Following discussions with Waterford TD John Deasy, Enterprise Ireland has agreed to collaborate with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to determine what benefit the agency can bring to the State’s fishing ports, including Dunmore East.
“Enterprise Ireland is the agency responsible for marketing our export food sector. I felt they should be involved in our ports and seafood industry,” the Fine Gael deputy said.
The Dáil Public Accounts Committee recently published a report on the six fishery harbour centres which shows their economic potential is not being realised.
The problem of idle, under-utilised and badly run properties has plagued many ports for years — “despite the fact that demand exists for these facilities,” the PAC found. Protracted legal wrangles have ensued in some cases, with poor relations between the Department and harbour users in general.
Deasy, who is vice-chairman of the PAC, said: “While the situation is worse in other ports, there are still some difficulties locally in Dunmore East, including complex issues surrounding arrears.
“But we now have a very proactive harbourmaster and the Department is making progress in dealing with legacy issues it inherited on taking over the marine portfolio eight years ago.”
The Committee’s report identified “a history of inefficiency” across the six centres, from poor property management to “archaic” accounts and lax financial controls, with facilities left vacant and revenues due to the State left uncollected.
In formulating its recommendations, and recognising the need for a more strategic approach, Deasy met with Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon — whose background is in the food industry — with a view to utilising its expertise.
“I put it to her that her agency should have a role in the future of these buildings for seafood processing or related commercial activity and her reaction to the suggestion of collaborating with BIM and the Department was positive.”
Briefing the PAC about the progress made in implementing new administrative and oversight structures for the harbours, Department secretary general Aidan O’Driscoll told Deputy Deasy that the involvement of Enterprise Ireland is “an excellent idea… and I am delighted about the idea of involving it in this process.”
The Committee has recommended that the largely-shelved business blueprint drawn up for the six ports in 2009 be revisited by a newly Fishery Harbours Development Board. It also wants a new arbitration-based dispute resolution mechanism established, and a clear segregation between the Department’s control functions and responsibility for harbour development.
Deasy added: “Landings are up but this is about maximising the local economic benefit. A number of people have approached me about processing shellfish and getting involved in seafood for export in the past six months in particular.
“Enterprise Ireland is the obvious agency to look at the assets we have in each of these ports and use their expertise to help market the industry abroad.”
Waterford Fine Gael TD John Deasy says the “resilient” fishing community of Dunmore East has endured “a legacy of bitter disappointment” due to Government “inaction”.
He made his criticisms after hearing confirmation at today's Public Accounts Committee meeting that a €4 million dredging contract for the inner harbour has been delayed until next year.
The Fine Gael deputy quoted “a litany” of consultants reports and studies into the proposed redevelopment of the State fishery port dating back almost a decade and a half — including a shelved €50-60m upgrade.
“There comes a point when you can’t answer reasonable questions from a fisherman or a business person in Dunmore any longer. I’ve become hesitant about giving affirmation to any Government announcement as it affects Dunmore East...”
Addressing officials from the Dept of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, he went back over the myriad findings, recommendations, “and frankly the lack of activity that has occurred” — starting with the 2000 KPMG technical and socio-economic review of infrastructural requirements in Dunmore East.
This, he said, was followed in 2003 by the Department-commissioned Kirk McClure and Morton Report. Involving preliminary designs and environmental impact assessment, it found the existing harbour was too small, and that the set-up didn’t permit proper development — “effectively a reiteration of the previous report.”
A public consultation process commenced in 2004, and planning permission for the development of the fishery harbour centre was granted the following year. In 2006 €300,000 was provided for design and a similar sum for site investigations.
Mr Deasy then referred to a 2007 cost-benefit analysis by Poseidon Aquatic Resource Management Ltd for the Dept of the Marine into a large-scale State investment highlighted the old age of the harbour, the lack of dredging since the early nineties, and the absence of safe access to the shore for yachts.
The first phase was scheduled to start in 2008 — “and then the economy collapsed.”
However, hopes were raised in March when funding of €4m was announced for the first dredging operation in Dunmore in 22 years. The build-up of sediment has seriously hampered the port’s activities, with larger fishing vessels unable to dock and having to steam to Cork or Howth instead.
The amount allocated under the capital programme is just to dredge the inner basin — “the idea of overall harbour redevelopment is not being spoken of,” Deputy Deasy said. The tender process was to be have been completed by July, but “now we learn that there’s a delay in that.”
Department General Secretary Tom Moran confirmed “we had intended to spend money this year ... [but] we ran into a difficulty with the tender”.
Cecil Beamish, Assistant General Secretary in the Marine Division, explained that the contract has to be re-tendered because the bids received “were deemed, after assessment, not to be value for money for the State and involve potential cost exposures for the State for claims.”
Before seeking new, “more precise” tenders “there is further sampling and analysis being done in greater detail on all the sediments because one of the issues is the level of contamination [by heavy metals] in some of the sediment areas,” he said. Alternative ways of dealing with the material are also being looked at.
Asking when this ongoing pre-tender analysis would be finished, Mr Deasy said: “I need to actually give some certainty to the people in Dunmore East now. I think that’s very important at this point”.
Mr Beamish said “there are a number of steps to go through” but the objective is to get a new specification ready “as early as possible... Clearly the earlier in the year that that can be done the easier it will be for a contractor to carry out the works in reasonable weather conditions, and also taking account of the other [harbour] users.”
Tom Moran added that “there’s an absolute intention to conclude, or begin that, as soon as possible in the new year under next year’s capital programme. So it’s a top priority.”
But Mr Deasy said “When it comes to Dunmore East there’s a legacy of bitter disappointment as to what Government has promised and what Government has actually delivered. Or not delivered.
“There comes a point,” he said, “when you can’t answer reasonable questions from a fisherman or a business person in Dunmore any longer. I’ve become hesitant about giving affirmation to any Government announcement as it affects Dunmore East... it’s got to that point.”
While acknowledging that capital funding had been granted in the past eight years — including €450,000 in 2013 for the widening and extension of the west wharf slipway (after a lot of lobbying) — he surmised that an equivalent amount had gone into the other State harbours over the same period.
Deputy Deasy said the local community, despite countless setbacks, had proved itself “very resilient”, noting that another meeting had been held the previous evening to examine ideas in conjunction with Waterford IT, who have received funding under the Fisheries Local Area Development Scheme for a local economic stimulus feasibility study.
“They’re trying very hard to keep this village vibrant: they had a meeting last night, again, about all of these issues. Some focus and concentration needs to be given by the Department when it comes to Dunmore East and the infrastructural issues that have been identified — ad nauseam — over the last 20 years but have not been acted upon.”
Ultimately, he said, “It’s a neglected port. It has been for a long time. I mean, the litany of reports and non-action as a result is incredible, I have to say. It’s absolutely incredible. I’m going to press you on this. I’m going to chase you with regard to this particular project, for as long as it takes to get the dredging done.
“We were talking, not so long ago, about investing €60m in the harbour there. And those studies were done... There is a case to be answered... The deficit has been on the Government side here,” he said.