Rathlin ferry

Nevin over at NALIL has been doing more digging into strange goings on in North Antrim. This time it is about the Rathlin ferry. He has raised this issue on slugger in the recent past but it has not gone away and seems if anything to be becoming more difficult..I remember going to Rathlin as a small child past the wreck of HMS Drake (on a similar theme to my previous blog). The boat was very small and it was difficult for the islanders to get large things moved across. Twelve years ago the Scottish government owned company Caledonian MacBrayne (known universally as Cal Mac) began operating the service with a larger ferry called the MV Canna. Cal Mac have vast experience in operating ferries to small islands and with their new boat the number of visitors reached 50,000 per year. In addition the Canna can, by prior arrangement, take cars etc. across.

A new tendering process was launched in November 2007 and in April this year Connor Murphy announced that Ciarán O’Driscoll of Cape Clear ferries in Cork had won the contract and would continue to use the MV Canna and supplement it with another vessel before bringing in a faster catamaran vessel at a later date. That would not have been an enormous issue except that there is now an investigation by the Northern Ireland Audit office into the tendering process although it is worth noting that there is no suggestion that Mr O’Driscoll has done anything wrong in relation to it.

There do, however, seem to be questions as to whether or not Mr. O’Driscoll has yet signed a contract for the Canna. There are also questions regarding the terms and conditions for the current Cal Mac employees and Mr. O’Driscoll’s other ferry service has previously been fined / had some subsidy withheld over problems with appropriate vessels and timetables (see Newsletter article). John Dallat seems sufficiently concerned to have put down a series of questions for tomorrow in Stormont. Nevin’s latest blog on the subject is here and according to the Newsletter article it is slightly unclear what will be happening on 1st July.

  • Gavin

    Good on Cape Clear ferries in Cork for winning the contract, hope they keep it in the family

  • “Good on Cape Clear ferries in Cork”

    Where exactly does the goodness feature, Gavin? 😉

    There seems to be a little local difficulty with passenger carrying licensing arrangements for the Naomh Ciaran 2 as well as unauthorised alterations that led to its impoundment.

  • Well however this works out I hope they manage to improve the ferry service and make it a bit more regular. How you ever missed the Sunday morning ferry? If you have you’ll know you’re in for a long wait for the next one!

  • UMIF, the folks down in West Cork last week would have had to wait a longer on the Naomh Ciaran 2; it was impounded.

  • “seems if anything to be becoming more difficult”

    There seems to be a problem with the lease of the MV Canna from Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited to the new operator.

    Why should this be so? Perhaps CMAL and its boss, Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport in Edinburgh, have been doing something our Ministers in Stormont have apparently not been doing: googling with ‘cape clear’, ‘o’driscoll’, ‘rathlin ferry operator’ and contacting Dublin’s Maritime Safety Directorate.

  • Nevin, maybe so, I don’t really know west Cork. Just making the point that Rathlin deserves a better and more frequent service and the tendering process was/is an opportunity to put some improvements in place.

  • UMIF, it will be good if they can get an enhanced service but this will mean an apparent doubling of the fare. I’ll put up an image on NALIL later.

  • “an apparent doubling of the fare”

    That’s not so good! Is this another example of the curse of euro-linked price inflation? Will be watching the story with interest. Cheers for highlighting this…

  • UMIF, I’ve updated the blog. It’s got an image of the fare deal.

    By the way, you don’t need to go to West Cork to find out what’s been happening there; you can read about it on the internet.

    I’m hearing that the matter will be aired in the DRD committee on Wednesday. Perhaps someone would blog from there 😉

  • “a faster catamaran vessel”

    I’ve spoken to some sailing folks about the use of a 100-seater (or smaller) catamaran in Rathlin Sound and they thought it could easily flip in the Rathlin rip.

    Perhaps the catamaran is little more than a selling point in advance of new ro-ro ferries. The latter got a (£6.3m) mention in the draft Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland though maybe not in the procurement process.

  • Turgon


    That is a very fair point. Fast cats are apparently at about their limit on the Larne / Stranrer or Larne Belfast run especially the smaller ones.

