Cork County Council has been urged by members of its Coastal Management Committee (CMC) to put aside significantly more money to pump into improving facilities along its 1,200km coastline.
CMC chairman Michael Hegarty said it is vital the local authority put more of its own resources into the committee through its annual budget, and seek major funding from central government for maintenance and enhancement projects.
A number of councillors expressed concern about coastal inlets silting up and, as a result, rural coastal communities which rely on the sea will lose their incomes.
Fine Gael councillor John O’Sullivan said “coastal infrastructure has been forgotten about”, but has “huge potential for economic development”, especially in rural areas.
“We need to get serious about that,” he said. “In Courtmacsherry harbour, the channel hasn’t been dredged in over 20 years. The pontoon is now a health and safety issue as it’s listing to one side. It needs to be financed as a matter of urgency now.”
Independent Danny Collins said the river mouth in Ballylicky, near Bantry, was overflowing through lack of dredging which had led to flooding in nearby houses.
Fianna Fáil’s Christopher O’Sullivan, however, said livelihoods in three coastal villages were at risk. He said Ring near Clonakilty, Reen near Union Hall, and Courtmacsherry were all dependent on the water.
“The sandbars are closing up the channel in Ring, so much so that boats can hardly moor there,” he said. “Courtmacsherry is one of most active lifeboat bases in the country and we can’t let that silt up. Reen pier is great for accessing whale watching and we need to keep it open.”
His party colleague, Joe Carroll, also a member of the CMC, said it was his contention “the council doesn’t put a proper value on our coastline” while Pat Murphy claimed the county council “hadn’t spent a penny in years” on the pier at Glengariff, even though 75,000 people per year use it to visit Garnish Island. It is also used by visiting small cruise liners and local fishermen.
Sinn Féin’s Paul Hayes said the sea was as important to the people of West Cork as the M50 was to those living in Dublin.
Independent councillor Marcia D’Alton said the council has legal responsibilities for the upkeep of small piers and pontoons in its role as harbour masters.
She has spoken to other local authorities about the coastal projects they carry out and told her officials: “We are way behind the curve on this.”
Council deputy chief executive Declan Daly said the council currently spends €1.1m per year on coastal protection projects and would look at developing strategies with other local authorities and the Port of Cork, along with seeking money from central government.
However, Mr Daly pointed out, grants were not huge and decisions would have to be made by councillors at budget time on how much they wanted to divert from other service programmes to beef up coastal works.
“Our whole tourism strategy recognises the value of coastal areas,” he added.
“The potential of our coastline, our piers and harbours is phenomenal and needs to be prioritised,” said Mr Hegarty.