Wednesday, 30 December 2009

DRD, Translink and Beyond Beyond the Pale

Zones of Inequality

The Department for Regional Development (DRD) currently has a Public Transport Reform Consultation,
Equality Impact Assessment document [pdf format] out for consultation.

3.10 .. to provide additional transport services across our vast rural communities in line with the Minister’s objective of tackling regional disparities and promoting
equality of service.

Perhaps the Minister ought to have a look at the iLink 'smart' card scheme:

iLink is the new integrated smartcard from Translink which provides unlimited day, weekly or monthly bus and rail travel within 3 specified zones across Northern Ireland.

The Pale or #1 Zone is essentially Belfast. Those who wish to venture out into the jungle north of Glengormley are in Beyond the Pale or #2 Zone. Those with more money than sense have entered Beyond Beyond the Pale or #3 Zone as they've sped beyond Antrim. The zones are Belfast centric and Translink have provided
a simple calculator to help the traveller work out how much they will be stung.

A card for unlimited daily travel in the comfort of #1 Zone costs £5, for a little less comfort #2 Zone costs £9 and for the rocky road/track experience #3 Zone costs £15.

To get a measure of the inequality Derriaghy to Dundonald and back via the Belfast City Hall is a distance of about 22 miles for £5 in #1 Zone. The less fortunate who do the three mile round trip from Holywood to Cultra are in #2 Zone so they may have a cheaper option than the £9 one. Give a thought for those circling the 11 miles Coleraine triangle all day long, clockwise or anti-clockwise, for the princely sum of £15.

Folks in Derry/Londonderry are paying up to three times as much for a similar but possibly worse public service. Forty years ago there would have indignant protests against such blatant discrimination but not now.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Mallow, County Cork, and the Pig Farmer

Nevin's tale about the whiskey factory reminded me of an encounter my friend Marie and I once had in Co Cork.

Many years ago on my first trip to Ireland (1992) I was driving down around Mallow with my friend and we were trying to find a farm. And why we were actually looking for this particular farm was that my friend Marie and I had stopped at the East Clare Heritage Centre to do some research into her family history. At the centre we were told about the farm and that descendants of the family (that Marie was related too) still farmed there.

So off we drove to search out this farm, and getting hopelessly lost, we saw a pig farmer and stopped to ask more directions to the farm. The more he tried to explain the less we understood (mostly due to his accent and decision to keep giving us the shortest way to the farm). In the end he said, “What the hell I’m not doing anything?” and got in the back of the car to guide us there. We certainly knew he was a pig farmer - from the smell in the back of the car I was really sure he had a couple of pigs under his coat! - and opened all the windows but he guided us to the farm and wouldn’t stay and let us drive him back, choosing to walk back instead!

The owners of the farm walked out their door and we assumed just to see who had arrived at their home, but we were greeted with, “So you be the girls from Australia!” Apparently the lady at the East Clare Heritage Centre that we had originally spoken to had phoned ahead and told them to expect us. We were flabbergasted. They immediately took us inside where we found they had laid a table of tea and sweets in preparation for our arrival!!

Marie still keeps in touch with her distant family and, honestly, if the farmer hadn’t helped us I’m sure we would never have found the place. I’ve never forgotten the help this farmer gave us so I know that the tourists you helped will always remember what you did.


Jennie Fairs.

NALIL co-ord, AU

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Rathlin and Cape Clear Ferry Problems Continue

The Department for Regional Development (DRD) in Belfast and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (DCRGA) in Dublin as well as other government agencies cannot be too comfortable with the negative publicity that continues to surround Rathlin Island Ferry Limited (RIFL) and its sister company, Tithe Saoire Chléire Teo, in Cape Clear, Co Cork.

News emanating from DCRGA sources indicates that Tithe Saoire Chléire Teo is pulling out of the Cape Clear Ferry contract from 28 February 2010. I understand that RIFL may also be facing an industrial tribunal in the spring. I'm told that the DCRGA could find itself in the High Court in 2010 following a legal challenge to another ferry contract award.

The much vaunted Rathlin Express catamaran seems to have spent much of its time tied up in Rathlin harbour; it's also been to Moville twice, Coleraine once and on recent overnight trips to and from the Arklow dockyard where it was built. Perhaps proper assessments should have been made prior to the acceptance of a tender about the suitability of such a vessel for the year round operation on the turbulent waters of Rathlin Sound.

