Sunday, 28 February 2010

Moyle District Council - Public Art - Private Commission?

Updated March 3

Some friends of mine were a little surprised to see the following project on a Canadian website but not on Moyle Council's own or any North Antrim website:


Moyle District Council wish to appoint an artist to design and arrange the production, delivery and installation of one piece of public art at Ballycastle Harbour and one piece of public art at Rathlin Island Harbour, Ballycastle. It is anticipated that this project will be completed by January 2011.

The budget for the project is GBP100,000. Artists wishing to participate in the contest must submit a Pre-Qualification Response document. The selection of min. five and max. eight artists will be invited to prepare concept sketch designs on the basis of the information given in this document.

Further information and Pre-Qualification Response documents can be obtained by contacting Moyle District Council at:
Ballycastle & Rathlin Public Art, Moyle District Council, Sheskburn House, 7 Mary Street, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, BT54 6QH
T: 0044 (0)28 20762225
E: or
Deadline for submissions: 16 April 2010

This project has previously been reported online in the Ballymoney and Moyle Times.

Shouldn't the council be making this prestigious commission more widely known to local artists? Why not put all of the information online ASAP?

It's mischievously been suggested that MDC could continue to sponsor the arts by commissioning a local version of the successful TV drama "Expenses".

Added March 1 blog has just tweeted the commission. Come on Moyle District Council, where are you? I can find no mention of the commission on the A-N website.

1* Moyle District Council announces public art commission [pdf file]:

AD plus E-Bulletin Re-advertisement

Interesting. When and where was the commission first advertised? Has sufficient time been allocated to advertise the commission and for artists to obtain the necessary documentation from Moyle District Council and submit their proposals?

Friday, 26 February 2010

US Students visit to Corrymeela and Rathlin Island

Voyage Across The Atlantic
26 February 2010

A group of 14 St. Bonaventure University seniors plan to get a taste of Northern Ireland culture and Father Mychal F. Judge, O.F.M.'s spirit of service this upcoming midterm break. ....

The group will begin its trip in Northern Ireland and plans to visit several small communities within the region such as Ballycastle, Sorokes said.

Ballycastle is the home to Corrymeela Community, a Christian retreat center aimed at building peace and reconciling social, religious and political divisions in Northern Ireland.

Sorokes said he believes this experience with the Corrymeela Community will help the students learn methods of reconciliation by meeting with military members, former criminals and refugees, and families affected by the Northern Ireland conflict. ....

The students will perform their required LAP hours by traveling to Rathlin Island, off the coast of Northern Ireland, and cleaning up the beach, which has become a dumping ground over time, Sorokes said.


Thursday, 25 February 2010

Northern Ireland - Holding Government to Account

Staff asked to 'falsify and forge' documents

Published Date: 23 February 2010

SENIOR management at a quango responsible for providing services and equipment at Scotland's health boards ordered staff to falsify, forge and create documents ahead of an external audit, an employment tribunal has heard.

Officials at National Services Scotland (NSS) – a division of the NHS answerable to the Scottish Government – told employees to "do what you have to do" in order to "fill the gaps" in files relating to corporate contracts, it is alleged.

In what was described as a "retro-fitting" exercise, one former manager at the organisation said she was subject to an internal investigation after telling her staff not to carry out the "inappropriate" and "illegal activities".

Read the complete Scotsman article here.

Could this be happening here? What lessons might apply to public authorities in Northern Ireland? Are audit trails and accountability processes sufficiently robust? Does the Northern Ireland Audit Office have the necessary independence to insist on external audits when serious questions are raised, especially about the behaviour of government departments? Are government committees prepared to ask Ministers and senior Civil Servants hard questions or do they sit back and await direction from those they are supposed to hold to account?

Monday, 22 February 2010

Northern Ireland Civil Service and NALIL Blog

[Updated February 26]

Recent prolonged lurking by a few Northern Ireland civil servants on NALIL blog is something of a mystery. Most regular viewers either take a direct feed or find what they want in a minute or two.

Statistics show that from January 22 to February 12 a few NICS computers were monitoring the blog for up to several hours each day. I published these statistics on Scribd on Friday February 12 but not on NALIL blog and lo and behold there was some frantic activity on Monday February 15 and virtually all NICS interest in the blog appeared to evaporate or else went into hiding.

It's my impression that the lurkers were waiting for something to be published. A number of possibilities come to mind. There's been the EU Commission inquiry [ref: 610/09/TREN] into several aspects of the Rathlin ferry contract which began in March 2009, which should have been more or less over in ten weeks of a fast track Pilot process but which has only just been completed.

There's been the publication of the first set of annual accounts by Rathlin Island Ferry Limited (RIFL). The accounts submitted to Companies House have not been audited yet audited accounts were part of the tender specification. Accounts for RIFL sister companies in Cape Clear, Co Cork, for 2001 and 2006 have also raised a few eyebrows. Has NICS been negligent in its evaluation of the financial standing of the RIFL directors and their other companies?

