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A secretive organisation known as SFA (the Studying Feasibility Alliance) is working behind the scenes to encourage the establishment of a professional body for one of the fastest-growing business sectors in the marine and other spheres in Ireland, the lucrative world of Feasibility Studies.

It's surprising that, so far as is known, there is still no Feasibility Studies Institute in Ireland, north or south. For many decades - and particularly since the Troubles of 1969-1998 began to break out in the late 1960s - if it was felt that if an identifiable socio-economic or infrastructural problem was seen as contributing to the difficulties of the situation – both in the north and cross-border - a budget would be allocated to plan a solution, and a substantial part of that budget would be set aside for the completion of at least one Feasibility Study before going any further.

As it was realised how complex such studies could become, it sometimes became necessary to commission Feasibility Studies into how many different Feasibility Studies would be required in order to validate some major project. And in most cases, the authorities quietly hoped that in due course, the only industry to make a clearcut profit would be in architecture and construction to create appropriate archive storehouses, places where the numerous Feasibility Studies could gather dust in peace.

But despite the fact that many professional partnerships and university departments in several disciplines have made good money out of the public purse and international philanthropic funds in these ultimately intangible researches - with several individuals enjoying a glittering career in feasibility analysis – the sector has remained fragmented.

Thus it's difficult to escape the feeling that these established specialists prefer to do it in this piecemeal way, rather be in some way answerable to a central professional Feasibility Institute which could set standards, hand out internationally-recognised fellowships, and maybe even encourage the establishment of degree courses in Feasibility Studies.

But the Young Turks of the SFA think otherwise. They feel that there is a public perception that officially-commissioned Feasibility Studies are a bit of racket, and that the only way to respond is to go public, shine a spotlight on their activities, and define and clarify what they do in a way which will ultimately enable them to charge even more for their services.

The establishment or otherwise of a Feasibility Studies Institute is of special current interest to Ireland's maritime sector in its broadest sense, as two major infrastructural questions currently being analysed as matters of public interest are the general development and possible relocation of some and possibly all of the shipping functions of Dublin Port, and the other is the creation of a new Scotland to Northern Ireland link via a tunnel or a bridge, or something in between.

Dublin and its port from seaward. Unlike Sydney, Dublin is not a large natural port, but rather it's a harbour created out of a deepened river in which the entire commercial port is now on "new" land created by infill. Thus the special character of the city is in part created by the need for residential and commercial areas to share space with shipping requirements.Dublin and its port from seaward. Unlike Sydney, Dublin is not a large natural port, but rather it's a harbour created out of a deepened river in which the entire commercial port is now on "new" land created by infill. Thus the special character of the city is in part created by the need for residential and commercial areas to share space with shipping requirements.

"Dublin Port is a tricky one for us", says an SFA spokesman. "Its administration and organisation is run in an imaginative and energetic way in which dynamic cultural interactions with the public are being created and strengthened on several fronts. Thus although some high-profile, high-powered developers and economists are arguing that the port should be moved elsewhere like some other arguably comparable ports, Dubliners will often respond that they like having a real living port in the midst of their city, and that Dublin didn't get where it is today by simply copy-catting other major ports.

But then, if we promoters of Feasiblity Studies argue that there should at least be research into possible alternative sites for the heavy work of Dublin harbour, we find that the Dublin Port authorities have got there before us anyway, with their exemplary recently-published research papers, which included carefully analysed proposals for alternative news ports for Arklow in County Wicklow, or Bremor in the far north of Fingal.

Dublin Port score double for their proposals for Bremor, as we can compare it with a nearby plan which has been released for a private-developer-supported port further north. This plan proposes new harbour breakwaters in straight lines with marked corners. When the sea is in destructive mood, it just loves clearcut corners in major breakwaters – it will chew them away in jig time.

The proposed new shipping port on the Meath coast as planned by a public-private partnership. In storm conditions, any breakwater with such clearcut corners would be especially subject to erosionThe proposed new shipping port on the Meath coast as planned by a public-private partnership. In storm conditions, any breakwater with such clearcut corners would be especially subject to erosion

Dublin Port's longterm suggestion for an additional facility at Bremore takes full account of the Irish Sea's conditions in onshore gales.Dublin Port's longterm suggestion for an additional facility at Bremore takes full account of the Irish Sea's conditions in onshore gales.

But the Dublin Port proposal is based on curving breakwaters which are much better at repelling and absorbing the waves. So clearly theirs is a serious proposal, whereas the other has the whiff of kite-flying about it.

Thus our problem with Dublin Port is that they seem to have a very productive in-house Feasibility Studies Institute already in being. So we have to look elsewhere for a flagship project with which to launch our new Institute in style, and the North Channel Link looks to be a God-given gift".

