The Battle of Greystones!
By Lorna Siggins
When Wicklow native Ivan O’Toole took up fishing, he never envisaged he would be spending time, energy and money on legal challenges to ensure he could maintain his livelihood.
O’Toole ‘s company, Golden Venture Fishing Co Ltd, has three vessels involved in inshore fishing for lobsters, crabs and whelks. They are the Dignity (12m), the Lady Ciara (12m), and he recently acquired the Mary Ellen (15m) from Killybegs, Co Donegal.
His vessels work out of Greystones harbour, where he is from. However, for the best part of nine years this has become much more difficult for him and for a small fleet of three vessels involving nine fishermen in all, including crew.
There are currently several separate legal cases over use of the harbour by fishermen, and over surveying by several first phase wind farm companies which are preparing planning applications for their projects in the Irish Sea.
“My grandmother, now 96 years old, and living nearby can trace back five generations of the family in fishing, “O’Toole says, speaking in Greystones.
“I’m a mechanic by trade, as my mother wouldn’t let me go fishing straight away after school,”.
“ I fished part-time and then when I got the money together I went full time and from smaller boat to bigger boat,”.
“It’s mainly lobster and crab, but whelks in the winter time as you don’t get much in terms of lobster and crab,”.
“In 2004, Wicklow County Council stopped taking money for our moorings, and sent us back payments as they said the harbour has been condemned. Then we were told a company was building a new harbour for the community, and a patch of land for apartments,”.
“In the old harbour,we had three areas to use – the inner harbour for shelter, the outer harbour, and swinging moorings, but they weren’t great and I reckon I fell out of the punt at least once a year rowing out to a mooring,”he recalls.
“In the early negotiations, we formed a group called the Greystones Harbour Users Group and we all negotiated what we wanted –and almost everyone got what they should have got, including sailors and kayakers,”.
“They began construction on the harbour in 2007, and in early 2008 we were blocked from coming in and so we had to move all our operations, including storage, to Dun Laoghaire,”.
“ The council had talked regularly about “the fishermen’s area”, but sometimes around 2011 when the harbour walls were being built, we asked for a “cut out” to give us a bit more protection,”.
“ We saw these piles being built, and then realised they had scrapped plans for the fishermen’s area some years previously,”.
“Meanwhile, the building on the apartments and houses began around 2008, and they are still being built.”
“We are tied up in an area in Greystones where we shouldn’t be until such time as the council can find somewhere for us to go, and the issue has ended up in the High Court,”.
“We have to go to Dun Laoghaire once a week to dispose of our rubbish and get water,”.
O’Toole cannot comment on the detail of the court proceedings. It is understood that there are three legal cases running in relation to the harbour.
Firstly, there is a long standing case which has been taken against Wicklow Co Council over commitments made in relation to facilities for fishermen in the new harbour.
While those proceedings are ongoing, the harbour office for Greystones issued invoices charging berthing fees similar to yacht marina fees.
The fishermen say they were willing to pay for harbour services, but contended that the level of fees was too high and a legal case is in the circuit court –with Wicklow County Council joined to these proceedings.
A separate case was taken by the harbour office against O’Toole to have him removed, which was referred for mediation.
There are local councillors who remember the assurances given to fishermen, and remember how fishermen supported the planning process for the PPP without realising they were being cut out.
Last November 1st, Greystones municipal district councillor Tom Fortune offered to mediate after access to the pier for the fishermen was blocked by locked gates.
An estimated crowd of up to 200, along with Fortune and Wicklow municipal district councillors Mary Kavanagh and John Snell, gathered in support of the fishermen, according to The Bray People.
Fortune subsequently wrote to Wicklow County Council, seeking an audit and investigation into the dispute, telling the newspaper that he had researched the project from 2004 in trying to help the fishermen to be allowed do their daily work and support their families.
Fortune said he was seeking a full and comprehensive audit and investigation to be urgently carried out on the entire project, including detail of meetings leading up to the submission of the planning permission and events since.
The local authority, which has primary responsibility for the harbour, has said it cannot comment “on any matters concerning fishermen or related activities at Greystones Harbour as these matters are sub judice”, due to “ongoing legal proceedings, which have been instigated against Wicklow County Council”.
It outlines how the Greystones harbour and “North Beach Project” is a public private partnership (PPP) between Wicklow County Council and SisPar Ltd, a company formed by developers John Sisk and Son and Park Developments. Glenveagh is now involved in the residential construction element.
“SisPar Ltd has responsibility for the management, operation and maintenance of the public areas within the development as part of a 30 year concession agreement provided for under the terms of the PPP,”the council says.
“All marine works and marine infrastructure provided for under the PPP have been delivered,”it says.
Under the terms of the PPP, Wicklow County Council provided 30 acres of foreshore to Sispar – a first for a State harbour of its type.
The firm replaced the Victorian harbour walls with south and north piers, a 250-berth marina and space for five existing harbour clubs. It was given approval to built up to 375 residential units on the waterfront, and 5,500m2 of commercial units and 341 residential units – both houses and apartments. Public facilities valued at €50m include a public square on the waterfront.
“The final phase of 33 apartments in block D are currently under construction with an estimated completion date of the last quarter of 2023. The total out-turn of residential units once block D is complete will be 372 residential units,”Wicklow County Council says.
A company named Sensory manages the infrastructure for SisPar, while the marina was outsourced to BJ Marine.
A spokesman for SisPar said “the design of the harbour never envisaged commercial scale fishing boats mooring up against the north breakwater, as these boats were not operating from Greystones before the construction of the new harbour and marina. The current harbour and marina were designed in the mid-2000’s, in accordance with Wicklow County Council’s requirements which included the provision of appropriate moorings in the new harbour for the type of vessel operating out of Greystones prior to the redevelopment.”
