Sinn Féin Councillor Conor D. McGuinness has raised the failure by the Irish Government to provide the necessary funding to dredge Cé Heilbhic with the European Commission this week. McGuinness is in Brussels as part of a Sinn Féin-led delegation highlighting the negative impacts of the Common Fisheries Policy on the Irish fishing sector.
The West Waterford Councillor is a member of the European Committee of the Regions and has been consistent in campaigning on fisheries issues at both local and national level. He says the failure by the current Government and its successors to solve the dredging issue at Heilbhic has prompted him to raise it at EU level.
“The European Commission earlier this year provided the Irish Government with an unprecedented €35 million of funding to be spent on local authority owned piers and harbours. Despite Waterford City and County Council submitting an application for funding to begin the process of dredging Cé Heilbhic the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have refused to make the necessary funding available.
“This same Department requires local authorities to undertake expensive surveying and preparatory work before dredging can take place. This work can often cost as much if not more than the actual dredging. It devising the funding scheme it has decided that it won’t fund this key preparatory work, creating a situation where local authorities are unable to access funding for dredging. Heilbhic has fallen victim to this ridiculous Catch-22 situation.
“This is a working fisheries harbour supporting commercial operations. It is also home to the RNLI Helvick and Dungarvan Lifeboat. The harbour has become full of sand and silt over recent years and is in dire need of dredging. As things stand boats cannot enter or leave the harbour during low tides, and the situation is getting exponentially worse.
“Boats returning to port with their catch often have to wait at sea until the tide rises enough to allow them enter the harbour. There are serious concerns about the lifeboat being unable to respond to an emergency call at low tide due to being stuck in the harbour. Will it take a tragedy at sea before the coalition parties get their act together?
“Responsibility for this situation lies with the political leadership of the Department – Fianna Fáil Minister Charlie McConalogue and his Green Party and Fine Gael junior ministers. He makes the regulations of the scheme and he has the ability to amend them. He is treating us as fools by trying to hide behind arbitrary rules that he himself has the authority to make, break or change.
“I have alerted the European Commission to the fact that the Department is using its own arbitrary rules to prevent European funding going to where it is needed – that the Government is presiding over a situation where a fisheries harbour is becoming unusable while the EU is providing some €35 million precisely to avoid this type of situation.
“Ultimately responsibility for this mess lies with Minister McConalogue and his colleagues in the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party Government.That said, the European Commission has a responsibility to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent correctly.
“It is beyond time for action on this issue.”