'We need support to save our ferry'
The Valentia Island ferry service is a vital asset to all of south-west Kerry and should be given the financial support it needs to continue into the future.
That was the view of Councillor Norma Moriarty at last week's meeting of the South and West Kerry Municipal District following a deputation by Valentia Island Ferries Limited.
The deputation spokesperson Muiris O'Donoghue explained that, through its own money and borrowings, the group currently has €1million of the €2.8million it needs for a new boat it has designed. While its current boat - a 1963-built craft that has operated every March to October in south Kerry since 1996 - is in good shape according to Mr O'Donoghue, the Marine Survey Office has said that the boat will have to be replaced in 2018.
The group has not secured funding from the Fáilte Ireland Capital Programme for larger projects, and says it has done all it can to raise funds through its own initiative. An emergency meeting will take place in the coming weeks between Ministers Heather Humphreys, Michael Ring and Shane Ross to discuss approaches to securing the ferry's future. Deputy Michael Healy Rae said no date is in place but that Minister Ross "wants it arranged as soon as possible".
Speaking during the deputation, Mr O'Donoghue said: "Any second-hand boats we looked at were not suitable for various reasons, so new is the way to go.
"Losing the ferry has been identified as a threat to tourism throughout South Kerry, not just Valentia. We saw ourselves as a perfect fit for the Fáilte Ireland Capital Programme, but we have not received funding. We have done all we can and we need the support of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
"The ferry is vital to local businesses like accommodation providers, water-sport camps, and shops," he added.
A spokesperson for The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport told The Kerryman that the Valentia group's application to Fáilte Ireland's Grants Scheme for Large Tourism Projects "was unsuccessful as costs associated with boats are not eligible under this scheme".
Richard Foran said: "Whether we like it or not, tourism is the only show in town in Iveragh, and this isn't just a boat, it's a piece of infrastructure.
"This was considered an ambitious plan first day, but it has proven hugely successful. In conjunction with the bridge, the ferry has made Valentia a part of loop routes around Iveragh, but if we lose the ferry people will go back to seeing us as off the beaten track."
The deputation was called by Cllr Moriarty, who described the situation as an acid test of the Government's commitment to rural Ireland.
"There is no argument against funding this project," she said.
"This is crucial to the South-West Kerry region. Iconic is a word that's overused, but it can be used to describe the ferry experience. There's a €65million Capital Programme in place, and it's tailor-made for this project."
Cllr Michael O'Shea called on Kerry County Council to seek a deputation with Minister Brendan Griffin on the matter. All other members that attended on the day expressed their support for the ferry group.
Kerry County Council's Martin O'Donoghue said he couldn't overstate how critical a piece of infrastructure the ferry is and added that the Council Executive will support any application for funding.