So the Rod Stewart song goes. There are so many boats sailing into our waters in Galway this week, I thought I would look at the impact of the marine industry on Galway and Ireland.
It all started with the Spanish Armada time in 1588, when a large portion of the 130-strong fleet made landfall upon the coast of Ireland whilst attempting to return home through the North Atlantic. Up to 24 ships were wrecked on the coastline from Antrim to Kerry. The Armada’s sailing orders were almost impossible to follow. The weather was difficult, while the poor condition of many of the crews and their ships caused great distress. The pilots did not have the benefit of the charts of Lucas Wagenaer and Mercator (published soon after the expedition with a much improved picture of the waters of the north Atlantic). And their best training and experience in the navigational techniques of dead reckoning and latitude sailing fell far short of what was needed to bring the fleet safe home.
Today is a very different story and it is timely, with the vast and wonderful array of boats in Galway this week, to look at the marine industry as a whole in Ireland.
Two recent letters in The Irish Times serve as a ‘reminder of the high value of sailing to the social and economic health of Ireland’. The now very well known Enda O Coineen – who helped bring the Volvo Ocean Race to Ireland – recently wrote of the “shame” of becoming “quayside bystanders”. He was referring to our welcoming of the Norwegian tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl to Dublin when Ireland’s youth ocean sail training scheme is being ended due to a 100 per cent budget cut.
Echoing his sentiments, Peter Vine, whose marine career has covered many decades, asks: “Is it not time to acknowledge that this maritime nation can benefit enormously by nurturing sailing and a love of the sea among our young people?” Vine argues that efforts towards a “new viable Tallship for Ireland deserve individual, corporate and Government support”.
In a report produced by NUI Galway and Socio-Economic Marine Research Unit (SEMRU) in December 2010, they highlight that the direct value of the Irish Ocean economy was €1.44 billion or one per cent of GDP, for the reference year (2007) and that, when combined with the indirect value, it came to a staggering €2.4 billion. Turnover was €3.4 billion, with 17,000 people employed, a 34 per cent rise from the previous reference year (2003).
In February 2007, the government adopted Sea Change: A Marine Knowledge Research and Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2007-20131. One of the priority objectives of this strategy, to be achieved by 2013, is ensuring “the availability of high quality socio-economic data for all marine sectors through collaboration with the relevant data collection agencies”. Also, part of Sea Change’s vision for 2020 is that there will be a much greater national awareness of both the market and non-market value of the marine resource leading to an enhanced understanding of the overall contribution and potential that marine resources can make to Irish regional, social and economic development.
So, looking at the ability we have here in Galway and Ireland, to exploit the ocean resources in a positive way, to create jobs, add value to economies, renewal energy, fishing, transport and so on, isn’t it time we stopped looking inwards, and look out to the sea?