One year on and the Committee for Regional Development has yet to scrutinise the December 2008 report into certain aspects of the awarding of the Rathlin ferry contract. Perhaps the hold-up is caused by the associated EU Commission inquiry into the same contract. The December report has been found not to be water-tight so that could also have added to the delay. Some of the documentation being processed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Department for Transport looks a bit dodgy to say the least. Shadows on copied documents would indicate that perhaps key information has been deliberately blanked out. Perhaps all will become clearer when the EU Commission and the CRD have done their work.


This story has also been published in emara News.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Bushmills and the Whiskey Factory

It was an icy cold day today. I needed some food supplies and I didn't know how treacherous the roads might be so me and Finn set off for Bushmills on the tractor. Conditions weren't too bad and it seemed a thaw had set in.

A car coming from the direction of Bushmills pulled up ahead of us. A side window was lowered and a young man of oriental appearance spoke:

Is this the road to the whiskey factory?

No. There's nothing of interest that way.

Well I suppose there might be the odd illicit poitín still on the foothills of the Antrim Hills but I wasn't going to tell him one of Northern Ireland's closely guarded secrets, was I?



I tried giving him some directions but after a few attempts it was obvious that he was only getting more confused so, to coin a phrase, I said, "Follow me". After a six-point turn and nearly getting stuck on the banking he and his companions followed me to the town.

When we reached the distillery car-park, I pointed to the whiskey factory, he gave me the thumb's up and we waved each other good-bye.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Freedom of Information Disclosures not Fully Redacted

Back in September 2008 I blogged a story about Government officials' inability to properly redact personal details from documents that are released following Freedom of Information requests.

For example, the Department of Culture Media and Sport placed online some documents it had released that related to the Giants Causeway World Heritage site. DCMS removed the personal information following a request submitted by Jim Allister MEP but the information had by that time found its way into Google cache. After a follow-up request DCMS arranged with Google for the cached material to be removed from the public domain. That you might imagine should have been the end of the problem. But no.

The DCMS material in PDF format is currently visible in the National Archive's web archives. When you open a document the correspondence appears with the personal details blacked out. However, when you click to view the PDF document as a text file the personal details are there for all to see!!

Update April 20, 2011

It seems the electronic redaction 'disease' has reached epidemic proportions :L


Thursday, 17 December 2009

NALIL Blogger on Route 66

I've just passed another milestone - my 65th birthday!! I thought I'd try out one of my new found freedoms/privileges this morning - pensioners rates. The admission charge to one of our local attractions is adults £2, pensioners £1. So I put my £1 coin on the counter and proudly boasted that I had just become a pensioner - well, officially anyway. She reached the coin back and said, "Here's your birthday present!!". Isn't that nice?

Two days ago I got a call from Agnes, one of the local members of NALIL - see banner above. Could we meet to celebrate my special event? I got a real surprise when I arrived at her home this morning. Agnes had contacted other members of the group in secret and, when I opened the box, inside were cards from members in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well as from here in North Antrim. I was gobsmacked. I'm often at risk of having my gob smacked but that's another story! Many thanks to one and all.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Bushmills - Kiss the Causey

New road signs in the Scots tongue are sprouting up in the western end of the Kingdom of Moyle. I notice that some local folks are using Scots words in their online social network messages, probably not knowing the words' origins. It'll probably be awhile before these newly translated names find their way into the satellite navigation systems :)

Dictionary of the Scots Language

Irish dictionary online

The Isle Road runs south from the Whitepark Road to the Islandranny Road, passes close to Islandcorr and Araboy Isle and ends up in the Islands of Carnmoon. This sign is at McKenzie's Cross, at the junction of the Isle and Straid Roads. Inch is Scots for a small island. The Irish form is Bóthar an Oileáin.

The Feigh Road runs north from Dunseverick School on the Whitepark Road to the Causeway Road. I've not heard this road called Plantin Road. The A2 running north out of Bushmills - up the Plantin Brae - passes through 'the Plantin', a plantation of trees on the Dundarave Estate. The Irish form is Bóthar na Faiche (faiche = lawn, green)

The Causeway Road runs from the Smuggler's Inn on the Whitepark Road round by the Giant's Causeway, Dunseverick Castle and back on to the Whitepark Road. Causey is Scots for a causeway. The Irish form is Bóthar an Chlocháin.

to kiss the causey, to 'come a cropper', to meet defeat

causey clash, --- tales, street talk; gossip

cawsey dancer, 'a gadabout, one who is continually in the street'

Runkerry Road loops off the Causeway Road by the miniature railway station. Swelch is Scots for a whirlpool and Heidlan for a headland or point. The Irish form is Bóthar Rinn Chaorach (Rinn Chaorach (?), 'headland of sheep')

Castlenagree Road runs north from Twaddle's Cross on the Straid Road up the east side of the Dundarave Estate to the Whitepark Road at Ballyallaght. The Irish form is Bóthar Chaiseal na Graí (Caiseal na Graí, 'the stone-fort of the horse stud') Cuddy is Scots for donkey, ass or, occasionally, a small horse.

