A major new extension to the wharf in Castletownbere can help safeguard its future no matter what happens with Brexit, the Agriculture and Marine Minister has said.
Michael Creed was in the County Cork town to officially open a €1.2m shared Harbour Administration building and also inspect continuing work on the €23.5m, 216m quay extension on Dinish Island, due for completion in December.
Between 2010 and 2017 the value of fish landings into the port increased by 275%. Harbour Master Cormac McGinley said at the time of the last works on the pier in 2011, there were 450 foreign landings in Castletownbere, which rose of 1,540 in 2017.
He said the numbers did fall to some extent last year, likely as a result of Brexit uncertainty, but the new works, when completed, will entice more vessels to land their catch in West Cork.
"The more foreign landings they get, they [overseas companies] will start something here," Mr McGinley said, referring to the possibility of freezing or fish producing facilities opening in Castletownbere rather than the catch being transported back to mainland Europe.
After opening the new Harbour Administration building, which includes the new Harbour Master office and an office for the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, Mr Creed said he hoped the wharf works could provide the platform for further growth.
"When completed the new quay will future proof the seafood sector in Castletownbere, will significantly drive forward the fishing industry and local economy on the Beara Peninsula and allow for a major expansion of the seafood support sector and other marine-related industries in the South West," he said.
The Minister said the fishing industry was still exposed to risks as a result of Brexit, but that "we are in as good as position as we could have expected to be in" with regard to negotiations to protect the industry at EU level.
The Minister's visit came as Cork County Council moved to ease local fears in Beara in relation to the Town Development Plan for Castletownbere. A meeting has been called tonight by the local Community Development Association amid concerns that the first phase of the project may be delayed, while another group, the Concerned Businesses Association, had raised issues about the plan.
However, a spokesperson for the local authority said funding was still in place for the current Part 8 proposal which relates to resurfacing the R572 eastern approach to Castletownbere.
The proposed works allow for the provision of ancillary roads-related infrastructural works including the construction of a shared 3m wide shared use footpaths and cycleways, pedestrian crossings, landscaping and a ‘Traffic Calming Gateway’.
A public consultation period recently concluded and the Council spokesperson said: "There has been considerable public interest which is reflected in a high number of submissions. Consideration of the submissions is ongoing. The manager's report on the process has not been completed, and therefore no determination on the outcome of the process has yet been made.
Elsewhere, the Bantry Bay Protect Our Native Kelp Forest has confirmed that its judicial review of the decision of the Minister to grant a kelp harvesting licence will be heard from May 14 in the High Court.
A spokesman for the group said the hearing is expected to take six days. The group is also seeking an injunction to prevent kelp harvesting from proceeding.
Tralee-based BioAtlantis has secured the licence to harvest kelp in the area, having been given approval in principle in 2011 and Ministerial final approval in November 2017.