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Irish divers back new wrecks bill

Irish divers
Ray Yeates dives RMS Leinster on the 100th anniversary of her sinking (Stewart Andrews)

Diving Ireland, which represents recreational scuba divers in the country, has declared its support for the new wreck legislation put forward by the country’s Heritage Department and reported on Divernet on 31 January.

Under the proposed Monuments & Archaeological Bill, historic wrecks and underwater archaeological objects in Irish waters with no known owner would be designated state property, while commercial salvage law – in particular the right to be recognised as salvor-in-possession or to claim salvage rewards – would no longer apply to historic wrecks.

A single licence would be used to authorise a range of regulated underwater activities, with a statutory appeals process to cover regulatory decisions.

“As national governing body for diving in Ireland we have a very good relationship with the state of Ireland and the current department that looks after this area,” Diving Ireland’s president Ray Yeates told Divernet. “We have always found that that section of the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage is very facilitating in arranging permits for historic wrecks.

“I have experience myself of the flexibility of the department, as part of a group that received permission at very short notice for a dive on the wreck of the RMS Leinster on the day of the 100th anniversary of the sinking. The wreck became permit-only at the time of the sinking by UB-123.” 

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Yeates said that Diving Ireland had no concerns that its relationship with the state of Ireland would change with the new legislation. Both “share the same goals in preserving and recording these important underwater national artefacts”, he said.

Reporting scheme

Diving Ireland is also a co-sponsor with the government department of a Nautical Archaeology Society conference in Dublin this November, and plans to distribute an information leaflet on the new bill with the next edition of its magazine for Irish divers, Subsea.

“If enacted, this legislation will substantially strengthen protection of archaeological heritage for the enjoyment of future generations,” said Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan when he introduced the bill. It would replace overlapping and in some cases archaic systems with a single Register of Monuments, including historic wrecks requiring a licence to dive.

There would be a statutory reporting scheme for newly discovered archaeological sites, with all finds to be reported to the National Museum of Ireland, and provisions to prevent the illicit import and possession of stolen cultural property. Penalties for offences would extend to up to five years’ imprisonment and 10 million euro fines.

Irish government bills must pass through five stages in the Dáil and Seanad before being signed into law.

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