"Ye're a bonnie pair," as the cuddie said when it saw its lugs in the mill-dam.

A cuddy's gallop's sune done.

Clogher Road runs east from the Castlenagree Road across the Straid Road and on to the Isle Road. Stany is Scots for stony. The Irish form is Bóthar an Chlochair (Clochar, 'stony ground, stone building, convent' or Cloch Óir, 'stone of gold')

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Ballycastle Heroes 1914-1918 - Request for Help

Robert Thompson has already published stories about those who died in the Great War centred on several towns and villages along the north coast of Ireland.

He is currently compiling information for a book about Ballycastle and District and would love to hear from anyone with connections in that part of Co Antrim extending from Ballintoy to Cushendall and who has access to a range of memorabilia: photos, letters, certificates, medals, etc.

Robert can be contacted at 9 Riverside Road, Bushmills BT57 8TP, telephone: 028 2073 2875,

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Concern Over Stability of Rathlin Ferry Service?

My attention has been drawn to the following item of news on the Rathlin Development and Community Association website:

The RDCA will be holding meetings with the Department of Regional Development (DRD) this Friday 27th November about the ferry service, and with Moyle District Council and the DRD on Monday 30th November about the proposed harbour bye-laws.

Couldn't all RDCA and DRD business have been done on the same day? What exactly are the problems with the much heralded new Arklow built and Scottish designed catamaran, the Rathlin Express? It seems to have spent more time out of service than in since it's scheduled start of service at the beginning of July.

The history link on the Ship AIS website shows that it arrived late, frequently operated below its expected cruising speed, traveled to Moville (or nearby) (twice) and Coleraine, and appears to have been tied up in Rathlin Harbour since October 1. Photos show that it was on the quayside in Coleraine and Ballycastle and a Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesman said that there was damage to the catamaran's skegs. Was the damage accidental? Are there design flaws? Is such a vessel suited to the rigours of Rathlin Sound? What were the divers looking for when they they examined the catamaran in Rathlin harbour a few days ago?

Even though the catamaran has been out of service for nearly two months it would appear that DRD has not been closely monitoring information supplied to potential customers on the ferry operator's website about the vessel's availability. Presumably DRD has given the operator advice about necessary website information.

Have the RDCA and the Committee for Regional Development (CRD) been briefed about the EU Commission investigation into certain aspects of the awarding of the Rathlin ferry contract in 2008?

Doreen Brown updated WBR [on 16 October 2009] on an EU query regarding the awarding of the Rathlin Ferry contract. [pdf file]

There's still no sign of CRD scrutiny of the Rathlin ferry investigations report that was published in December 2008. When I spoke to the CRD chairman some weeks ago about a scheduled date for scrutiny I was told that they were waiting for the Minister - whatever that means.

In answer to your question about the Rathlin Express catamaran I can confirm that it has a valid passenger certificate.

Peter Cardy, MCA CEO, 26 Oct 2009

It's still not clear whether the new catamaran was issued with a full year certificate or if it's a provisional short term certificate with limitations as to use and what those limitations might be. Perhaps all will become clearer when the Ministry for Transport provides copies of current certificates for vessels plying the Ballycastle-Rathlin route.

Memories and Ownership of Quay Road Hall, Ballycastle

I recently received a copy of a document that discusses aspects of the ownership of the hall on Ann Street, Ballycastle, as well as the hall's role in the social life of Ballycastle and District. I've published it on Scribd.

I understand earlier NALIL blogs have been of great interest to parishioners in the Church of Ireland Parish of Ramoan. It's likely that the possible disposal of the parish's Quay Road Hall, even its potential demolition, will be of great interest to the Diocese of Connor's Diocesan Education Board as well as to local people for whom the hall has been a great social landmark.

The late Hugh Alexander Boyd, who specialised in the history of the Church of Ireland parish of Ramoan, wrote that the land on which the hall is built was vested in the Diocesan Board of Education by a deed dated 11th November 1895. The terms of this document established a perpetual trust for “certain particular charitable objects”, namely an infant’s school.

