Should Dublin Port Build to Welcome More Big Cruise Liners?

Dublin Port Company’s plan to develop the port stretches until 2040. Right now, officials are pondering one piece of that plan.

They’re trying to decide whether to build specific berths for large cruise ships as part of the redevelopment of Alexandra Basin – and they want the public, and interested stakeholders, to weigh in.

Currently, cruise ships berth at Alexandra Basin but with big works to kick off there in 2021, coupled with a growth in cargo, existing space is tight for the massive liners.

“We’re going to lose 400 metres of quay. A lot of bulk cargo goes there and we had to juggle things around,” says a spokesperson for Dublin Port.

One proposal is to build new specific berths, wide enough to be used by even the largest cruise ships. But whether they’re needed, or who would pay for them, are questions that Dublin Port officials are currently musing.

Lorcan O’Connor of the All-Ireland Cruise Ship Action Group, says the new berths are something the state should invest in – and that not just Dublin, but cities further afield would benefit from the tourism.

Officials at Dublin Port, though, have concerns not just about the price-tag – which it estimates to be from €137 million up to €172 million for “the most comprehensive option”– but also about overtourism, the impact on the city, and pollution from the giant liners.

Sailing In

About eight years ago, Dublin Port and Dublin City Council drew up a plan to make the port more attractive for cruise ships. That meant creating a sense of public space around the port, and making sure visitors could travel easily between the port and the city.

And cruise tourism in Dublin has grown over the past seven years, says a Dublin Port discussion document. In 2016, 109 cruise ships sailed in, with 109,884 passengers. This year, 151 cruises called to the port, with 203,053 passengers.

That growth for Dublin Port outstripped wider global and European trends “and is illustrative of the growing attractiveness of Dublin as a cruise destination”, the document says.

“Dublin is where the majority of the tours want to go,” says O’Connor, of the All-Ireland Cruise Ship Action Group, a lobby group of businesses from Cork, Waterford and Dublin who want Dublin Port’s future restrictions on cruise ships to be eased.

In March of this year, the Dublin Port Company said it was restricting the number of cruise ships entering the port to 80 from 2021 due to construction work. If the berths are to be built, the idea is that would happen in 2024, with capacity for up to 200 cruise ships.

If they’re not built, the limit of 80 cruise liners is likely to stay, says O’Connor, who is also a company director for O’Carroll’s Irish Gifts. This would have a knock on effect on the likes of Cork and Belfast too, as Dublin is the attractive destination for the liners, says O’Connor.

Yet, says O’Connor, port officials are refusing to invest any money in building the new berths at Dublin Port. “They’ll allow it to happen if somebody else pays for it.”

That somebody else, he says, is either the central government, the cruise companies, or a combination of both.

According to the Dublin Port Company’s consultation documents, the port would be satisfied to pay some of the costs of building the berths, but would need that investment topped up from other places.

Most of the financial benefit of cruise-ship operations in Dublin Port accrues to operators in tourism and retail, said Dublin Port’s consultation documents.

The port doesn’t have enough revenue to justify spending significant capital funding on a new cruise turnaround centre, says the document.

“We would need to get guarantees that if we build these cruise berths for cruise ships that we are going to be guaranteed the revenue from that,” says a Dublin Port spokesperson – and guarantees that the companies would return over a specified number of years.

Other Issues

It’s not just the financing that is as it issue in the debate around whether to build new berths at Dublin Port.

Concerns around overtourism and adverse environmental effects stemming from cruise liners also factor into Dublin Port’s reluctance to invest heavily in what could be a fleeting industry.

“If you look at Venice and you look at Barcelona, they’re trying to curtail cruise ships because of all sorts of different reasons,” says the Dublin Port spokesperson. “One of the big reasons is emissions.”

The blue crane at Dublin Port. Photo by Sean Finnan.

A 2011 paper in the Journal of Coastal Research found that, on a peak day in Dubrovnik in Croatia, cruisers “create an enormous environmental burden where 12,500 cruise guests generally pollute as much as 50,000 Dubrovnik residents”.

Mostly, that’s down to the gallons and gallons of fuel needed to run the cruise ship when it’s left offshore, the research says.

“If we’re going to build these berths, we’re going to build them to a standard that you can plug in,” says the spokesperson. “So they shut down all their engines so there are no emissions.”

Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne says that it is much more environmentally friendly when cruise ships can connect to the port’s grid, rather than burn their own fuel.

So it’s welcome that the port is looking at that. “They’re massive emitters when they’re just sitting there immobile,” says Byrne.

But there is still an issue with whether the city’s infrastructure can cope with even more tourists visiting. “We’re already bursting at the seams,” says Byrne.

Overtourism is one concern raised by Dublin Port in its consultation documents. They’re anxious to ensure extra tourism growth as a result of Dublin Port’s cruise business would not become contentious in the future.

A 2018 study by the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism said that many of the typical overtourism symptoms are visible in Dublin, including overcrowding, and gentrification, and increased cost of living for residents.

O’Connor, of the All-Ireland Cruise Ship Action Group, says that this is not an issue and cruise ships are just an easy target because they’re so visible.

“The majority of people aren’t coming in via cruise ships, they’re coming in via other means,” he says.

What Next?

Dublin Port is, until 17 January, asking for the views of stakeholders, Dublin City Council and members of the public, on cruise tourism and its advantages and disadvantages for the city.

It’s not a massively high-profile consultation. “I haven’t heard of it anyway,” says Paddy Hughes, outside the Central Bank on the Quays on a Tuesday morning.

Hughes says, though, that he’s not keen on the idea of the state or the city council investing in the berths when there are other more important issues to deal with.

Bartos Beiniasz says it has passed him by too – and he worked at the port for a number of years.

Cruise ships are good for the city, says Beiniasz, enjoying the afternoon sun along North Wall Quay.

“It’s good for the tourists too that the ships are carrying,” says Beiniasz, as he looks across the glistening Liffey towards the port.

He says he reckons it’d be good for tourism in the area but not so good for the Dublin Bay prawns. “The pollution could affect Dublin bay which is an issue already.”

Irrespective of the outcomes of the consultation period, O’Connor says his group will continue to lobby both Dublin Port and the government for funding for increased capacity for cruise ships at the port.

For Dublin Port, it comes down to what the public and stakeholders want.

“We’re asking the city and the public do you really want these ships coming in? If you do, fine, we’ll build state-of-the-art berths where they can plug in and do all that type of stuff,” says the Dublin Port spokesperson.

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Sean Finnan: Sean Finnan is a freelance journalist. You can reach him at sfinnan@dublininquirer.com.

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