Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Rathlin Ferries Limited and the DRD investigations

The following documents were supplied by Caledonian MacBrayne on 18 December 2008 following a Freedom of Information request:

Calmac/RFL Note to the DRD Investigations Body

Calmac/RFL Addendum Note to the DRD investigations body

The names of DRD and Moyle Council officials were redacted.

Adds December 30

Layout drawing of new Ballycastle pontoon and bridge

Layout drawing of new Rathlin pontoon and bridge

What information was provided to the tenderers about the two Ballycastle pontoons which have been used by the passenger only ferries since July 1, 2008? Have these pontoons been funded for commercial or non-commercial use?

Have Moyle councillors and other stakeholders been involved in the redesign of harbour facilities at Ballycastle and Rathlin?

Were all tenderers informed about the 'clarifications' that were provided by public servants to Mr O'Driscoll?

Adds December 31

MV Bruernish in the news

More recently, [Seamus Boyle] realised there was potential for a third, larger ferry which could also carry vehicles and he purchased the 'Bruernish'. All his expansion was achieved without State hand-outs.

Wasn't the MV Bruernish supposed to be the relief (vehicle carrying) vessel for the MV Canna?

Adds January 6

Aran Islands Ro-ro Feasibility Study Report
[Saltire Management Ltd**., 28th FEBRUARY 2007]

7.4.3 .... Moorings or pontoons for other vessels in the harbour should not be within two vessel lengths of the shore ramp or berth.

Perhaps the designers of the new pontoon in Ballycastle harbour should have noted or been made aware of this report.

Can anyone provide a copy of the feasibility study report into the addition of a passenger only ferry to the Ballycastle-Rathlin route, in particular the suitability of using a 80/100-passenger catamaran in the Class D turbulent waters of Rathlin Sound?

** Saltire staff were also involved in the Rathlin and Cape Clear ferry contracts.

Monday, 22 December 2008

North Antrim in the 1911 Census of Ireland is now Online

About the 1901 and 1911 censuses

Search the 1911 census

There will be many curious spellings, including those caused by transcription error. For example, I've spotted McLure (McClure) and Cozier (Cozies).

Friday, 19 December 2008

Rathlin Ferry Investigation - Whitewash?

A Long Way From Cape Clear To Here

Well, that used to be the notion but the internet and, in particular, the blog have provided a channel for the easy exchange of information.

I'm converting the official investigation report into a more accessible format for the benefit of our friends in Co Cork and anyone else who wishes to read it.

In the meantime, here's part of an item from the News Letter that has been published in emara News - with associated editorial comment:

We understand that one of the major reasons that the D.R.D. was thought to have been considered to have behaved reasonably in awarding the contract to the present operator is that it took up “references”, as it were, from the D.C.R.G.A., which expressed the opinion that the operator was on “par” with the other operators to the other islands of the Republic. This was taken as an endorsement of the operator.

If the D.C.R.G.A. genuinely believed this, which I can only presume it did, having applied penalties for breaches of contract on three occasions, seen crew numbers reduced, maintenance standards fall, several deadlines be missed for the introduction of a new standby boat and been receiving numerous complaints from Cape Clear residents – even if it does seem to be of the opinion that islanders are a class of person peculiarly given to unjustified carping and with little knowledge of the sea the weather and boats, and which can never be satisfied – does it feel that its opinion is still justified? If it does, presumably the other operators around the coast are quite a bunch of cheese-paring chancers who care little for their customers from the islands, or they will be feeling very insulted by the standard they are being told they are equal to. Personally I’ve seen little evidence of low standards elsewhere, but then I probably wouldn’t be able to make a reasonable judgment having my mind influenced by 29 years of living on an atlantic island!

Editor - emara News
News Letter, December 10: Company corrects online euro gaffe

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Alex Blair's "The Easter Rising 1916"


Tuesday December 16


Although the Easter Rising, 1916, took place in Dublin and was denounced, at the time, by the majority of the Irish people, it was to have momentous consequences in Irish history.

Britain’s treatment of those involved created martyrs and, as the poet WB Yeats put it: “All is changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.”

Ireland was a changed place after 1916 – a place polarised, more extreme and more bitter and all of this will be dealt with in what will be a fascinating look at a most significant event in Irish history.

Admission £1 (includes refreshments).

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Rathlin Ferries - By Contraries


"This report* examines the issues involved in preventing and investigating suspected fraud in public sector contracts and points to what should be best practice. The key challenge to public sector bodies is to ensure genuine competition between contractors and to prevent collusion, either between groups of bidders or between bidders and officials who place orders."

Northern Ireland Audit Office Work in Progress

Declan O'Loan: " ... all is far from well in public procurement" - and yet all is hunky dory in the awarding of the public contract!!

The official report, in a non-user friendly format, has been tucked away in the Publications section of the DRD website. There's no customary press release and no front page coverage for this 'independent' report. Even the Minister has a hang-dog look.

Today at Dormant OOPS Stormont members of the Committee for Regional Development will be briefed, in a closed session, about the results of the three 'independent' investigations pertaining to the Rathlin ferry contract process.

But why the need for secrecy? What have Ministers and officials got to hide - from each other, the mainstream media and last, and by all means least, the public? What will be revealed, what has been concealed, that isn't already in the public domain?

In-house investigations will always smack of whitewash so why did the authorities follow this path, not least when several other procurement processes have ended up in the courts? Funnily enough, Steve Rowsell, who was brought in as one of the leaders of these investigations, has already acted as an expert witness in two major procurement court cases, cases which the authorities have subsequently lost.

Paul Priestly, DRD Permanent Secretary and, I understand, chief accounting officer, predicted that the investigations would be wrapped up by the end of September. Then he predicted that it would be the end of October and then - silence. Some friends and I confidently predicted that the report would be released just before the beginning of the Christmas recess ......

