It was only 12 months ago that both of Ireland's Tall Ships were on passages around this coast, calling regularly at ports and harbours, a reminder of our seafaring tradition. Just one year later though, the fate of both ships and the state sail training programme itself appear sealed. This week's decision to turn the Jeanie Johnston in to a static museum piece is further cause for concern.
As the anniversary of Asgard II’s sinking in the Bay of Biscay approaches, there was poignant celebration in Belfast to mark this month's successful staging of the event that attracted 800,000 to the city but also to lament the absence of any Irish ship there, the first time for many years.
The Jeanie Johnston, a ship that has completed transatlantic passages only a few years ago, is owned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and is currently berthed at Dublin City Moorings. Following consideration of a number options for the future of the ship, the Docklands Authority are to open the Jeanie to the public as a museum next year.
The official position to leave one ship on the sea bed and the other tied to a quay wall will come as blow to campaigners who hoped the Jeanie Johnston might be deployed even in the short term as a replacement for Asgard II and keep the state sail training programme alive.
The fact, however, that the programme itself is the focus of the recently published Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes (the McCarthy Report) is an indication of what lies ahead.
The report recommends that any plans to build a replacement vessel should be deferred indefinitely as this will yield a once-off saving of €3.8 million as well as ongoing savings of €0.8million a year from the termination of the training scheme.
As is the case with other recommendations in the McCarthy report, it will be a matter for Government as to whether or not the recommendations in relation to the sail training programme is implemented.