By 1933 the hall was completed, providing a venue, in the Diocesan Education Board’s words 'for every form of parochial activity that can be directed for the moral physical and spiritual uplift of our young people'.

Thus complying with the terms of the Charitable Trust of 1895.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Not Marconi's Cottage - The Sequel

The historic cottage on the old coalyard premises at 40 Carrickmore Road, Ballycastle, has been reduced to a pile of rubble.

It would appear that BTW Cairns, the estate agents, Povall Worthington, the architects, and elements of the mainstream media have misled the public about the historic nature of the site. Was the buyer informed or did the buyer check the site's real history?


Located on the County Antrim coastline near Ballycastle, a two storey replacement dwelling is proposed on this dramatic 18 acre site.

A floor area of 2,500sqft is proposed and glazed facades provide excellent views over the surrounding sea & coastline. Image five shows the existing cottage property.

This property has received much attention from the media, being featured in numerous newspapers & online, including the Belfast Telegraph, Irish Examiner & BBC News.

BBC: "It was the Irish home of a wireless pioneer and has now gone on the market for £400,000. .. Just the spot for an inventor to quietly tinker with electromagnetic waves [Quite. Is this an advert or a news item?] .. The site has full planning consent for a replacement home [Ah, yes. So the Planning Service gave permission for the demolition of a building of global significance? Surely not]

UTV: "The seafront home on Northern Ireland's North Antrim coast was owned by the family of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Guglielmo Marconi and it was from there in 1898 he sent transmissions to the nearby Rathlin Island." [attributed to Press Association]

David Young, Press Association: "The seafront home on Northern Ireland's North Antrim coast was owned by the family of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Guglielmo Marconi and it was there in 1898 he sent transmissions to the nearby Rathlin Island.

Sitting on the rocks at Ballycastle with a spectacular view out to sea, the property was always expected to fetch a hefty price, but with its added historic significance the selling agent believes it will reach upwards of £400,000."

Irish Examiner: "Broadcast it far and wide, Marconi Cottage is for sale on Antrim coast .. Up for sale near Ballycastle, in north Co Antrim, is Marconi Cottage, a 19th century seaside stunner with a direct link to the great man of wireless, radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi."

So what will be the next mainstream media headline? "Roads Service Allows 'Public Road' To Be Sealed Off"? "Private v Public Space on the Causeway Coast - Winners and Losers"

Monday, 12 October 2009

Moyle Council - Party in the Parlour?

Although Moyle District Council has a chairman rather than a mayor it does have a Mayor's Parlour. Occasionally the chairman is mistakenly referred to as the mayor, even by the office holder. I understand some councillors retire to the Mayor's Parlour for a 'snifter' after the conclusion of formal council business ie to wet their whistles.

I'm told that members of a political party assembled in the Mayor's Parlour recently, presumably for some sort of social gathering even though such facilities, presumably, are not designated for party political purposes. Perhaps councillors and/or officials can provide some clarification.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Stormont and the Mystery of Room 401

Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust
The Thursday Club
Room 401

We contribute regularly as speakers on Common Purpose training programmes, and corporately Stratagem is represented on the board of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust by Katherine McDonald and the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce Council by Gráinne Walsh.
Stratagem, We are Northern Ireland's First Dedicated Lobbying Company

I should imagine that few people will have heard of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust (NIABT).

As an independent, neutral and self-financing educational charity, NIABT organises programmes for Assembly Members and Business representatives involving exchanges, seminars, visits and fellowship placements.

NIABT looks more like a networking club for parliamentarians and businessmen than a charity, an old boys and girls club. Have any of its members, past and present, or their clients received government funding or been awarded or sought government contracts?

The Charity Commission/Charities Act 2006 definition of charitable purposes

Charitable purposes can be grouped under four main headings: the relief of financial hardship; the advancement of education; the advancement of religion; certain other purposes for the benefit of the community.

In all cases it is essential that the purposes are also for the public benefit. This means it is for the benefit of the community (or a significant section of it). ...

In general, a purpose is not charitable if it is mainly for the benefit of a named person or specific individuals. It will also not be charitable if the people who will benefit from it are defined by a personal or contractual relationship with each other. For example, if the beneficiaries are related or connected to the person who is setting up the charity, or where they are defined by common employment or by membership of a non-charitable body, for example, members of a professional institute.

Is NIABT self-financing as claimed? According to the membership form, business fees range from £50 to £1,250, depending on company turnover. I can find no mention of fees for the Munificent Seven Parliamentarians or for the Trades Union representative who sit on the NIABT's Board of Trustees. Also, I can only see three of the seven names on the MLA Register of Interests.

