Thursday, 13 February 2014
Topical Issue Debate
The Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, will be aware of media reports this week on a proposal by Waterways Ireland to dismantle the Naomh Éanna. I have been contacted on this issue by a number of people in my constituency. The Naomh Éanna was built in the Liffey shipyards in Dublin in 1956 and operated by CIE as the ferry to the Aran Islands from 1958 until 1988. Throughout that period, the vessel failed to sail on only eight occasions.
The Minister of State may be aware of a similar ship, the MV Cill Airne, which has been beautifully restored and operates as a restaurant and bar on the River Liffey adjacent to the convention centre. The Naomh Éanna has lain in disrepair in the Grand Canal Basin for several years. As one of the last ships built in this country using rivets, it is part of our maritime and industrial heritage and it would be a terrible shame if we lost it. I ask for a six month grace period to be provided to allow the Naomh Éanna Trust to produce a business plan for restoring the vessel. It could then be left in the Grand Canal Basin or moved to the River Liffey or Galway Harbour as it has historical links with all three locations. If done successfully, the project would provide a great model for the restoration of other vessels. I call for a six month stay on the proposal by Waterways Ireland.
Having heard about this case in media reports, I subsequently received an e-mail on the issue from Sam Field-Corbett. I, too, call for a six month reprieve to allow some time for interested parties to produce a plan for the restoration of the Naomh Éanna. Mr. Field-Corbett, with whom I spoke briefly, notes in his e-mail to me that the Naomh Éanna is an iconic vessel and one of the last riveted ships built in the world. She retains many of her original fittings and machinery and, according to Mr. Field-Corbett, her ingénue will never again be seen as she represents an era of the nation's industrial heritage which people have long forgotten. Ownership issues have meant she has remained unattainable since 1986. Waterways Ireland could dismantle and put her in dry dock very quickly as local councillors and members of the community have unsuccessfully sought a reprieve for the vessel.
If restored, the Naomh Éanna could be an asset to the local community in the inner city and could also be used for tourism purposes. I understand the National Asset Management Agency and the Irish Ship & Barge Fabrication Company have expressed an interest in stepping in with an investment plan to restore her to her former beauty. It would be a great loss to Dublin and the nation if the vessel were dismantled.
Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an méid atá ráite ag mo chomhghleacaithe maidir leis an Naomh Éanna. Tá seans againn fós an bád stairiúil seo a shábháil ar son na nglúnta atá le teacht. Tá an Irish Ship & Barge Fabrication Company ag iarraidh stop a chur leis an mbriseadh suas. Tá sé i gceist ag an ngrúpa seo plean gnó a chur le chéile.
I concur with the remarks of previous speakers on the proposal to dismantle the Naomh Éanna. I ask the Minister of State to ensure the vessel is granted a reprieve from the breaker's yard. The boat is not in good condition and I am not sure if it is safe. It should be brought to dry dock and a reprieve granted to allow various parties sufficient time to put together a business plan to save it. The Naomh Éanna is one of the last riveted ships built anywhere in the world. I would love to see it docked in Galway Harbour, Inis Mór or elsewhere. It would be great for tourism and locals. I join my colleagues in calling for a reprieve.
Sheol mé uirthi roinnt mhaith uaireanta. Níl a fhios agam ar éirigh leis an Aire Stáit ariamh dul síos go dtí an áit ina raibh an t-inneall agus síos go dtí an áit ina mbíodh an captaen. Seanbhád den seandéanamh ar fad a bhí ann, ní hamháin ó thaobh conas mar a tógadh í ón taobh amuigh, ach freisin ó thaobh conas mar a stiúrtaí í ar an taobh istigh. Bhí sí ar an seandéanamh. Buíochas le Dia go bhfuil bád i bhfad níos fearr ag dul go hÁrainn anois. Caithfinn é sin a rá. Is údar sásamh é gur tháinig na céanna ar fad a thógamar ar na hoileáin, Inis Bó Finne ina measc, slán as na stoirmeacha go dtí seo.
Is cuid de stair na n-oileán é an bád seo. Is cuid de stair Bhaile Átha Cliath é, ar ndóigh, ós rud é gur tógadh an bád sa chathair. Bíodh muid ag argóint cá bhfágfar an bád nuair a bheidh sé sábháilte. Ní thiocfaidh mé isteach in aon argóint i láthair na huaire idir Baile Átha Cliath agus Gaillimh. Creidim gur scéal do lá éigin eile é sin. Cén fáth nach féidir an bád a chur isteach ar thalamh tirim agus fanacht ar feadh dhá mhí le féachaint an bhfuil dream éigin sásta caoi a chur uirthi agus moltaí foirfe a chur ar aghaidh gan aon chostas don Stát? Tá mé ag súil le freagra stuama a fháil ar an gceist sin. Ní fheicim ciall ná réasún leis an rud atá á rá - go gcaithfear an bád a bhriseadh láithreach. Tuigim go gcaithfear é a chur ar thalamh tirim réasúnta luath. Tá sé ina luí ansin ar feadh na mblianta fada. Tarlaíonn an rud céanna i gcás go leor rudaí sa tír seo. Is féidir rud a fhágáil ar feadh i bhfad, ach go tobann deirtear go gcaithfear rud éigin a dhéanamh faoi amárach. Tá an bád sin ann ó tháinig na báid nua go hÁrainn. Caithfidh gur féidir é a fhágáil ar thalamh tirim ar feadh dhá mhí eile. Feicimid céard a tharlóidh ina dhiaidh sin.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí a chur an díospóireacht seo faoi bhráid na Dála. Tuigim na fadhbanna atá luaite acu. Glacaim leis go bhfuil cúis an-mhaith ann go bhfuil díospóireacht anseo ar an ábhar seo. Tá mé ag caint anseo thar ceann an Aire. Níl sé anseo. Ní féidir liom níos mó a dhéanamh ag an bpointe seo ach an freagra a léamh. B'fhéidir go mbeimid in ann cruinniú a eagrú idir an Roinn, na Teachtaí agus oifigigh eile ina dhiaidh sin chun níos mó plé a dhéanamh ar an gceist.
