Former Gaeltacht minister Éamon Ó Cuív has called on Údarás na Gaeltachta to disclose the sale price of State seaweed company Arramara to a Canadian multinational.
Two European Parliament and several local authority election candidates in the west have questioned the deal, which was finalised late last week by Údarás na Gaeltachta for an undisclosed sum.
The State's leading expert on seaweed Prof Michael Guiry has welcomed the purchase of the company by Acadian Seaplants Ltd as he says its focus will be on research and development of a valuable resource, to the benefit of Gaeltacht communities.
Independent MEP Marian Harkin, standing again for the Midlands North-West constituency, said the deal had been "shrouded in secrecy", and called for immediate clarification of the position of seaweed harvesters.
Harvesters should form a “unified entity” to protect their interests, and the Government should clarify if Acadian Seaplants had been awarded “exclusive” harvesting rights, she said.
Sinn Féin Midlands North-West candidate Matt Carthy said that his party colleagues, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Mayo county councillor Rose Conway Walsh, had written to the Canadian company to ascertain how it would " intend engage with coastal communities".
Last month, Galway West Labour TD Derek Nolan said that there were "credible concerns" about the harvesters who had supplied Arramara, following the recent issue of an enforcement order against an individual under the Foreshore Acts.
Fears were further exacerbated when Arramara Teo applied for foreshore rights shortly before its sale. The Connemara-based company had hitherto relied on licenses held by some 250 part-time suppliers who harvest Ascophyllum nodosum, which is commonly known as bladder wrack.
Founded in 1947, Arranmara was jointly owned by the State, with 82 per cent of company shares, and by ISP Alginates, one of the world’s leading alginate producers, with 18 per cent, until 2006 when Údarás na Gaeltachta took over 100 per cent of the shares.
Údarás na Gaeltachta chief executive Steve Ó Cúláin said that the acquisition by Acadian Seaplants Ltd would “safeguard the future of the company, provide
significant investment, facilitate the further development of the seaweed sector, ensure a continued demand for seaweed supply from local harvesters and provide additional employment in the Gaeltacht”.
Mr Ó Cuív said that as the minister responsible for transferring the asset to Údarás, he favoured securing a strategic partner. However, Arramara should have made a joint application with existing harvesters for harvesting rights if it wanted to ensure their continued involvement.
Prof Guiry of NUI Galway’s Ryan Institute said that Arramara management had been “superb”, but had struggled to run the company with insufficient State investment.
Prof Guiry is author of a number of studies on the 501 types of seaweed growing on this coastline.
Many areas where seaweed is harvested are covered by EU habitats directives, and an management plan by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to
ensure licensed harvesting “was only a matter of time”, Prof Guiry noted.
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said that it understood that the sale "does not in any way affect any rights that harvesters may have to harvest seaweed", and the buyer would continue to purchase from local harvesters as had occurred for the past 60 years.
The Department of the Environment has confirmed that seaweed harvest licensing is “currently under review” .