Wednesday, 30 July 2014

'North Antrim has captured my heart' - Byron from Augusta, GA, USA

[click image to enlarge]

Walking on the ancestral sod has a special meaning for many folks whose ancestors departed these shores many moons ago, often never to return.

Jane and Daniel Hodgson are on their way back, this time with children and grandchildren as part of a golden wedding anniversary celebration.

Ballycastle - Brief Encounter

Jane, Nevin, Siobhan and Eithne

These three lovely ladies are old friends who now live in different parts of the world. I met them as teenagers - back in the day - when members of the Junior Council of Social Service in Coleraine arranged informal concerts at the Corrymeela Centre near Ballycastle. Although those were sad times, they were also the best of times. The late Ray Davey, one of Corrymeela's founders, was my role model, my source of inspiration:

"We hope that Corrymeela will come to be known as ‘the Open Village’, open to all people of good will who are willing to meet each other, to learn from each other and work together for the good of all." .. Ray

Blue MGB I drove back then! 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Rathlin Island Ferry Service - Lack of Government Supervision?

An email query to the Department of Regional Development on July 18 produced a prompt reaction from the department, action from Rathlin Island Ferry Limited and this DRD reply on July 21:

"The service provider, Rathlin Island Ferry Limited, has advised that it intends to update its website as a matter of urgency, in order to advise passengers of the ongoing issues.

The Department have been notified that the Rathlin Ferry Services, provided by the passenger only vessel, The Rathlin Express have not been available since 10 July 2014. The service provider has advised us that the Rathlin Express broke down on Thursday 10th July on the 16.15 sailing from Rathlin. The port engine had a crack in it and was ingesting water. Contractors are working on the repair and it is hoped the vessel will be back in service by Tuesday 22nd July.

The St. Sorney took over as relief vessel* from the 17.00 departure from Ballycastle on the 10 July 2014 and covered the Rathlin Express sailings up to and including 11.15 departure from Ballycastle on Sunday 13th July. However a similar technical problem developed on the St. Sorney and from the 12.00 departure from Rathlin on Sunday 13th July there have been no fast ferry sailings. Contractors are also working on the St Sorney with an expected repair date also of 22 July 2014.

The MV Canna continued and is continuing to provide operating four return sailings per day, Where this is not ideal it does mean that there is a lifeline service to and from Rathlin.

The service provider regrets any inconvenience this unfortunate series of events has caused and has assured the Department that it is working with the contractors to get the issue resoled as soon as possible."

[cf "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." ... NALIL blog 26 Nov 2009 ... see also NALIL blog 24 Aug 2012]

*Details for the provision of relief vessels as detailed in the 2008-2014 contract are outlined here.

[click images to enlarge]

These messages on the RIFL website provide useful information for prospective customers and should be posted as and when required.

Why was the catamaran being driven at speeds of up to 22 kts when previous breakdowns appeared to take place at speeds greater than around 16 kts? Why was the catamaran permitted to travel for several weeks with its Ship AIS system apparently switched off? Did neither of these events attract the attention of the DRD and/or the Maritime and Coastguard Agency?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Moyle District Council - Let the Children Play 4 Free

Mutiny on the Bounty

Moyle District Council has provided many excellent free play areas around the district that are used by local children as well as by visitors. 

Why have Councillors set aside part of the sand-pit at the end of the marina for commercial use? Surely free and commercial areas should be separated so that parents can enjoy watching their children play without the distraction of, perhaps, additional facilities that they can ill afford. 

Will this plea fall on deaf ears or do Councillors have hearts of gold?

Portrush - West Bay - Eye-watering Design

Better Safe Than Sorry


Click images to enlarge

West Bay Promenade

Shouldn't there be lanes to separate walkers and cyclists?

Cyclists dismount sign needed where path narrows.

This dismount sign should face the cyclists.
It should also be much closer to eye level.

Should there be cycling on a promenade*?

Small children could walk head first into the handrail projection.
Men could have an eye-watering experience.
Why wasn't this handrail curved into the main handrail?

A lesser hazard but still a hazard.
There are several short lengths of wooden-topped handrail 
which project 100-120 mm inside the main handrail.


A paved public walk, typically one along the seafront at a resort.

A leisurely walk, or sometimes a ride or drive, taken in a public place so as to meet or be seen by others.

