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, associated with the islands of the harbour, a former shipyard and a unique church. But the sight of so many Naval vessels moored-up does not show appreciation by Government of the important role of maritime defence and patrolling of our territorial waters.
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 mariner sources are essential and should be getting greater State priority.
Looking across the river from Haulbowline to Cobh, I reflected that there was no formal commemoration in the past week 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. “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!