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What a magnificent sight it was as the three Tall Ships, each flying the Tricolour, headed the fleet of the gracious ships of sail from all over the world.
How different it will be in July when the world's Tall Ships again parade down the Suir. There will be no Irish national sailing ship to lead the parade. A number of private Irish entries are expected at Waterford from June 30–July 3 amongst the 70 vessels from around the world when the city has the honour starting the race. In 2005 about half-a-million people visited the city while the Tall Ships were there.
The lack of a national tall ship is another example of governmental maritime neglect, directly due to the decision of former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea, T.D. After the sinking of ASGARD he publicly committed the Government to its replacement, but after receiving insurance compensation money for its loss, he put the money into coffers of the Department of Finance and closed down the national sail training programme. There was a big difference between what he promised and what he did, a disregard for the maritime sphere which it is hard to forgive. I also recall how former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern did not visit Waterford during the 2005 race, when it was the biggest tourist event in the country. When I broadcast my report expressing astonishment at this snub government sources and Fianna Fail didn't like it. Truth in the news can be painful!
The organisers made contacts about the DUNBRODY, which continues to earn income at the New Ross quayside where it is moored as a tourist attraction and with the JEANIE JOHNSTON, moored at the Dublin Docklands.
However, neither will be taking part, the organisers have confirmed, tough they said that it was expected that about 100 young Irish trainees would sail aboard tall ships in the race, half of them with funding support from local authority, business and other sources. A group of Irish sailors have also indicated they are making arrangements to charter a UK-registered vessel the JOHANNA LUCRETIA for the event.
Once again the Irish Government has sunk to the bottom where maritime matters are concerned.
It was announced this week in Waterford that Fáilte Ireland has made a significant financial and marketing commitment to this year's event, though the financial figure was not disclosed .A free festival programme will feature street acts; comedy; international and home-grown artists, nightly fireworks, an artisan food village and an atmosphere which the organisers say "will thrill people of all ages and nationalities."
• This article is reprinted by permission of the EVENING ECHO newspaper, Cork, where Tom MacSweeney writes maritime columns twice weekly. Evening Echo website: www.eecho.ie