Leo Varadkar backs new €16m sail training ship

Taoiseach voices support for Asgard II replacement while attending SeaFest 2017

 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gives a high-five  to flyboarder Beau Weston  at SeaFest 2017 in Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gives a high-five to flyboarder Beau Weston at SeaFest 2017 in Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has expressed support for a new all-island sail training ship that would be a replacement for the Asgard II.

A €16 million plan to build a new vessel could be discussed by Ireland’s two governments if the Northern Executive is restored in the coming days, he said.

Mr Varadkar made the comments while visiting SeaFest 2017 in Galway on Saturday.

The Taoiseach said that sail training was “one of the areas where we could have North-South co-operation, and also very important cross-community co-operation.

“I think that . . . a lot of people really regret the fact that the Asgard II isn’t available anymore, but are also cognisant of the potential cost of replacing it.”

He added: “Certainly it is something we can engage in.”

Since the State-owned brigantine Asgard II sank off the French coast in 2008, Irish sail trainees have been placed on “ships of opportunity” by Sail Training Ireland, a charity formed in 2011 with the support of Dublin Port.

The Atlantic Youth Trust, a cross-Border organisation founded by Enda O’Coineen, is seeking Government and other funding for a new €16 million sail training vessel, modelled on the 45m steel-hull ship built for the Spirit of Adventure Trust in New Zealand.

The trust has also found ships of opportunity for trainees – among them 15-year-old Owen Moorehead, from Lisburn, who met Mr Varadkar on board the tall ship The Phoenix in Galway at the weekend.

Moorehead sailed from Galway to Warrenpoint, Co Down, after last year’s SeaFest, hitting heavy weather on leaving Galway Bay.

“I loved it, and it gave me the confidence to train as a cadet for the Lisburn fire service,” he said.

He now holds qualifications in fire safety, first aid, and defibrillation, and has decided to apply for the Naval Service when he leaves school.

“I had been thinking of the Army before that, but being on The Phoenix with the Atlantic Youth Trust just changed everything, [it] gave me a sense of responsibility and of freedom,” Moorehead said.

‘Delighted’

Mr Varadkar, who was briefed on the Atlantic Youth Trust’s plans during his time as minister for tourism and sport, said he was delighted to be associated with SeaFest.

“We are a small island - everyone knows that - but the amount of sea area that we control is 10 times our land mass,” he said.

“There’s enormous potential in sport, tourism, energy, exploration - also of course in fisheries - to really exploit the economic potential of the marine, while also always bearing in mind the need to protect the marine environment,” he said.

Organisers of SeaFest estimate that between 80,000 and 100,000 people attended the event at Galway Docks over its three days.

The event included a civic and military service to remember all those who had lost their lives at sea.

The service, which was addressed by Fine Gael mayor of Galway Pearce Flannery, was held two days before the 18th anniversary of the helicopter crash that killed four Air Corps search-and-rescue crew members off the Co Waterford coast.