The image of Navy vessels moored-up at the Naval Dockyard on Haulbowline Island in Cork Harbour, seen by the public behind the wire separating the yard from Haulbowline Amenity Park, is not a good one. There is not enough personnel to operate all Naval vessels, the result of Government neglect of the importance of seafarers over many years. Maritime security in Ireland’s territorial waters will become increasingly important – underwater communications technology, offshore wind energy installations, protection of national fisheries, prevention of illegal activities. The Naval Service should be given more Government priority.
Lower Cork Harbour has maritime views which raise memories and ask questions. Walking Haulbowline Island , the image of Navy ships behind the wire which separates the impressive park from the Naval Dockyard, was striking. Ships idle in port are not what the vessels were built for. Because of personnel shortages, most of the Navy’s fleet is unused for its national purpose – patrolling Ireland’s waters.
When will the Government properly react to the decline of the Naval Service? The Navy has a proud record, but pay rates and service conditions are not what they should be to attract sufficient personnel. Offshore patrols, protection of undersea communication cables and of future offshore energy structures, as well as fishing and other mariners sources are essential and should be getting greater State priority.
Looking across the river from Haulbowline to the town of Cobh, I reflected that there was no formal commemoration that August 2, 1849 was when then Queen Victoria arrived in Cobh and it was re-named Queenstown, to mark where she first stepped on Irish soil. There were a lot of Naval vessels around the harbour that day – and a lot of cheering public too, to judge from historical reports: “She was greeted by joyously cheering crowds, flowers and triumphal arches,” according to newspaper reports, but her visit was also noted as “one of the inconvenient ironies of the Famine period”. Rather understandably, 149 years later that event was not the subject of public note!
The Naval vessels of that day were not Irish, but Royal Navy, the country being under British rule at that time. So perhaps today’s image of Irish Naval vessels behind the wire, unused for their purpose at present, is not too bad when we do have an Irish Naval Service!