“The moorings installed in the outer harbour were designed for the type of fishing vessels which would have featured in the harbour prior to the redevelopment and comprise of linear (fore and aft) moorings located within the outer harbour, away from fixed structures and the harbour beach. The development of the harbour progressed through the planning approval process, including a public oral hearing, local consultation led by Wicklow County Council as the promoter of the project, when all stakeholders had their opportunity to engage. Following planning approval, detailed design and construction took place,” SisPar says.
“The primary function of the north and south breakwaters is to protect the harbour and coastline from erosion by the sea, acting as a barrier to slow water speed. This is what the breakwaters were designed and built for, following the project brief from Wicklow County Council,” it says.
“Unauthorised moorings for a number of fishing boats were illegally installed on the north breakwater and were being used by a number of fishing boats without any permission or agreement. It was never intended that commercial fishing boats would moor to the north breakwater and damage was done to the structure by the unauthorised installation of these moorings. These mooring have been removed but then illegally reinstalled.”
“Some of these boats have also been mooring to safety ladders and in some places restricting access to the safety ladders such that they are inaccessible should a member of the public fall into the water,” SisPar says.
“There are number of ongoing legal proceedings which we cannot comment on here.”
SisPar also states that :“gates were installed at the end of the north breakwater to curtail access on occasions where there is an increased risk to public safety from pier jumping and also as weather conditions dictate. Unauthorised access by vehicles to the north breakwater is not permitted for obvious safety reasons and SisPar is managing the risk to members of the public with the use of the gates. However, locks were repeatedly broken and access gained by vehicles parking illegally and unloading fishing boats. These matters have been reported to the Gardai in Greystones previously.”
“It is worth noting also that extensive discussions took place with Mr Toole re wanting to moor commercial fishing boats in the new harbour. As I understand it the fishermen currently operating without authorisation were offered the opportunity to unload their catch from the north breakwater on the basis they would then moor their boats in the marina. The deal they were offered would also have seen them avail of the fishermen’s huts that were built in the harbour specifically to store fishing gear but they decided not to do this,”the SisPar spokesman said.
“The boats currently mooring illegally were not fishing out of Greystones when the harbour was being designed and therefore it was not designed to accommodate them. These larger vessels have only started to come in to Greystones since the new harbour was built and as we understand it their main base of operation is in fact Dun Laoghaire since 2010,” SisPar said.
Responding to these points, Ivan O’Toole reiterated that he and his colleagues were forced to relocate to Dun Laoghaire during the early construction phase of the harbour. The original moorings were not safe in certain weather conditions, and fishermen had understood a safer harbour was being built.
Wind Farm Opposition
O’Toole’s other battle, also experienced by other east coast inshore fishermen, is with several wind farm developments.
A number of “phase one” windfarm developments were awarded maritime area consents (MACs) by Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan last year as a prelude to applying for planning approval under the new maritime planning legislation.
Four of the seven “phase one” projects were successful in Ireland’s first offshore wind auction, as part of Ireland’s 2030 Climate Action Plan. The plan involves having 5 GW of installed offshore wind capacity and a further 2 GW of floating wind capacity under development by 2030.
Two “phase one” windfarm developments have a direct bearing on the Wicklow fishing fleet – the Dublin Array, backed by German group RWE and Irish company Saorgus Energy, and Codling Wind Park, backed by French giant EDF Renewables and Norwegian business, Fred Olsen Seawind.
“They came to us first about five years ago and we met in one of the hotels in Dun Laoghaire. We came to an agreement over an initial survey, and received payments for loss of earnings and removal of gear, which was stressful enough as you are always worried about whether the fish will be there when you go back,”he says.
“They contacted us about a new survey involving geotechnical equipment, but took none of our concerns on board, whether it would affect fishing or not,”he says. “The companies decided to work around us, and within five days of the first borehole being drilled on the Bray bank the fishing dropped from 120 kilos a string to 15 kilos a string.”
Once again, O’Toole had to resort to legal advice, after trying to negotiate himself.
O’Toole’s legal representatives are seeking judicial reviews of relevant licenses, as are several legal firms acting for other fishermen.
On April 25th, RWE began surveying, but had to stop by court order issued on May 8th. That stay remains in place, and meanwhile several legal arguments have been referred to a European court for opinion.
Several review applications have been submitted in relation to the Codling wind park, which also has a stay on its works.
Both companies are due to submit their planning applications next year and it is not clear how this legal action will affect that.
The phase one projects which were successful in the recent auction are required to make payments to local marine and coastal communities. However, there is no statutory compensation for fishermen in relation to wind farm developments.
O’Toole says the Government has also failed the fishermen by not providing accurate information to windfarm companies on fishing activity.
“So at that first Dun Laoghaire meeting, we watched a powerpoint where they put up figures for fishing activity and referred to scallops. They didn’t have any information on the whelk fishery, as boats under ten metres don’t have to fill out log sheets,”.
“Everyone thinks that the fishermen out to destroy the place, but half the reason I am doing it is because I am so interested in the environment,”O’Toole says.
“We realise how rich the seas are around here… we see pods of dolphins most days, humpback whales, migrating birds landing on the boat and taking a breather,”.
“We participate in schemes like V-notching of lobsters, so we see at first hand what a little bit of conservation does with a species, “.
“There is a serious future here if we keep engaging in conservation. Fishermen know how to look after the seas. They just need to be let at it, and support each other,”he says.
O’Toole questions why the inshore industry is flourishing in France but having such difficulties in Ireland.
“I think we need a united industry, involving whoever is left,”he says. “Yes, we are on a downward spiral at the moment and we are in trouble – but if we don’t do something about it now, we are going to be in bigger trouble….”