Fears Stormont impasse could scuttle £36m Kilkeel port expansion
A Co Down port's £36m expansion - predicted to create 1,000 jobs - is being delayed due to the ongoing impasse at Stormont, it's been warned. Plans were revealed late last year for the Kilkeel Harbour expansion which it was claimed could create a huge boost to employment in the area.
But according to Alan McCulla, chief executive officer of Sea Source, the Kilkeel-based consortium behind the plans, getting investment for the scheme is being delayed.
"It's hugely disappointing then that this essential investment is being delayed by current political difficulties," he said.
The current fishing fleet supports 1,300 jobs, with a further 620 in the processing sector, the group has said. However, finding funding for the scheme is the next step. It is understood several senior Stormont ministers had previously pledged support for it.
It was also backed by an independent review.
A lack of expansion could prevent large vessels, such as the new £30m Voyager, from landing its catch at the Co Down harbour.
"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," Mr McCulla commented.
The consortium - which comprises Kilkeel fishermen, engineering firms and fish processors - is planning to build a new breakwater, as well as an onshore development, which would allow bigger boats into the harbour.
The plans could be taken to various funders, including the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation in Westminster.
Members of the Sea Source co-operative said the potential for a further 1,000 jobs in Kilkeel was realistic.
However, concerns that the lack of a devolved government here will delay the development come as the new Voyager vessel was launched, creating 13 jobs.
"Voyager has been developed by the McCullough family from funding that they've raised and represents a very significant endorsement of the future of the fishing industry both here and in Britain," Mr McCulla said.
Plans for the expansion at Kilkeel also include the creation of new industrial units and a future 'marine skills academy'.
Last year, shortly before the Brexit vote, fishermen told the Belfast Telegraph the industry here felt hampered by "EU meddling".
One fisherman, Paul Coffey, who is based in Portavogie, said: "We want out of Europe to control our own seas, our own waters, and to make our own rules."
His complaints about the EU included quotas, satellite monitoring, the number of days he can be at sea, and "red tape".
"Most of the differences are with quota and days at sea, and not being able to control our own waters and rules being made from Brussels," Mr Coffey explained.
Between 2007 and 2013 the EU contributed £14m across the fishing industry as part of the European Fisheries Fund.
Shortly after the EU referendum, fishermen in the UK were warned catch quotas would not increase before Brexit is finalised and may not even grow after Brexit.
That was according to the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO).