NI waters too shallow to host subs, says Aiken in blow to Trident jobs plan
Northern Ireland has no waters deep enough to host the UK's nuclear deterrent Trident, a former submarine commander has said.
Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken told the Belfast Telegraph that MPs would be better placed lobbying for the Poseidon aircraft to be brought to Aldergrove, rather than Trident - because Northern Ireland simply could not host it.
The Trident submarines are based at Clyde Naval Base on the west coast of Scotland, but Scottish Nationalists have expressed reservations about hosting them.
DUP MPs have twice invited the Westminster government to base Trident in Northern Ireland's waters if it leaves Scotland. UUP MP Danny Kinahan also backed the call, saying Northern Ireland would welcome the thousands of jobs that come with Trident. The invitation was repeated last week when unionist MPs voted with the majority to renew Trident.
However, Mr Aiken has poured cold water on the invitation, explaining that while he supports the sentiment, Northern Ireland has nowhere suitable to host Trident. "It's not deep enough, we can't do it. I tried to bring my submarine, HMS Sovereign, to Belfast towards the end of its time," he said. "Because you need deep water at all states of the tide, even though entrance to Belfast Lough is dredged to 10 metres, it's not deep enough.
"You can't bring it into Larne because there is a rock sill coming into Larne Lough which you would have to blast out, same for Carlingford Lough and Lough Foyle is too shallow."
However, Mr Aiken said there was potential in lobbying for some of the RAF's newest aircraft to be brought to Aldergrove - which would also create jobs.
"I would be delighted if instead the Poseidon aircraft which are meant to be going to RAF Lossiemouth would be based at RAF Aldergrove, and I'd be delighted if the joint strike fighters that are going to Lossiemouth would come to RAF Aldergrove, and I would be delighted if those 6-7,000 top aerospace jobs that go with those aircraft were based here," he said.
Mr Aiken was elected to South Antrim earlier this year.
The Newtownabbey man said he wanted to leave Northern Ireland as a teenager to see the world and applied for all three armed services to do so; now he has returned with his family due to a high quality of life.
He served for 32 years in the Royal Navy and saw service in the Falklands and Middle East before moving into a policy role for the Ministry of Defence in London, and completing an MPhil in International Relations at Cambridge University. He is currently completing a Phd in International Relations with a focus on India.
Mr Aiken worked as Chief Executive of the British Irish Chamber of Commerce in Dublin, and then CEO at Dublin City University Educational Trust, as well as getting involved with the British-Irish Association.
He revealed he recently survived bowel cancer and the scare made him see there is "more to life than high profile jobs".