    Cal Mac as far as I know use few such vessels (? none) although they mainly operate in waters worse than Rathlin Sound. The sound itself is fairly well sheltered but the question apparently (I have taken proper advice on this but could be wrong) is what is the maximum “wave limit” for the vessel in question (apparently typically 3 metres for fast cats but 6 metres for normal ships) and how frequently waves of such size are encountered in Rathlin Sound.

  • Turgon, I’m told the Sound is the second most dangerous stretch of water in these islands after the Pentland Firth, especially when the wind is in opposition to the rip tide.

  • Turgon, I need to be quided by others more expert than myself!!

    I rang a sailor for some comment on wave height. It appears that the HSS could cope with a 3.8m wave height whereas a small catamaran ferry might be restricted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to less than 2m.

    There can be an overfall twice a day in the Sound of 2m at ebb tide rising to over 8m in really rough conditions.

  • Danny O’Connor

    The Jetliner to Cairnryan is regulary cancelled because of rough weather,and the currents here are not as severe as they are up around Ballycastle.
    I think that this whole business needs a thorough investigation.
    Keep up the good work

  • Danny, IMO the Junior escapade last September et al seems small fry compared to the ramifications of this story.

    Will any Ministers, Civil Servants and advisors in Stormont, the Dáil and Holyrood have to walk the plank? Are some of the ‘planks’ at Stormont long enough to land a telling blow? Today and tomorrow should give us a clearer idea.

    It’s been very good and, possibly, quite brave of John Dallat, SDLP MLA, to relay those five questions to the Assembly. It seems North Antrim MLAs and the MP have had more weighty matters to consider.

  • Turgon, the flyer that I posted on the NALIL blog yesterday carries the logos of Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd and Department for Regional Development.

    The flyer has become a small story in itself. Its assertion – “All details correct at time of going to print” – doesn’t stand up!!

    PS I wonder will this fairy (OOPS) ferry story (finally) make it into the Moyle editions of the local papers today.

  • ggn

    Á, an báta go Reachraidh, ba tric a bhá mé fhín ar an bháta ceanna is mé i mo bachlach óg.

    Dh’ól mé mórán deochan ann fost! Cha do shaoil mé mórán den bháta, feumfaidh mé a rádh, ro-mhall, ro-sheán ach nas fhearr na an ceann a bhá ann roimhe.

    … agus bhíos féin ar an mbád go Cléire uair nó dhó! – i bhfad Éireann níos fearr!!!

    Scéal suimiúil atá ann.

    Beannacht libh.

  • ggn, I hope you’re using Scottish gaelic, a language of Raghrey, in that post 😉

    PS I’d appreciate a translation into the Moyle vernacular.

  • ggn

    Rathlin Gaeilic : (a Dialect of Scotland, me thinks not, and as I am one of a only a handful of people who has a working knowledge of the dialect, I am somewhat qualifed – I noticed a former colleague of mine had an article on the much misunderstood subject in the Glynns recently).

    “Á, an báta go Reachraidh, ba tric a bhá mé fhín ar an bháta ceanna is mé i mo bachlach óg.

    Dh’ól mé mórán deochan ann fost! Cha do shaoil mé mórán den bháta, feumfaidh mé a rádh, ro-mhall, ro-sheán ach nas fhearr na an ceann a bhá ann roimhe.”

    The boat to Rathlin, I was often on it when I was a young boy.

    I have drank much in it also, I never thought much of the boat I have to say, too old, too slow but better the the one that was there before.

    … agus bhíos féin ar an mbád go Cléire uair nó dhó! – i bhfad Éireann níos fearr!!!

    … and I have been on the boat to Cape once or twice – far better.

    Scéal suimiúil atá ann.

    A interesting story

    Beannacht libh.

    Good bye – Rathlin

  • “a series of questions for tomorrow in Stormont”

    Perhaps the answers could be posted ASAP on Slugger or emailed to me via the NALIL blog (url under my name – address in right column)

  • Thanks very much, ggn. I suppose you’re familiar with the Raghery bull. We can probably expect bull of a different sort from Stormont 😉

    Have you ever talked to Alex Morrison (pdf file)?

  • “The boat to Rathlin”

    I used to spend a lot of time at Corrymeela which overlooks Rathlin Sound and Slough-na-more. Many moons ago, a young damsel from Co Armagh experienced the Rathlin rip as she and others from the centre returned from an overnight trip to the island. She thought it was RIP as the ferry rose and fell and the young man she was clinging to for dear life may still have the scars on his back and memories of her screams from that close encounter.

  • ggn


    Unfortuately not – He is very very old!

    Raghery Bull, no recollection but I know Cnoc an Tairbh.

  • Raghery Bull is the name I grew up with in the Kingdom of Moyle as the name for the fog horn on Bull Point.

  • ggn, is Rathlin Gaelic the same dialect as what would have been spoken by native speakers in the Gaeltacht in the Antrim glens up to 100 years ago, or is it more like the dialect spoken in Scotland?

  • ggn


    I see, Gob an Tairbh. Very interesting.

  • ggn


    I dont want to start WWIII here. Maybe I started it but I am in funny form – we are menat to be talking about the Ferry!!!

    But it would be more similar to Glens Irish than the closest Scottish Dialect – Arran.

    Remanants of Antrim Irish survived until the eightes, a semi-speaker of Rathlin is still alive by the way.

    The most significant different between Rathlin and the Glynns would be the negative particle in the past tense, where the Glynns have char, Rathlin had ‘Cha do’, which is the norm in Scottish but only occasional in Ireland.

  • ggn, thanks, that’s quite interesting. Sorry for the digression.

  • ggn, ‘Raghery Bull’ would have been used as a comparative form in, “She’d a roar lick the Raghery Bull”

  • Small update beside flyer on recent NALIL blog:

    For some curious reason the True Light’s name does not appear on the flyer. Is a different boat to be used now? If there was a change, when did it take place? Are there implications for the claims made during the tendering process?

    Moyle District Council is distributing this flyer during its bin emptying process. It could become a collector’s item 😉

  • Here’s a reminder of the questions down for written answer today:

    Questions to the Minister for Regional Development

    1. Mr Dallat (East Londonderry):

    To ask the Minister for Regional Development if all interested parties who tendered for the Rathlin-Ballycastle Ferry Service were aware of the £1.2 million additional funding announced in the budget.

    (AQW 8193/08)

    2. Mr Dallat (East Londonderry):

    To ask the Minister for Regional Development if the relief vessel for the MV Canna on the Rathlin-Ballycastle Ferry Service has a passenger carrying certificate.

    (AQW 8194/08)

    3. Mr Dallat (East Londonderry):

    To ask the Minister for Regional Development if the successful tender for the Rathlin-Ballycastle Ferry Service included a safety management plan.

    (AQW 8195/08)

    4. Mr Dallat (East Londonderry):

    To ask the Minister for Regional Development if he is aware of any safety concerns relating to the past record of the successful tenderer for the Rathlin-Ballycastle Ferry Service.

    (AQW 8196/08)

    5. Mr Dallat (East Londonderry):

    To ask the Minister for Regional Development if he is satisfied that the successful tenderer for the Rathlin-Ballycastle Ferry Service has in place all requirements, including (i) a ticketing system; (ii) international safety management documentation; and (iii) an environmental plan, in keeping with the tendering process.

    (AQW 8197/08)

    There may be further questions to be put to the Minister for Finance and Personnel on the scoring process in procurement and to the Minister for Employment and Learning on terms and conditions of employment as well as job advertisement. The advice from elsewhere is to go through the whole process with a fine tooth comb.

  • john

    Serious matters up there in rathlin.

    Hope all you up in rathlin are prepared for this!!
    previous Workers here in west cork are walking the roads!!
    we have been let down and so have the some of the previous workers.

    Googling “Cape clear” etc or just read the top hitters on the below link..what we’ve gone through.

  • John, I don’t think the message has yet sunk in.

    New Rathlin Ferry Operator 4

    What does Malcolm Redfellow know about the MV Canna – or about my political leanings? 🙂

    Malcolm, I confirmed with a reliable source that drivers reverse onto the ferry in Rathlin and drive off in Ballycastle – not the other way round, as you describe 🙂

  • john

    Nevin, all that Press and newsletters and the new operations havn’t even started??.

    From reading, similar to Cape Clear with alot of media attention,Td’s, Ministers!!!

