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