Certainly as any regular readers of Afloat.ie will be aware, suggestions for a Trans North Channel Link from Scotland to Ireland, whether by bridge or tunnel or a combination of both, or by some sort of tube – floating or otherwise - have been coming in thick and fast, ever since British premier Boris Johnson made it a central part of his transport infrastructure upgrade policy.

As it's unlikely that any private partnership capital will become available for such a project, which is at and beyond the extremes of engineering and economic viability, several rigorous Feasibility Studies will be required into many aspects of the project and its support connections.

Fixed connections across the North Channel have to withstand the problems of storms, extremely powerful tides, exceptionally varied water depths, and the remoteness and lack of connectivity of terminals on the Scottish side, making it a very rewarding area for Feasibility Studies.Fixed connections across the North Channel have to withstand the problems of storms, extremely powerful tides, exceptionally varied water depths, and the remoteness and lack of connectivity of terminals on the Scottish side, making it a very rewarding area for Feasibility Studies.

Thus the SFA feels the time was never more appropriate for the establishment of globally-recognised International Feasibility Studies Institute, and they suggest it should be located in a Dublin Docklands Office Complex in acknowledgement of the high standards already set in this area of research and study by Dublin Port.

An SFA spokeswoman explained to Afloat.ie that the only clear boundary in the area of Feasibility Studies is whether the basic funding is public or private.

"You'll probably have heard" said she, "the story of how one of the glamour high tech companies was setting up state-of-the-art "canteen" facilities for their decidedly pampered staff in their European HQ in Dublin. They retained a noted chef full-time to work on commissioning the new facility, and then seeing it through into smooth operation. When he asked what sort of budget he'd be operating within, they said there was no budget - just get it done, and we'll look after whatever it takes."

While there may be times when such flagship projects as the new Children's Hospital in Dublin, the new Airport in Berlin, and the new HS2 High Speed Rail Link in the south of England look as though they've been planned on the "whatever it takes" budgeting principle, we can be quite sure there were Feasibility Studies at different stages of each project, and one of the courses envisaged as being central to the new International Feasibilities Studies Institute is how you style your completed study. 

"We may even have a course in "Know The Psychology of the Client" says the SFA. "If it's clear that it's something of a vanity project, we hope to provide what we in the trade call the Cosmetic Feasibility Study, which looks good and businesslike, but cleverly makes almost indiscernible important provisions and reasons for major cost-over-runs.

If, however, it's a rather boring project in which no-one personally has a special interest, we can offer our attractively priced Standard Comprehensive DG Feasibility Study, which looks good, and smothers the reader in graphs and computer-generated drawings, yet the experienced assessor will immediately know that DG is not "Director General", but on the contrary is "Dust Gatherer"."

The leading members of the SFA are particularly impressed by the proposal for a floating tunnel across the North Channel put forward by Heriot-Watt University of Edinburgh. 

The Floating Tunnel for the North Channel proposed by Heriot-Watt University of Edinburgh, which might offer the advantage of being towed away for use elsewhere in calmer waters if the North Channel proves to be too roughThe Floating Tunnel for the North Channel proposed by Heriot-Watt University of Edinburgh, which might offer the advantage of being towed away for use elsewhere in calmer waters if the North Channel proves to be too rough

"It's a simple and feasible yet massive idea, put forward with style. Showing a car driving through gives it an instant credibility with which modern society can identify. And we note that realistically they propose it starts at Portpatrick on the Scottish side, but instead of going the longer distance to Larne, we would suggest they bring the western end ashore on the much nearer and uninhabited Copeland Island close north of Donaghadee, with the island providing space for the tunnel's administrative centre. Finally, we would suggest that as an additional selling point, they can say that if it doesn't work because of the exceptional roughness of the seas of the North Channel, it can always be towed away and used somewhere else to cross a calmer waterway".

It would never get built nowadays……the eccentric and much-loved Basilica de la Sagrada by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona.It would never get built nowadays……the eccentric and much-loved Basilica de la Sagrada by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona

The need for reasonably credible feasibility studies is growing more urgent all the time, with immediate public scrutiny of proposals through online publication, and aggressive discussion in social media. Thus the members of the SFA readily admit that two of the world's most famous and best-loved buildings, the Sydney Harbour Opera House and the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, would today require extremely creative Feasibility Studies by masters of the art if they were ever going to get built at all.

"But we don't despair" say the SFA. "If we ever get the IFSI up and running, our motto will be: "We are the light at the beginning of your tunnel".

Update (April 1, noon): Thank you for reading our 2021 April Fool's yarn

Published in News Update

Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!