Why we’re protesting to save Cobh’s Right of Way

Why we’re protesting to save Cobh’s Right of Way

For generations people have enjoyed the walking route along the full length of Cobh’s Deepwater Quay from the town centre to the little hamlet of Whitepoint.  The route is one of the most scenic walks in any town in Ireland and is utilised by thousands of people from all walks of life. Watching ships coming and going was always one of the attractions of this walk but things began to change in June 2016 when the Port of Cork Company (POCC) issued a circular warning that access to pedestrians may be restricted while cruise ships are berthing, moored alongside and unberthing at Cobh Cruise Terminal.  Then on 11th September 2018 the quay was closed for almost the entire day during the visit of the Disney Magic.  As a result we held our first protest on that occasion. Shortly after our arrival we were approached by the Harbour Master, Mr. Paul O’Regan, who insisted that there was no right of way on Deepwater Quay and that one had never existed.  Furthermore he stressed that Port of Cork alone would decide if and when to close the walkway at any time of their choosing.

Circular issued by Port of Cork Company in June 2016. Click to enlarge

In response to this intransigence, our group, Save Cobh’s Right of Way,  has held protests on each occasion POCC attempted to close the quay since 1st April of this year. We have stressed at all times that we were protesting against the closure of the right of way, not against the cruise ships and we have always welcomed cruise passengers.

POCC claims that they are only closing access through the Deepwater Quay for short periods of no more than 30 minutes while ships are being berthed and that this is only for strict reasons of safety because of the danger of mooring ropes snapping and injuring pedestrians.  However they reserve the right to close the quay at any time of their choosing and for significantly longer periods of time. They insist that there is no right of way on Deepwater Quay. This narrative has been repeated in many forums and has received significant publicity, including a lengthy one-sided article in the Irish Examiner of 11th May 2019. We strongly dispute these claims and will show that they lack coherence and credibility.

Claim 1: “There is no Right of Way”

Wrong!  POCC insists that there is no right of way through Deepwater Quay. We do not accept this claim and we have evidence which shows that the Port of Cork DOES NOT own all of the land in question. Notwithstanding any claim to ownership, proven or otherwise, the right of way has existed in practice through continuous usage for many decades. We know many older people who have been walking on Deepwater Quay regularly for in excess of 60 years.  POCC’s stealthy denial of this right of way, is in our view part of a strategy to completely eliminate public access to the quay in preparation for further developments as yet unspecified.  It is a fact that POCC in November 2018 invited expressions of interests from private companies to take over the operation of the cruise terminal at Deepwater Quay and the development and control of a second cruise terminal at Lynch’s Quay. This move strongly indicates to us that POCC’s eventual aim is to permanently close all public access through Deepwater.  In many cruise ports passengers disembark not onto open quays but into terminal buildings. We believe this is what POCC want in the medium to long term and this will mean total closure of public access at Deepwater Quay at all times.  

Hundreds of people of all ages fishing on Deepwater Quay in 1946

Under the terms of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 if the Right of Way at Deepwater Quay is not recognised formally by December 2021 it will be deemed not to exist – this gives the urgency to there being a protest and a cause for widespread concern amongst the residents of Great Island. POCC seems to have taken the view that this gives them the opportunity to extinguish all rights of way in the harbour area to facilitate their Master Plan.

Claim 2: “Closures are due to Health & Safety considerations”

The company claims that it is necessary to close the walkway / quay because there’s a danger that mooring ropes might snap during the berthing and unberthing of cruise vessels. While the snapping of mooring ropes is not unheard of, it is far less common than it used to be as a result of improvements in rope material, use of technology and better training of personnel. In fact, those at greatest risk from snapping ropes are port and shipboard workers. It must be stated that Port of Cork’s claims about snapping ropes are greatly undermined by the fact that these mooring lines are not confined to the area claimed by POCC. In fact numerous ropes extend well into area of the quay and the Five Foot Way not subject to POCC’s regulations. Longer ships, up to 350 metres in length, require additional mooring lines and these extend well beyond the area POCC claim to own.  These include not only the rest of the public quay but the area around the popular Annie Moore Monument and a glass fronted balcony at the rear of a neighbouring hotel.

