Thursday, 24 February 2011

Ordnance Survey of Ireland - Map Viewer

Genealogists and historians will be attracted to the Historic 6" Series to see the layout of old buildings and roads as well as other aspects of our landscape heritage. 


Great Holiday Offer for Irish Diaspora & Others

*** As Seen On The Internet ***
"Living Legends"

Call to get details of
 3 days/2 nights experience of rich Legends and Myths of the Glens, Ballycastle and Rathlin Island. 
  • Visit the Glens and hear the tales at ..... 
  • Follow the history and fable trail to Ballycastle.
  • Have lunch at the .....
  • Take the boat to Rathlin Island
  • Enjoy the welcome at .....
  • Return to Ballycastle.
  • Check in to .....
  • Tour the town with your own guide
  • Eat at the .....
Downloadable  trail available here shortly.
All in cost - £100 per person.

There's no beginning or end to this generous offer. I'm sure my NALIL friends from distant parts would quite fancy a trip to the old homeland. It truly would be a world away for three days if, say, you lived in Toronto. And just £100.

Was the 'call to get details of' an afterthought? Is there a catch?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Ballycastle Poet Heather Newcombe - "A Purse of Shadows"

Ulster Tatler Review
[click to enlarge]

Danny's Choice

The Townlands of Torr
    On the journey to your own place
    I marked out the townlands of Torr
    Past Doey's Planting the small burn,
    slate grey and silver.
At Ballyukin School
snowdrops hid under the hedges,
Up Merrick's Brae,
at Ballyloghan, we stopped
outside your house,
climbed the Green Hill.
The Mull and
Spoon Island watched our passing
over Mary Lynn's Bridge.
We lowered you into the cool Coolraney clay,
pressed you into sleep with heavy hearts.
Your girls stoic and strong, your grandsons,
small figures in black, stood
in the weak sunshine shaking hands,
their faces wept of colour.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Rathlin Ferry Saga - Can Creditors Sleep Easy?

Department for Regional Development Responses

Rathlin Island Ferry Limited's accounts show increasing losses yet the DRD seeks to the reduce the £666,000 annual subsidy by £200,000 starting in 2013. How can the circle be squared? One or two new Ro-Ros have not been included in the 2011-15 budget.

The abbreviated accounts don't show the amounts of money transferred to directors or the amounts paid for leases of the Rathlin Express and the St Sorney, vessels which are believed to be owned by one or more of the directors. Is this not a curious state of affairs for a company in receipt of significant DRD funding? Is DRD acting in the public interest when it fails to insist that such details are put in the public domain?

Q1. Is RIFL solvent?

A1. Thank you for your e-mails dated 11 January and 14 January 2011 requesting information about the draft budget and the Rathlin Ferry Service. Some of the information that you have requested falls within the terms of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and I will highlight clearly where this is the case.

RIFL is solvent and has traded at a profit in the period April to September 2010. However due to the seasonal nature of the business, the best time to assess whether RIFL has traded at a loss\profit is when year end accounts are produced. The final accounts for 2010/11 have yet to be prepared.

["The company has incurred losses in its first two periods of trading with the result that its current liabilities exceed its total assets. [Deficits £35,774 - 31.05.09; £115,279 - 31.03.10; Authorised shares £100,000] The contract with the DRD is currently under review and the directors believe that the outcome of the review will enable the company to continue in operational existence and to improve its profitability" .. RIFL abbreviated accounts]

[A RIFL director withdrew from an Irish government subsidised ferry service in Co Cork at the end of February 2010 - financial difficulties]

Q2. Which Government department or agency monitors the trading status of Northern Ireland registered companies?

A2. You have asked which agency monitors the trading status of Northern Ireland registered companies. You may wish to contact the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, which has responsibilities in this area.

Q3. Is DRD participating in this review of the contract?

A3. You have quoted figures from the Department's draft budget proposals for 2011-2015 which are out for public consultation. This public consultation is due to close on 16 February 2011.

The savings set out in these proposals relating to the Rathlin Ferry subsidy are indicative amounts and it is not possible to give a precise forecast of reductions at this time. Any surrender of resource will be determined by a number of factors including the baseline level of provision in the existing budget, the value of fare revenue received, the level of future fare increases and any decisions reached on proposals for variation to the current contract. In addition, it is difficult to determ ine the subsidy budget for 2014/15 as the contract is due to be re-tendered before April 2014 and future terms are as yet unknown.

I can confirm that Department is considering proposals made by RIFL for a variation, as the operator is entitled to bring forward under the terms of the contract.

Q4. What is DRD's current view of the financial viability of RIFL and its ability to retain current staffing levels and to maintain the timetable of crossings provided in 2010?

A4. You have asked about the ability of RIFL to maintain the timetable of crossings provided in 2010. The operator has brought forward proposals for the 2011 summer timetable identical to the service provided in 2010. The proposed timetable will be subject to consultation with Moyle District Council and the Rathlin Development and Community Association.   Staffing levels are a matter for the operator and you should direct your query to RIFL.

