Tuesday 12 December 2017

An ocean of possibilities for entrepreneurs

Maritime resources provide untapped potential and need to finally take centre stage

UP AND DOWN THE LIFFEY: The Helga gunboat was able to shell rebels with impunity
UP AND DOWN THE LIFFEY: The Helga gunboat was able to shell rebels with impunity

Enda O'Coineen

This Easter, as our North Atlantic island "remembers, reflects and reimagines", there is a tragic irony. Irishmen and Irishwomen... we still don't get it. And this irony reflects how well we were colonised!

Quite simply, the rebel leaders omitted one key element in sealing off Dublin city centre in 1916. Namely the sea. Essentially the British steamed up and down the Liffey with troops and the Helga gunboat, shelling the rebels with impunity.

Fact is, the rebel leaders did not think about the sea and blocking off the Liffey. Although it is a moot point as to whether or not the rebels could have done anything to prevent this happening, the real irony is that 100 years later, this fact has been lost, therefore preventing us from remembering.

Enterprise, sport, literature, and above all the maritime are passions of mine.

Entrepreneurship and dynamic thought processes need to be part of our DNA, starting at home and in primary school.

The political system does not "get" entrepreneurship nor does it get the maritime - whether it's in government departments, frontline services or private enterprise. Ministers speak of creating jobs, but in reality jobs are created by people spotting a good opportunity, securing the necessary resources and funding, then taking a risk.

Maritime and ocean resources provide untapped potential from a tourism, cultural, sporting and enterprise perspective. Ireland was so well colonised that the maritime is still not centre stage. 1916 celebrations are a classic example and the irony is that we still don't get it. Education and learning are key to facilitating people exploring new opportunities and developing new skills.

As far back as the 1850s, it was debated in Westminster that if the Irish gained access to the sea, Irish trade, commerce and travel would increase and the island would "always be a threat to the empire". As a result, government funding was diverted to developing unnatural ports, such as Liverpool, instead of natural deep sea ports in Ireland.

Many civilisations such as the Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch all built their societies through seafaring, travel and trade.

Ireland's only seafaring was on one-way emigrant ships and small inshore coastal crafts such as Galway hookers. The Irish were simply not allowed, or encouraged, to own ships and go to sea. It also still remains one of the great mysteries of the world how thousands starved during the famine while the sea teemed with fish.

Led by Minister Simon Coveney, the outgoing government implemented an inspired 'ocean wealth' strategy. It presented an environment and potential for employment from sporting, cultural, tourism and commercial marine opportunities. With a powerful vision such as the IMERC project in Cork Harbour, this agenda needs to be part of a sustainable long-term strategy.

Whatever the outcome of the current political lottery, this needs to be above politics (just as other core health and housing issues). To champion this I have decided to take the plunge rather than sit on the quayside as an independent candidate for the NUI Seanad elections - and I as a 'newbie' need votes to push me in.

We are an island nation. Yet maritime awareness is absent from a large part of the DNA of our national psyche. And while issues such as housing and health are critical, we must not lose sight of the fundamentals in wealth creation for future generations, as 'islanders'.

Unless our government invests in sectors such as the maritime, we will not generate the revenue for society to look after those who are less fortunate than others.

When Asgard II, our national youth training vessel, was lost, the government kept the insurance money and scrapped the programme. If a school burned down, few communities would tolerate the insurance money going elsewhere rather than rebuilding that school.

On a personal level, I am also highlighting the vision of the Atlantic Youth Trust plan to build a North-South youth development vessel. The project is based on research from 16 countries around the world where every child aged between 15 and 18 years of age, regardless of their background, would have the educational opportunity to go to sea.

It is ironic that 100 years on, as we commemorate the 1916 Centenary, the sea remains the Cinderella of our island in the North Atlantic - nearly seven-eights of our territory is the ocean shelf underwater - and this does not include East Galway when it rains!

Enda O'Coineen is chairman of Kilcullen Kapital Partners and president of the Atlantic Youth Trust charity.

He has been endorsed and seconded by outgoing Senator Feargal Quinn as an independent candidate for the 2016 NUI Seanad elections.

See www.endaocoineen.ie, email enda@endaocoineen.ie

Sunday Independent

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