“WHO owns the harbour anyway?”
“Is it a private place divided up between the Government and big business or do we have a share?”
The Cobh man who asked me those questions on Saturday afternoon wanted answers.
I was in Cobh to see the impact of a liner moored at the town for the day. Following that initial encounter, sitting at a table in the sunshine outside The Quays restaurant on the edge of the harbour, an American visitor approached, glass in hand: “Mind if I have a beer here?” He sat down, asking another question: “Why is your Government and council destroying this harbour?”
Towering above us was the bow of the Oriana, just one of the liners which have been coming into the Cobh Terminal at the rate of one a day. The waterfront was busy with leisure craft and a continuous queue formed for the hiring of boats by people who wanted to get on the water. Spike Island attracted visitors and tour boats were popular.
The American told me he had seen signs on the windows of business premises in the town, declaring opposition to Indaver’s planned incinerator across the harbour at Ringaskiddy.
He was appalled at the proposal: “I’ve been told this is the second most beautiful natural harbour in the world and your authorities are going to put an incinerator in the middle of it. Crazy. Destroying what you have.”
I walked around Cobh. The town was thriving, with lots of people viewing the impressive liner. Flags of many nations flew in the breeze at the town park. Restaurants, pubs, and shops were busy, people dining in the open, musicians playing. The town’s voluntary tourist ambassadors were meeting visitors. It was like any major European visitor destination. But there was no doubting the concern and worry about what the incinerator will do to Cobh. Those shop window notices made it clear and my attention was drawn to those flags — the direction in which they flew indicating the town was downwind from the incinerator location.
The yachts of Cork Week are providing another spectacle off Cobh this week. Its organisers, the Royal Cork Yacht Club at Crosshaven, announced at the opening on Sunday that it had joined “the race to restore ocean health, to protect local waters”.
Cork County Council is a ‘platinum sponsor’ of Cork Week and declared that “Cork is Ireland’s Maritime Haven,” urging visitors to “Enjoy ‘Pure Cork’”. But the council management has supported the Ringaskiddy incinerator, against the views of councillors and the public. That seems an odd contradiction.
Following the Harbours Act in 1996, all re-valued assets of the previous Cork Harbour Commissioners were transferred to the Port of Cork Company, a new statutory authority “responsible for the management, control, operation and development of the Port of Cork”. Cork County Council is the land-based authority.
There is no statutory place for public representation. Public opposition made and won the case against the incinerator. An Bord Pleanála’s board, appointed by Government, over-ruled its own inspector’s rejection of the incinerator and disregarded public opinion.
My visit to Cobh showed that its townspeople have put much effort into welcoming visitors, but also widespread community revulsion against a toxic incinerator in the harbour. The antenna of politicians should tell them that this is a major political issue.
“They’ll be burning waste from other countries over your heads in supposedly beautiful Cork Harbour,” the American visitor predicted.
At that, I shuddered for the future of the harbour.