Single hand on tiller of Irish marine policy is vital for nation
OPINION:The Government’s plan for the maritime sector is welcome but not integrating activities in one department is a mistake
YOU COME across a reference to an island nation – the 20th largest in the world – that doesn’t have a marine policy or a marine department, and you think it must be some kind of a joke. It’s a ship of state without a captain or a rudder.
It adds insult to injury to discover that this same island nation moved to the verge of bankruptcy after her inhabitants turned their backs on the ocean and invested too heavily in the land.
So much for living in a smart economy.
Not many people living in Ireland realise that it’s the third biggest country in Europe, by virtue of her seabed territory of 220 million acres.
We have in the past been able to blame a lot of our maritime ignorance on the British, with a little justification. Boat ownership by the “native Irish” was restricted at times, and fishing permitted only by licence. But that was 400 years ago, so we’re running out of excuses.
If you’re searching for a recent symbol of this marine neglect, look no further than Asgard II. At 30 years old, the boat was at the end of her working life when she sank off the coast of France in 2008.
She was our maritime flagship, a national icon that had given 10,000 young people the chance to go to sea. The insurance money paid out and it went into central exchequer funds. The State has no interest in replacing her.
The sail training programme sank with the ship.
Ask any fisherman what EU membership did for our trawler fleet and you will get a quick answer. Ireland has two-thirds of European fishing waters and 3 per cent of the catch. That sell-out, as the fishing community saw it, was the beginning of the end of marine policy in Ireland.
There is the occasional wave of optimism – the return of the Volvo Ocean Race to Galway and the Tall Ships to Dublin this summer was cause for celebration – but these one-off events are no substitute for a marine policy, or a marine department.
After the 2007 general election, responsibility for the marine was broken up over five departments. Today confusion reigns, and there are at least six departments involved.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has responsibility for the Irish fishing fleet, but Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is responsible for some other aspects of fisheries – drift nets, for example.
The Naval Service and its fleet – which in turn monitors fishing – comes under the Department of Defence. But the marine leisure section, responsible for our fleet of 27,500 recreational craft – where did that go? The Marine Industry Federation found that the leisure section was missing and put out its own alert, but it hasn’t been located yet.
If you want to build a marina, to cater for the growing Irish leisure boating fleet, you need to apply to the Department of the Environment. But other water sports activities come under the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
The Department of Transport, which would have no transport to deal with at all if it wasn’t for the ships that bring in fuel to this country, doesn’t refer to “marine” in its title, but it has a marine division.