Tuesday 6 December 2016

Skellig Michael boat operator challenges OPW's decision to revoke permits

Aodhan O'Faolain

Published 13/04/2016 | 18:06

Skellig Michael Photo: Independent Newspapers IRE
Skellig Michael Photo: Independent Newspapers IRE
The famous beehive huts on Skellig Michael that are now being recreated at Pinewood Studios
An Aerial view of Skellig Michael. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan / Fáilte Ireland.
Skellig Michael. Photo: Deposit

THE operator of a passenger boat service to Skellig Michael has brought a legal challenge to an Office of Public Works (OPW) decision to revoke permits allowing him land visitors at the UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Sean Feelan has been taking passengers to the monastic settlement, and a location of blockbuster movie Star Wars the Force Awakens, off the Co Kerry Coast since 1980.

The OPW is responsible for the management and protection of Skellig Michael.

In January, he was informed by the OPW, which licences boat operators to land on the island, that the two permits he had held were being revoked with immediate effect.

This was because of convictions Mr Feehan received after he pleaded guilty at Cahirciveen District Court in September 2015 to three offences under the Merchant Shipping Act, it said.

The offences related to incidents in 2012 and Mr Feehan was fined a total of €850.  The OPW in its communication cited safety concerns over the provision of safe carriage to visitors to Skellig Michael as its reason to revoke the permits.

Mr Feehan, a boatman for 50 years is disputing the decision and says he is being treated unfairly. Aside from the 2012 incident resulting in his conviction, his safety record has been "exemplary," he says.

He said other boatmen have received convictions arising out of safety issues, but their licences have not been revoked.

He now fears for his livelihood and that of his son Gary. He says he is greatly distressed by what has happened and says he has has not slept since this "bombshell," was dropped.

Today at the High Court, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan granted Mr Feehan a temporary injunction preventing the OPW from issuing two of four permits which are currently the subject of applications for public tender.

The order was granted on an ex-parte (one side only represented) basis and the judge made the matter returnable to next week.

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