB and Eircom, who refuted the Department and Coast Guard contention that power and communications systems were not good enough in both areas. In fact, where there have been any difficulties in the coastal areas, there have been as many at the marine radio centre in Dublin, but this was not referred to in the management document. And both regional locations stepped in to keep the marine radio system going when Dublin couldn’t continue.

Having been shown to be quite inaccurate in these claims, the other main case made by management and civil servants has been that staff and their families would have a better lifestyle in an urban centre, with access to schools, shops, universities and other aspects of social life, than they would have in the coastal areas.

“This is contemptible of life in the coastal, rural regions,” I was told, but indicative of an increasing attitude of anti-rural bias perceived to be emanating from the corridors of Government and State administration. It is my duty as a journalist to reflect these views.

“There is no logic for the closure proposals, no justification for them,“ said the Kerry County Manager, Tom Curran, after his Council agreed to campaign against them.

They are questionable on another aspect, as I discovered when I pursued the issue with the Minister for Transport and Marine, Noel Dempsey. He told me that there would be no job losses at the stations if radio work was not continued. When I asked how this could be justified, as there would then be station staffs at three locations – Valentia, Malin and the new urban centre in the West – he admitted those at Valentia and Malin would not have as much work as before, but they could be used for other tasks. This was suggested by management as overseeing other Coast Guard operations.

So, from their existing stations, they would do that type of work, using the same equipment that the Coast Guard management already claimed was not suitable to continue in operation?

That seems to lack logic and the proposal it is worrying also on safety grounds. Seafarers, fishermen and leisure mariners have all expressed their concern to me on Seascapes – even mountain climbers and hill walkers have written to the Minister protesting. I am a firm believer that there should be no compromise with safety. The stations have a proven record of efficiency and success. Why is it proposed to change a successful system and what is the basis for claiming that urban life is better than life in rural and coastal areas?

This controversy has led to listeners asking me to refer to what is increasingly being perceived as a lack of interest at the highest level of government in the marine sphere. “It appears to be emanating from minds that are too concentrated on the urban experience of life in the capital and no longer see the larger picture of the reality of life in a small island nation on the periphery of Europe,” is just one description I have heard in the past few weeks as more people in the marine industry express concern to me.

“They are inward looking, rather than outward to the reality of a nation surrounded by water... We depend on the sea as our major channel of communication with the rest of the world, but that doesn’t seem to be understood by government ministers and civil servants...” And so the comments go on.

When the Department of Transport issued documents, notices, information leaflets about the marine sphere, but with no reference to ‘Marine’ in the Department’s title, I asked why, particularly when the Department has a ‘Minister for Transport and Marine.’ I was told that at the highest level of senior civil servant, a committee had met and decided there was no need to include ‘Marine’ in its title.

And this is the Department which wants to close the Coast Guard stations, which is responsible for maritime safety and the ports and which would have no transport to deal with in this island nation without the sea – because there would be no fuel to operate the transport if ships and seafarers didn’t bring it in through the ports.

There are five government departments dealing with different aspects of the marine sector when fisheries, ports, safety, inland waters, the offshore islands and sailing are taken into account. But not a single department has ‘Marine’ in its title.

Evidently the marine sector is not considered a high priority and, in an island nation, this is regrettable.

“There are none so blind as those who will not see ...” My grandfather who first introduced me to ships was fond of making that quote when he spoke about politicians who he believed did not see reality where maritime matters are concerned. That was many years ago. Not a lot has changed. Perhaps those who ignore the maritime sphere are so busy looking inward that they don’t see the sea.
Published in Editors Blog
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