Sunday, 10 August 2008

Moyle Council and the Rathlin Ferry Saga

Have Moyle Councillors been largely excluded from the process that brought an end to Calmac's era as operator of the life-line ferry between Ballycastle and Rathlin? Could Council officials have kept them and the public better briefed?

I was very surprised that there was no civic function to herald the arrival of the new ferry service. I would have expected a welcoming party of Councillors and officials to greet the first users as they stepped ashore on July 1.

I'm told that the next Council meeting on Monday, August 11, will discuss some of the issues associated with the introduction of the new service. Let's hope that the minutes will be available on-line shortly after they are passed in one month's time. The most recent minutes are dated May 19. It would appear that someone isn't doing his or her job in a professional manner.

The Department [of Regional Development] has responsibility for providing a ferry to Rathlin Island, the north’s only inhabited offshore island. The current vessel offers a roll-on roll-off (RORO) service but is nearing the end of its useful working life. The operator Caledonian MacBrayne (Calmac) is wholly owned by the Scottish Executive and may not be permitted by its parent Department to operate outside of the Scottish undertaking for much longer.

[DRD - Measure Investment Proposal - 10.12.2007 - p30]

Now, Calmac had set up a new company, Rathlin Island Ferries Ltd, in 2007 and had taken part in both tenders so this quote will have come as a bit of a surprise. Although the tenders claim there would be no capital spend the MIP document proposes £1.2m for a temporary passenger ferry to complement the Canna and £6.3m for two new RORO ferries. Documents currently on the DRD site make no mention of these figures.

Were Councillors or their officials informed about these DRD proposals?

At the time of the lease of Council facilities to Ciaran O'Driscoll, the new operator, did Councillors and their officials ensure that, for example, safety measures and insurance were in place? If not, why not?

The Council Chair took part in the recent safety inspection but it seems that Councillors weren't told by officials that there was to be such an inspection by HSENI and MCA. Alterations that are currently being made should have been in place on July 1.

I understand Richard Lewis, Moyle CEO, was a member of the Tender Evaluation Panel. Perhaps he'll be able to explain to Councillors whether or not the TEP had sight of all of the documents that the three tenderers submitted and were able to check that all of the boxes in Schedule A that were ticked should have been ticked.

Adds August 15

Public discussion over ferry contract blocked

Appeal in ferry contract probe

The 12 passenger Causeway Explorer is 'deputising' for the 35(?) passenger St Sorney. It began this role on July 30 and has been in regular use since August 6. There must be a major problem with the St Sorney.

Moyle Council officials have put some additional minutes but they're still behind the times and, perhaps in need of correction:

Sealing of Documents – Rathlin Ferries Ltd

The ACE stated that the Harbour Services Agreement and Licence for terminal building with new ferry operator had been drawn up for Rathlin Ferries Ltd and that these have been based on previous agreements with Calmac. Copies of the Agreement and Licence were circulated for information.

This was agreed.

The name of the new company is Rathlin Island Ferry Limited; Rathlin Ferries Limited was set up by Calmac. Councillor McConaghy's objections are missing from this minute but I'm told are to be added.

Photos and documents