The Department of Transport is asking the public to express their views on a proposed merger of Bantry Harbour with the Port of Cork company.
The department said it believes the future of Bantry Harbour would best be secured by a merger with the Port of Cork.
Government policy is to merge harbours with significant commercial traffic with a port company, and to transfer smaller harbours to a local authority.
Anyone interested in making a submission can do so until Apr 5.
To date, 11 harbours around the country have transferred to local authority control. Bantry Bay Harbour is now the only regional harbour operating under the Harbours Act of 1946.
The department spokesman said a review of regional ports and harbours in 1999 recommended that Bantry Bay Harbour Authority should merge with the Port of Cork company, on the grounds of good governance.
The core business of Bantry Bay Harbour is the oil storage and transhipment terminal on Whiddy Island. Aquaculture, fishing and tourism are also prevalent in the harbour and a small number of cruise liners visit each year.
The department maintains that amalgamation with the Port of Cork would provide access to port expertise, marketing, strategic development planning and the skills required for the regulation of navigation, ship and port security requirements, pilotage, safety, emergency response, and pollution.
“Cork port currently provides this professional expertise, through the provision of harbourmaster services, on a contractual basis, to bring in large oil tankers and cruise liners into the bay. This is an absolute requirement to operate business in Whiddy to help mitigate the risks of maritime accidents, and environmental damage.”
But Fianna Fáil senator Denis O’Donovan, a long time critic of the plans, does not believe the merger is in Bantry’s best interest.
“My fear is that if the Port of Cork take over, they won’t focus on the designation of Bantry Bay as a tourist hub. Furthermore, I don’t want to see any removal of the traditional rights of residents of the bay such as Whiddy Bay residents or inshore fishermen.
“We also wouldn’t want to see new tariffs being imposed such as annual fees for landing boats in Bantry Bay. If Cork Port get involved they could cherry pick the positive, taking the revenue generated from Whiddy Island but may then not re-invest it in the area but elsewhere in Cork.”
However, the department has said that the Port of Cork will seek to develop the bay.
“Should the transfer take place to the Port of Cork, there is an opportunity for the port to provide local representation to Bantry Bay and some investment back into the harbour.
“The opportunity also exists for the Port of Cork and the local authority to co-operate with regard to the future development of the harbour,” the department spokesman added.
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