THERE IS a real sense of déjà vu about the latest master plan for Dún Laoghaire harbour. Ten years ago, the idea of building an Irish diaspora museum on Carlisle Pier was first proposed by developer Terry Devey and Daniel Libeskind, the international “starchitect”. Redevelopment of the pier was subsequently adopted by the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company with a design competition in 2003 won by Heneghan Peng Architects; Libeskind’s scheme, a vast ship’s prow construction, was the runner-up, though it had won hands-down in a public poll. In the end, however, the development proposal by Urban Capital and builders John Sisk selected by the jury fell through.
Nothing happened until September 2009, when the harbour company demolished the derelict ferry terminal on Carlisle Pier – including the pier’s original railway station, dating from 1859 – without bothering to obtain planning permission in advance; this was rightly described as “scandalous” by local architect Adam Hall. The company then had to go through the planning process, seeking approval to retain the illegal demolition, and recently won a retrospective permission from An Bord Pleanála. This coincided with its unveiling of the latest master plan, which not only revives the diaspora museum proposal for Carlisle Pier, but also envisages an even larger residential element than was envisaged in 2003 and a new terminal for cruise liners.
The plan aims to develop Dún Laoghaire harbour as a “marine, leisure and tourism destination of international calibre”, attracting up to one million visitors a year to the diaspora museum. But the company needs to reassure the public that all of the proposed uses can be safely accommodated within the granite enclosing arms of this great harbour, without conflicting with each other. Is it realistic, for example, to have greatly expanded facilities for sailing and at the same time provide berthing for very large “next generation” cruise liners? How realistic is the plan to develop 300 apartments within the harbour area in the current market?
Coincidentally, the Dublin Port Company is also proposing to cater for more cruise liners, with plans to provide two berths closer to the city centre, near East Link Bridge. Surely it would make more sense for the Minister for Tourism to decide which of the two ports in Dublin Bay should be designated as a destination for cruise liners instead of duplicating facilities at enormous expense? Dublin is hardly in the same rank as Venice when it comes to attracting this class of traffic.