Mr Butler: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Since devolution, a total of £45,299·45 has been spent on visits by MLAs on behalf of the Assembly Commission, the Assembly Business Trust and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

So the taxpayer makes a contribution to the 'self-financing' NIABT. Does the Trust pay for the use of Room 401 and any associated administrative services or is that also billed to the taxpayer?

The NIABT Newsletter III contains the following reference to Declan O'Loan, member of the Board of Trustees and North Antrim MLA:

As part of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust’s Fellowship Programme, Declan O’Loan MLA spent a day at Mivan Ltd., specialists in bespoke interiors, property development and contracting.

Declan found the experience to be very worthwhile, commenting that ‘It gave [him] an excellent insight into a very successful company at the high end of the construction industry’. Declan has expressed an interest in undertaking further Fellowship schemes.

The membership form asserts that NIABT is non-partisan and non-lobbying yet there would appear to be excellent opportunities for, er, lobbying.

Adds October 9

There would appear to be opportunities for hospitality too. Imagine not knowing whether you're in Belfast or Birmingham - without the Charltons on a leash :)

Northern Ireland Assembly Business Trust

Rt. Hon. Lord Mandelson, First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills, Lord President of the Council
Birmingham, 06 February 2009

Mr Speaker, Minister, Members of the Assembly, Ladies and Gentlemen, first let me begin by saying how honoured and chuffed I am to be here.
I loved my time here and always wanted to return.
It was Harry Truman, who advised “If you want a friend in politics get yourself a dog.”
And some of you may be disappointed, or perhaps - depending on your own memories of meeting them - a little relieved to see I’m not joined tonight by Bobby and Jack, the two dogs that accompanied me for so much of my time here as Secretary of State.

Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust - Roles and responsibilities of the NI Assembly - a one day conference

SPBE, the Scottish version of NIABT.

Monday, 28 September 2009

'Marconi Cottage' Gaffe?

A current advertisement on the BTW Cairns property website contains questionable information, information that could well affect the value of the property.

Steeped in heritage set on the foreshore on the north Antrim coast. In May 1898, Guglielmo Marconi resided at Marconi's Cottage, and the house was used to carry out some of the earliest radio transmissions to and from Rathlin Island. Marconi's Cottage is positioned on the foreshore, with direct access to the sea.

Where's the research that would substantiate such a claim?

An historian who has researched the short Marconi visit to Ballycastle says:

This property [at the end of the Carrickmore Road] has no historical connection whatsoever with the pioneer of radio. Mr Marconi visited Ballycastle for three days in 1898 during which time, according to his diary, he visited Rathlin Island and the wireless station his colleagues set up at Humphries' coalyard (now a slot machine parlour) on Bayview Rd, at the Quay in Ballycastle. The sending and receiving equipment was set up in the corner bedroom at Mr Greer's house on North Street. In fact Mr Kemp complained of catching a cold due to having the window continually open to accommodate the wires. The aerial was hung from the spire of St Patrick's and St Brigid's chapel spire and carried across to a spar on the clifftop.

The National Trust coastal path provides a pleasant walk to Fairhead.

Indeed. So what exactly is the reason behind putting up a fence on the seaward side of the road and removing the fence on the landward side [landward fence renewed - see image at top]? Is there an intention to block off a section of the road for the benefit of the new owner and with no regard for those who already use the road? Has the Planning Service given permission for the erection of the fence, especially at those points where walkers would have gone down onto the rocks?

I'm told that the boundary on the seaward side of the property should stop at the high water mark whereas the map boundary encroaches on the rocks and therefore quite possibly onto the Crown Estate. Was this map authenticated and accepted by the local planning service? Is the map up-to-date?

Click images to enlarge

A section of the Williamson 1790 colliery map shows the tramroad to the collieries, evidence of a highway and public right of way since that time. The location of the cottage is marked by a red arrow. The old name for the cottage is "Old Salt Pans". It was also one of Hugh Boyd's colliery 'watch houses'; also called "Ca' the coals" and "The Old Coalyard" - hence the initial confusion between it and Humphries' old coalyard at the Quay in Ballycastle.

Adds Sep 29

I'm told that the details of this story were raised at Monday night's meeting of Moyle District Council and that a council official has been delegated to make further inquiries.

Kevin McAuley's Letter to the Editor re. 'Marconi's Cottage'.

