THE minister with responsibility for Defence, Paul Kehoe, was busy with the Naval Service last week.
On Thursday he visited Babcock Marine’s Appledore Shipbuilding Yard at Devon in England, to witness at first-hand, ‘progress on the building of the fourth new ship for the Naval Service’.
The following day he was at the Naval Base on Haulbowline Island for the commissioning of the 56th Naval Cadet Class, 11 new officers.
This is operational headquarters of the Navy which he is having reviewed, because Indaver intends to operate a controversial hazardous waste incinerator at Ringaskiddy, at the only entrance and exit road to the island naval base.
In Devon, the minister said that he looked forward ‘to the completion of the fourth Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) LÉ George Bernard Shaw which will be a key driver in the essential provision of defence capability in the maritime domain around our country.”
At the Navy base, the minister congratulated the newly-commissioned officers and said: “I earnestly hope you will enjoy the positive and enjoyable aspects of military life.”
Will those aspects be enjoyed at Haulbowline or will the base be moved elsewhere? As the new officers pledged loyalty to the State, not an official word was uttered in public explaining why the State feels it necessary to review Haulbowline operations because of an incinerator.
What is the purpose of that review when it has already been made clear in public that Indaver will have ‘unacceptable impact damaging to national strategic defence’.
I am told that assessment was made after consultation with the Navy, so is the Government accepting that national defence operations can be affected by a commercial company and a planning decision?
“The defence forces will review the Bord Pleanála decision and its possible impact on defence force operations at Haulbowline. It would be inappropriate to make any comment until the review is complete,” is the only official statement made since it was announced. It is surprising this has not been the subject of political or media attention. Does this indicate lack of national concern about maritime matters?
For instance, Monday last, June 25, was the ‘Day of the Seafarer’ when the United Nations honoured the “vital importance to the world’s population and its economic well- being, of the role of seafarers in our lives.” The International Maritime Organisation, the maritime agency of the UN, asked every nation to mark the ‘Day of the Seafarer.’
Ireland is one of the nations which are members of the IMO, but did nothing. This island nation, which depends for 95% of its exports and imports on shipping, ignored the role of the seafarer.
As the great maritime commentator, Dr John De Courcy Ireland said: “The ruling politicians of this country turned their backs to the sea.”
I have been told this week that Killybegs in Donegal and Dún Laoghaire, a harbour now without ferry services on the Dublin coastline and in need of business, will be considered as alternative locations to base Navy vessels.
Where Haulbowline is concerned, the minister has effectively told his department officials to review what they have already said about the effect of the incinerator on Navy operations. So, are they to change their minds to suit Indaver?
What does all this mean for the future of the Haulbowline Naval Base?
The George Bernard Shaw is alongside Newquay Dock in Appledore. Fitting-out is underway with sea trials due next month. A 76mm gun is to be fitted and it is planned to formally name and commission her into the Naval Service later this year. By then, perhaps we will know future plans for the Haulbowline base.
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