The MV Canna is available for use on the Rathlin Ballycastle route until the end of the current contract (31 March 2014) under a charter between RIFL and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL).

["The current vessel [MV Canna] is nearing the end of its working life and is providing a very basic service. DRD commissioned a Marine Consultant to review the current boat two years ago. He reported that the boat had approximately five years service left." ... DRD Budget proposal 25 April 2007]

Q5. What is the schedule for the introduction of new ro-ro vessels and how will this impinge on the future use of a passenger-only vessel in general and the Rathlin Express in particular?

A5. You asked about the future use of a roll on/roll off vessel on the Rathlin route. The Department proposes to continue with a roll on/roll off vessel on the Rathlin service when the next contract commences in 2014. Beyond that, the specification for the next contract has not yet been determined. I am not prepared to speculate on the future mix of vessels which bidders might bring forward. The use of the Rathlin Express beyond the end of the current contract is a matter for its owner.

Q6. How much remuneration has been paid to each director in each of RIFL's financial trading years?

A6. In relation to director's remuneration, the Department does not hold any details of payments made to directors of RIFL but is aware that one director is employed by the company.

Q7. How much has been claimed in each trading year for (i) the lease of the Rathlin Express and (ii) the lease of the St Sorney?

A7. Some of the information that has been requested relating to Rathlin Express and St Sorney is financial information and falls within the terms of the exemption under section 43 (2), (commercial Interests) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

In considering whether to release this information I have noted that there is a public interest in allowing effective scrutiny and oversight of the use of public funds in relation to the Rathlin Island ferry service.

However the disclosure of the financial information specifically relating to these costs would release commercially sensitive information. It would allow a competitor to calculate the equivalent cost of service on this or another route therefore commercially disadvantaging those who have supplied this information. If financial information concerning the operation of this contract were known then another ferry operator would have unfair access to information giving it a competitive edge.

On balance I have concluded that the release of this information would be likely to prejudice those who have supplied it and the public interest is best served by withholding the information at this time.

[Is DRD satisfied that the leases with 'connected persons' are at the appropriate commercial rates for leases of this kind?]

Updated February 21

Minister Conor Murphy's recent reply to Patsy McGlone re. NI Water Contractors (AQW 4273/11) has implications for the DRD's handling of the Rathlin ferry saga:

Newly formed companies, sole traders, partnerships and unlimited companies, or companies that can not provide full audited accounts for 3 years, are not excluded from participation in any competition but must satisfy rigorous financial scrutiny.

RIFL was formed after Ciaran O'Driscoll was awarded the Rathlin ferry contract on 18 April 2008. Did DRD officials subject O'Driscoll's Cape Clear accounts to 'rigorous financial scrutiny' or seek relevant assurances from the Irish government? Why was the need for a financial guarantee dropped from the second tenderWhy did the Minister award the contract to an individual rather than a company? Also, why has the Committee for Regional Development still not examined the investigations report that was published in December 2008, over two years ago?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

UK Coastguard - Bangor Co-Ordination Centre Campaign

March 9 Update
Supporters of Belfast Coastguard said they felt hopeful after meeting with Shipping Minister Mike Penning at Bregenz House earlier today.

"MINISTER for Transport Mike Penning has defended plans to axe Portland Coastguard. .. There will be a debate in parliament on Thursday, March 10* where the future of the coastguard will be discussed. A parliamentary select committee is currently investigating the plans."

* House of Commons Backbench Business Committee has 'postponed any debate until 24 March – which is the last day of the coastguard consultation.'.

[click link to sign-up]

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness visited MRCC in Bangor this morning, Thursday February 17. Claire Savage, the BBC's North Down District Journalist, reports.

[Click images to enlarge]

Delegation of Ulster MPs including Lady Sylvia Hermon, Naomi Long, Margaret Ritchie and Jim Shannon visited the Belfast Coastguard at Bregenz House in Bangor this morning to lend their support.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Northern Ireland Water - BBC's John Waite - Facing the Facts


BBC NI Spotlight
10:35 PM, Tuesday February 8

Thursday, February 10, 12:30 on BBC Radio 4

John Waite investigates what went wrong at Northern Ireland Water. Why were tens of thousands of people left without running water over the holidays, some for over a week? And, why is the company expected to hand back millions of pounds to the government while blaming underinvestment for part of its problems.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

National Trust and the Giants Causeway Hotel

[click to enlarge]

COFFEE+P :: £7.40
If you drive over to the Causeway Hotel for a cup of coffee and a chat during the present dispensation you can expect to be charged £7.40 - £6 to park your car and £1.40 for a cup of coffee. I'm told that if you spend £15 or more in the hotel in a single transaction the £6 car park charge will be refunded. You can save some money by using the free park and ride car-park in Bushmills; the adult bus fare to the Causeway is £1.75 and the bus, at present, travels every hour.

Such a pricing policy by the National Trust, especially during this period of austerity, could damage not only the trade of the Causeway Hotel, it could also deter visitors to the World Heritage Site.

Added July 22, 2012