Friday 20 April 2018

Confirmed: vital ferry service to main Aran Island to cease operating

Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford

THE operator of the sole ferry service connecting Inis Mór to the mainland has confirmed he plans to cease the operation from next month.

Paddy O’Brien, the owner of Aran Island Ferries said he plans to cease the service from January 16, throughout the winter months. The news has been met with shock by locals who fear it will have a major detrimental impact on the island.

Islanders are to hold a meeting to discuss the future of the service this week and have urged Minister for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh to attend the event.

The decision to cease the winter service follows the company losing a Supreme Court appeal relating to harbour charges and a passenger charge.

Speaking on Adhmhaidin on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta Mr O’Brien said he regretted the decision and the difficulty it would cause for the islanders, but that it was no longer economically feasible for the company to operate the route during the winter.

Mr O’Brien said he plans to recommence ferry sailings to Inis Mór around St Patrick’s Day but stressed that would depend on planned talks with Galway County Council.

The company is refusing to pay a passenger charge of 80 cents per person, which was introduced to help cover the cost of the €48.5m redevelopment of the harbour.

“We will try to start up the service again around St Patrick’s Day, but the County Council or the Harbourmaster may put a stop to it because we’re not paying the fees.  We can’t pay the €0.80 per passenger charge.  Every other boat pays harbour dues based on tonnage, we have to pay tonnage and the €0.80 charge on top of that,” he said.

He said that he hoped to be able to sit down with Galway County Council to figure out a solution.

Niall Ó Tuathail, Social Democrat candidate for Galway West,  said the landing charges were imposed by the Council to cover costs for the new pier development.

“The pier was built during the last government at a cost of €48.5 million, including a cost overrun of millions of euros, and has been underused since construction completed. The ferry company does not use the majority of new pier facilities with the exception of the breakwater. With little other commercial activity in the harbour, the Council have been trying to cover the costs from the ferry activities,” he added.

He said islanders were being used “as pawns in a battle between different government departments over who pays for this”.

"This is an emergency for Inis Mór - the island simply cannot function with any interruption to the ferry service. The first priority is for the islanders to be given a cast-iron guarantee that the ferry service will not be interrupted."

Comharchumann Forbartha Arann Teo is contacting Connemara councillors and Galway TDs, inviting them to attend a meeting on Friday on the future of the service.

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