The European Commission has confirmed that the decision to deny funding to dredge Cé Heilbhic rests solely with the Irish Government. The EU has provided Ireland with €920.4 million under the Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) fund – of which the Irish Government allocated €35 minion for fisheries ports and harbours.
The European Commission further confirmed that its regulations for the BAR fund allow for ‘a flexible use of funds as needed for the specific situations of sectors and local communities’ by member states.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has consistently refused to provide funding to Waterford Council to carry out the preparatory work required by the Government before dredging can take place. This includes environmental assessments and the procurement of a foreshore licence, which can cost as much as the dredging operation itself.
Sinn Féin Councillor Conor McGuinness had raised the issue with the European Commission directly in May this year, and had further engaged with the Commission on the matter throughout the summer.
The Co. 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. McGuinness has been working with David Cullinane to have the matter raised in the Dáil and with MEP Chris McManus in Brussels.
“The European Commission has confirmed to me in writing that it has no issue with the Irish Government allocating money for preparatory and dredging work for Cé Heilbhic out of Ireland’s total allocation of €920.4 million. The Government had tried to blame Europe but the response I received from the Commission makes it clear that member-states have maximum flexibility when it comes to deciding how the money are used.
“Earlier this year the Irish Government announced that €35 million of the BAR fund would be made available to improve and upgrade 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. In devising the funding scheme it has decided that it won’t fund this key preparatory work, despite there being no requirement from Brussels to do so. Once again the Irish authorities are determined to be the best boys and girls in the class and to go over the top with regulations. This is particularly galling when the EU, which is providing the money, has called for ‘maximum flexibility’ in how it is allocated.
“Cé Heilbhic is a working fisheries harbour supporting commercial operations. It is also home to the RNLI Helvick Head 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. It is they who made up the regulations of the scheme and it is they that have the ability to amend them. Minister McConalogue and his colleagues are treating us as fools by trying to hide behind arbitrary rules that they themselves have the authority to make, break or change.
“It’s clear from the Commission’s response that it has made several attempts to engage directly with the Irish Government on this issue. There is a frustration in Brussels that what it calls ‘operational challenges’ remain almost a year after the fund was announced.
“I have written to Minister McConalogue to make him aware of the European Commission’s view on his Department using its own arbitrary rules to prevent European funding going to where it is needed.
“It is not acceptable that the Government continues to preside over a situation where a fisheries harbour is becoming unusable while €35 million of EU money is available precisely to avoid this type of situation.
“It is beyond time for action on this issue.”
Text of question and Commission response here