Thursday 23 February 2017

Navy could be called in to run ferry to stranded islanders

Kevin Doyle and John Fallon

Inis Mór. Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Inis Mór. Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The prospect of the Naval Service being used to ferry people stranded on the Inis Mór to the mainland is being explored by the Government.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald told the Dáil the problem was primarily a dispute between the company and Galway County Council, which centred on council by-laws.

But she said Gaeltacht Minister Sean Kyne was "deeply concerned about the impact of the stoppage of the ferry service".

She said: "The Minister of State is making himself available at all times and is involved in a detailed way to ensure the best possible outcome and is taking every action he can to find a resolution."

Ms Fitzgerald added that discussions in relation to the Naval Service have taken place with Paul Kehoe, the Minister of State with responsibility for Defence. But they were hoping a resolution could be found with the commercial operator.

In response, Fianna Fáil's Eamon O Cuiv said: "Hoping is not doing. The genesis of the problem is that the county council and the Department took a view that the islanders should pay 80 cent to land on the pier on their own island.

"That is equivalent to asking someone entitled to free travel to pay 80 cent to use the platform in Pearse Station."

A large number of island residents protested yesterday morning over the suspension of the winter passenger ferry service between Inis Mór and Connemara.

The cut will affect about 900 people living on the three islands at the mouth of Galway Bay.

Island resident Michael Gill said the issue needed to be resolved sooner rather than later.

He said: "We are calling on the Government to solve this problem. There has to be an all island policy. People living on the mainland wouldn't be taxed for new roadways, so why are we being taxed for a new harbour?

"The ferry company is the main way of getting from Inis Mór to the mainland, and it really affects people doing their Christmas shopping and especially going to appointments.

"Aer Arann has agreed to put on more flights, but they are looking for people to book in advance and early.

"We are aware of ongoing negotiations with Galway County Council and we are hoping for that there will be word back on that very soon."

Fellow islander Dara Molloy said the loss of the ferry service would have a big impact on the lives of the people who lived there.

"The ferry service is like our main road to the city centre," he said.

On Wednesday, about 50 passengers made the trip as the ferry sailed from Rossaveal in Connemara to Inis Mór, including about 20 tourists.

Jason O'Sullivan, a spokesperson for Island Ferries Teoranta, told RTÉ's Morning Ireland the costs on which the levy was based have not been independently audited or assessed.

He also said the company felt it was a "discriminatory tax" and that the route was not profitable during the winter months.

Irish Independent

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