Friday, 15 February 2008

Portrush Lifeboat - On The Rocks

The Katie Hannan went aground - (click charity gallery) - apparently on a reef in front of Rathlin Harbour and ended up on the breakwater. The curious episode took place on Tuesday 29th January but she wasn't retrieved until today, Friday 15th February.

My conversations with local people, many with long experience of the rescue services, paint a very disturbing picture, one that is likely to unfold during the course of an inquiry. No lives were lost but that may have been truly fortuitous.

The photos (click to enlarge) show the barge, Terra Marique, being towed from Rathlin Island with the Katie Hannan inside and then being tied up in the harbour in Ballycastle. It departs tomorrow for Plymouth in the south of England for a detailed examination.

Any inquiry would need to look not just at the events of that fateful day in January but also at the standards of training currently in place for lifeboat crews as well as the consequences of a much reduced catchment of folks such as fishermen who've had years and years of experience of the difficult conditions at sea along the North Antrim Coast.

I'm told that in other parts of the safety network Health and Safety regulations could well be inhibiting, directly or indirectly, the adequate training of rescue personnel. This means that these personnel will be at greater risk in treacherous settings as well as those they've gone to aid. Those who make the crucial decisions on funding and other resources may not fully appreciate the additional risks they're creating; let's hope they care.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Salmon Drift Net Licences

Not so many years ago there were around thirteen drift net licences issued annually. The drive to conserve salmon stocks led to a reduction to six licences and now there are just two. I understand some of the earlier licences were bought out.
My interest in the Portballintrae drift net licence was aroused at the time of the Paisleys Sweeney controversy.
Correspondence passed to the BBC shows that in 2005, both Ian Paisley Sr and his son intervened in a dispute over a drift net licence for a boat registered in Portballintrae.

Mr Paisley Jr supported the claim by the longest serving crew member, Stephen McLaughlin, to inherit the licence.

Stephen had been a crew member on Cecil Montgomery's boat, the Julie M CE 20. Cecil died about three years ago and apparently there was a dispute between Stephen and another member of the Montgomery family as to who could apply for the annual licence. The Montgomery family still have the Julie M but Stephen had no boat.

When a licence holder dies or retires the longest serving crew member gets first call on the licence. At this point the Fisheries Conservancy Board could have refused a licence and thereby reduced the number of licences to one; this would also have meant they didn't have to buy out the licence in the future.
Paisley lobbying prevailed and the licence went to a fisherman with neither boat nor net. Stephen was able to obtain both from Seymour Sweeney and I understand 'drifted' for salmon during his customary two weeks holiday in July. His No1 listed crew member was Seymour.
Stephen handed the licence in after one season and the licence holder for the past two seasons has been Seymour. All caught salmon have to be tagged so should the authorities examine a hotel freezer the number can be traced back to the fisherman who caught it.
Conversations with local fishermen and Portballintrae folks have unearthed a number of yarns. Apparently there was a licence issued in the past and it was signed by a fisherman who could neither read nor write. It's claimed there was an affidavit with three signatures but in less than three handwriting styles. It would appear that some folks on the crew lists over the years have been dry land sailors. Perhaps the fishery authorities have been hoodwinked by wily old sea salts!!

PS I've blanked out personal details such as home addresses and telephone numbers


Monday, 4 February 2008

Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre Controversy 2

The saga rambles on. First the Minister, Arlene Foster, was 'minded' to award the project to local developer, Seymour Sweeney, then she was minded to refuse and currently she awaits a response from the developer as described in the letter from the Planning Service.

Should the matter go to the Planning Appeals Commission, it could well suffer the fate of an earlier plan from the same developer in 2002: rejection.

Perhaps it's worth reminding the Minister that the blot on the landscape is still there, despite the actions of her officials, and the questionable development near Ballintoy is still a large hole in the ground, nearly ten years on.