Friday, 22 August 2008

Rathlin Ferry Saga Continues

I understand that the Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey, and MLAs, Councillors and officials were members of a 12+ delegation booked on the 11 o'clock fast ferry crossing to Rathlin. The scheduled 35-passenger St Sorney would have been big enough but it seems to have spent much more time out of service than in it. The Causeway Explorer, which is deputising, only has a passenger carrying certificate for 12.

It seems the MLAs and Councillors had not been informed of any change of plan and so they spent the extra hour in the Council offices awaiting the departure of the Canna at noon. There was no sign of the Minister and his officials but it transpired that they had departed in a private rib from the marina.

The delegation returned more or less as it had departed. The ongoing problems of the new ferry service cast a shadow over what will be, hopefully, some good health and related news for Rathlin islanders.

News Letter: Contract Rules Deepen Rathlin Harbour Wrangle

Is this the only recent Government tendering process coming under scrutiny? Apparently not ...

Adds August 24

Rathlin Ferry service is working well, O'Loan discovers on visit to island

Perhaps it's timely to remind Declan of his own words on another project:

Government finances and the actions of civil servants are legitimate matters for disclosure to the public.

Quite. It's the principle of the thing, Declan. Perhaps you can now encourage the DRD and DFP to hand over the current investigations to the independent NIAO.

Adds August 25

An independent investigation would require not just the support and input of Stormont civil servants; it would also need the willing co-operation of all the tenderers and any Ministers, officials and consultants from Belfast, Dublin and Edinburgh who have played a part in the tendering process. Is it possible that under Direct Rule civil servants had too much autonomy and were subject to too little scrutiny? How involved were the DRD and DFP Ministers and to what extent can they be held responsible for decisions taken during their watch?

Adds August 27

It would appear that the St Sorney/Sarney has had a chequered history:

By Gordon Deegan

Wednesday August 17 2005

FERRY passengers had to be airlifted from the Aran Islands after Department of Marine officials grounded a vessel run by a Co Clare ferry operator.

Aran Islands Fast Ferries was forced to fly nine passengers from Inis Oirr to the mainland on Monday due to the Department grounding the St Sorney after finding "several operational defects" on the boat. Some 26 passengers were temporarily stranded before alternative arrangements were made to bring the passengers back to the mainland by aircraft and ferry.

A company spokesman said the repairs were complete and the company was awaiting inspection to allow sailings resume today.

Information regarding complaints received by Chief Surveyor MSO to the effect that passenger vessel St. Sarney had carried passengers with only one engine, and subsequent investigations by Capt. Neil Ford on 24/06/2005, to include the name of the public servant who received the complaint, the details, time and nature of the complaint and the name(s) of the person(s) making the complaint.

Copies of all documents used by DCMNR Press Office relating to the current withdrawal of passenger certificate regarding Irish Independent article relating to the vessel "St. Sarney".

Has DRD and MCA checked out all the St Sorney documentation? What about the documentation for the other vessels named in the tendering process? Presumably journalists have submitted the usual FOI requests ...

emara News: Rathlin Island Ferry, Happiness Unalloyed, Despite Chaos

Adds September 3

Public Transport MIP

Public Transport IDP

DRD Equality Impacts:

Similarly, the proposals to take forward the Reform of Public Transport, and to procure and operate short-term passenger and long term Ro-Ro ferries to Rathlin Island, will be screened and subject to EQIA as necessary.

Ah yes, £1.2 million for passenger only ferry to run alongside the Canna and £6.3 million for two ro-ro ferries. There seems to have been little public discussion about these new ferries and DRD seems reluctant to publish the capital spending in its corporate and business plans. Then there's the conundrum of tenderers being told that there would be no capital spending on ferries or on alterations to harbour facilities.

The Committee noted the reduced requirements of some £0.7m Capital Grant arising from a saving made when awarding the new contract to operate the ferry service to Rathlin Island.

Are no members of the DRD committee challenging the contradictions in the Rathlin ferry contract process? If there was to be no capital spend how could there be a saving? If the new operator is to supply the catamaran what happens to the £1.2 million in the DRD Rathlin ferry budget?

There's talk of £150,000(?) being spent on alterations at Rathlin harbour: a new pontoon and deepening of the harbour entrance. Which parties have been privy to these negotiations and which have been left out in the cold?

[to mbogey re. willie vernon/semour sweeny vessel (sic) - Any information which sheds some light on this bizarre story is very much appreciated]

Photos and Documents