THE Shannon Foynes Port Company has been accused of trying to close Limerick Docks “by stealth”.
Independent councillor John Gilligan made the comments after members were asked to approve two variations to the Shannon Integrated Framework Plan, which governs development along the river.
There were a number of submissions to these variations – which provides for the taking of water from the river to serve Dublin.
But one “glaring omission”, Cllr Gilligan said, were comments from the former harbourmaster Capt Alan Coghlan, who warned if the Irish Water-backed plan goes ahead, it would see “more siltation” at Limerick’s Docks.
This would lead to a cut in ship size using the Dock, “and consequently a loss of income to both the city and Port Company,” Capt Coghlan wrote.
Cllr Gilligan tried to have the comments inserted as an addendum to the plan, but his attempts were unsuccessful as he was told by officials he could not do so under statute.
“Here we have a damning indictment of a proposal by Irish Water, and the effect it will have on this city, and it has simply been ignored,” he said.
The Island Bank councillor believed the move was deliberate, suggesting: “Shannon Foynes Port Company will do everything in its power to promote Irish Water doing it [pumping water from the Shannon]knowing it would close Limerick port. There is no explanation as to why a warning by the most senior person in charge of the Shannon was ignored.”
Council chief executive Conn Murray was forced to intervene in the dispute during the meeting, with Cllr Gilligan urging his colleagues not to accept the variations until the harbourmaster’s advice was taken on board.
Mr Murray said: “In this case, the argument is not valid. It is not possible under statute to do this. It is not being ignored, it is just not part of the statutory process.”
However, Labour councillor Joe Leddin asked whether the advice from the harbourmaster at least be discussed at the next strategic policy committee meeting. This was agreed.
In response to Cllr Gilligan’s remarks, a spokesperson for the Shannon Foynes Port Company said the company was “very much focussed on maximising the considerable potential” of the Limerick Docks.
“This is a vital piece of infrastructure for the Port Company but also for local companies such as Irish Cement and Grassland Fertilisers over recent years, who rely on it for imports and exports of raw materials and products. This year alone tonnages at Limerick were up 66% on the first four months of the year compared to the same period in 2014 and we are confident those trends will continue,” the spokesperson said.
The Vision 2041 Masterplan, he added, recognises Limerick Docks continuing as a working port.
“We are not alone very optimistic about Limerick Port’s future as a working docks, but also have plans to adapt some of our non-core port properties in Limerick Docks for other commercial uses, including the potential development of a marine energy research/innovation park, which would further enhance the dynamic around this key asset,” a statement concluded.