Thursday 12 December 2019

Diplomatic storm brewing with UK over cash for lighthouses

Des Busteed

A diplomatic row between Britain and Ireland is emerging over a multi-million euro subsidy to Irish lighthouses -- based on an agreement going back to 1921.

As the UK government slashes spending, its transport minister has written to Irish counterpart Noel Dempsey seeking a cut in payments to the Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL), an all-Ireland body which runs the island's lighthouse service.

However, according to the UK Department of Transport, the Irish service will cost the UK taxpayers £9.1m (€10.4m) next year alone.

This money is executed to Ireland through the General Lighthouse Fund (GLF) which is the body that oversees marine aids to navigation across the British Isles. This system has continued largely because it has remained "under the radar" throughout significant political changes in Ireland since the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1921.

The Sunday Independent can reveal that Mr Dempsey received a letter from the recently appointed Conservative Party Secretary of State Mike Penning seeking an urgent review into the issue. It is believed Mr Penning wants to see an end to the current subsidies.

Both men are believed to have agreed to have an introductory meeting on the matter in Dublin by November.

As part of international obligations under the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the UK and the Republic of Ireland operate an integrated system providing marine aids to navigation for ships throughout the British Isles. They do this by the means of three General Lighthouse Authorities that are part-funded through a levy on commercial ships calling at UK and Irish ports.

It costs an estimated €35m a year to operate CIL's marine aids navigation facilities. The Republic incurs an estimated €11m deficit based on a number of monetary factors due to a complicated and outdated revenue structure.

Despite CIL paying into the GLF, its running costs remain considerably higher than its revenue intake of €5m, leaving the shipping dues gathered from across Britain to make up for the Republic's noticeable deficit -- estimated to be around €20m a year.

The running costs at CIL are also higher because many Irish employees are paid more than their British counterparts.

Sunday Independent

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