I thank the Deputies for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, who is unavoidably absent. I acknowledge the geographical diversity of the areas the Deputies represent and the sincerity of the views they expressed. Following this discussion, it may be useful for all of us to meet to discuss what solution, if any, can be found for this problem.
The Naomh Éanna was built by the Liffey Dockyard and launched in the late 1950s. Until 1988, it served as the Galway to Aran Island ferry. I travelled on it a long time ago on my first trip to the Aran Islands agus bhí sé suas agus síos. The vessel was purchased by the Irish Nautical Trust and moored at Grand Canal Dock in 1989 when it could no longer meet the health and safety requirements to operate as a passenger carrying vessel.
While a number of businesses rented portions of the vessel for commercial purposes, a report on the hull condition of the vessel, commissioned by the Irish Nautical Trust in April 2013, highlighted serious safety concerns. Based on the report's findings, the Irish Nautical Trust issued a Notice to Vacate to both businesses operating from the vessel. Due to the conditions of the vessel, insurance was unobtainable and the Irish Nautical Trust was unable to finance repair of the ship to bring it up to a standard worthy to hold insurance. Aware that the Irish Nautical Trust had little or no funds available, and given the health and safety implications arising from the condition of the vessel, Waterways Ireland offered to arrange for removal and disposal of the ship on the trust's behalf, subject to agreement. I am advised that the Irish Nautical Trust has confirmed its approval to Waterways Ireland to dispose of the Naomh Éanna on its behalf on the grounds of health and safety risks.
As the property owners of the Grand Canal Dock, Waterways Ireland has taken responsibility for the vessel to address the liability it represented. In this context, Waterways Ireland has liaised with the relevant stakeholders on issues regarding the vessel, including the heritage division of my Department. In this regard, I am informed by the underwater archaeological unit of my Department that the Naomh Éannais not considered a wreck as it has been in constant use, is not 100 years old or more, and is not associated with any historical event. There is no legislation that requires that this vessel be preserved or protected. Furthermore, it is considered that the suggestion that it is an example of the shipbuilding techniques used in the Liffey Docks in the 1950s does not, in itself, justify the expense that would be involved in its preservation. The MV Cill Airne, which was built in Liffey Docks during the same period, has been fully restored at considerable expense and is currently afloat and used as a restaurant in Dublin. I am also informed that Waterways Ireland has consulted Dublin City Council on the matter and has been advised that the proposed scrapping of the vessel is not in contravention of the strategic development zone, SDZ, plan for the North Lotts and Grand Canal Docks, an issue I understand has been alluded to in some correspondence.
It should be noted that the Naomh Éannahas deteriorated substantially in the past 20 years and presents a real risk in Grand Canal Basin. Accordingly, as acknowledged by everyone present, significant investment would be required to bring the vessel to the point where it would be safe and insurable. To mitigate the risks, Waterways Ireland is moving the Naomh Éannato an adjacent dry dock, under a short-term licence agreement with NAMA, from where it will be dismantled under contract. The vessel's condition will not support its movement out of the dock and I am advised by Waterways Ireland that this is the only practical way of ensuring the vessel does not sink in the main dock, thereby giving rise to additional expense.
Under the terms of the contract, the ship will be temporarily secured in the dry dock to prevent unauthorised access. Planned works are centred on protecting the dry dock, which is a protected structure, rather than preserving the hull of the ship. I am advised that extensive works, entailing considerable additional costs, would be required to preserve the already unstable hull of the vessel. While in dry dock, the boat will be unsafe for access as it presents considerable risk to the public. Although security can be provided in the short term, if the ship is to remain for a longer period, extensive measures would have to be taken in the interest of safety, such as insertion of bulk heads to prevent risk of collapse. This would add significantly to the costs already incurred by Waterways Ireland in removing the liability from the main dock, which costs it is not in a position to fund. I can also advise that any artefacts from the vessel will be returned to the Irish Nautical Trust.
Against the background of the serious health and safety issues arising in the context of this vessel, which I have outlined today, and in the context of clarifications that my Department has received from Waterways Ireland in relation to this ship, it is difficult to see a basis for preventing the disposal of the vessel, or indeed for providing a six month opportunity for the marine heritage restoration specialists, Irish Ship & Barge Fabrication Company, to provide a plan that would attract investment in this vessel's restoration.