The prolonged delay has had consequences: the greater the delay the more information has flowed thanks to Freedom of Information legislation. It's interesting to note that the DRD website has been experiencing 'technical' difficulties:

The Department for Regional Development's website has been experiencing technical difficulties over the past number of weeks and we are currently only able to provide a limited service whilst we continue to resolve all of our difficulties.

That message went up, er, several months ago!! Some online information about the background to the Rathlin ferry contract was 'missing in action' from the DRD website but had been Google cached, a process that is apparently largely unfamiliar to senior civil servants, even to members of the Information Commissioner's office.

Ferry tender report set to reveal 'serious issues'

Rathlin Ferry Investigations Report, December 10, 2008

DRD Committee has serious concerns:

  • there was no clear and transparent evidence trail to support this procurement; and
  • the mistakes made and surrounding circumstances provided scope for misunderstanding and contributed to perceptions of wrongdoing.
How the saga unfolded

'Error of judgment' in ferry whistleblower case

Peer to raise whistleblowers' rights in Lords

Meanwhile in the courts an MLA is threatened with jail if he doesn't name a whistleblower.

Perhaps John Dowdall, NI Comptroller and Auditor General, should be playing a pro-active role when it comes to whistle blowing disclosures.

* Not the Rathlin ferry report ;)

Friday, 5 December 2008

Old Photograph Query

[Click on image to enlarge]

Can anyone identify people and location for this old photograph. It's on a postcard. Mrs Getty is written on the reverse and she is most likely Sarah, Mrs William Getty, of Magherintendry. The old gentleman with a stick seated towards the centre of the front row looks very like John McFall, also of Magherintendry.

Replies to nalilblog gmail address in right panel - fourth down.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Mad Hare Day in Mosside

First Minister, Peter Robinson

It's a battle a day, Peter!!

First Minister joins the Committee

What a foal am I?

Peter with the Jack Horner Playgroup

Daniel demonstrating the
ancient art of horse-shoe tossing

David Healy, George Best and Joey Dunlop
Peter with Joey's widow, Linda, and George's sister, Barbara

The 'reimaging' of Mosside has been directed by the Mosside Development Group. Moyle District Council is one of the funders yet, of the two councillors I spoke to, one had heard nothing about this ceremony and the other only heard about it by accident. Was the invitation issued too late or did council officers fail to give councillors adequate or any notice?

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Has DRD 'Lost Control' of Rathlin Ferry Service?


DRD Committee December 10
Rathlin Island Ferry Contract: Briefing on the Independent investigation (Closed Session)

What have they got to hide?

Murphy's Milk Float
New Rathlin Milk Delivery Service

And [Ciaran O'Driscoll] said that he could not understand why politicians were "incessantly" interested in the ferry contract and service when most of the islanders had not made any complaint.

It's not often that politicians get 'blamed' for working too hard. They, like Ciaran, are able to read the stories and documents that have been posted on the internet so it's hardly surprising that they should question the relevant Government ministers and issue statements to the media.

Folks who live in tight knit communities on a small island will be reluctant to make complaints; those who have complained may have done so anonymously.

Mr O'Driscoll also expressed annoyance that someone had "blown the whistle" to the authorities ...

Why shouldn't folks take issues of public safety and possible breaches of the law seriously?

There were nine passengers on board, all local.

Are locals not to be treated with the same care and attention as everyone else? Has Mr O'Driscoll forgotten the commitment he gave in his tender not to carry passengers and dangerous goods on the same sailing?

A DRD spokeswoman said: "The department was made aware of this incident and has been informed of the MCA report."

Has the department of reticence and docility acquired a copy of the dangerous goods declaration that should have accompanied the red bowser on October 24? Has it contemplated or applied sanctions of its own?

Also, is it satisfied that the operator has adequate procedures and finance in place to provide for pensions, death in service benefits and redundancies as specified in TUPE communications between this operator and the previous one?

Adds November 19

Warning on ferry service viability

Published Date: 19 November 2008
Insufficiently rigorous assessments of the viability of a ferry service between Ballycastle and Campbeltown in Scotland were carried out before a substantial amount of money was spent upgrading the harbour at Ballycastle, according to an Audit Office report.

Development of Ballycastle and Rathlin Harbours - NIAO report

When will they ever learn? Perhaps John Dowdall should have accepted Jim Allister's advice rather than acquiesced(?) to a series of DRD in-house investigations.

Is it possible that the DRD hasn't carried out a viability assessment into the use of Mr O'Driscoll's proposed Vessel B, a catamaran, on the Ballycastle-Rathlin route? What is the current status of this catamaran? I'm told that his new catamaran for the Co Cork Cape Clear route is still in the Arklow Marine shipyard even though it was due to go into service on January 1, 2008.

Mr O'Driscoll said work was already in motion to allow people to pay in sterling from next week

It seems the motion hasn't passed; the online website payment is still in euros* (November 24 December 2 December 8) - and the required company details are still missing. Is an apology to First Trust Bank in order too?

Adds November 24

Almost another month has almost passed and Paul Priestly, DRD Permanent Secretary and chief accounting officer has not circulated a revised timescale for the release of the report into the three investigations. The first estimate of the end of September was far too optimistic as three four governments, two Stormont departments, a local council and several companies were involved.

Priestly was also invited to describe the legal relationship that exists between DRD and publicly subsidised RIFL. Has the position of PS been 'decommissioned'? Has the PS been made redundant? A clear-as-mud answer has been provided by no less than the Minister himself, Conor Murphy.

A fourth Government has now entered the fray in the form of Jim Fitzpatrick, Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport at Westminster. Jim has supplied improved but still not complete copies of passenger certificates for the Canna and the St Sorney. Perhaps someone can explain why documents which are in number sequence and have the same form number should be differently worded - and list two different 'operators'. I should imagine that expert witnesses might query other discrepancies.

A question to Nigel Dodds from George Savage for answer on December 5, most probably in advance of the completion of the three internal investigations into the Rathlin ferry contract and related matters:

To ask the Minister of Finance and Personnel to detail (i) how many court proceedings have been brought against the Central Procurement Directorate (CPD); (ii) who brought proceedings against CPD; (iii) the legal costs; and (iv) the compensation costs paid out.

Documents and photos can be viewed here and here and earlier stories on the blog can be found with a 'ferry' search.

* ibooking layout modified from Euros to Pounds: 09 December 2008 08:25:03

[I'd like to remind an anonymous emailer of John Dallat's five questions that were answered by Conor Murphy on June 26, 2008. This should reassure the emailer that questions are being asked on an 'ecumenical' basis.]

Monday, 17 November 2008

Community Policing and Defective Tyres

Community Police Sell Out!!

We were told some months ago that Moyle District Command Unit (DCU) had the largest number of community police officers pro rata to other areas in N. Ireland. This has recently been cut, as I have highlighted, and we were told that these officers would be dedicated to routine community calls and setting up all sorts of initiatives with the youth, elderly and all types of other groups.

These officers are now dealing with front line response calls and I can see no indicatives in place where community policing has improved the position in Moyle DCU. I am hesitant to use this term. As far as I am concerned, there is no Moyle DCU any more; it's simply 'H' District.


Front line police car with defective tyres

Kevin McAuley

Independent member of Moyle DPP

Adds December 1

PSNI, DPP and the need for 'corporacy'.

The purpose of the District Policing Partnership includes the need to encourage the public to co·operate with the Police. Mr McAuley’s actions are more likely to foster a mistrust of Police rather than to encourage engagement.

I would ask that you address the unhelpful press release through the DPP and consider measures to ensure that whilst we can all hold differing opinion, corporacy is maintained in developing partnership working. Perhaps a meeting with you and Mr McAuley would allow some clarity of position.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Ballycastle Marconi Radio Group Launch New 70cm Repeater



A new 70cms repeater at Ballycastle forest (GB3KK) came live on the 23 May 2008 which was developed and placed on scene by the Marconi Radio group. The work on this was commissioned by the Marconi Radio group and carried out by club member Michael Kaskoush.

The repeater transmits on 430.975 Mhz and receives on 438.575Mhz with a CTCSS tone of 110.9Hz, its locator is IO65WT with a LAT of 55.191845 and a LONG of -6.243352. Full details can be found at This allows communications on the band between North East Antrim right across East Londonderry and out towards Inishowen, Co Donegal.

The repeater also links into Campbeltown all the way up the mull of Kintyre to include parts of the Isle of Arran, all of Islay, Jura and Gigha, and also parts of the Scottish Mainland. This is its natural RF coverage area. However, it is now linked 24/7 hrs to the Ireland conference server via echolink which brings coverage from all over the world right into a small hand held radio which you can carry with you while walking within the RF coverage area of the repeater.

This has brought a whole new dimension to Ham radio in that it is now possible to talk all over the world from a small hand held radio from anywhere in the area. Countries connecting to the Ireland server include the USA, Australia, Japan, Germany, UK and, indeed, anyone who has a call sign world wide can register.


Kevin McAuley

Friday, 14 November 2008

"Moyle Memories - 50 years and beyond"

On Thursday evening, November 20th at 7:30 pm in the Antrim Arms Hotel Ballycastle, Impact Printing will launch their latest publication; an album of old photographs of Ballycastle and the surrounding District of Moyle.

The author, Danny McGill of Ballycastle has collected over 200 photographs from family albums and local collections. Presented in the form of an old album, he has added notes to many of the images, providing us with an insight into past events which were at risk of being forgotten.

There will be a display of photographs and artefacts to peruse while refreshments are being served. Danny will then give a short illustrated talk before signing copies of the book which will be available for purchase at a special ‘launch’ price.

Everyone is welcome to attend what should be an interesting evening.

Does anyone know what’s going on here?

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Santa's Grotto - Breaking News

In another surprise announcement, the Department for Reindeer Development confirms rumours that Santa's sleigh has been taken over by the elves.

A spokesman said, "There is absolutely no proof that Santa's sleigh was ever able to complete all the work in one night, or indeed that it was capable of carrying the amount of parcels needed. You have to think of elfin safety.

"Accordingly, it is being replaced by a 2001 Renault Megane Scenic with a winter carrying capacity of 50 elves. This service improvement has been authorised by the Merry Christmas Agency.

"The present delivery service will now operate longer hours, but most children will have to wait several days to get their presents. We do not think this is significant. The Department agreed this new timetable in consultation with the Reindeer Driver Carers Association.

"We can also confirm that Santa Claus submitted a bid to run this new service, but it was deemed non-compliant as we suspected his beard was false.

"A rival consortium of elves put in a bid and this was accepted, although no formal contract is in place. The new operator assures us that all performance and reliability criteria were met in their previous operation to carry Humpty Dumpty, and the problems were out of their control. The winning bid includes provision of a new multi runner sleigh which is scheduled for completion in 2009. It is currently being constructed in the Peter Pan Coachworks in Never Never Land.* This is being supervised by Captain Christopher Robin Hook."

We contacted Santa's Grotto for comment. Rudolf was not available, but Prancer and Dancer indicated that it was more than likely that redundancies would follow.

Reports are already in that a number of elves have been seen wearing cut-down pieces of Santa's familiar red and white uniform. An elf, who did not want to be identified, told us that they have to wear these, since this is all that Scrooge, the Big Fairy in the Department of Fairies and Pixies, would provide....

*Second star on the right and straight on till morning.

Late news

It seems the likely cries of the children have just been too much for the Department of Fairies and Pixies. A spokeswoman said late last night that this shambles had nothing to do with it: "Those boyos over at the Department for Reindeer Development couldn't run a bath. As for elfin safety, that's really a matter for the Department of Elves, Troggs and Imps. Santa has been heavily sedated."

The Department for Reindeer Development has advised that all letters addressed to Santa will now be opened by elves.

