SOS over luxury cruisers who 'won't stay in town'
Traders fear cruise passengers will bypass Dun Laoghaire for Dublin's delights, so new €18m berth will be a waste of money, says Allison Bray
Nearly 5,000 passengers and crew will disembark next month from a 20-storey floating pleasure palace as the first of 18 super cruisers and four smaller cruise ships sail into the port of Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, for the summer season.
It should be good news, right? A procession of well-heeled visitors coming into the seaside borough that has been hit harder than most by the crash?
But many locals say it won't mean a thing to them.
The opulent Splendida cruises into the port on May 11, with 1,313 crew and 3,900 tourists.
Each passenger will have paid up to €3,369 to be pampered with 11 nights of wining and fine dining aboard the 333-metre cruise vessel, plying the route from Hamburg to Southampton via Dublin and Scotland.
It boosts all-inclusive access to four restaurants, a jazz bar, ice cream parlour and chocolate shop among its amenities, but passengers and crew are also each expected to spend on average €70 each time they disembark.
Proponents of a plan to turn Dun Laoghaire into a major port of call for luxury cruising ships claim the estimated 100,000 passengers and crew aboard 22 cruise ships berthing at the port this summer will inject an estimated €7m into the local economy - with approximately one-third spent in Dun Laoghaire during a typical 12-hour stopover.
But as the Dun Laoghaire Cruise Stakeholder Group, (DLSG) comprised of the local council and business improvement association and the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, begins a two-week public consultation process tomorrow on re-developing the historical harbour to accommodate super cruise ships, local opinion is sharply divided.
"It's madness," Peter Kerrigan, a local businessman and chair of the Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown Ratepayers' Association, said bluntly of the €18m plan to build a new berth and quay capable of accommodating super cruise ships up to 340 metres long.
Super cruisers currently have to berth off-shore with passengers getting to and from dry land via a shuttle boat.
The plan also includes transforming the now-defunct Stena Line ferry marshalling area into coach, taxi and mini-bus parking and building a new boardwalk overlooking the marina.
The association rejects claims that the project will generate millions each year for local businesses and fears passengers will simply get the DART into town or take a coach to Glendalough or other attractions, leaving locals with an unsightly white elephant and few tangible financial benefits.
"People are concerned it will be destroyed for the benefit of a small number of people," Mr Kerrigan said.
Derek Bennett, owner of Harry's Cafe and Bar in the town, agrees.
When the QE2 visited in 2013, fewer than 200 tourists ventured into the town, he said.
And those who did, he adds, merely went to the bank or had a coffee.
"I sold no food," he told the Sunday Independent. "The only way it can work is if the tour companies make arrangements with local businesses," he said.
Ann Joyce, who owns Costello's flower shop next door, said even though cruise passengers wouldn't likely provide her with much custom anyway, she is opposed to the development out of concern of what it will do to the town itself, and the knock-on effect that it will have on normal business.
Fergal McLoughlin, spokesman for the local group Save our Seafront, said locals don't want Dun Laoghaire "turned into another Blackpool."
"It's one of the most intact Victorian harbours in Ireland and UK and we're not convinced it will bring business to Dun Laoghaire," he said.
But Richard McCormick, president of the National Maritime Museum of Ireland located in the former Mariner's church on the seafront, said the harbour has seen a lot of changes since it was a bustling 19th-Century port and must keep on changing with the times if it hopes to survive.
"Every single town and city has to evolve with the times and take opportunities," he said.