(In country dancing) a movement in which couples follow one another in a given direction, each couple having both hands joined.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Rathlin Ferry Replacement Project

The Department is currently engaged in a project to replace the existing roll on roll off ferry, the MV Canna, and once the new vessel is in service it will further secure this vital service for the people living on Northern Ireland’s only inhabited off shore island.
The new ferry for use on the Ballycastle/Rathlin route is expected to be ready for operation in the later part of 2016.

Proposed new Rathlin Harbour layout - Options C and D

The new berthing layout for Rathlin doesn't appear in the DRD leaflet but it did appear in the display in the ferry terminal beside Ballycastle harbour. I was a bit surprised to read that Option B with its 1.5m draft could use the present harbour as I'm told the MV Canna with its 1.4m draft has been known to scrape its way into the inner harbour, depending on the state of the tide.

DRD has provided the following clarification:

The estimated cruising speeds for all options is the same as the existing vessel to meet the existing timetable (approx 9 knots).

The current view is that Option B would require new berthing arrangements.  The intentions are that Options A,B & C would be designed to use the existing facilities in Ballycastle,  Option D may require alterations.

DRD also stated:

A new contract, which will start on 1st July 2014 has recently been awarded to Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd and will run for two years but with options to extend beyond this.  This contract was secured by way of an open procurement process facilitated by Central Procurement Directorate.

Is this not at odds with the OJEU documentation which refers not to an open procedure but to the following:

Type of procedure
Award of a contract without prior publication of a contract notice in the Official Journal of the European Union (in the cases listed in Section 2 of Annex D1)
Justification for the award of the contract without prior publication of a contract notice in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU):
Directive 2004/18/EC
1) Justification for the choice of the negotiated procedure without prior publication of a contract notice in the OJEU in accordance with Directive 2004/18/EC
2) Other justification for the award of the contract without prior publication of a contract notice in the OJEU
The contract has as its object services listed in Annex II B to the Directive.

The OJEU documentation for the Torbay ferry contract, on the other hand, does refer to an open procedure.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Rathlin Island Ferry Limited and the Reticent Minister

Danny Kennedy, the Minister for Regional Development, has just announced [July 7] the extension of the Rathlin Ferry contract yet the award was made on May 16. Why has there been such a delay?

“I congratulate Rathlin Island Ferry Limited on their successful bid" .. Minister

Was the contract extension advertised? There was just one bid:

“The local company has provided an excellent service to Islanders and visitors for over six years" .. Minister

This locally registered company, however, had to be pressurised to admit its responsibility for failing to make proper provision for a death in service benefit:

10. On 11 June 2012 Stewarts Solicitors belatedly told my office that there was no scheme in place at the time of Mr McCurdy’s death.  They accepted that Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd were liable for four times Mr McCurdy’s FPS, being a total sum of £101,668.  
However, they said:
”I regret that my clients are unable to discharge this sum at this time and my instructions are to raise discussions with the deceased’s solicitors in an effort to agree terms of payment." [Ombudsman's report 1 August 2012]

The company also got into other financial difficulties so DRD varied its clawback agreement:

RIFL's abbreviated accounts for the year ending 31 March 2012 refer to a variation to the DRD-RIFL contract which reduced the DRD clawback and returned £91,682 to the RIFL accounts for 2010/11 and an unspecified amount for 2011/12 which enabled the company to make a profit of £34,123.

The new annual subsidy is £800,000 whereas the previous one was about £660,000. No details on clawback arrangements are provided.

If the belated Ministerial press release followed a query from a concerned taxpayer then perhaps my reference on Facebook to the absence of AIS data for the Rathlin Express was also noted:

Within a few days the AIS system was back in action:

I also noted that the previously disappointing speeds of 13-14 kts had significantly improved to around 20 kts:

I received the following reply from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency [MCA] HQ when I queried the use of AIS when fitted to modern vessels:

I can also confirm that the ferries are required to have AIS in operation.

Has the local MCA office not been monitoring such a requirement?

RIFL directors have recently been awarded a contract to provide a ferry service between Torquay and Brixham by Torbay Council using a vessel similar to the Rathlin Express. This award was made using the open OJEU procedure [cf Rathlin - 'negotiated procedure without prior publication of a contract notice']

Added July 15

Old workhorse MV Canna transporting passengers and vehicles while the Rathlin Express catamaran is afflicted by mechanical break-down and the MV St Sorney doesn't appear to be doing relief duties. Did the higher speeds - around 20 kts in comparison to the earlier 13 kts - put too much stress on the catamaran's drive?