Cork County Council is writing to the Minister for Defence and the secretary-general of the Department of Defence asking that LÉ Eithne be retained in Cork as a monument, rather than scrapped or sold.
Some of the main reasons for the request lie with LÉ Eithne’s significant history and association with the region. It was the last Naval Service ship built in Ireland, by the Verlome dockyard in Cobh in 1984, and the first to cross the Atlantic and visit South America.
The flagship and two ageing coastal patrol vessels, ‘Peacocks’ LÉ Orla and LÉ Ciara, are due to be decommissioned this year and rumours have circulated that all three will be sold for scrap metal value, rather than auctioned off.
The reasoning behind that theory is it might avoid further diplomatic embarrassment. The last to be auctioned ended up in the hands of a Libyan warlord, although through no fault of the Irish authorities.
A previous one was given free to Malta. However, it didn’t go down well there as former senior naval commanders on the Mediterranean Island described it as junk.
Independent councillor Marcia D’Alton won unanimous support from colleagues attending a meeting of the council’s Southern Division when she asked the local authority to request the flagship be given to the people of Cork.
“It is an integral part of our Irish heritage, our maritime heritage and Cork heritage. It would be a tragedy for the Irish people if she is lost,” Ms D’Alton said.
“When she visited the USA in 1986, she became the first Irish vessel to cross the Atlantic. Since that time, she crossed the Atlantic several more times. She became the first Irish naval vessel to travel to the southern hemisphere when she visited Argentina in 2006."
She maintained LÉ Eithne “embodies the glory days of shipbuilding in Cork Harbour “when more than 1,200 people were employed in Verolme".
Since she was built in 1984, all Naval Service ships were constructed in England.
Fine Gael councillor Michael Paul Murtagh said he had visited Copenhagen and former Dutch navy ships have been tied up on its quays as tourist attractions.
“I don’t see why we can’t do something similar in Cork,” he said.
Although completely refurbished in 2017, LÉ Eithne has been laid up since mid-2019. However, she was briefly brought back into service in 2020 to provide support to the HSE’s Covid-19 operations.
She is to be replaced with a multi-role vessel (MRV).
It was also agreed, at Ms D’Alton’s request, that a letter seeking her handover to the people of Cork also be sent to the Naval Service’s headquarters.
“She has an extraordinary depth of heritage all of her own. We are asking that LÉ Eithne be retained in Ireland so that the Irish people can have the time and opportunity to repurpose her for civilian benefit in a way that will allow the display of this phenomenal heritage,” Ms D’Alton said.
She added it if was not possible, then at the very least, that those elements of the Eithne best representing this heritage would be taken off her and given for display to Passage West Maritime Museum, or a similar publicly-owned venue “so that they can be proudly shared in Cork with the Irish people”.