Last-ditch plea for Caroline to stay in Belfast

30 Battery 16 Regiment Royal Artillery lead the annual St Georges Day parade through Emsworth town centre. Picture Ian Hargreaves (180463-23)

IN PICTURES: St George’s Day parade in Emsworth

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NORTHERN Ireland’s tourism minister has made a last-minute plea to keep HMS Caroline in Belfast – potentially dashing efforts to bring the First World War cruiser to Portsmouth.

Arlene Foster met with MoD officials this week and urged them to keep the warship in Ulster.

The MoD has warned the ‘increasingly fragile’ survivor of the Battle of Jutland will be sold unless it receives a heritage bid before the end of this month.

Since 2009, the Portsmouth-based National Museum of the Royal Navy has been in charge of finding a solution for Caroline.

But, as reported in The News, the museum’s director-general Professor Dominic Tweddle has become frustrated with Stormont politicians who, despite talks, have so far failed to table a bid.

Estimates suggest it’ll cost £5m to turn the 98-year-old warship into a tourist attraction, plus an extra £250,000-a-year costs.

It’s hoped, locally, that funding can be secured to bring the ship to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard as the centrepiece for the city’s First World War centenary commemorations in 2014.

But it appears Northern Ireland may finally make a bid as the July 31 deadline approaches.

Ms Foster met with defence minister Andrew Robathan in London on Thursday.

She said: ‘This was a positive meeting and we impressed upon Mr Robathan the need to keep HMS Caroline in Belfast.

‘I now intend to write to the museum of the Royal Navy and hope to meet with them soon to progress this matter.’

Sources say it could be ‘too little, too late’ from Ms Foster.

But Captain John Rees, who is project manager for the National Museum of the Royal Navy, said: ‘The National Museum of the Royal Navy has been approached for a meeting and are happy to talk through any viable proposals for HMS Caroline and we expect the meeting to take place very shortly.’