Adds Oct 1

Perhaps December 29, 2008 wasn't the best time to grant planning permission for a replacement dwelling at 40 Carrickmore Road, Ballycastle. How else could the Planning Service have missed the declaration that there was no public right of way adjoining the site when a public road is clearly marked on the deeds map above? And then there's the mystery within the related Moyle Council minutes:

Ms McMath stated that this application was recommended for refusal due to the application being contrary to Policy CTY1 no justification for the replacement of this vernacular building and 5 of PPS14, no justification for the replacement of the building, worthy of retention and unacceptable visual impact.

I can find no explanation in the council minutes for the about turn or any follow-up on the one month deferral.

Now that the property has been extended is the erection of a fence topped with barbed wire on the seaward side of the public road not a breach of the conditions imposed? There were to be inter alia no fences 'other than those as approved by this consent or as may be agreed by the Department'. The purpose of the conditions was to 'preserve the character of the area', an area that I'm told lies within the Ballycastle Coalfields SSI. Photographs submitted with the original planning application show no previous fence on that side of the road.

Adds Oct 4

Why has a style been added to the new fence on the landward side of the public road? Do the pebbles beside it represent the beginning of a path to by-pass the public road? Did the pebbles come from the beach below the road? The recent marks on the track down to the beach would appear to match those adjacent to the cottage.

Adds Oct 6

Povall Worthington's 'Marconi Cottage'

This appears to be a recently modified website yet the historical inaccuracy has not been corrected and the barbed and sheep wire fence plus style added.

Perhaps we should 'congratulate' BTW Cairns and Povall Worthington for highlighting the Planning Service's permission to demolish such a world renowned building and its callous disregard for the heritage of the Kingdom of Moyle. And why were Moyle councillors and officials apparently asleep at their posts on 22 December 2008 [DOC file]? Or had they retired to the Mayor's Parlour early? ;)

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Bushmills - Another Day, Another Minister

Plus ça change…

It seems like only yesterday that Sammy Wilson, the then Minister of the Environment, was walking the main street of Bushmills, the Gateway to the Causeway, with its boarded up windows, abandoned partially constructed properties and weed strewn pavements.

Yesterday it was the turn of the new Minister, Edwin Poots. The questions remained much the same. "Why has the centre of the town been allowed to get into such a dilapidated state?"; "Why haven't the partially constructed new wooden structures been pulled down?"; "What is the Minister going to do about those who purchase properties, board them up and leave them to decay?" Funnily enough, I didn't spot any likely developers in the entourage.

Click photos to enlarge

The Minister appeared bemused and perhaps his mind was on other things. There are rumours circulating that the introduction of the Super Councils may be delayed and that elections to the current district councils may be held in May 2010.

I'm sure my contacts in Ballycastle would like me to remind the Minister about plans which could radically alter the Diamond's centrepiece: the Boyd Church and its environs.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Moyle District Council, Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd and Berthing Fees

Is Moyle District Council (MDC) onto a nice little earner at the moment? Do they not get enough money from ratepayers without acquiring more via the taxpayer subsidy to Rathlin Island Ferry Limited (RIFL)?

I'm told that the Canna, St Sorney and Rathlin Express are berthed in Rathlin harbour and the Coll is berthed at the old quay in Ballycastle harbour.

Talking of Rathlin, the Committee for Regional Development (CRD) is scheduled to travel to Rathlin tomorrow (Wednesday, September 23) to meet the Rathlin Development and Community Association (RDCA).

Will the CRD be explaining to the RDCA and to the general public why it still hasn't reviewed the Investigation into the Procurement of the Rathlin Ferry Service, December 2008, report (almost 700 reads)? Will it be asking the RDCA and MDC why there appear to be no councillors on RDCA, an organisation that handles significant amounts of public funds?

Will CRD be asking RIFL why the company operated the Canna at the beginning of September, 2008, with an invalid passenger certificate and, presumably, void insurance? Will the CRD be asking the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) if it passed this information to the relevant section of the Department for Regional Development? Peter Cardy, MCA Chief Executive, has admitted that the certificate was invalid, a point that was drawn to the attention of the investigators above but one which they failed to establish in their £55,000 report.

Will CRD also be asking why only £700,000 of the £1.2 million budgeted for a short term passenger only ferry (but not mentioned to all of the tenderers - or perhaps any of the tenderers - in the tendering process) has been returned by DRD? Will it seek out the Mystic Meg who apparently anticipated that £1.2 million would be the approximate cost of the new catamaran? Do any other Government departments avail of the services of Mystic Meg?