  • Nevin,

    You will, no doubt, be pleased to see that your MEP has raised the important issue of the Rathlin Ferry … on his web site at least, if not in the European Parliament.

    Did you perhaps have a small part to play in bringing it to his attention?


    Freeze Rathlin ferry handover
    25 June 2008

    Traditional Unionist MEP Jim Allister has said DRD should freeze the handover of the Rathlin to Ballycastle ferry service to its proposed new operator, Ciaran O’Driscoll pending the outcome of a Northern Ireland Audit Office Investigation.

    The MEP commented
    “New revelations about deficiencies in the tendering process for a new ferry operator for the Rathlin service continue to come to light on an almost daily basis. Last Friday, I understand that one of the vessels to be used by the new operator, the MV True Light failed a crucial safety test. Indeed, I am concerned that Ciaran O’Driscoll’s company has yet to have an approved safety management plan in place, despite being just days away from the proposed handover, of 1st July.”

    “Deficiencies in the ferry service being operated at Cape Clear in the Republic of Ireland by Ciaran O’Driscoll are well documented. My primary concern is to ensure that the Rathlin ferry service will not suffer in similar terms.
    While a robust Government tendering exercise should have been an appropriate safeguard, I have my own serious reservations about the tender process itself.”

    “Until we have confirmation from the NI Audit Office, that all aspects of the tendering process were above board, and carried out without undue political influence, and from the MCA that all safety considerations have been met, I believe the service should remain with its current operator. I have intimated this in a letter to the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Regional Development.
    Safety and efficiency must be the primary concern for the award of any public contract. For these reasons, it would be foolish to rush into an irreversible step at this time.”


  • Horseman, I have a very ‘ecumenical’ circle of contacts as can be seen from hits on the NALIL blog. Do you suppose the two Luxembourg contacts could include …

    I’ve been very disappointed by the contributions from our MP, MLAs and Councillors. Let’s hope the islanders on Rathlin fare better than those on Cape Clear.

    Some of the documentation et al coming through from FoI requests and other sources would indicate that the IPjr story was small fry. The involved Ministers in the Executive seem hell bent on carrying on regardless. It’s alleged that several Civil Servants have been acting over and beyond the call of duty.

    The reaction of islanders to Murphy’s visit tomorrow will be interesting, especially if the Minister is ‘door-stepped’ by journalists.

  • John, I’m surprised that the BBC, UTV and even RTE have, so far, missed out on a story that involves three governments and sometimes descends into farce.

  • John

    why not contact BBC,UTV,RTE and give them a start.

    ye your right 3 governments and no major media interest.can this be changed???

    i take it you,ve read the following from cape clear?

  • Maura

    I’ve heard from a very good friend on Cape Clear Island about this blog. I know for a fact that several young Islanders refuse to travel home at weekends during the winter since the current operator took over.
    Isn’t that such a pity and loss to the Island.

    Nip it in the bud now..

  • peter

    “a faster catamaran vessel”

    I believe Cape Clear is suppose to have a catamaran veesel down there since January last and still no sign of that!!

    hope Rathlin get theirs faster or is it the same one??

  • Mannanan

    The ‘new’ fast ferry advertised for Rathlin, the MV Ossian of Staffa still appears to be servicing the timetables of Gordon Grant Tours at present. They are offering a timetable which would require at least two boats to service, bookings could still be made today on all services, and no comments had been made about replacement boats….Hope the ferry is fast enough to get round Oban, Iona and Mull as well as Staffa then call down to Raghery. (Maybe Finn McCool is carrying it over the Giants Causeway from Staffa???)

  • john

    any news from rathlin today?

  • martin

    Any talks yet of building a bridge up there to Rathlin??

    There’s talks of building one here for the younger generation to get home during the winter!!
    Ferry me ass, I’d rather swim.

  • john
  • arses

    Thanks for the suggestion

  • Can we continue this conversation on Rathlin ferry 2 please?

  • john

    what you mean Rathlin ferry 2?

  • It’s a more recent thread, John. Just scan down the titles on front page.

  • Patsi Bill

    Full marks to Cork County Council, the posters are down again already, back to the corporate drawing board for a new marketing plan and full marks for innovation !. I suppose we learnt our lessen so the lampposts in Ballycastle are safe enough for the time being.

