Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Rathlin and Cape Clear Ferries II

Ringing the Changes

It's recently been announced that Ciaran O'Driscoll, who established Rathlin Island Ferry Limited [RIFL] in 2008 to operate the Rathlin-Ballycastle Ferry service, is withdrawing from the Cape Clear - Baltimore service at the end of February. Shortly afterwards, he is due to appear before an industrial tribunal that is dealing with the dismissal of a former member of staff on the Rathlin route.

The Cape Clear service is to be run by the present operator of the Cailin Oir, a competitor on the Cape Clear route, for nine months until a new contract can be awarded.

O'Driscoll's company Tithe Saoire Chléire Teo won the five year Irish government subsidised contract on the Co Cork route in 2007 but in a TG4 news programme on 28 January past O'Driscoll claimed: "The service was losing money from the beginning". [translation]

Such a claim may well cause consternation in the Department for Regional Development and Department for Finance and Personnel in Belfast as they seem to have awarded the Rathlin contract to O'Driscoll in 2008 apparently without carrying out an in depth check on O'Driscoll's financial status and demanding fully audited accounts.

The TG4 programme included footage from the June 2009 dispute between O'Driscoll and his Cape Clear crew in which O'Driscoll asserted: "When they [Cailin Oir] leave Baltimore pier 5 minutes before the Naomh Ciaran 2 with tourists going to the same pier in Cape Clear there is nothing new or original or innovative about this". [translation]

TG4 has since admitted that there was no basis to such an assertion and broadcast an apology to the Cailin Oir's operator.

Meanwhile up in Ballycastle the new Catamaran has come back into service following a prolonged absence and crossing times of between 25 and 30 minutes indicate that it is still struggling to get close to the scheduled 20 minute timetable.

A member of the RIFL staff said that Mary O'Driscoll, one of the RIFL directors, is on holiday until 22 February and that RIFL offices are closed each day from 1.30 to 2.30pm. Are DRD and Moyle District Council satisfied with these arrangements? I'm told that DRD insisted that the previous operator bring in a deputy when the business and engineering manager was on holiday - even when that holiday was on Rathlin! Surprise has also been expressed that the terminal is closed when the booking staff could stagger their lunch breaks.

The UK Treasury was to have responded to the EU Commission's Transport and Environment queries about the 2008 Rathlin ferry contract by 22 December 2009 but there's no news on that front.

Adds February 4

Are two of the RIFL directors away on a winter cruise? If so, who is managing the Rathlin ferry operation seeing that the third director is skippering their Cape Clear ferry?

Éamon Ó Cuív T.D., Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, has announced that he has permitted the company Tithe Saoire Chléire Teo to be released from its contract with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to provide subsidised ferry services to Cléire.

This decision is the result of an application made by the company itself and will be in effect from 28 February 2010. ... Xornal Galicia 04.02.2010

Presumably this press release will appear on the Irish government's website soon.

News of the anticipated pull out was reported in NALIL on 23 December 2009. Are there implications for the Rathlin ferry operation considering the alleged official endorsement of the operator?

The Department of Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs confirmed that in its experience Mr. O'Driscoll was a potential candidate who had done well on other routes .. DRD Independent Investigation par 4.4.3


Adds February 5

I'm also told that in a media interview Minister Ó Cúiv stated that his department did not accept Ciaran O'Driscoll's assertion that the ferry company had been losing money from the beginning. Perhaps it's time that the Minister spelt out what exactly has been going on and why the Stormont administration was given a glowing reference.

Adds February 7

Cailín Óir ferry service press release and the link to the Cork-Swansea ferry service.

Adds February 12

Éamon Ó Cúiv reply to Joanna Tuffy's Cape Clear ferry questions.

The decision to terminate the contract was taken on foot of an application made by the company itself and had regard to my Department’s assessment of the feasibility of seeking to enforce the continuation of the contract or, alternatively, of making other arrangements for the provision of the ferry service.