The Shoemaker and his wife have also expressed relief that the elves had been deployed elsewhere, as it is thought that the quality of their work had diminished to a dangerous level.

"Cobblers!!", a very annoyed elves' spokesperson said to Reindeer Monthly, "I'll nail that lie if it's the last thing I do".

Later News

Dr Nose from the Ministry of Elf has finally admitted that some senior elves have been afflicted during the past few months by a condition known as Pinocchio Syndrome. The condition had largely gone unnoticed by viewers of Dormant Live due to the customary wooden delivery at the Despatch Counter. The nasal extension had also come as a bit of a surprise as there's been no crack at Dormant for months.

It can also be revealed that other governments have conspired with Dormant to stop media editors reporting the outbreak. It was claimed that disclosure would alarm children unnecessarily.

And there's more. A large container of whitewash has fallen on Santa's new computer and, as there were not enough back-up records, many children will go without presents this year. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Truth said, 'I blame the children.' 'Why?' asked a reporter. 'That's my job; that's what I'm paid to do,' said the spokesperson.

- 0 0 0 -

PS A big thank you to all those who assisted in the compilation of this Christmas tale. I wouldn't be surprised if it's translated into Irish for the benefit of folks in Cape Clear. Perhaps our friends in emara News could do the needful ...

The Santa's Grotto story is excellent.

I do hope that the Department for Reindeer Development hang their heads in shame.

What will I tell my children when Santa does not make it to my house this year?

Still recovering from the laughing fit :D

Signed: ballywhatsit

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Alex Blair's "Ireland & the First World War"


Tuesday 25 November


The First World War (1914-1918) was called the “Great” War and it was a colossal event. Great numbers of young Irishmen went to fight. They were Protestant and Catholic, Unionist and Nationalist and from all over the country. Many were from Ballymoney and District and they fought and died on battlefields across Europe, most notably at the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. Mr Blair will deal with these traumatic events and outline the effects the war had on Ireland, and especially on the local area.

Admission £1 (includes refreshments).

Friday, 7 November 2008

Rathlin Island - Planters and Gales

The following Northern Ireland Assembly question from Daithi McKay, SF MLA and Slugger Awards 2008 winner, looks remarkably like a plant:
To ask the Minister for Regional Development to detail the work he has carried out in relation to Rathlin Island since taking up office.

(AQO 1052/09)

Why would Conor Murphy, Minister for Regional Development need to put out a 'good news' story on November 10? Might it have anything to do with the gales that have swirled around DRD and DFP since questions were asked about the ferry tendering process and its outcome?

Investigations were to have been completed by the end of September; this was put back to the end of October and I've seen no announcement of a third date.

There has also been relative silence on the proposal for the reintroduction of the Ballycastle-Campbeltown(-Ayrshire) ferry.

Adds November 9 & 10

Compare and contrast, line by line, the passenger certificates for the Canna and the St Sorney. Who was/were responsible for the alterations? Were these alterations officially noted? Has an obsolete pre-2007 style of certificate been used for the St Sorney? Why is its operator not named as Rathlin Island Ferry Limited?

The current [Canna] passenger capacity is limited to 27 plus two cars (or one lorry) in winter ..

If there were no alterations why was passenger capacity increased to 50?

Adds November 11

Conor Murphy replies to supplementary question by Mervyn Storey but still no news of a publication date for the three investigations report:

the complaints have not come from the islanders, and the islanders have not sought reassurance on the issue

So, the unheralded visit by Gerry Adams, Murphy's party leader, on September 11 was on a different matter?

“Combined with the need to enhance the tourist infrastructure and raise the profile of the new high-speed ferry, Sinn Féin remains focused on the needs of RathlinIsland. The visit of Gerry Adams last Thursday signals our continued commitment in that regard,” Councillor [Cara] McShane said.

I suspect the three Governments, Ministers and officials, at present, would rather lower the profile of the St Sorney, the passenger only ferry.

Despite the documents that are currently in the public domain there has been remarkable docility by the islanders, the mainstream media, (most of) Moyle District Council - and the Scottish government.

YouTube video: "If the minister chooses to answer"

The DRD press webpage remains 'tight-lipped' but a spokeswoman told the News Letter 'that she expected the report and the department's response to it to be published before the Assembly's Christmas recess'.

Rathlin in the Euro Zone?

O'Driscoll: "While it was being set up with the First Trust Bank in Northern Ireland ..."

The 'blunder' has nothing to do with the bank; the on-line booking system is provided by and this company will bill customers in the currency specified by its client.

Has the Committee for Finance and Personnel passed the buck?

Regular photo and document updates
here and here.
Click on image and then move cursor over new image to read sticky notes.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Kevin, independent DPP member, tells it as it is

So, reported crime in the Kingdom of Moyle has dropped by 18.1% whilst the number of police officers has, er, dropped by 60%.

Has criminal activity really fallen by that amount or are fewer people reporting it? It would be very easy to blame local senior police officers but the finger really needs to be pointed at the governments in London and Dublin that jointly agree policing policy and contentious day-to-day decisions.

Don't be surprised to see the police station in Bushmills, in the near future, joining the serried ranks of boarded-up buildings that 'grace' the gateway to the Giant's Causeway World Heritage Centre.

Congratulations to Kevin for speaking out and to the News Letter for covering the story.

Adds November 12

Is this really a Sinn Fein document on Moyle DPP paper?

Sweeney's Rejected Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre Plan Goes To Appeal

Who can forget those immortal words "I know of him, yes" and then DOE Minister Arlene Foster's 'minded' decision to award the new Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre to DUP member, Seymour Sweeney?

The Minister eventually changed her mind, following intense pressure from the media et al.

The Planning Appeals Commission will hear the developer's appeal commencing Monday 16 February 2009 in the Barmouth Room, University of Ulster, Coleraine. It has rejected an earlier application for an arts and crafts centre adjacent to this site.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Minister Campbell 'bait'

The salmon drift net licence story from 2007 has resurfaced following a question and answer exchange in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr McKay asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what action he is taking to protect and safeguard people who have the right to fish using fixed bag nets on the North coast.

