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Where is the Dept of Marine? Why Tom MacSweeney is Disgusted by Government’s Maritime Ignorance

28th June 2018
macSweeney_podcast
New Naval officers pledge loyalty to the state at the 56th Cadet class commissioning at Haulbowline Naval base.  What loyalty has it to them? New Naval officers pledge loyalty to the state at the 56th Cadet class commissioning at Haulbowline Naval base. What loyalty has it to them? Photo: Defence of Defence

I am not a convinced believer in Government marine policy. Though I accept there have been improvements in the State attitude towards the maritime sphere in recent years, there is still a big defect – marine policy is not a high priority with the Government.

Because of that, there is no dedicated Department of the Marine, in an island nation that is 95 per cent dependent on the sea for everything moved into and from this country.

Successive governments have never given the maritime sphere high priority and that continues today. They have not appreciated the economic value of the marine, an unforgivable blindness in a nation that is the most western of the European Union. So the economic value of our rich fishing waters has been reaped, not by Ireland, but by other European nations, in several of which Irish holidaymakers this Summer will eat fish which they will be unaware has come from their home waters, where Irish boats are reduced to minimal catches compared with foreign vessels – and that because of Irish Government failure. It is only in current years that the value of marine tourism has been realised and that, not because of Government but through the pressure of independent operators.

"There is no dedicated Department of the Marine, in an island nation that is 95 per cent dependent on the sea for everything moved into and from this country"

So this week I was pretty disgusted when the Government ignored the United Nations request to honour the ‘World Day of the Seafarer,’ honouring the “vital importance to the world’s population and its economic well-being, of the role of seafarers in our lives.” The International Maritime Organisation, the maritime agency of the UN, asked every nation to mark the ‘Day of the Seafarer.’ Ireland is one of the nations which are members of the IMO, but did nothing. This island nation, which depends on 95 per cent of its exports and imports on shipping, ignored the role of the seafarer. To those of us who have long experience of government marine policy, no surprise there.


SEAFEST & OCEAN WEALTH

But it came also at the start of a week which will end with Seafest in Galway, the annual official State event which declares that “Ireland’s multi-billion Euro marine economy is the focus of ocean wealth. 

Quite a contradiction in Governmental approach there, but I agree with Marine Institute CEO Peter Heffernan when he says that “Ireland’s oceans represent enormous commercial opportunities.”

The Summit is an output of Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth, the Government’s integrated plan for Ireland’s marine sector, ‘Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth,’ which aims to double the value of the marine economy’s contribution to GDP by 2030.

While marine research has increased exponentially, I remain questioning of Government commitment, such as to the future of the Naval Service at its island base in Cork Harbour where Haulbowline Island has been a naval centre since the 1600s. This is now to be reviewed and that is to suit commercial pressure. The Indaver company wants to build a hazardous waste incinerator at the doorstep of the base, the only road into and from the island. It has planning approval, despite objections by the Department of Defence, which told a planning enquiry that it would have an “unacceptable impact “on Naval operations damaging to the national strategic defence.”

Amazingly, Bord Pleanala’s Inspector said it wouldn’t…. so appearing to know more about Naval operations than the Navy themselves….. Even though he rejected the proposed incinerator on other grounds, the board of Bord Pleanala over-ruled him and cited his comment on the Navy as one of the reasons…..

So now, it seems, civilians can make national maritime defence policy...

Defence Junior Minister Paul Kehoe, the Taoiseach is the senior man, has told his Department to review the impact of the incinerator on Naval policy, but they’ve already made their view known… so what is going on here….?

As the great maritime commentator, Dr.John De Courcy Ireland said: “The ruling politicians of this country turned their backs to the sea.”

NAVAL SHIPS TO BE BASED IN DUN LAOGHAIRE & KILLYBEGS?

I have been told this week that Killybegs in Donegal and Dun Laoghaire, a harbour now without ferry services on the Dublin coastline and in need of business, will be considered as alternative locations to base Naval vessels.

What does all this mean for the future of the Haulbowline Naval Base?

There is widespread opposition throughout Cork Harbour communities, larger than anything seen before, against Indaver and its incinerator and demands have been made for investigations into Bord Pleanala

The George Bernard Shaw, 4th Offshore Patrol Vessel to be built in recent years for the Navy is alongside Newquay Dock in Appledore, Devon at present, where fitting-out is underway with sea trials due next month. A 76mm gun is to be fitted and it is planned to formally name and commission her into the Naval Service later this year. By then, perhaps we will know future plans for the Haulbowline Naval Base.

Anyway, the other positive maritime event this week is the start of the Round Ireland Race from Wicklow on Saturday afternoon…. And that doesn’t depend upon Government maritime policy.

Listen to my Podcast here

Published in Tom MacSweeney
Tom MacSweeney

About The Author

Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a weekly column for Afloat.ie. He also presents the maritime radio programme This Island Nation on community radio stations around Ireland.

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