Wicklow County Council has been urged to resolve a bitter 13-year dispute it is being blamed for that has seen fishermen lose their right to keep boats in Greystones harbour.
Ivan Toole said his family had been fishing from the harbour for five generations. However, he said that since the council entered into a €300 million public private partnership (PPP) to redevelop the harbour, he, Tim Storey and Eric O'Reilly had been left "fighting to get back in".
The row escalated recently when the marina’s private operator, BJ Marinas, attempted to seize Mr Storey’s boat. Acting as harbourmaster, it said the 10m vessel was tied to the marina’s north wall in breach of local bylaws. Mr Storey spent hours lying on the ground beneath the boat, which was hanging in a hoist over him, to prevent it being landed.
Following Garda intervention, the boat was returned to Mr Storey, and a meeting took place last week with gardaí, the fishermen, local representatives, BJ Marinas and Sispar – a consortium led by building contractor Sisk, which redeveloped the harbour.
The council attended as an “observer” – a stance branded “totally inadequate” by the fishermen, who say the impasse is “100 per cent” the council’s fault.
The dispute dates back from 2008, when the redevelopment of the Victorian harbour began. The council provided 30 acres of foreshore to Sispar and, under the terms of the public-private partnership, the firm replaced the harbour walls with south and north piers, a 200-berth marina and five clubhouses. More than 300 homes were constructed to underpin the finances.
Under a 30-year concession agreement dating from 2016, the public spaces, including a boardwalk, front square and breakwaters, are managed and operated by Sispar. Private marina facilities are operated by BJ Marinas Limited, under an agreement with Sispar.
The fishermen, who catch whelks, agreed to move to Dún Laoghaire in 2008 during construction but understood they would return in 2011 to a new area of the harbour.
Mr Toole, owner of the 12m catamaran Dignity, was on the Greystones Harbour Users’ Group, which attended regular meetings, hosted by the council, from 2006 as plans were drawn up.
“A fisherman’s area was included in the final map. It was to be on the south pier, where the boatyard is now,” he said. “Somewhere between then and construction, the area was removed from the plans . . .
“When the harbour walls were completed in 2011 and we came back from Dún Laoghaire, we realised the council had given away our whole area.”
For the past decade they have continued working out of Dún Laoghaire while “trying to get back in and what was promised” in Greystones. They have intermittently berthed at the north pier, where they are permitted to land their catches, “in protest”.
An agreement appeared to have been reached last July allowing them to stay at the north pier, but BJ Marinas now says they cannot berth there as it hinders free passage by other boats. The fishermen, however, contend the north pier is a “public amenity and asset”.
A council spokesman said “ultimately, the facility is owned by the local authority”, although it is to be leased to and managed by Sispar until 2046. Until then Sispar operates in consultation with the council, he said.
At last week’s meeting it was agreed the fishermen could keep their boats at the north pier “for one month” while possible solutions are examined.
“This is our livelihood,” said Mr Storey. “If we don’t stand up for the right to make a living fishing here, now, it will be gone for ever.”
Duty of care
Local councillor Tom Fortune said there was a "duty of care" on the council and Sispar "to put in a facility so the lads can do their work".
“They were told day one they would be part of the operation. No one will answer why that changed ... The bottom line is: what is going on is just unfair.”
Sispar would not comment on the situation.
The council said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the dispute as certain matters pertaining to it are considered sub-judice.
BJ Marinas says any actions it takes are “in the performance of our legal duty” as harbourmasters.
“The ongoing situation with the … fishermen is a historical one that predates our appointment but we have made every effort to negotiate with them over the last number of years,” it said.
“With the north pier now fully open to the public, it is critical that the situation is resolved immediately in the interest of safety for all the harbour users.”