    Patsi Bill…

  • Patsi Bill

    I know you Northern Boys have already used the expression ‘farcical’ but you really have no idea yet. Down here we see the ferry service to Cape Clear lurching from calamity to calamity and next we hear the same outfit have outperformed Caledonian Mc Brae ?. In just a couple of weeks they have lost one ferry through stability problems, have had a second impounded for stability tests and it seems, made a complete hash of issuing a simple timetable. Nothing new to us, did anyone even look at their website and compare it to the Cal Mac one ?. Anyway, while last weeks events were unfolding in Ballycastle so too was their long awaited 2008 Summer Marketing Campaign for the Cape Clear Ferry Services which consists of littering the highways of West Cork with fly posters, lending a whole new meaning to the word tacky !.Imagine the red faces in corporate HQ, the week after the week that they go multinational, well sort of, when the penny dropped about this latest cock up. This was followed, one imagines, by a sudden rush in to the mainland and the burning of rubber on the West Cork highways in a race against time and the Environmental Officer to retrieve the posters shortly afterwards. This is developing into the most splendid and glorious farce since the days of Somerville and Ross.

    Patsi Bill.

  • Patsi Bill

    OOps, Now I hear that some of the posters are still up.

  • Patsi Bill
  • Patsi Bill

    Look Nevin, Surely you are a bit unfair on the DRD boys about the scoring for the Rathlín Ferry Contract, there may be a few inconsistencies but in fairness they had a stab at it anyway, surely they deserve credit for trying ?. Down here, the Department apparently decided to skip that part of the process entirely, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/capeclearrip/ for details of published scoring matrix not used.

  • ragheryguy

    i have been goin to rathlin for 20 or so years, my family are from there, and i still have family there. the canna is slow, but not unreliable, niether are the crew who sail her. considering her age, and the type of vessel that she is, i personally think she does a fantastic job of serving raghery (as gran calls it 🙂 ) i was speaking to one of the ferry workers literally 3 weeks ago, and he still new nothing of the new ferry how the workers would be distributed, pay etc, unfortuantly his reply to me on asking of the ‘set-up’ was not publishable language!! theres seems to be an unfortuanate amount of uncertainty and unwillingness of the current ‘goings on’ what many people fail to realise the people of rathlin are happy with cal mac and they way she served the island winter and summer even tho in a slow manner, but the pace of the island is slow and it is their island, i find it unfortunate that maybe an islander or island comittee were not offered the superb opportunity to create, manage and run their own firm/contract. or even had some say on the matter. there is also a feeling in the local area that this decision of a new operator is a political decision…?is that a twist or is this already known..? well this is what i have been told by many people closely associated with the island community. personally, i think if mr o’driscoll proves himself a good businessman then everything could work out fine, but as an islander said to me recently on the matter of the faster vessel being relinquished of her duties during the close season ‘ …… are we just expected to sit here and use what the government see as second best (m.v. Canna) while the new boy just takes advantage during the summer of earning a few pounds?’.
    also on the matter of the rip tide not having ‘large seas’ i strongly recommend crossing the sound on a late september afternoon when wind is going against the rip and also blowing straight at ballycastle harbour, then we see what you think….
    sorry for rambling just thought aperspective of someone close to the rathlin community might be appreciated 🙂
    speak soon

  • Patsi Bill

    I am furious about the article in the Moyle Chronicle by Aine Mc Grady, ‘Fast Ferry Sets Sail’ put up on Nevins Site. I am putting up an interesting fax with translation sent by Mr Ciaran O’Driscoll to the Department of Rural, Community & Gaeltacht Affairs in 2000 which is in circulation in these parts recently. As the content shown this was sent behind the backs of the Island Community following a public meeting which expressed a desire for more ferry sailings. The author is extremely disparaging abut this , calling it the ‘tail wagging the dog” and threatens to compete directly with the subsidised ferry service unless he, himself is offered a contract for the relief service. The author put this promise into effect the following year. This shows, in the authors own words his respect for the views of his fellow islanders on Cape Clear Island. Where also is the claimed 30 year experience in the Ferry Industry ?, See http://www.flickr.com/photos/capeclearrip/