Control of the 200 year-old harbour of Dún Laoghaire is to return to the democratic control of the local authority. At a special meeting (March 6), Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council voted 24:9 in favour of a motion passed by Cllr Melisa Halpin to support the chief executive’s recommendation.
The vote took place in the context of a risk assessment report that estimates a cost of €31.5m will be needed to bring the harbour up to ‘Taking in Charge’ standard.
“This is a notional charge that may be needed to be spent over the coming years to maintain the harbour in first-class condition,” added Cllr Melisa Halpin who has called for the Minister of Transport, Shane Ross, to secure the necessary expenditure funds for the harbour’s future.
“This is an historic opportunity for DLR CoCo and the people of the county and further afield.”
The harbour is a Victorian structure of “enormous historic and cultural significance. It is the only intact such harbour in Britain or Ireland,” she added.
A departure point for thousands of emigrants, the harbour today is the setting for many international water-sport events and is a public amenity enjoyed for numerous water-based activities and by walkers along the east and west piers arms.
Sensitively developed, the harbour would provide a “first-rate opportunity to regenerate the centre of Dún Laoghaire and enhance the prospects of the town and the county as a whole.”
Cllr Halpin said opportunities for the harbour had been “squandered” by the harbour company who “wasted funds on expensive and quite frankly mad-cap projects” such as the floating swimming pool, the extended berth for large cruise ships, a ten-storey apartment block on the Carlisle pier, a floating hotel, floating houses and high-rise private apartments and hotels.
“They have also sold off a tract of land for private development. These plans never materialised because of public opposition…it’s time this dysfunctional quango was wound up,” she said.
Cllr Mary Fayne added it was “vital” the people of the entire borough “do not shoulder the heavy burden of the serious financial liabilities” that have built up in the harbour company.
A Fine Gael Motion passed unanimously at the meeting in the town hall called on Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, to ‘fully indemnify’ the council against the ‘projected financial risk’ of the transfer of the harbour company to the council.
Council chief executive Philomena Poole said transfer of the harbour to the local authority was a “unique opportunity provided by government policy” to unite the town, harbour and county, and to develop in a “holistic way” the harbour and the town to mutual benefit.
Swift action required
In a Dáil debate (March 6), Deputy Boyd Barrett called on government to “act swiftly” to dissolve the harbour company and to find the necessary funds to ensure the transfer is not a burden on the council or the people of Dún Laoghaire.
“Because of the lack of cooperation of the harbour company, we still do not have a clear picture of the cost of bringing [the harbour] under the Council.
“We are calling on the Minister in charge to make all necessary funds available so that there is no detrimental impact on the council services.”
The deputy added that government has “sat on their hands” over the past seven years while reports of “mismanagement of funds” came to light.
“The current minister has ignored regular requests by me to act on the Harbours Act 2015 and to dissolve the harbour company.
“The Minister and his colleagues should recognise the historical and cultural significance of this harbour and see any investment as an investment in infrastructure and cultural heritage.
“Now is the time to act swiftly and allow for the future development of our harbour in the interests of the people.”
During a Seanad debate (March 7), Senator Victor Boyhan said that €1.4m of the estimated €34m liabilities noted in an independent Due Diligence Report related to employee pensions:
“I call on the government to have a debate on the matter. Government must set aside a capital reserve to assist the local authority in taking on this asset.
“It cannot just wash its hands of a State company by handing it to a local authority.”
If the burden of the ‘taking in charge’ liability was to fall to the local authority “the impact would be an increase of 4% in commercial rates and an 8% increase in local property tax across the county,” he added.