I'm told that two of the RIFL directors have been on annual leave whilst the third is skippering their Cape Clear ferry. The directors are giving up this service at the end of February allegedly because it has never made money, a claim apparently disputed by Ireland's DCRGA, the body that provides the subsidy.

The directors are also scheduled to appear before an industrial tribunal in Belfast at the beginning of March following their decision to dispense with the position of business and engineering manager on the Rathlin ferry route in the autumn of 2008. This begs the question, "Who has been managing the Rathlin service with the necessary qualifications whilst the directors have been absent?". Also, why is the ferry terminal closed for lunch when the administrative staff could take a staggered break?

The new catamaran, the Rathlin Express, finally went back into service on January 27 [hist]. The vessel has a service speed of 17-18 knots and a top speed of over 20 knots but the Maritime and Coastguard Agency state that the current speed of the vessel through the water is just 13 knots. MCA has yet to indicate whether or not this is a limitation that it has set. If this lower speed is a long term restriction then the timetables will have to be modified to reflect the longer crossing times. MCA was unable to determine the cause of damage to the catamaran's skegs so presumably the risk of further damage remains.

Added February 25 and 26 recorded speeds of 17.5 to 20.7 knots from February 22 to February 25. What explanation can be given for these speeds to and from Rathlin which are well above the 13 knots speed referred to by the MCA? Do they represent the breach of a speed restriction? Do they expose passengers to unnecessary risks? The MCA seems reluctant to indicate whether or not the 13 knots speed is indeed a restriction.

I'm told this twin hulled vessel experiences cavitation problems at higher speeds. I understand this means that the propellors are biting into a variable mixture of air and water and so at any moment in time each propellor will be delivering different thrusts to the catamaran. When you factor in the often turbulent waters of Rathlin Sound you can see that a catamaran will behave very differently in these waters to a single hulled vessel.

MCA reply:

Before her return to Ballycastle on 17 December 2009 the Rathlin Express underwent a full 'in water' and 'out of water' survey in Arklow . A further inclining experiment followed this survey and the vessel has a fully approved stability book.

The MCA has not applied any speed restriction to the Rathlin Express.

The loaded draft of the Rathlin Express is 1.353m.

Why did the MCA mention a current service speed of 13 knots when indicated that the vessel was recently mostly travelling in the range 18-20 knots? The draft is very similar to the Canna's 1.m and the Canna was known to have grounded on a number of occasions at the entrance to Rathlin's inner harbour. Perhaps the damage to the catamaran skegs was caused by grounding at the same location.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Rathlin Island Mapping Party - March 6 & 7

Would you like to participate in the mapping of Rathlin Island on Saturday & Sunday March 6th & 7th, All weekend?

"It's Fun. It's Free. You can help"

Monday, 8 February 2010

Rathlin Island Ferry Limited - First Annual Accounts

Some Surprise
[updated February 15]

A copy of the first annual accounts of Rathlin Island Ferry Limited (RIFL) is now available from Companies House. As the company is in receipt of a £4 million subsidy from the Department for Regional Development spread over six years it's hardly surprising that these accounts must be audited.

Financial Information

(a) A copy of the Operator's Annual Report.
(b) A copy of the company's audited accounts; a copy of the audited accounts for the subsidised services; and audit certificates for both.
(c) Other financial information required for monitoring purposes.

However, this statement from the annual accounts paints a different story:

As described on the balance sheet you are responsible for the preparation of the financial statements for the period ended 31 May 2009 set out on pages 2 to 5 and you consider that the company is exempt from an audit. In accordance with your instructions we have compiled these unaudited financial statements in order to assist you to fulfil your statutory responsibilities from the accounting records and information supplied to us.

RIFL's sister company, Tithe Saoire Chleire Teoranta, is giving up its Cape Clear ferry contract at the end of February. Its accounts were available during the Rathlin ferry tender process but may not have been fully scrutinised. The 2006 accounts make for interesting reading. Loans to two other Co Cork sister companies (West Cork Coastal Cruises and CDM Togail Teoranta) are labelled 'These loans contravene Section 31 of the 1990 Companies Act'. What does it all mean?

Adds February 10

I've received further copies of Tithe Saoire Chleire Teoranta accounts. Those civil servants from Northern Ireland's DRD and DFP and Ireland's DCRGA who are following NALIL blog closely might care to look at the accounts for 2001 and 2002 (merged). Can they explain why the figures for 2001 are not identical in each of the same accounting year periods? Can DCRGA explain why this discrepancy is not reflected in its endorsement of the ferry operator?

I wonder in which accounts the St Sorney appears. Is it leased to RIFL? Would it be labelled an asset or a liability? It's currently tied up in Ballycastle Marina and doesn't appear to be in a fit state to immediately resume service.

Adds February 15

Division of subsidy between lifeline ferry and passenger only ferries

Canna 5/6 1/6 St Sorney

Canna 2/3 1/3 Rathlin Express

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.