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 ODriscoll 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 ODriscoll has done anything wrong in relation to it.
There do, however, seem to be questions as to whether or not Mr. ODriscoll 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. ODriscoll’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. Nevins latest blog on the subject is here and according to the Newsletter article it is slightly unclear what will be happening on 1st July.