(AQW 784/09)

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure: The Department of Culture (DCAL), Arts and leisure has a statutory responsibility to conserve and protect wild salmon stocks and research has shown that Atlantic salmon populations are under threat. DCAL also has to comply with EU legislation under the Habitats Directive and other European legislation to conserve and protect this endangered species. The Department has offered the remaining commercial salmon net licence holders on the North Coast compensation for a voluntary cessation of fishing. This has not been accepted and the Department is now consulting with the netsmen on a way forward.

I am aware of the cultural and social factors associated with the commercial salmon industry. I will consider all relevant information before making a final decision regarding the fixed bag nets on the North Coast.

The Chronicle's Peter Winter asserts that neither licence holder was prepared to comment on the offer to buy back drift net licences.

One factor the Minister might wish to consider is the length of time these final two drift net licences have been held. Fisheries Conservancy Board documents show that Seymour Sweeney acquired a licence in 2006. The Minister might like to ask FCB why a licence was issued despite the circumstances he has outlined in his Assembly answer.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Tommy McKaig's Country Yarns

The Dervock Donkey

R.J. McIlmoyle, the famed Dervock preacher, sheep breeder and storyteller, was once faced with a rather unusual query: "What will we do with the donkey?" 

A group of travelling people had departed from their roadside camp on the edge of Dervock, leaving behind the remains of a dead donkey. It was said to be traditional for them to move to new quarters on the death of a traveller or one of their animals. Following the request from the local people R.J. said that he would ring the Ballymoney Rural District Council to see what they could do. 

"What's your problem?" said the council officer. R.J. described the situation and said that his neighbours wanted the dead animal "taken away out of this". "Isn't it one of your jobs to see about burying the dead, Mr McIlmoyle?" "You'd be quite right thinking that", said R.J., " but it's also another of my duties to inform the next of kin!"


Friday, 17 October 2008

Email From Zimbabwe

A South African relative with roots in North Antrim sent me a copy of this email from Zimbabwe. It places our local credit crunch in perspective.

Adds December 9

This Government has GONE MAD and you need to help us publicize our plight---or how can we be rescued? It's a reality! The petrol queues are a reality, the pall of smoke all around our city is a reality, the thousands of homeless people sleeping outside in 0 Celsius with no food, water, shelter and bedding are a reality. Today a family approached me, brother of the gardener's wife with two small children. Their home was trashed and they will have to sleep outside. We already support 8 adult people and a child on this property, and electricity is going up next month by 250% as is water.How can I take on another family of 4 -----and yet how can I turn them away to sleep out in the open?I am not asking you for money or a ticket out of here - I am asking you to FACE the fact that we are in deep and terrible danger and want you please to pass on our news and pictures. So PLEASE don't just press the delete button! Help best in the way that you know how.

Letters written by Cathy Buckle

Hospitals without disposable gloves, medicines, drips, bandages or disinfectant. Nurses who cannot afford to come to work. Toilets and taps without water. A growing cholera outbreak in all areas of the country with 300 people already dead. Raw sewage flowing in the streets of high density areas. Dustbins which have not been collected in urban residential suburbs since July in my home town. Men, women and children collecting water in bowls and buckets from swampy streams and murky pools. No soap to buy in the shops so no chance of preventing the spread of cholera by washing your hands with soap and water. Is this what Mr Annan, Mr Carter and Mrs Machel might have seen had they been granted visas to see for themselves the humanitarian catastrophe now engulfing Zimbabwe?

We hope that the Elders will not give up on Zimbabwe, even though there is no welcome mat at our doorstep.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

Rathlin Ferry Con Tract

Has the Committee for Regional Development examined the pros and cons of the Rathlin ferry contract and operation? The latest document - dated April 18, 2008 - from a seemingly dodgy dossier indicates that no formal contract was signed prior to the Minister's announcement of the winning tender on April 21, 2008.

.. the completion of a formal contract will not be necessary

What are the legal consequences of this state of affairs?

If the £1.2 million budgeted by DRD for a new passenger only ferry has been withdrawn where is the money for the new catamaran coming from?

The last two islanders on Rathlin and members of RDCA maintain a vigil at the quayside for the catamaran promised 30 years ago ...

Despite the delay, both men remain confident and hope that the provision of the vessel would bring economic benefit


7. Mr McKay (North Antrim):

To ask the Minister for Regional Development to detail the work he has carried out in relation to Rathlin Island since taking up office. (AQO 1052/09)

The timing is intriguing. Surely the Minister isn't anticipating bad news following the internal investigations. The investigators are due to report by the end of this month.

MLAs may well be surprised that Steve Rowsell, one of the independent investigators, has twice acted in recent times as an expert witness for Government departments re. procurement. MLAs on the DRD and DFP committees appear to have adopted a complacent approach to ongoing problems as well as to questionable aspects of the contract process.

Why should it be left to members of the public to raise concerns that are primarily the responsibility of politicians and civil servants?

Mysterious bowser ... some regulations

And now a little something for our Cape Clear readers from a document supplied during the tendering processes. However, there would appear to be a problem with cargo arrangements for Cape Clear:

The operator of the cargo boat for three of the islands, which acted for the last 20 years or so, as back up to the Naomh Ciaran and in recent years, - since regulation changes – as the only transport for essential fodder supplies and the only practical method of moving cattle for sale, is now no longer available to the operator of the Naomh Ciaran, as she is having to find work where she can in the absence of any move from the DCRGA.

Adds October 27

True Light passenger certificate (incomplete and blurred). This isn't the only document which is barely legible.

Why did the Government award the contract to an individual rather than a company? Why was the need for a financial guarantee dropped from the second tender? Why did a CPD official assert that there was no need for a formal contract a few days before the contract was announced? Is DRD paying a subsidy to a company, RIFL, that it doesn't have a legal relationship with?

