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Sweetheart HMS Caroline deal is queried

HMS Caroline HMS Caroline
By Michael Jackson

LOCAL tourism stakeholders have expressed concern following revelations of a sweetheart agreement between the Department for the Economy and a Royal Navy tourist attraction.

The department has revealed that it has “an obligation with the National Museum of the Royal Navy” (NMRN), which owns the Belfast-based HMS Caroline, “to keep the ship open as a visitor attraction.”

HMS Caroline, launched in 1914, is the last floating survivor of the 1916 Battle of Jutland and underwent a £20 million restoration in 2018 following its decommissioning by the Royal Navy in 2011.

The DfE, through Tourism NI, contributed over £4.5million in capital costs towards the project.

Situated in Alexandra Dock, the HMS Caroline visitor attraction is the subject of a binding legal agreement between a charitable trust set up by the NMRN and DfE, which is currently leasing the ship. The department has confirmed that it “does not have any similar agreements in place for any other visitor or tourism attraction”.
The exclusive contract, which was signed while the DUP held the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (now Department for the Economy) ministry, has sparked concerns that vital funds could be diverted to the HMS Caroline regardless of its financial viability.

One concerned tourism stakeholder said: “The department has entered into this agreement with the owners of the HMS Caroline, meanwhile other visitor attractions across the city have to go through labourious due diligence and processes to secure funding. Evidence has to be presented that they will work and that they will attract visitors. It is somewhat unfair that the department has decided to keep open the HMS Caroline regardless of the visitors it attracts.”

The Andersonstown News requested a copy of the contract between the department and NMRN. However, a DfE spokesperson said: “It is not departmental practice to release agreements with other parties without the consent of the other parties.”

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