15th October

Uncertainty in Dún Laoghaire following sudden departure of the harbour master

Frank Allen left Dún Laoghaire at the end of June, barely twelve months after his high profile appointment. Photo Gillian Mills/Inshore Ireland

Frank Allen left Dún Laoghaire at the end of June, barely twelve months after his high profile appointment. Photo Gillian Mills/Inshore Ireland

John Hearne

Mystery surrounds the departure of Captain Frank Allen from his role as harbour master at Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company Co Dublin after less than one year in the job.

Despite repeated attempts by Inshore Ireland to query the circumstances surrounding the departure, the state-owned company has not responded to questions. Similarly, Captain Allen has declined to comment.

The company confirmed last month that Frank Allen left Dún Laoghaire at the end of June, barely twelve months after his high-profile appointment. Insiders in the port sector have expressed mystification at the suddenness of his departure.


A native of Cork, Captain Allen’s first appointment was as general manager of Dundalk Shipowners in 1986. He subsequently worked for Carrisbrooke Shipping in the UK and for Swansea Cork Ferries before joining Dundalk Port as harbour master in 2003.

He replaced the retiring Captain Simon Coate as harbour master in Dún Laoghaire in June 2011.  Captain Coate has now returned as acting harbour master until a permanent replacement for Captain Allen can be found. The post of harbour master is a statutory role that the port company is obliged to fill.

Controversial masterplan
Captain Allen’s departure comes just as Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company embarks on the implementation of a lengthy and sometimes controversial masterplan. This multi-disciplinary blueprint, formally adopted last October, ranges across marine, leisure, culture and tourism, and aims to secure the long-term viability of the port.

It incorporates a range of highly ambitious objectives – from extensive retail and residential development – to the construction of an International Diaspora museum and plans to bring cruise ships to the port.

The latter initiative however has proved particularly controversial. While it was acknowledged during the public consultation phase of the masterplan that cruise ships might bring economic benefit, concerns were raised over the adverse visual impact and the adverse impact on marine leisure activities. A cruise liner can stand up to seventeen storeys high, accommodating up to 5,000 passengers and 2,300 crew. 

Any plans to bring such vessels to Dún Laoghaire would place the port in direct competition with Dublin Port, fifteen miles up the coast. Dublin welcomed eighty-five cruise liners in 2010; over the course of August alone, twenty-nine liners will dock either at Alexandra Quay or closer to the city centre on the River Liffey.

Economic dominance
Separately, the Competition Authority is to carry out an in depth study of ports in Ireland. As part of that analysis, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said that the authority will examine whether Dublin Port has an economically dominant position.
Dublin Port is by far our biggest; 40% of national GDP passes through it. In an RTE report Minister Varadkar said he wished to see 30% of profits from ports paid to the State in dividends. He also said that while government was open to private equity investment in ports, the State did not have plans to sell any that are strategically important.
In the aftermath of Captain Allen’s departure, it was reported that part of his brief had been to revive the harbour’s fortunes and to play a role in attracting cruise liners to Dún Laoghaire.

Pontoon purpose
Locals, meanwhile, have raised questions over the location of the temporary pontoon in the old harbour, along the west side of Dún Laoghaire. Designed to berth craft from cruise liners, the pontoon is removed from the main activities of the harbour and lies adjacent to a large car park. The location, critics suggest, indicates an intention to bus any disembarking passengers to tourist locations in Wicklow or Dublin, thereby bypassing the town itself, and excluding it from any economic dividend that might arise from cruise liner business.

The Harbour Company has not answered questions put to it by Inshore Ireland in relation to either the future of cruise business or the location of the pontoon.

In adopting the masterplan last October, the port company said that the cruise ship facility would only be promoted if there was a robust economic and business case for it. It also said that determining the economic rationale for the project lay beyond the remit of the plan, and nor did it state how any of the proposals detailed within it might be funded.

Revenues at the port are largely driven by the Stena Line Ferry service to Hollyhead. According to 2010 accounts the company made a pre-tax profit of €1.36m.  

Controversy re-Ignited at Dún Laoghaire’s east pier
The long running controversy over the fate of the derelict Victorian swimming baths at Dún Laoghaire’s East Pier in Co Dublin has flared again. The action group Save Our Seafront claims that Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is abandoning previous commitments to provide a public swimming pool on the site of the Baths.  
Ahead of a public meeting on July 21, the group said that plans by the council to develop a ‘Badeschiff’ or floating swimming pool in the Harbour had replaced earlier plans to re-open the baths site. In a statement, they quoted county manager Owen Keegan as saying that the proposal would allow the council to ‘exit from the whole baths thing’.

Public outcry
Last year, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council voted €1.5m for interim work at the baths. Save Our Seafront claims however that this money will not be used to develop the site as a swimming pool.

The outdoor swimming baths were closed to the public in 1997, and have lain derelict for more than ten years during which time protests have routinely flared up over how the site is to be redeveloped. In 2004, a proposed high-rise flat complex on the site was shelved following a public outcry.

In a statement to Inshore Ireland, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council says that plans to redevelop the baths site from Newtownsmith to the East Pier ‘are being advanced.’

According to the statement, the proposed works include the refurbishment of the existing baths pavilion to accommodate studio space for artists; an art gallery; café and public toilet facilities.

All derelict structures on the site will be cleared and a public walkway/cycleway will be installed through the site, connecting the coastal walkway at Newtownsmith to the East Pier.

There will be defences against coastal erosion on the landward side of the existing swimming pools and decking will be laid over the railway line between the Peoples Park and the baths site.

Plan proposals
Critically, the plan also involves the construction of a new jetty and an area for changing to provide enhanced access to the water for swimmers.

County Manager Owen Keegan has said that the proposed Badeschiff urban beach and heated swimming pool project does not impact on the Council's commitment to providing a public swimming amenity at the Dún Laoghaire Baths site.

"We fully intend to continue with our proposed works to the baths site, which includes providing a public swimming amenity and access to the water at all stages of the tide."

While the statement adds that the amenity will be life-guarded, it would appear that the new facility will fall short of the swimming pool sought by the Save Our Seafront group.

Spread the News

Licence suspended for mechanical harvesting of kelp in Bantry Bay
Shine a light on summer 'lighthouse' festival
Initiative to extend tourist season for Connemara and Aran Islands