Adds October 29

Are DRD and marine safety officials maintaining adequate surveillance on Rathlin ferry operations or are they relying on the public to highlight 'shortcomings'?

The St Sorney, the passenger only ferry, allegedly received its passenger certificate (from RoI authorities) on July 1 yet the vessel broke down on its way to Ballycastle and spent most of August out of action with engine and shaft problems.

What sanctions have been or will be imposed for failing to have a vehicle ferry in place during all of the planned departure of the Canna and for the transportation of an allegedly unmarked fuel bowser on the Canna recently? The mainstream media can report its own difficulties in covering the latter story.

The ferry website has belatedly added its company registration and VAT numbers but I'm told that legislation demands that other information be included. Perhaps the relevant Government authority could advise.

Why is a locally registered UK company billing its on-line customers in euros? Did someone get a daft notion about a Rathlin tax haven?

Welcome to the Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd. booking system. For best prices book your tickets online.

All Prices are shown in € (Euro)

Why might these customers have to pay more than those who pay in pounds and how would they know if they were?

Why has this company changed its registered address in such a short space of time? It looks most unusual.

Adds October 30

Ministerial replies:

Should tender have been reviewed?

Was second tender not compliant too?

St Sorney update notes

Adds October 31

The three investigations were expected to be concluded and reported on by the end of this month.

Is one of the civil servants under investigation still involved in decision making and correspondence related to the Rathlin ferry operation? If so, surely that is a remarkable state of affairs.

There's been a lot of interest from Edinburgh these past few weeks. It seems likely that the Scottish government is keeping a close watch on possible negative news from the Government investigations here. Could it have done more to protect the interests of its own companies and former staff and could it have done so sooner?

Adds November 1

Some weekly business review meetings and other official quotes:

In response to a query from one of the Independent Board members, Doreen Brown said the new ferry service was attracting positive feedback from island residents and tourists.

Departmental Board Meeting September 2, 2008



Doreen Brown advised that Rathlin Island ferry service was operating successfully.

Doreen, you cannot be serious. Perhaps you and your colleagues should have paid more attention to Jim Allister's advice.

Have independent members of the board been fully briefed about apparent discrepancies in the tendering process and about operational 'hiccups' since July 1?

Who pays the ferryman/motorman? Caledonian MacBrayne, Ciaran O'Driscoll or Rathlin Island Ferry Limited?

A traveller writes: "Large Fries and a BigMac for Rathlin"

Adds November 5

Still no news of a third target date for the release of the report into the three in-house DRD investigations. Paul Priestly, Permanent Secretary and accounting officer, released the second target date on October 1.

The document headlined "I see the council ratification as a formality" has generated a lot of interest. I wonder what will be the reaction in the council chamber when councillors realise they've been sidelined.

Photos and documents updated here and here

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Rathlin Ferry Contract - the Investigations Extended

The release of further information by the Department of Regional Development as well as the following statement by a Calmac representative go some way to explaining the postponement of the investigators' final report until the end of October:

I can confirm that CalMac (actually as Rathlin Ferries Ltd as it was that company which tendered ) and its legal advisor met with two of the team of three conducting the investigation, and that following that meeting RFL made a written submission to them on a number of matters in relation to the Tender Process.

This statement should reassure those who were concerned that the Scottish company would not be permitted to assist the investigations; it might discommode others.

News has also reached me from Co Cork that RTÉ's "Pobal" is currently making a program that will feature an aspect of the ferry service to Cape Clear. I'm told that the programme is to be broadcast on Sunday, October 19.

Perhaps RTÉ or another broadcaster will have a look at some of the problems that appear to have arisen in the Rathlin and Cape Clear ferry services to see what lessons can be learnt for the future.

Adds October 14

The Cape Clear link poses questions about the provision of a catamaran for the Rathlin ferry route in the summer(?) of 2009 now that the DRD has allegedly removed the questionable £1.2 million for a passenger only vessel, questionable in the sense that the tenders indicated no such capital spend.

We were however told that a new Catamaran relief boat would be on station in the island [Cape Clear] from January 1st 2008. When this vessel did not appear for some months the Department was asked what had happened. The answer came back that there had been delays, but that the operator "Assured" the DCRGA that it would be available by October 1st. That was last Wednesday, and unless the operator has invested in Stealth technology, it is not here. Repeated attempts to contact responsible officials in the Department to discover what has happened have failed.

In fact, we are informed by the builders of this new relief that they believe that they are still building it and that a fairly optimistic estimate would put the arrival date in the harbour here around the New Year.

What is the current status of the catamaran that was promised for the Rathlin ferry route? Is it to be constructed on the same premises as the Cape Clear catamaran? Could it possibly be ready on time? Might the CC catamaran have to 'deputise' on the Rathlin route - assuming that it would be given an MCA certificate? I'm told that the smaller 15 metre CC catamaran has yet to be completed even though it was supposed to have been commissioned towards the end of 2007.

The Cape Clear Ferry/Rathlin Island Ferry Limited folks appear to be a bit confused as to which website they're publishing on. For example, the Terms and Conditions link on the CCF website takes you to, er, the Rathlin route [5.20pm October 14]

Is it not a legal requirement that all commercial websites carry a company's registry number, place/state of registry and VAT number? If so, then the aforementioned websites appear to be deficient.

Adds October 15

Is there a formal contract between DRD and Rathlin Island Ferry Limited (RIFL)? CPD published a contract award notice on on June 12, 2008 indicating that the contract was awarded to an individual, Ciaran O'Driscoll, on April 21. RIFL was not registered until May 2.

Photos and documents; search blog with 'rathlin ferry' for earlier stories.

Dorothy Arthur's Ballymoney Churchyard

A History of Ballymoney Old Churchyard


I grew up just outside Ballymoney and from an early age was always interested in family history. I kept notes of some of my conversations with my great aunts. Many of my ancestors are buried in the old churchyard in Ballymoney and I have spent many hours reading the graves. When I got as far as I could with my own family tree I started helping others with theirs as I had accumulated a lot of information on many of the families around Ballymoney.

