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?

“disqualification”

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.

Enjoy

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 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 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.

Timeline

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.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Discovering Mosside - J D C Marshall

A book for all the villages in Ireland
Review

For years many people have passed through Mosside on the main Coleraine to Ballycastle road with hardly a glance. Recently I came across a new book called Discovering Mosside. I wondered what there was to discover about Mosside that could fill 170 pages. Jon Marshall, the well-known local archaeologist, historian, broadcaster and author has shown that this little place has enormous importance and has featured in the history of Ireland at many of its most significant moments.

Quite rightly (and not surprisingly, given Mr Marshall’s archaeological background) the book begins in the deepest past, with the story of the first settlers in Ireland who provided themselves with food and shelter with nothing except their intelligence, the wood and stones of the place. Some sites at Mosside have been dated to the time of Mountsandel, almost 10,000 years ago.

Despite our modern sophistication, I wondered how many people today could begin to build a life with nothing but the countryside and their wits. The book describes their progress, how they tamed the land and how the population grew as they began the first farming and permanent settlements, shaping the countryside we see today.

More

Discovering Mosside is available from outlets local to Mosside at £10.00 or from J Marshall, Clegnagh House, Mosside, Armoy, Ballymoney BT53 8UB at £13.00 UK post paid. Overseas enquiries are welcome to clegnagh at btopenworld dot com

"Discovering Mosside" - J D C Marshall



A book for all the villages in Ireland

For years many people have passed through Mosside on the main Coleraine to Ballycastle road with hardly a glance. Recently I came across a new book called Discovering Mosside. I wondered what there was to discover about Mosside that could fill 170 pages. Jon Marshall, the well-known local archaeologist, historian, broadcaster and author has shown that this little place has enormous importance and has featured in the history of Ireland at many of its most significant moments.

Quite rightly (and not surprisingly, given Mr Marshall’s archaeological background) the book begins in the deepest past, with the story of the first settlers in Ireland who provided themselves with food and shelter with nothing except their intelligence, the wood and stones of the place. Some sites at Mosside have been dated to the time of Mountsandel, almost 10,000 years ago.

Despite our modern sophistication, I wondered how many people today could begin to build a life with nothing but the countryside and their wits. The book describes their progress, how they tamed the land and how the population grew as they began the first farming and permanent settlements, shaping the countryside we see today.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Freedom of Information Disclosures Have Been 'Googled'

You might imagine that when documents have been released, following a Freedom of Information request, that personal details would always be blanked out. Not so.

Sometimes civil and public servants take the trouble to blank out personal details using, say, non-transparent ink; sometimes they just photocopy the complete document in its original state and pop it in the post or scan it electronically and despatch it as an email attachment.

Sometimes they use software to blank out/redact information electronically before they publish documents on the internet; sometimes these files then go into Google cache unredacted and clicking on 'View in HTML' reveals the document intacta, personal details and all.

You might wonder how widespread these problems are and it's possible that no one can tell you. It's quite likely that many Government and Information Commission officials are blithely unaware of the power of Google and other internet search engines!!

PS Sometimes official documents are sent out by mistake, including documents you wouldn't expect a particular department or, indeed, a particular government to have. But that's a story for another day ...

Adds October 1

Commissioner warns of identity fraud danger

Speaking from the ICO's new office in Belfast city centre, Mr McCrory said that recent blunders – particularly the loss last year of 25 million taxpayer's records by on two discs posted by HMRC – had increased awareness of why it is crucial to protect personal information.

But he said it was concerning that many were still somewhat blasé about to whom they give personal information.

News Letter, 24 September 2008


FoI files are to be 'made public'

ASSEMBLY departments and public bodies will soon be forced to reveal their Freedom of Information (FoI) disclosures on their website.
At present, information released to an individual is not seen by anyone else – unless it is passed to a journalist.

But Aubrey McCrory, who heads up the Information Commissioner's Office in Belfast, said that he now expects public bodies to publish responses to every FoI request on their websites.

News Letter 25 September 2008
Presumably the 'accidental' release of personal information will increase as disclosures are made more widely available.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Rathlin Ferry Contract - The Investigations Begin

The investigations are under way. Paul Priestly has described one of the investigators, Steve Rowsell, as an independent procurement consultant. It would appear that he was 'liberated' from his post as Director of Procurement of the Highways Agency:

Highways Agency faces costs onslaught
16th Feb 2007
A big shake-up is on the cards at the Highways Agency as it prepares to face two damning repaorts due out shortly on massive road building cost overruns.

The Agency has already moved to head-off some of the criticism by making staff changes at the top. It has revealed that major projects director Keith Miller is to leave and procurement director Steve Rowsell left the Agency shortly before Christmas

The changes were provoked by a Commons transport select committee attack in July last year which expressed horror at the agency’s inability to control costs.

Photos and documents;

Adds September 9

Why were the first Rathlin ferry tender documents pruned and who benefited? Which of the two Government departments - DRD and DFP - initiated the pruning and which acquiesced?

Will the investigators be checking out the roles of Ministers and senior Civil Servants or will they limit themselves to the actions of minor officials? Will they be communicating with the Scottish and Irish governments on matters pertaining to them?

Did DRD officials carry out a feasibility study on the suitability of a catamaran on the turbulent seas of Rathlin Sound? Did they read Calmac, catamarans and rough seas?

"It is rarely noted that we already operate a small catamaran between Gourock and Dunoon, and all our experience and that of some Irish Sea operators is that a monohull will continue to run in bad weather when a catamaran has long been tied up due to MCA wave height restrictions."

"These views also seem to ignore the running costs of faster vessels because fuel consumption over water increases exponentially with speed."

The monohulled St Sorney, I'm told, missed an afternoon crossing from Rathlin on Tuesday, September 9, due to rough seas.

Does DRD really intend to introduce two new (£6.3m) monohulled ro-ro ferries on the route and, if so, is the short-term introduction of a catamaran merely a promotional gimic?

Adds September 11

The garbage trucks and yellow ponchos have (re)appeared out of the mist. Do they mirror their predecessors in every respect?

And there are other problems in the world of government tendering ...

Adds September 13

Both visits come after pledges by Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy that the island ferry is not under threat - News Letter


Government ministers and officials may be feeling a bit queasy but I'm unaware of any threat to the life-line ferry service.

[Search blog with 'rathlin ferry' for earlier stories]