Port in a storm




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ACTING COUNTY MANAGER Adrian Doyle cut loose with venom last week when he attacked CIE for its stewardship of the ferry terminal at Rosslare. He described the building as being like something out of Ceausescu's Romania and complained that it was impossible to get a cup of coffee in the place.

The acting manager painted a picture far away from the reality...

Just behind the litter bin at the entrance to the terminal in Rosslare is a plaque that commemorates 'Rosslare Harbour Terminal Building, official opening 14th September 1989 by Minister for Tourism & Transport Seamus Brennan T.D.' In the context of Adrian Doyle's remarks, it is worth noting that the ceremony took place just three months before the death of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

The regime of the Communist turned despot was marked by buildings of horrid concrete soullessness during his 15-year presidency commencing in the mid-1970s. The appearance of the ferryport certainly does not mirror his legacy of brutal architecture as seen in Bucharest, with concrete softened in this case by the use of homely red brick. And it actually is possible to buy a cup - or at least a cardboard beaker - of coffee at certain times of day.

The acting county manager probably has good reason to complain about the lack of investment in the place over the decades since 1989. But on a grey, drizzly January morning last week, at least the terminal offered fine, warm shelter from the wintry weather to those who sought it. The problem was that there were so few members of the public in need of such hospitality, with paying travellers probably outnumbered by the people working there for CIE or at the counter of one of the ferry companies.

The environment inside the automatic doors was perfectly acceptable. The decor may be slightly faded late eighties but it has been kept immaculately clean and the heating system efficiently fends off the Baltic conditions outside. In contrast to so many airports and railway stations, the acoustics on the public address were so perfect that it was possible to pick out every last syllable in announcements about services departing imminently to Fishguard or Pembroke.

The coffee at €2.20 a beaker was being dispensed from a welllit Viva stand which also advertised breakfast rolls and offered the opportunity to buy any newspaper you wanted, so long as it was ' The Irish Times'. The stand's business hours reflect the ferry timetable, with beverages and the paper only available in defined bursts morning (6.30 to 8.30 a.m.), noon (1 to 3.30 p.m.) and night (6 to 8.30 p.m.) in a building that is open daily for 16 hours.

The high-viz orange vests worn by the CIE personnel proclaim proudly 'Rosslare Europort, Ireland's Premier Ferryport' and they genuinely have much to be proud of here in terms of cleanliness and amenities. Granted, the toilets on the ground floor were off-limits last Thursday morning but the loos upstairs (via the swift and smooth escalators) were in the 'you could eat your dinner off the floor' category of hygiene.

However, when the critics in Wexford County Council describe the terminal as a shell, they are close to the mark. Travel has altered utterly in the 24 years since Ceausescu popped his much despised clogs and the late Seamus Brennan cut the ribbon at the Europort. Here is a building designed around a train station which no longer relates to trains because there is next to no demand for passenger rail services in Rosslare and bus/coach passengers are thin on the ground too.

So the hundreds of seats available in the lobbies were largely redundant on Thursday morning. The travellers who used to fill them two decades ago are now driving their own cars on to the ships or flying Ryanair. The Expressway coach that departed on the dot as scheduled at 9 a.m. that morning had precisely one customer sitting in the back seat of a coach capable of holding at least 50 passengers.

The travel business is seasonal, of course, and it is likely that more people use the terminal in summer when the Irish Ferries service to France adds to the traffic. Still it has to be faced that the hey-day of the duty free booze cruise to the UK is no more than a memory and the rugby weekends when fans throng through Rosslare on their jolly way to Cardiff are all too infrequent.

The numbers were certainly precious small on Thursday, an estimated total of 24 pedestrians between the two massive ships which departed for Wales that morning. The truckers and the car drivers are meanwhile given little temptation to darken the automatic doors - unless absolutely desperate for a beaker of Viva's coffee or for a squint at the Irishman's Diary column. Most of them never remotely consider coming in.

It is a case of lights on but very few people home. The first floor Waterfront Bar with its views out over the sea towards the Saltees has closed for lack of custom, or maybe lack of tenant. The shutters are down on the newsagent shop for so long that it still carries the defunct 'Evening Press' logo above the door.

Rosslare Harbour was declared the Anglo-Irish station of the year in 1990, a title regained or retained on several occasions in the years that immediately followed. The plaques recalling these past honours remain on the wall and a sign pointing to the train station is a further reminder of the port's rail tradition which dates back more than a century.

But the actual station is now a five-minute walk away, more than 400 desolate yards on foot through the drizzle, and the timetable no longer matches the comings or goings of the ferries - symbolic of the disconnect that imbues a sense, not so much of Ceausescu brutalism, as of Celtic redundancy.

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