Gardai to keep the peace afloat on Shannon


One of the more interesting statistics to emerge this week was that as many as 10,000 boats use the River Shannon every year, mostly for recreational purposes.

That statistic emerged during the launching of the new Garda patrol boat, Colm na Cora, which for those who do not understand the Irish language, means dove of justice.

The patrol vessel, which cost £250,000 and is worth every penny of it, will be based in Athlone and will regularly go where no Garda has gone before.

Last year, security sources claim, as many as six gangs were using the Shannon to run drugs from the south-west coast into Northern Ireland, from where they were transferred to London.

Now the great open highway which is the Shannon will be more difficult to negotiate for these people.

The boat, described as a "patrol car on water" by the Garda Commissioner, Mr Pat Byrne, will have a crew of three but is certified to carry up to 10 officers.

The crew will comprise two members of the Garda Water Unit who will be on duty for three or four days at a time and a third member drawn from Garda divisions along the Shannon.

While Colm na Cora has found a safe berth in Athlone, complaints from local boat owners about a berthing charge of £4 per night for the new marina, emerged at a meeting of Athlone Urban Council.

The marina, built by the council on the Leinster side of the town, north of the bridge, provides berths for 90 boats, and most nights during the summer nearly all places are taken up.

Onshore facilities include hot showers and round-the-clock security for the thousands of visitors who use the facilities annually.

However, Cllr Kieran Molloy, said that a letter to boat owners from the council advising them of the £4 per day charge had caused great upset. The locals, he said, faced an annual bill of £1,400 for berthing in an area which they had been using for generations and he thought this charge was very unfair.

Most local people, he said, did not use the marina but tied their boats inside the structure and should not be subject to the same charges as visitors.

The Westmeath County Manager, Ms Ann McGuinness, agreed that there should be some reduction for winter use of the area by locals.

But, according to Ms Carmel Duffy of Athlone Tourism, £4 a night is a low price to pay for the facilities in the centre of Athlone.

"It would cost a lot more to park a car overnight in a facility anywhere in the country where 24-hour protection is provided," she said. She said that while she would like to see the interests of traditional boat owners protected, the marina in Athlone had been a huge success and was encouraging visitors.

All boats using the Shannon must now be registered with Ducas and if owners leave their vessels for more than three days at harbours built by the State, they can be fined.

Late last year a prominent judge received a parking ticket for staying around too long. I understand he paid the fine.