By Gordon Kingston, Heritage Action

By 2007 Ireland’s booming economy and growth in demand for construction materials, was causing increased capacity pressure at the ten ports along its Eastern seaboard. One obvious consequence of this was the “Port Tunnel”, a new access to the largest port, in Dublin, which was constructed at enormous public expense, €752 million, to ease the traffic congestion caused by heavy goods vehicles in the city. A further modification proposed to address the capacity problem was an expansion of the port, a concept requiring the infilling of 52 acres of Dublin Bay. This idea, initially suggested in 1988, is currently under consideration by An Bord Pleanala.

In the meantime Drogheda Port Company came up with its own proposal, a new large-capacity, deep water port at Bremore and entered into a government-approved joint venture for the project with Castle Market Holdings Ltd.. Castle Market Holdings is owned, via Real Estate Opportunities Ltd., by Richard Barrett and Johnny Ronan’s Treasury Holdings, one of the largest developers in Ireland and a company with a long track record of “unwillingness to back down in the face of legal threats”.

A recent study, by Indecon International Economic Consultants, on the future of Dublin Port and this sector in general, contained the following conclusions (report numbering used):

1. The level of port capacity requirements will be influenced by economic growth
and by developments in consumer expenditure;
2. There is potential to improve the capacity utilisation of ports in Ireland and
this should be pursued as a priority;
3. There is a need to develop additional port capacity in Ireland by 2025 – 2030
and this would require the expansion of Dublin Port or the development of the
proposed Bremore Port or some equivalent facility to provide additional
capacity for the Irish economy;
4. Both Dublin Ports’ proposed 21h development and the development of new
port capacity such as the proposed Bremore Port would have positive net
present values;
5. Nothing should be done at a policy level to block either the proposed
expansion of Dublin Port or the proposed development of Bremore at this
6. The proposals for the development of Bremore and Greenore and other ports
combined with the continuation of Dublin Port would have a higher net
economic benefit than the complete closure of Dublin Port;..”

Although the immediate picture is unclear and port traffic is at present declining due to the recession, the expectation, according to the report, is that expansion will be necessary in the longer term and it states that: “we believe that there would be a significant economic cost for Ireland if sufficient port capacity was not available.”  This study was conducted under the National Development Plan 2007 -2013 and has been published by the Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey.

In 2005 240 acres of land in Gormanstown, adjacent to Bremore, were rezoned by Meath County Council for Industrial and logistics development, “due to the potential synergies with the ports development.” In 2008 the joint venture announced its choice of Hutchison Westports Ltd., “the world’s leading port investor, developer and operator” as a partner in forming a Port Master Plan. In September, of this year, the Drogheda Port Company applied to move its boundary southwards to incorporate the Bremore area.

Quo Vadis?

This same area that is marked for the port, besides being a green-field area of great natural beauty, is also the location of a passage tomb complex, a ‘cemetery’ that contains at least five other versions of the nearby, more internationally famed, monuments at Brú na Bóinne. Professor George Eogan, the excavator at Knowth, has spoken out against their assimilation by the proposed development, as has An Taisce and Dr. Mark Clinton, chairman of their national monuments and antiquities committee.

To use the words of Professor Eogan, while speaking to the Balbriggan Historical Society, in 2008; “the area on both sides of the Delvin River from Gormanston to Bremore is a large Megalithic cemetery dating from 3,500BC.” Furthermore, according to local historian Bernard Matthews; “…in the immediate vicinity of the proposed deep-water port, there are the remains of at least five megalithic tombs or burial chambers, while to the north of Bremore there are the remains of at least another six tombs scattered over a wide area from Knocknagin to Lowther Lodge.”

It’s clear then, that something vital will be lost to us, forever, if this plan goes ahead.

Unfortunately, successful challenges to major development, on environmental grounds, are rare and the situation was rendered more problematic lately by a ruling on the Galway city outer bypass road. To quote Mr. Justice George Bermingham, of the High Court; “The (EU Habitats) directive and regulations also made clear, even if the site was adversely affected, it was possible some projects might still proceed for imperative reasons of overriding public interest.” Overriding public interest is maintained by the Indecon study; “a need to develop additional port capacity”, and is what will be claimed for the port development.

Where can we go?

It can be persuasively argued that future economic growth, given finite world fuel and resources, cannot be based on large-scale import-export and that additional port capacity will never be needed. However, the Government, already committed to this concept and locked into a dependency on continuous growth, is unlikely to ignore the study’s recommendations, particularly if key private enterprise players are also involved. Unfettered building fertilised, but ultimately poisoned, the Irish economy and external trade is now being put forward as the only hope of renewal. Much of the wording on Drogheda Port’s website, perhaps tactically, refers to the development as a certainty.

The ratings agency, Fitch, recently marked down Real Estate Oppurtunities Ltd.‘s property portfolio by 40%. John Bruder, managing director of Treasury Ireland, told the Irish Times in August, of this year, that; “It’s our expectation that a lot, if not all, of our portfolio will end up being subsumed into Nama,” or, in other words, that the state will take over the loans that Treasury Holdings owes to the banks. It might therefore be expected that the state, or its government, would have an interest in the success of ventures that it is now funding. Bizarrely, NAMA’s  address is ‘Treasury Building, Grand Canal St., Dublin 2’, which is owned by Treasury Holdings. The Drogheda Port Company, like the Dublin Port Company, is already owned by the state.

Despite the recommendation that; “nothing should be done at a policy level to block either the proposed expansion of Dublin Port or the proposed development of Bremore at this stage”, some headway might yet be made. The Indecon study considers the need for additional capacity to be long term, 2020 to 2025, at the earliest and, although insisting that tandem, competing developments would be preferable, implies that the Bremore proposal may not be absolutely necessary. To quote (with my underlines); “this would require the expansion of Dublin Port or the development of the proposed Bremore Port or some equivalent facility to provide additional capacity for the Irish economy”. In the course of the Bord Pleanala inquiry, architect and town planner Terry Durney stated that Bremore was not a natural harbour and was significantly inferior, as a choice, to Dublin Port.

Working against this, as previously suggested, is the fact that the Bremore proposal provides the government with a neat, ready-made and financially advantageous solution, which can be pushed through and to hell with the ancient landscape, by citing the ’national interest’. Aside from any other, as yet unidentified, alternative, the infilling proposal for the extension of Dublin Port poses its own environmental difficulties and is itself strongly opposed, but in this case by potentially useful members of the Dáil.

Eo Romam…

These people, I think, deserve our admiration and, everywhere possible, help in their task.

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Matthew 16;26