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Speech by the Taoiseach, Mr. Enda Kenny, T.D., on the occasion of the 75th Anniversary of the handing back of the Treaty Ports Cork 11th July 2013

 

Mayor Noel O' Connor,
Minister Coveney,
Chairman Brendan Touhy,
General Ralph James,
Col Jim Long

Distinguished guests.
Ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here today to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the handing over of the Treaty Ports in Cork.

Ninety two years ago today the Truce was called - a Truce made possible, in large part, by the actions of the Flying Columns of Rebel Cork and its most famous son Michael Collins. From that point on the tide of history swept these islands along in a series of momentous events the impact of which are being felt to this day.

Such was the importance of the assets of this harbour, of which Spike Island was but one, that in the Anglo Irish Treaty of 1921 the British Authorities retained access to this port along with Castletownbere and Lough Swilly until 1938.

In that year, Eamonn De Valera, in a brilliant piece of diplomacy which concluded the Economic War, ensured the return of the Treaty Ports, and by so doing, strengthened our nation's capacity to remain neutral in World War Two. History will rightly record this as one of his most outstanding achievements.

While Rebel Cork did much to bring about the Truce which led to the Treaty - we must never forget that over 40,000 Irishmen died in World War One.

The gallant deeds of the 36th Ulster Division on the first day of the Somme are rightly remembered. However one must equally acknowledge the thousands of Irishmen who joined up after Redmond's call. In regiments such as the Munster Fusiliers at Gallipoli in 1915, they too left their mark.

There is also the little known story of the thousands of Irish who served in the Royal Navy - many from sea ports such as Cork. In total over 3,750 Cork men died in World War One - they deserve to be recalled and remembered also.

It would be remiss of me not to say a few words of praise for the work being done by UCC's School of History, under the leadership of its head, Professor Geoff Roberts. It is already playing a leading role in the national commemoration of the 'revolutionary decade' of 1912-23, with its ambitious programme of annual conferences, research projects, new taught postgraduate programmes, and other initiatives such as next year's first Easter School on the Irish Revolution.
The University is also actively supportive of Cork County Council and its work on the development of Spike Island and Cork Harbour.

Events have moved on considerably in the seventy five years since the handing over of the Treaty Ports.

Relations between Britain and Ireland have never been closer or more settled. Ours is now a relationship based on mutual respect, a shared worldview and a deep and abiding friendship.

Britain remains our most important trading partner, and the economies of Britain and Ireland are deeply intertwined. Last year, at a summit in Downing Street, Prime Minister Cameron and I set out an ambitious programme for British-Irish cooperation over the coming decade. When we met again earlier this year, we were pleased to take stock of the substantial progress that has been made and to identify yet more areas where our people can benefit from work their governments do together.

And as we stand here in the shadow of the former Prison Buildings, we recall the story of the 19th century convict prison at Spike Island, a story which is also part of our shared past.

 

The 19th century criminal justice system was harsh and unequally applied. Forced labour and forced migration through the transportation of convicts were part of the system. The current UUC Archaeological Project aims to give voice to the live experience of incarceration while also broadening our understanding of the role of the convict prison as one of the mechanisms by which empire was established and maintained.
The Spike Island story reminds us that we are an island nation. As islanders we depend enormously on the sea and on our ports which are critical to maintaining the lifeblood of the economy. With 90% of the trade to and from this country travelling by sea, we are reminded of the importance of sustaining our sea lines of communication.
The strategic location of Cork Harbour has the potential to serve as a bridge between Europe and North America in respect of marine and maritime activities.
With a sea to land ratio exceeding 12:1, we have exclusive sovereign rights over one of the largest maritime domains of any EU State and Ireland's maritime jurisdiction contains natural resources which can provide huge opportunities for development and growth, including mineral deposits, fossil fuels, marine life, fisheries and what are potentially some of the richest wind, wave and tidal renewable energy opportunities in the world.
The protection, security and management of our oceans and seas, under the leadership of the Flag Officer commanding the Naval Service, are essential if we are to reap the many benefits, and maximize the sustainable use of this important resource.
The implementation of the Naval Fleet Replacement Programme, with the building of two new patrol vessels which will be delivered in early 2014 and 2015 respectively, together with the refurbishment of other vessels in the fleet, will ensure that the Naval Service can continue to carry out its important fishery protection and maritime security and surveillance operations.
From early Christian times the river and Harbour has shaped the economic, social and cultural development of this region. From the 12th century the city was sending ships to expand the royal fleet and at this time the port of Cork accounted for 17% of all Irish trade.
By the late 17th Century, Cork was a valued 'second' port both in terms of export duty receipts and import duties and excise. Its first success lay in becoming a truly regional warehouse for consumer imports notably tobacco and sugar. As early as the 17th century Cork was trading with Barbados and outer Antilles and the taste for Munster beef and salted butter became established among both Caribbean planters and their European servants.
Cork's exports were dispatched to a striking diversity of markets: in 1686 only a quarter of its overseas trade came from direct trade with England; 18% came from Holland and Northern Europe; 22% from France; 14% from Southern Europe (Spain and Portugal) and 20% from transatlantic sales almost exclusively with the Caribbean.
One Cork merchant in the 17th Century, Francis Rogers, had commercial debtors in Cadiz, Lisbon, Bilbao, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Dunkirk and Rotterdam as well as England. This was not atypical.
Despite subsequent shifts in volume and consumption, Cork's foreign trade in the 18th century retained this geographical spread. It is estimated that almost three quarters of all Caribbean bound vessels from English outports stopped off at Dublin and Cork for supplies. Cork had grown into one of the great ports of the Atlantic world.
And the Harbour can now build on its historic importance to become a central focus for marine and maritime development and act as a key driver of Ireland's economic growth.
Cork Harbour provides both a unique tourism experience and an outlet for maritime and energy innovation. Since the handover of Spike Island to Cork County Council, the island has been opened up to tourists. The number of visitors to the Island has grown year on year since 2010 and attracted in excess of 10,000 visitors in 2012.

 

 

The Council is to be commended on investing over €1m in carrying out significant infrastructural works on the Island since 2010 and today there are over 25 people working on the Island between Cork County Council employees, Community Employment Scheme workers, Job Bridge Interns and Volunteers, full and part-time.

A Master Plan, commissioned by Cork County Council and which was part funded by Fáilte Ireland, for the development of the island into a viable international tourism product and recreational resource was launched in November 2012. A series of phases have been identified in the plan and each will be developed as a stand alone initiative.

Cork has much to offer and build on. The increasing number of Cruise ships visiting Cork Harbour, estimated at over 80 this year, is also a great bonus for the region in terms of attracting visitors from around the world to the area.

 

Visitors can also get a sense of Ireland's emerging future with the exciting Irish Maritime and Energy Research Cluster Initiative between Cork Institute of Technology, the
Irish Naval Service and University College Cork that is building a research, development and industry campus for marine and energy activity in the Harbour.

I have just come from a sod turning ceremony at the proposed UCC's Beaufort Laboratory which when completed will be the world's most advanced ocean energy test facility.

Cork has many natural resources, a great history, a great educational ethos and a long tradition of looking outwards.

In conclusion I wish to thank Mayor Noel O'Connor, and County Manager Martin Riordan for having me here to acknowledge this historic date. I wish you well in the future with your plans for this historic Island and I have no doubt but that they will come to pass - and I want to especially thank all those of you who by your voluntary effort and enthusiasm has made this great day possible.

ENDS