A few years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to put what I knew into book form. Keith Beattie, from Ballymoney museum had created an excellent web site on Ballymoney genealogy and in doing this had already mapped and numbered the graves. I have used Keith's numbering and map for simplicity. He has also greatly helped by letting me have copies of his work.

Irish records tend to be poor due to the loss of so many in Dublin at the time of the Irish troubles in the 1920s. However, we are lucky in the Ballymoney area, as some of the church records go back to the 1700s and although all the censuses are missing apart from 1901, an 1803 agricultural census, 1825 Tithe Applotment records, 1859 Griffith valuation and street directories of 1824, 1846, 1856, 1864, 1905 and 1952 give valuable information for researchers.


Dorothy Arthur

my email specifically for the book will be
The launch is on Saturday, November 1 in Ballymoney Town Hall. It has 496 pages with full colour throughout priced at £25. It is published by Impact in Ballycastle.

Ballymoney Ancestry website
Ballymoney Graveyard website
Bill Macafee's Family and Local History website

NALIL - Slugger Political Blogger of 2008

Slugger O'Toole, Northern Ireland's premier political blog, staged its first ever awards night on Tuesday, October 7, in W5 at the Odyssey in Belfast.

NALIL was nominated in the political blog category and the judges put it on the short list.

I got a call from Mick Fealty, SO'T producer, inquiring if I'd be coming up/down to Belfast for the ceremony. My instinctive reaction was to say no, not because I'm particularly shy, but because group settings can generate a claustrophobic response. Mick persisted, I phoned a friend, she said yes and we let the train take the strain!! [Photo: Brian Feeney, me and David Gordon]

The journey involved a change of train at Belfast Central. We'd not anticipated that there were two trains departing for Bangor at nearly the same time and we very nearly took the one that didn't stop at Bridge End. Signage at Bridge End for the Odyssey was far from clear so it wasn't surprising that we headed off in the wrong direction. A couple out walking there dog came to our aid and we trekked off back towards Bridge End and on to the Odyssey.

Graínne from Strategem NI was there to greet us and to show us the way to the awards venue. I recognised some journalists and politicians but most of the milling throng were strangers to me - as I was to them.

Mick welcomed everyone and Tim McGarry, in true taxi-driver style, linked the various presentations together with his customary wit. The political blogger award was listed at #8 and, lo and behold, the winner was - NALIL. I remained remarkably calm as I navigated my way up to the front for the presentation, the photograph and then the pose for the caricature by the Guardian's, Martin Rowson. [Photo: Me and Mick Fealty]

Many thanks, Mick, for your persistence and encouragement. The crack was great, I'm glad I went. I can even forgive the Slugger contributor who, on proffering congratulations, said, "I never read your blog" :)

Sorry I couldn't join you for dinner in the Rotunda at the Europa. Were Portballintrae lobsters or Church Bay prawns or Blackside Forest Gateau on the menu? Perhaps I should put in an FoI request ....

PS A big thank you to those from North Antrim and further afield who provided the photographs, the documents and all the other ingredients that have been the basis for NALIL blog stories since July 2007. They know who they are!!

flickr: Slugger Awards group

Friday, 26 September 2008

Rathlin Ferry and the Margaret Sinclair

I'm told that the Margaret Sinclair is expected to go into service on Monday, September 29, for a few three days while the Canna goes off for its annual MOT. This seems unusual as I understand the process usually takes about three weeks.

The Canna's annual inspection is usually scheduled for the end of August but it seems there must have been operational difficulties. Did the DRD fail to ensure there was a relief vessel available from July 1?

The Margaret Sinclair is a work boat but it can accommodate up to 12 passengers whereas the Canna can take up to 140. It has a draft of 2m compared with the Canna's 1.4m and the relatively shallow entrance to Rathlin Harbour may present problems.

Adds September 28

Tender Specification: Timetables

The timetable for the service is determined by the operator in consultation with users. Any changes to the timetable must be notified to the Department at least 4 weeks in advance to allow for public notification by advertisement.

The current summer and winter timetables are to be delivered as the minimum level of service and will not be varied without the approval of the Department. The current period for summer timetables is to be observed throughout the contract, i.e. summer timetables will operate from the start of the Easter school holidays or Good Friday of the Easter weekend, whichever is earlier, until the end of the schools’ half-term break in October (usually the third Saturday in October each year).

Summer appears to have ended early this year as the RIFL changeover date is September 28, not the agreed third Saturday in October.

"The contractor will be required to publish summer and winter timetables annually. These should be published no later than November (in respect of summer timetables) and July (in respect of winter timetables)."

Has the DRD not been informed of the change? It hasn't yet published the new timetable.

Adds September 30

It's a bit of a roller coaster ride as the MS climbs the waves and dives into the troughs. The weather forecast indicates imminent westerly/north-westerly gales.

Adds October 1

DRD in-house investigations report delayed by a month until the end of October.

Adds October 3

It's just been drawn to my attention that the one of the investigators, Steve Rowsell*, had recently acted as an expert witness for the Department of Finance and Personnel in another CPD procurement controversy.

Paul Priestly: I have asked Steve Rowsell - an independent procurement consultant (and former Director of Procurement of the Highways Agency in GB) — to lead this part of the investigation. He will be supported by a team from the Central Procurement Division with no previous involvement in the Rathlin Island Ferry contract, but with experience in NICS procurement processes and best practice, as well as in carrying out such investigations.

Could there be a conflict of interest because of Steve Rowsell's differing roles in these two matters?

The Canna was still not on station so there has been no provision for the carriage of vehicles since the Margaret Sinclair departed and the St Sorney appears to be crossing independently of the timetable.

Adds October 4

Canna back in service.