One side safe, the other dangerous?  (Click to enlarge)
Port of Cork personnel with mooring lines directly below the balcony of the Water’s Edge Hotel. Since this is outside the Port of Cork’s closed area it must be safe, right?. (Click to enlarge)

A more serious threat to all quay users, including cruise passengers and POCC workers, is, in our opinion, the large number of buses using the quay. These buses are private hire coaches chartered by tour companies with the purpose of collecting ship passengers and bringing them on excursions around Cork and surrounding counties. At times up to 40 such buses arrive on Deepwater Quay.  They manoeuvre on the busy quay at the same time as up to 4,500 passengers are disgorged from the vessel. We can produce video footage showing these buses mixing with pedestrians, driving across the pedestrian walkway and reversing close to passengers waiting to board other buses. At times this operation descends into barely organised chaos. If there is an accident on Deepwater Quay it is far more likely to involve one of these buses rather than a snapping mooring line.

Buses waiting in Public Carpark
Buses queuing up and maneuvering in Cork County Council public carpark (Click to enlarge)
Tour bus disputes public walkway with elderly passenger using a walking frame

During a recent inspection by a consultant with over 40 years experience, of the 19 mooring ropes securing MSC Orchestra on 17th May 2019 only four of these ropes were inside the Port of Cork area, leaving 15 exposed ropes alongside public quays, walkways and adjacent to public areas. In addition it needs to be said that POCC isn’t blocking everybody from the quay during the “danger” time. Representatives of cruise line companies, tour bus guides,  bus drivers and untrained private security guards all enter the “danger area” during berthing and unberthing of vessels. Are these people immune from the danger of snapping mooring lines?

Claim 3: “It’s about International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS)”

Another reason given by the Port of Cork Company for closing the quay is the ISPS safety code. International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) is an international agreement amended to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention in 2004 at the insistence of the USA in response to the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks. The convention lays down international minimum standards for ships, ports and government agencies. It lays down the categorisation of ports according to security criteria and specifies in detail the mandatory requirements and regulations.

Deepwater Quay is listed as ISPS Level 1, the minimum level of security under the code.  Unlike the issue of berthing vessels, the ISPS regulations apply to the quay at all times a vessel is present  If these criteria were applied nobody other than authorised personnel would be allowed at any time from the arrival of the ship to its departure.  The reality is that POCC does not apply these regulations to the full and if they were to do so it would make operation of the cruise terminal much more difficult and expensive. To selectively quote ISPS without considering the full implications of implementing it to the letter is disingenuous of POCC.

Port of Cork Company enjoys access to Cork County Council property

While insisting that no right of way exists on the Deepwater Quay POCC is more than happy to avail of right of access to the public car park owned by Cork County Council.  Dozens of buses park there while awaiting access to the Deepwater Quay to collect excursion passengers while POCC personnel come and go as they please. The POCC has also taken liberties at times by using its security personnel to direct traffic on this car park and on the public roadway at Whitepoint without authorisation. This has included the placing of security barriers in part of the public car park which is the property of Cork County Council.

Private security working for Port of Cork directing traffic on the public road at Whitepoint (September 2018)

Nowhere in this is there any expression of concern by Port of Cork, Cork County Council or any other body with regard to the Health & Safety of residents, amenity users or the general public in these areas.   They are happy to turn a collective blind eye to these real concerns.

While our group has been seeking resolution of this matter, Port of Cork Company indefinitely deferred a planned meeting with us after an exploratory meeting on 29th March 2019.  Since that date there has been no effort on their part to seek a resolution.

At beginning of May 2019, Cobh Municipal Council sought an urgent meeting to discuss the right of way issue however Port of Cork have failed to respond to this and other requests going back nearly six months.

The Port of Cork Company does not operate in a bubble. It shares Cork Harbour with others, including the communities dotted around the harbour. If it wishes to earn the goodwill of the people of Cobh and the other communities then it must behave in a reasonable manner which respects the rights of all, including the recognition of rights of way.  For further information you may contact us at cobhrightofway@mail.com

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Have Your Say!

We would welcome your support. Would you like to send us your own memories of walking on the Deepwater Quay / Five Foot Way right of way which you would be willing to allow us use as part of a submission seeking to have the Right of Way formally registered? If so you could download the form below, fill it in and sign it and return it to us at cobhrightofway@mail.com – better still send your experiences of the right of way in your own words to the same email address. or give it to one of our members.