Dún Laoghaire Harbour must not be left to ‘fall into the sea’

Council to ask Minister for Transport to cover liabilities in takeover of harbour

Members of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said the local authority did not have the €34.5 million necessary to cover liabilities involved in taking control of the harbour. Photograph:  Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Members of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said the local authority did not have the €34.5 million necessary to cover liabilities involved in taking control of the harbour. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

Dún Laoghaire Harbour is the “jewel in the crown” of the south Co Dublin town and cannot be left to “fall into the sea”, a local councillor has said.

During a special meeting on the future of the harbour on Tuesday night, members of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said the local authority did not have the €34.5 million necessary to cover liabilities involved in taking control of the harbour from the current Harbour Company.

Councillors called on Minister for Transport Shane Ross to dissolve the Harbour Company and transfer its assets to the council as well as provide funding for all liabilities.

Councillors were told by John Crawley, a professional risk assessor and accountant, that if the council took over the harbour “tomorrow” they would be liable for a pension fund deficit of about €1.4 million and the costs of bringing the harbour up to “taking-in-charge standard” amounting to €33.1 million.

He warned that while he thought it “a reasonable view” that tens of millions of euro in grants from the EU would not need to be repaid, this was by no means a certainty.

Mr Crawley also said there may be submarine works needed to the harbour and a specialist report would be required to quantify the cost of these, if any.

Cllr Shay Brennan (Fianna Fáil) told the meeting the known cost, spread over 30 years would involve the the council paying €1.8 million a year. He said annual maintenance would add €800,000 to the bill and a projected €400,000 annual loss would bring the financial commitment to €3 million per year.

Mr Brennan said this would result in a “more or less permanent” increase in commercial rates of 4 per cent, or an 8 per cent increase in local property tax. He said the people or the local authority “can not afford it”.

High risk

Cllr Dave O’Keeffe (People Before Profit) said the harbour was the “jewel in the crown” of Dún Laoghaire and it could not be left to “fall into the sea”.

He agreed with the assertion that the Minister for Transport should indemnify the council to allow it to take control of the harbour.

Cllr Barry Ward (Fine Gael) said Dún Laoghaire was in the constituency of Mr Ross, who should tell his constituents that the imposition of the liability on the council would deprive them of sports pitches, library books and other facilities.

Cllr Cormac Devlin (Fianna Fáil) said the issue the council faced was the line in the risk assessment which included the words “high financial risk”.

He also criticised Mr Ross for Government policy, which was to transfer the port to the local authority, which he said could not be done with a commitment on funding the liability.

Cllr Denis O’Callaghan (Labour) said the best move the councillors could make was to support and strengthen the hand of chief executive Philomena Poole in negotiations with the Department of Transport.

Cllr Shane O’Brien (Sinn Féin) said it was not acceptable that the council, after one year of asking, still did not have full financial information on the potential liabilities involved.

Ms Poole said she had a mandate from the members to recommend that the Minister dissolve the Harbour Company, and she would make the members’ views known to the Department of Transport.

She said the Harbours Act gave the department “no obligation to pay, but I have no reason to believe the department won’t”.