Did the vessel receive the customary diligent treatment or was it all a bit hurried?

Can Murphy and Robinson walk on water?

We've moved from Direct Rule to Devolution. Have we also moved from management to mismanagement in the procurement process and its consequences?

Adds October 5

21 April 2008 - Improved service for Rathlin ferry will half travel time

Regional Development Minister, Conor Murphy today announced that the new contract for the Rathlin Ferry will provide improved services.
The six year contract has been awarded to Mr Ciarán O’Driscoll, whose companies currently provide ferry services to islands off the coast of County Cork.
Will failure to meet the terms of the contract result in a reduction of subsidy?

Adds October 8

Notification under the Data Protection Act 1998

Notification is a statutory requirement and every organisation that processes personal information must notify the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), unless they are exempt. Failure to notify is a criminal offence.

Rathlin Ferries Limited began trading under that name on April 1, 2007, and registered with the Data Controller on April 17, 2007.

Rathlin Island Ferry Limited has been trading, at least, since July 1, 2008 yet its name doesn't feature on the list of Data Controllers. Why? Shouldn't registration have been in place within 28 days?


This term refers to the fact that the Commission can serve a notice on a defaulting employer (e.g. an employer who has failed to register, failed to submit a monitoring return on time, or failed to comply with an order of the Tribunal) stating that the employer is not qualified; such a notice brings an employer within scope of the economic sanctions of loss of Government and public authority contracts and grant denial (para 3.4.2).

Equality Commission of Northern Ireland

ECONI has no record of RIFL on its register, according to an ECONI advisor. Doesn't RIFL have more employees than meet the 11 or more requirement for registration?

*Steve Rowsell was also an expert witness for a Government department in a second procurement controversy. [added October 22]

Photos and documents; earlier stories: 'rathlin ferry' search

Monday, 22 September 2008

Andy McInroy's Great Sea Caves of Antrim

The Antrim Coast is perhaps the most photographed section of coastline in Ireland. However, hidden in this rugged landscape are some dark and forgotten sea caverns that are rarely visited.

Interestingly, a search of the old writings, etchings and photographs from the last two centuries yields some fantastic material relating to these old and unchanging places. The adventurous Victorians loved to row into these caverns to take picnics, to paint and to snap photographs.

Many of the old photographs and etchings can still be found today in antique and curiosity shops. Seeing this old material has inspired me to revisit these long forgotten chambers of the Antrim Coast and to create a new photographic record of these secret places.


Andy McInroy

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Chinook ZD576 Crash on Kintyre, 2 June 1994

The Chinook crash occurred about 6pm near the lighthouse on the Mull of Kintyre; the 29 victims included four crew and some of Northern Ireland's top security and intelligence personnel. Confusion still surrounds the cause of the crash and the responsibility of the two pilots is disputed.

William Ross, former East Londonderry MP, put down a series of questions in 2001.

Mr. William Ross: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many Chinook helicopters were flown (a) into and (b) out of Northern Ireland on 2 June 1994; and what their flight times and routes were. [150410]
Mr. Spellar [holding answer 14 February 2001]: No Chinook helicopters flew into Northern Ireland on 2 June 1994. One flew out, that being Chinook ZD 576 which left RAF Aldergrove at 17.42 hours, en route to Fort George.
This and other answers tell part of the story about Chinooks [edit: 'or similar twin-rotor helicopters'] flying in Northern Ireland that day. The ZD576 had followed a route from Aldergrove that took it down one of the glens of Antrim, over Carnlough, past Garron Point and on towards the western coastline of Kintyre. The other Chinook based at Aldergrove was a Mark I and it was listed as out of action.

My late parents and I were driving east from Coleraine towards Bushmills about 30 minutes before the crash. It had been a very wet afternoon and the sky was still very dark for the time of day. A Chinook [edit: 'or similar'] with a patchwork quilt style camouflage flew across our path just after we reached the top of Kilgrain hill. It was flying low in a northerly direction along the line of the Ballyversal road and by the time we reached the junction with that road the Chinook was just skimming the high ground to our left. There have been unconfirmed reports that the distinctive sound of a Chinook was heard over Bushmills.

No one has been able, so far, to explain the ownership of this Chinook or its role that day. I checked out the camouflage with someone who worked in the paintshop at RAF Odiham and he explained that this style of camouflage would most likely have been used by a special operations Chinook.


I don't know for certain whether the aircraft was fit for purpose, but as it had just 57.15 flying hours on the clock since the upgrade and it had the following problems, I would hazard a guess that it (ZD576) was not fit.

8 Apr 94 - Returned from Boeing. Has a FADEC related problem.

21 Apr 94 - Torque mismatch of 40% during transit to hover.

22 Apr 94 - No 1 engine is replaced.

26 Apr 94 - No torque indication to either engine with the engine control levers at the flight idle position. No 1 engine is replaced again.

3 May 94 - GPS failure on the RNS252. Transmitter is replaced.

5 May 94 - GPS fails again. This time the whole thing is replaced.

9 May 94 - No GPS feed to the RNS 252. The transmitter is, again, replaced.

10 May 94 - Thrust balance spring pallet detaches from the collective lever due to a bonding failure. Thrust & yaw assembly was replaced.

17 May 94 - During descent to low level the No 1 engine emergency power caption light illumunates three times. Engine temperature went beyond normal levels. No 1 engine was removed and rebuilt. Part of the FADEC system was returned to the manufacturer for examination.

26 May 94 - Numerous warning lights illuminate, including a 'master' warning light and a No 2 engine failure notification. Aircraft diverted.

31 May 94 - Aircraft delivered to Aldergrove. IR jammer has a problem and is replaced.

1 Jun 94 - During the first flight, there is a problem with the PTIT guage. It is also noted that there is interference on the UHF/AM radio, caused by the SuperTans equipment. Neither problem could be recreated on the ground.

Not to mention, of course that the AAIB investigators could not positively determine pre-impact serviceability.