Friday 19 July 2019

Tensions escalate as fishermen threaten to block harbour in protest


Mary Fogarty

There is growing tension at the harbour in Greystones as fishermen continue to land their catch there, ten years after being removed from the facility. Fishermen are threatening to blockade the harbour on Saturday 'if a common sense solution isn't presented by then'.

One of the boats was moved on Friday morning, before being taken back by its skipper Eric O'Reilly.

Fisherman Ivan Toole said that his own boat was in Dun Laoghaire at the time getting some maintenance done.

'We were there for four days and Tim Storey was on holidays,' said Ivan. 'Eric had left his boat in Greystones. The weather had been bad since last Tuesday. He hadn't been out for a few days. Eric and his crew arrived on Friday to start their day and discovered it had been taken from the north wall and moved to the marina at the south. We waited until someone was coming out in the marina and we went in and took it back,' said Mr Toole.

Over the weekend, ropes were removed from the ladders and later recovered by gardaí. On Tuesday morning, barricades were placed along the entrance to a development site which the fishermen had been using to access their boats via land.

Cllr Jennifer Whitmore and Cllr Tom Fortune attended the harbour on Monday evening for an informal meeting with the fishermen, with a further meeting planned this week with all members as the councillors make efforts to resolve the increasingly fraught situation.

Since May, and following a protest at the harbour, the three skippers have been landing their catch in Greystones. They all work at fishing off the Greystones coast on a full time basis.

'Every year we were made fresh promises. We tried to go the legal route, we tried everything and thought we could sort it out,' said Mr Toole.

'Twice in the last two years we went to the High Court looking for items of information. Nobody seems to be answerable.

'I was locked out of the harbour from the first month of the development and told if you cross the harbour in your boat you're breaking the law,' said Mr Toole. 'For the four to five years previous to that, we were in negotiations with the council and developer, like all the clubs. We were included and asked if we were happy with the facilities they were giving us. We were happy. The cut-out was put in for the fishermen then the planning was somehow changed to a boat yard.'

Mr Toole said that they intend to carry on using Greystones Harbour as they have been doing for more than a month. 'We've been getting the two fingers all along and this year decided we had no other alternative but to come to the harbour and start fishing.'

Mr Toole described having to leave his house at 5 a.m. to make his way to Dun Laoghaire before six, only to get into the boat and set a course back towards Greystones to work.

'That's three hours on the working day, for the past ten years' he said. 'That means fuel, less family time and a 16 or 17-hour day rather than a 12-hour day. It pushes you to the edge.

'Also, the north pier was supposed to be public. It shouldn't be private. As far as we're concerned we're doing nothing illegal.'

The harbour operator BJ Marine has written letters to the skippers in recent weeks informing them that their boats are moored illegally.

The letter objected to their using safety ladders to secure mooring lines and said that they are in breach of the harbour bylaws. The letters said that they have been parking vehicles illegally and blocking the coast guard slip.

'You have been getting fuel deliveries to the Coast Guard slip which is in breach of all safety legislation, and without permission,' read one of the letters. The letter demanded that they stop all of those actions at once.

Members of Greystones Municipal District discussed the matter at last week's meeting. Cathaoirleach Tom Fortune said that he is anxious to solve the problems for once and for all. Cllr Jennifer Whitmore said that a professional mediator has made an offer to assist.

District Administrator Myra Porter said that there is a need to establish exactly who the 'fishermen' are, in terms of participating in any discussions.

'We're not 100 per cent sure who to have around the table. We did send out letters a while ago regarding discussions,' she said.

'I am concerned that a public asset has been privatised and now we have no say. Is there something we can do as public representatives?' asked Cllr Mags Crean.

Cllr Derek Mitchell said that there was historically a funding gap when it came to Greystones Harbour, dating back to the British government who had ownership when it collapsed. He said that funding gap was what led to a public private partnership.

'The area allocated for the fishermen has become a private entity,' said Cllr Jennifer Whitmore. 'It was to be one of the public parts of the harbour. I would really like to get an answer about this. When that decision was made, it excluded the fishermen.'

Cllr Tom Fortune said that there seems to be consensus to resolve the situation for once and for all. Ms Porter said that harbour representatives should also be at any meeting.

A spokesman for BJ Marine had not returned calls at the time of going to press.

Bray People