Cape Clear's North Harbour

EFFECTIVE repairs to a crumbling pier on Cape Clear Island could cost anything from €750,000 to €20 million according to a consultant’s report commissioned by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The revelation was made by Minister Simon Coveney under questioning on the issue in the Dáil from West Cork TD Noel Harrington.

According to Deputy Harrington, the island’s 125 inhabitants are increasingly worried that the Bull’s Nose Pier in the North Harbour may collapse at any time.

“It is in danger of collapsing and blocking the harbour to all navigation, thereby closing this gateway for the 125 residents and almost 120,000 visitors who visit the island every year,” said Deputy Harrington.

The 20m pier was originally built during the famine and is the outermost of three piers in the island’s principal harbour.

There have been various attempts over the years to secure the pier but none have proved successful.

The last attempted repair was in 1999 but large cracks have since appeared in the pier’s structure.

As a precautionary measure the Department closed access to the pier and prohibited berthing at the Bull’s Nose in 2006.

Deputy Harrington said that following several reports and investigations islanders now wanted action to repair the pier.

“The people of Oileán Chléire desperately need decisive action to be taken to secure the pier for the foreseeable future by the completion of the studies and the putting in place of a plan to conclude the work required,” he said.

Minister Coveney said that €870,000 was spent on upgrading the island’s main pier in 2005.

He said the Department had set aside an annual budget for maintenance and safety works at Cape Clear in the years 2008 to 2010 of €30,000, €43,000 and €28,000, respectively, and for 2011 the amount was €30,000.

He added that  “a number of studies” were also carried out between 2008 and 2010 costing more than €50,000.

Minster Coveney said that studies had confirmed that “wave penetration” into the inner harbour during bad weather was a major concern and any refurbishment of the Bull’s Nose would have to be done in such a way as to tackle this problem.

Deputy Harrington said, “The islanders need to know when the necessary remedial works will start, how long they will take, when the pier will be made safe and when it will reopen for berthing.

“We have had years of studies of wave movements, swells and tides by scientists, engineers and departmental officials and the islanders feel it is time to make a decision on what is to be done while acknowledging it is a historical pier, which was built 160 years ago.

“It is frustrating for the islanders to have to wait for further studies,” he said.

According to Minister Coveney however no further studies need to be carried out.

“We are examining the conclusions of the consultants which provide an expensive six options; the cost ranges from €750,000 to €20 million; there is no easy, quick fix, cheap solution to this,” said the minister.

“I will give an assurance that we will try to make this project a priority. I face budgetary constraints in making commitments.

“This is not a case of making a decision and paying out the money; I must find the money.

“However, we have a responsibility to make this harbour safe. It is not a safe harbour in certain conditions and we need to improve that situation if we can while solving the structural problems at the Bull’s Nose, which is now a breakwater rather than a pier.”

The Minster said he would try to respond as quickly as possible and in as “comprehensive a way as is possible and affordable in the current climate”.