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Where is the Government's Missing 'Marine Leisure Section'?

23rd December 2020
Dun Laoghaire Harbour on Dublin Bay is Ireland's largest boating centre with capacity for over 800 boats in the town marina Dun Laoghaire Harbour on Dublin Bay is Ireland's largest boating centre with capacity for over 800 boats in the town marina Photo: Courtesy Tim Wall/Dun Laoghaire Marina

The "sleeping giant" of the marine sector is how the marine tourism and leisure sector has been described.

It may well be, despite how hard the Covid pandemic has hit it this year.

The last socio-economic study of "Ireland's Ocean Economy" put the sector's annual turnover in excess of €1 billion and its employment level at 16,000.

Those are pretty impressive figures.

Certainly a sector deserving of government attention, but after the 2007 General Election, responsibility for the marine was broken up over five departments. Today this attitude towards the maritime sector is still a hallmark of a political and civil service attitude which does not fully appreciate its importance to an island nation.

Marine leisure is a big growth area in IrelandMarine leisure is a big growth area in Ireland

This has come home to roost in the problems of not having enough ferry services direct between Ireland and the European mainland to overcome the problems of Brexit and also the disaster that could face the Irish fishing industry.

Both are indicative of a government administrative system which does not put sufficient importance on what the sea means to an island nation, in Ireland's case - at the western extremity of Europe.

This is amply recorded in the attitude of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, whose administration got rid of the dedicated Marine Department, when he recently justified the British attitude towards the fishing issues in the Brexit negotiations saying the UK had an argument on which the EU should compromise. That contrasted with the former Irish Ambassador to Canada, Ray Bassett, saying the fisheries issue showed how badly Ireland had been treated under the EU's fisheries policies, but that this was very uncomfortable for the Government.

Marine leisure spans the whole coastline and can be found in every harbour round the countryMarine leisure spans the whole coastline and can be found in every harbour round the country

Now to the story of a missing section of the State's marine administrative system….

Since Bertie's abolition of the dedicated Marine Department, I've looked occasionally for what used to be known as the 'marine leisure section'….

The last official reference I could find in this regard was under then Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport which described in 2005 the "Marine Leisure Section with its strongest role in developing appropriate frameworks for implementing safety standards across the marine leisure sector…"

This Christmas - who'll give me a simple present - tell me where is the 'Marine Leisure Section'?

Since then – nothing specific to be found….. I could never get a direct answer as to what had happened to it. I was told it was in the Department of Sport, couldn't find it there … Then told to try 'leisure and recreation' …. No luck.

I gather that the Marine Industry Federation also tried to find the missing section and put out its own alert earlier this year when the General Election brought a plethora of policy promises about the marine sphere… But this missing section hasn't been found….

Maybe my research has missed out……. Maybe all those involved were reassigned, transferred elsewhere and the section was renamed to something else…… Bureaucracy tends to do that ..

This Christmas – who'll give me a simple present ---- tell me where is the 'Marine Leisure Section'?

With the challenges faced ahead in 2021, the marine leisure section would have plenty of work to do, with considerable potential socio-economic benefit.

Just look at what the State's own report said ---- worth in excess of €1 billion and with an employment level of 16,000.

Tom MacSweeney

About The Author

Tom MacSweeney

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Tom MacSweeney writes a weekly column for Afloat.ie. He also presents the radio programme Maritime Ireland on radio stations around Ireland.

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