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I have no problem with the vessel being moved to dry dock, which as the Minister of State said is itself an important structure and must be protected. The proposal being put forward does not require any State funding. As such, the Minister of State's response in terms of cost are not relevant. The group that has come together to preserve the ship proposes to put forward a business plan which will require no State investment. I was informed this afternoon that up to 48 volunteers from both sides of the Border and experienced in restoration are ready, willing and able to provide assistance in securing the ship and ensuring it does not deteriorate further.
I would like to take up the Minister of State's offer of a meeting. I believe a meeting should, if at all possible, be held next week with all Deputies who have raised this issue and with the group to explore whether a mechanism can be found to protect this ship. The Minister of State will note from the coalition of Deputies that have raised this issue today that this is not a backyard issue. We want to preserve what I believe to be an historical boat which has a connection with Galway and Dublin. I would be supportive of the ship going to Galway. However, it is important it is preserved in the first instance. The proposal being put forward will not result in any cost to the State. All that is being sought is time to allow a business plan in respect of preservation of this important ship to be put forward.
I concur with many of the points made by Deputy Humphreys. All we are asking is for six months' reprieve to allow the possibility of a business plan being put forward. As stated, the group concerned restored the MV Cill Airne and it sees merit in trying to protect this particular ship. If after six months that is not possible, we can look again at what needs to happen to this ship. I would welcome if an opportunity could be provided to allow the groups to come together and investigate what can be done. In this regard, I too would welcome a meeting as quickly as possible to examine the issue.
I, too, thank the Minister of State for his response. I concur with the points made by the previous speakers and would also welcome a meeting to discuss this matter as soon as possible. While Members on all sides are often seeking State money for various projects, no State funding is being sought in this case. What is being sought is a delay to allow the group to prepare a business plan and find investors to save this ship. There are many things the State has done that in hindsight it has regretted doing. Scrapping this ship could be something the State will regret. We have all toured various cities in the world and have had the opportunity to tour submarines or naval vessels. This vessel has tourism potential. The group must be given an opportunity to secure this piece of maritime heritage.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht tairiscint a dhéanamh go mbeidh cruinniú an tseachtain seo chugainn. Tá súil agam go gcloisfidh muid faoi sin. Is dóigh liom gur dul chun cinn a bheadh ann. Ar ndóigh, tá súil againn nach dtarlóidh tada don bhád idir an dá linn, ach go gcuirfí ar thalamh tirim é. Glacaim leis an méid a dúirt an tAire Stáit ina fhreagra ó thaobh an dlí de, sé sin, nach bhfuil sé seo ceangailte le haon ócáid mhór stairiúil.
Bímid i gcónaí ag caint na laethanta seo faoi stair an phobail. Ní bhaineann an stair díreach le daoine mór le rá. Is stair atá anseo. Nuair a d'imigh an bád sin, d'imigh an córas a bhí ann ag an am. Nuair a théadh an bád amach go dtí Inis Meáin agus Inis Oírr, ní théadh sé chomh fada leis na céanna. Thagadh na curacha amach. Bhíodh na beithígh á dtarraingt i ndiaidh na gcuracha agus iad ag snámh amach go dtí an bád. Saol eile ar fad a bhí ann. Bhíodh na páistí á n-iompar isteach sna curacha go dtí na hoileáin. Ní tharlóidh sé sin - buíochas le Dia - go brách na breithe arís. Is cuid de stair na tíre seo é go raibh a leithéid ar bun ar na hoileáin. Bhí an bád ann ar feadh i bhfad.
Agus muid ag caint faoi stair, is fiú a lua gur úsáid RTÉ an bád seo le haghaidh scannán an-mhaith a rinne siad, "The Treaty". Nuair a bhí Collins ag dul go Sasana sa scannán, is ar an mbád seo, seachas bád amuigh i nDún Laoghaire, a bhí sé. Tá ceangal stairiúil le hócáidí thar a bheith stairiúil ag an mbád sin. Níl ag teastáil ach cúpla mí ionas go mbeadh deis ag daoine rud éigin a eagrú. Beidh beagáinín slándáil i gceist. B'fhéidir go mbeidh costas beag ar Uiscebhealaí Éireann. Ní dóigh liom go mbeidh sé suntasach i gcomhthéacs an maitheas a d'fhéadfadh sé seo a dhéanamh dá gcoinneofaí an bád. Má táimid ag lord eiseamláir don rud a bhféadfadh a bheith i gcest, níl le déanamh againn ach cuairt a thabhairt ar Faing agus dul isteach ar an flying boat ansin.
Glacaim leis an méid atá ráite ag na Teachtaí. Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall a chinntiú go dtarlóidh an cruinniú sin chomh luath agus is féidir. I accept what Deputy Ó Cuív is saying and the genuineness of his views. I will express them to the Minister and the Department immediately and seek a meeting with the accountable bodies, including, I presume, Waterways Ireland and the Department, to determine if anything can be done. Déanfaidh mé é sin.