And will CRD be asking why the Tender Evaluation Panel (TEP) contained folks who were intimately involved with tenderers in the procurement process? Surely, TEP should have been independent.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Minister 'captured' in Moyle


Adds Sept 30

Cara McShane, Moyle Council chairman, had this to say:

On Wednesday 9th September**, I was honored to be invited to the official launch of the new catamaran ferry between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island. Although there were many potholes on the journey over to Rathlin, .... Daithí's blog

[** 999?]

Seems that Cara missed the formal dress wear part of the invitation that I received personally from one of the company directors and this latest revelation won't endear her to the DRD press office which seems keen to put the best possible spin on news about the Rathlin ferry.

Conor Murphy, Minister for Regional Development, also seems keen to hide behind the words of Lord Adonis rather than shed light on the role played by his officials in last September's operation of the MV Canna with an invalid passenger certificate and, presumably, void insurance.

Perhaps the Minister could also explain precisely what his department's stance is on the purchase of ferries - we've had YES, NO, YES - and why the Small Ferries Project team seems deficient in folks who actually operate ferry services and why all lifeline services across the UK and Ireland aren't part of the study. Some ferry operators appear not to have been told about this past Tuesday's event in Brussels.

Maybe the folks at CMAL will present the Minister with an SFP monogrammed tie - and a copy of their own press release.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Bushmills Riverbank

Some visitors to Bushmills tonight liked this photo so I said I would put it on NALIL blog. There are some more images on the Tom from Turfahun photostream.

Click to enlarge images

Meanwhile over on Main Street who should we point the finger at for the Conservation Zone mess?

Monday, 7 September 2009

Rathlin - The Man in the Calmac Jacket

Where Yellow and Blue Make Green

Is this a secret EU mission to Rathlin Island to discuss the price of fish? Where's the customary DUP press release?

Diane Dodds, MEP, and Mervyn Storey, MLA, are on tour with a gentleman wearing what I'm told is a Calmac jacket, an item of protective wear supplied by the company that used to provide the ferry service to Rathlin Island.

Might he be the chair of the Rathlin Development and Community Association? Might he also be one of the skippers of the new but troubled RIFL catamaran, the Rathlin Express?

Ballycastle's New Dry Dock
8 September 2009

The Rise and Fall

'Lifeline service suspended?' and other photos - click here

The Great Rathlin Drought of 2009?

The Irish News ran a story last week entitled "Water shipped to island".

Here are some snippets from the September 2 article:

"NORTHERN Ireland Water (NIW) faced a wave of criticism last night after it emerged that it had been forced to ship thousands of gallons of water to residents of Rathlin Island."

"In 2004 ... a £400,000 mains water supply came into service."

[Was that the budgeted figure? Did the project not go over budget?]

"Over the August 31 bank holiday weekend NIW prepared for increased tourist numbers by shipping extra water to the island." ... NIW spokeswoman

[Has extra water been shipped at other periods of peak demand?]

"I’ve been told by residents on Rathlin that the pump from the island’s bore-well failed and that people were left without running water for large parts of the last two days," .. Cathal Newcombe, SF councillor

“Over the August bank holiday weekend a technical problem was identified with pumps on Rathlin Island.

“This resulted in the intermittent loss of supplies to a few customers directly linked to the pump.

“NIW provided bottled water to the properties affected where appropriate.” .. NIW spokeswoman

No mention has been made of an earlier problem with the newish Rathlin water supply:

Rathlin Island

8 January 2007 - incident lasted for three days

"Coliform bacteria failures in final waters at the water treatment works, service reservoir and in the water supply zone. Investigation by NI Water was unable to identify a specific reason."

Do the Rathlin boreholes have sufficient current capacity to meet the needs of the islanders, the tourists and the animals? There's been plenty of rain but is it getting through to the boreholes?

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Gipsy Rose Lee and the Rathlin Ferry

A recent Department for Regional Development weekly business review was given the following briefing on July 17, 2009:

6.1 Public Transport
Doreen Brown confirmed that the new catamaran was now being used between Ballycastle and Rathlin Island.

Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd website tells a different and contradictory story:

The new boat "Rathlin Express" began on July 18th with a full compliment on her first trip! 97 pax + 3 crew!

The catamaran promised for July 1 went into service almost three weeks late and has been out of action on at least three four occasions since then, sometimes for several days at a time.

I received a 'catamaran broken down' text message on Monday, July 27, and the St Sorney was also acting as relief vessel on the following day. According to the Grapevine, the catamaran overheated and had to return to Rathlin. Did the driver forget to go through the proper procedures and fail to turn on the water supply to the engines?

