#dlharbour – When someone with the exceptional background, qualifications and standing of Liam Shanahan Snr gives his considered opinion on the future of his beloved Dun Laoghaire Harbour, it can only be to the benefit of us all - and the Harbour itself - to pay serious attention writes W M Nixon.
Liam Shanahan's experience as an engineer and international businessman is coupled with his unrivalled record of success over a long lifetime in sailing, which has been continued recently with his acquisition, at the age of 84, of his latest performance sailing cruiser, a new Beneteau Oceanis 38.
He has firmly come down on the side of those who would wish to preserve and develop Dun Laoghaire Harbour as a State Park, a major sporting and recreational amenity for the people. But knowing the conflict of interests this might cause, in addition to the ever-present expense of simply running the harbour, others have been looking at realizing a fresh source of income through a new if potentially obtrusive cruise liner berth, in order to cover the €2 – 2.5 million annual running and everyday maintenance costs of this magnificent but totally artificial harbour.
Whether or not cruise liners would bring significant extra shoreside expenditure to the town over and above their berthing fees is - as Liam Shanahan makes clear - a very moot point, but the Dun Laoghaire traders seem to think it will. That said, the recently-published proposals for the retail re-development of the town's main shopping thoroughfare, George's Street, make little or no reference to hoped-for trade from cruise liners, and in any case there are those of us who feel that the only hope for saving George's Street would be a much more visionary project to somehow preserve the better parts of its character while turning it into a covered shopping mall.
But that's another day's work altogether. Meanwhile, the recent Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2015 has shown the full sporting and recreational potential of Dun Laoghaire Harbour and its hospitable and historic yacht clubs, and I tried to capture some of this very special atmosphere in the most recent Sailing on Saturday blog, where the penultimate paragraph reads:
"With a bit of help from the new ebb, we made it to the harbour mouth without tacking, which provided leisure to savour the scene. You never get tired of sailing into Dun Laoghaire Harbour, and when the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta is in full swing at the end of a day's racing, it's like a continually-changing living Boat Show with craft of every shape and size going hither and yon, while zooming among them the foiling Moths were having themselves a tremendous time with an in-harbour course".
That's only a snapshot of one aspect at a particular moment, nevertheless I hope it conveys just what a very special place Dun Laoghaire Harbour can be when there's a major event in full swing. But a pace like this cannot be maintained throughout the summer, let alone on a year-round basis. Yet aggressive weather and rough seas are assaulting the harbour's fabric 365 days a year, and without constant monitoring and sometimes costly maintenance, it will inevitably deteriorate.
The Harbour Company is currently charged by its owners, the Government, with realizing every possible source of income which this very definable national asset might provide. But in recent weeks, legislation has started working its way through the Dail which, it seems, will eventually result in overall control of the harbour coming under the remit of the local council.
As Liam Shanahan points out, taking the option of the cruise liner berth could well result ultimately in unmanageable costs, thereby setting the harbour on a route of crude commercialization, with the eventual return of freight traffic and the debasing of contemporary Dun Laoghaire Harbour's undoubted recreational appeal.
Either way, there are tough decisions ahead, and they are going to devolve more directly on the local people and their views. But no matter what happens, it will cost money. We welcome all considered views on the future of Dun Laoghaire Harbour.
Read also WM Nixon's Dun Laoghaire Harbour: National Monument & Monumental Challenge