Stormont impasse plunges Kilkeel Harbour expansion into doubt
THE political impasse at Stormont has plunged a major expansion at Kilkeel Harbour into doubt, a local fishing body has warned.
The Anglo-North Irish Fish Producers Organisation (ANIFPO), which represents most of the fishing vessels operating from Kilkeel, has said plans to expand the Co Down facility have stalled in the wake of the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive and could end up costing precious investment and jobs.
Just last year fish and seafood cooperative Sea-Source said an extension to Kilkeel Harbour could lead to millions of pounds of private investment being pumped into the area, but there are now concerns whether the ambitious plans will ever come to fruition.
The news comes after the £30 million 'Voyager' fishing boat, the most modern vessel of its kind in the UK and Ireland, was commissioned at the port on Saturday. Owners Arnold and Robert McCullough have confirmed they are unable to process the caught fish at the harbour as the ship is simply too big to dock at the current location, unless a substantial extension is carried out.
Independent experts have already thrown their weight behind the proposals for an expansion of the outer harbour for bigger vessels like Voyager, which would enable the local fish and seafood industry to grasp new business opportunities expected to flow from a Brexit reduction in quotas.
“It's ironic and very disappointing that the fishing and seafood industry here which universally supports Brexit will see opportunities to benefit from greater freedom outside EU quota restrictions undermined by Northern Ireland's current political problems,” ANIFPO chief executive, Alan McCulla said.
"The McCulloughs have invested in what is the most sophisticated vessel in the UK fleet against the background of planning for the expansion of Kilkeel harbour. We all expected the funding to be made available for this project that would have assisted the growth of the industry and the economic wellbeing of Kilkeel and south Down. It is entirely crewed from the local area. In fact, we are creating 13 new jobs in the vessel."
“The McCullough family is fully committed to this region and want this hugely impressive vessel to be able to operate alongside the rest of the local fleet out of its home port, which could lead to additional employment in processing and other activities such as engineering and maintenance," he added.