Just over a year ago, consultants were pointing to the fact that leisure craft berths needed to triple in Dun Laoghaire harbour to cater for extra demand. It was obvious to the watersports community at that time, but Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company is one of few state companies to see the marine leisure potential that lies in our waters. The consultants report, published in November 2007 on foot of findings that valued the marine leisure industry at €700 million, proposed a second marina in the harbour, boosting berths there to 2,500 to cater for boating over the next 20 years. No expansion has taken place but the existing 850-berth marina in Dun Laoghaire, built in 2001, is still one of the few success stories in an otherwise sorry tale of government neglect around the coast.
If the planned expansion ever went ahead, it would mean the single port of
Dun Laoghaire would contain three-quarters of the country's marina berths.
A single marina in La Rochelle, France has the same capacity as our entire
island. There are more berths in North Wales than there are here.
Living in Ireland means that you are less likely to own a boat than if you
live in almost any other country in Europe. One person in 158 owns a boat on
the island – the European average is one in 46. Some might argue that these
figures suggest the Irish are simply not interested in watersports. Others
see an explanation for why people in this country don’t get out on the water
– it’s simply just too difficult.
Up and down our coasts, facilities from slipways for all kinds of
watersports to state-of-the-art marinas for larger craft, are either full to
capacity, in private hands, in disrepair or non–existent.
But before this sounds like an overture for millionaires not having anywhere
to park their yachts, there is a hidden economic argument that Ireland’s
lack of marine infrastructure is costing us all.
Despite the recession, the marine leisure sector is still capable of
significant growth over the next three years if the government and local
authorities decide to unlock the potential that lies on the coast.
Research conducted by Failte Ireland across 12 marinas in Ireland shows that
the average spend of marine leisure tourism visitors to Ireland is €220 per
boat per night on discretionary spend. This is the money spent in the local
economy in local restaurants and pubs, and in today's climate it's a very
desirable injection of liquidity into a coastal community.
Even in large urban marinas such as Dun Laoghaire or Cork Harbour, with more
than a 1,000 visitors per annum in each venue, the impact on the local
business community of this increased tourism spend has been noticeable. The
impact of visiting sailors on the local economy of small fishing villages
around our coast is even greater.
The problem is that there are few marinas around our coast, and even in the
major sailing centres on Dublin Bay and Cork Harbour – representing 3,000
craft – all five marinas are pretty much full to capacity.
Change is happening - but slowly. It was heartening to hear a cabinet
minister, Eamon O Cuiv, include the following comments about the marine in a
speech a few months ago:
“Traditionally we have undervalued the oceans around us and I believe now
there is a unique opportunity for us with the Volvo Ocean Race coming
to Galway in 2009 to exploit the incredible resource that our coastline
gives us for marine leisure.
“I will be working with my colleagues over the coming years to ensure that
this potential is tapped and I believe that 2009 will be a watershed year in
this regard, with the putting in place of a clear vision of how we can
Proceed, in an orderly way, with the development of marine leisure around our
Beyond such recognition, however, lies a sorry tale of neglect over the last
20 years; even the Department of the Marine has disappeared without a trace.
Dun Laoghaire Marina therefore remains a guiding light. The harbour company
in that port is a commercial company and its interest in marine leisure is
for profit. The first marina there was some 20 years in gestation to become
an overnight success.
The second marina proposal, produced by Fisher & Associates, a UK ports
and marine leisure consultancy group, identifies an area to the east of the
existing 850-berth facility and in front of the Royal St. George and
National Yacht Clubs.
Although it’s far from being a done deal, the fact that it is on the table
at all is a step up from the current plight around the coast where a full
necklace of marinas is still to be built.
There are 22 marinas around the coast, but the west coast has no marina
facilities between Kilrush Creek, Co. Clare and Fahan, Co. Donegal. Only the
staging of the Volvo Ocean Race in May has lead to the promise of modest
facilities for Galway this Summer.
On the east coast, a new marina has got the green light in Greystones but
gaps remain between Arklow and Kilmore Quay and on the south coast between Kilmore Quay and Cork Harbour.
The only way to achieve sustained marina growth around Ireland is to get
government support for initiatives, but in spite of compelling arguments
that investment in the sector can only yield positive results, the silence
from the cabinet table has been deafening.
Larger marinas do need to be located close to the centres of habitation but
a distribution of smaller marinas at key locations of between 20 to 30 miles
apart give a greater economic spread and also provide the security of a safe
havens. Safe havens, say experts, should be spaced within a day’s
comfortable cruising of the main marine centres. Visiting sailors need a
series of destinations rather than large centres which are too far apart.
Dun Laoghaire's latest plan must be held out as an example of what can be
achieved but it is a single port. Government needs to dip its toe in the
water and take a lead from one of its own commercial companies. Without its
input, the fledgling marine tourism industry will continue to have a