The catamaran is timetabled to do the journey in twenty minutes but seemed at times to be taking over thirty minutes. Ship ais website shows that the catamaran travelled to Moville on Tuesday, August 4, and returned to Rathlin on Friday, August 7. A Moyle council official said new propellers were fitted, presumably to enhance the craft's speed.

The catamaran returned to Moville on Monday, August 17, and then travelled to Coleraine harbour the following day where it was hoisted onto the quayside. A Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesman said that this was done so that repairs could be made to the skegs. Did the catamaran ground or was there another reason for the damage?

I'm told that there is to be a special ceremony this Wednesday at 10am in Ballycastle to herald the arrival of the new vessel followed by lunch on Rathlin Island.

Perhaps the organisers will be consulting with Gipsy Rose Lee to find out whether or not the catamaran will be available for the special crossing.

Adds September 7

Rathlin island boat delayed by an hour grrr mechanical failure

11:20 AM Sep 5th from TweetDeck

It was the express which was out of service

[about 10pm Sep 6th from TweetDeck]

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Rathlin Ferry Contract: EU, UK and DRD

The EU Commission has recently stated that it is still awaiting a UK reply to a complaint that is being processed under the EU PILOT fast-track procedure. A reply was expected within ten weeks of the complaint being received by the relevant UK authority.

An MLA informed NALIL that s/he was briefed privately by a Stormont civil servant about the Commission intervention.

A query was subsequently put to Conor Murphy, DRD Minister, on NIcrunchtalk and the following DRD answer was forwarded to NALIL by NIcrunchtalk's Joanne Stuart on June 18:

The other outstanding question was regarding the EU investigation. The department's response is:

"The Department has not been contacted by the European Commission and is not aware of any investigation being carried out by the Commission into the Rathlin Ferry Contract."

How strange. The MLA has since confirmed that the earlier private briefing came from a DRD official!!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Travellers Leave Their Mark On Quay Road Playing Fields, Ballycastle

Moyle District Council appears to have a certain fondness for bollards but it left a weak link in the protection of its playing fields at Quay Road, Ballycastle. Presumably payment for the resulting damage will be added to the rates bill or council services will have to be pruned.

Discontent in Ballycastle Parish of Ramoan

August 30, 2009 - final Sunday morning service in St James?

Discontent in the Church of Ireland Parish of Ramoan.

The place of worship for parishioners of Ramoan Parish has been in the vicinity of the present Parish Church of St James for at least four hundred years. The graves in the old churchyard are witness to the fact that generations of Ballycastle people have worshipped there.

Over the last seven years there have been reports of growing discontent within the parish which has led to many parishioners reluctantly leaving their spiritual home, including some who had given dedicated service for many years.

Objections to the Select Vestry’s* decision to sell off Glebe lands was one notable cause of dissent, another has been the drive to ‘modernise’ the church, demonstrated through expenditure which some parishioners thought was an unnecessary waste of hard earned parish funds.

Recently published plans to develop Holy Trinity Church as the new parish centre have exposed a continuing split between some parishioners and the Vestry committee. Many who have been disdainfully referred to as ‘the old guard’ are upset by proposals to abandon St James. Some who voiced objections were told it was nothing to do with them as they don’t go there any more. Yet they still pay their tithes to Ramoan Parish.

“He who pays the piper....?”

Sales of property and recent very generous bequests have produced a substantial fund which many parishioners feel should be spent at St James. Some parishioners allege promises to maintain and retain St James as the parish church are being broken, especially when they hear such statements as “we can’t maintain two churches” and “St James can be pulled down to extend the burying ground”.

Discontent among the remaining congregation has reached the stage where there was a recent vociferous exchange of views after Sunday morning service. This was followed by a hastily called parish meeting which turned out to be a very unsuccessful attempt to quell the discontent among parishioners who do NOT want to see their parish church of St James at Ramoan abandoned. Clearly there is a reluctance to realise the strength of feeling against such a move.

Many parishioners at the meeting also reportedly expressed annoyance at getting parish news from the media instead of from their own representatives on the Select Vestry Committee.

No strangers to the sacrifices made in the defence of democracy, the congregation’s wish to stay at Ramoan should not be ignored by their current representatives on the Select Vestry.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from their neighbours at the Corrymeela Centre of Reconciliation and Matthew 18:12-13, Luke 15:4-6.

* a select number of persons chosen to represent and manage the concerns of the parish for one year.