The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has issued a statement following a protest held outside the Dail today as part of a campaign for a new purpose built ferry to serve Tory island.
The Department says it has long recognised that Tory Island is unique among the country’s offshore islands.
The contract for the current ferry service will cease on 1st April and be replaced by the Queen of Aran vessel which the department does acknowledge is older than the current boat but says it is undergoing a full refit, in consultation with the Marine Surveyor’s Office.
They say it will be a considerable improvement on that currently provided.
Meanwhile, the Department does say they recognise the concerns expressed by islanders and have offered a number of options for future ferry services.
These include; the building of a new vessel or the purchase of a new vessel, the development of the pier at Machaire Rabhairtaigh, in order to accommodate a new vessel, subsidise the provision of a separate fast ferry service to supplement both the new service, its existing heavy cargo service and the island’s weekly winter air service.
The statement said representatives from the co-op agreed to consider the Department’s proposals and revert to in due course.
Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht statement in full:
The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has long recognised that Toraigh island is unique among the offshore islands.
The Department has in place a range of supports for the island, in the context of its responsibility to support our offshore islands, but also in support of the Gaeltacht community in Toraigh.
The Department funds passenger and ferry services to all of Ireland’s inhabited offshore islands, including Toraigh.
In addition to ferry services, in 2016, the Department agreed to fund additional helicopter services to Toraigh, moving from a fortnightly to a weekly service.
· During 2017, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht ran an open tender competition, in accordance with public procurement rules, for the provision of a passenger and light cargo ferry service for Toraigh Island.
· Prior to going to tender, Minister of State McHugh and Departmental Officials had met with representatives from Tory Island Co-op. The islanders requested that it be a condition of the new contract that the duration of the journey would be no longer than 30 minutes. The Department deemed it impractical to be this specific in a tender document as to do so could result in no tenders being received in a very limited market.
· Two tenders were received and, following evaluation, the contract for this service was awarded to the company, Réalt na Maidne Teo, using the vessel, MV Queen of Aran. While this vessel is older than the one currently used on the service, it is currently undergoing a full refit, in consultation with the Marine Surveyor’s Office (MSO) which has statutory responsibility for the safety of passenger vessels in Ireland.
· The new service will be a considerable improvement on that currently provided:
o The vessel will have a lift for passengers with impaired mobility.
o The vessel will be faster than the current vessel and carry more passengers
o A dedicated bus service will be provided between An Bun Beag and Machaire Rabhartaigh on days when it cannot dock at the latter pier. Previously, islands had to arrange taxis from Bun Beag to Machaire Rabhartaigh.
o The operator will provide additional cargo services as part of the contract.
· The successful tenderer also currently provides ferry services to Aranmore in Donegal.
· This contract will come into effect from 1 April 2018 and run for a 5 year period.
· Minister of State McHugh along with officials from his Department met with the Tory Co-op in September 2017. They attended a public meeting in Toraigh on 12 January 2018, and then met representatives from Comharchumann Thoraí on 2 February to discuss the commencement of the contract and islanders’ concerns. There has also been continuous contact between the Department and representatives of Comharchumann Thoraí in relation to this issue.
· Recognising the concerns expressed by islanders, the Department has offered a number of options for future ferry services to Toraigh. These include:
o The building of a new vessel to service the island or the purchase of a new vessel
o Development of the pier at Machaire Rabhairtaigh, in order to accommodate any new vessel
o Subsidise the provision of a separate fast ferry service for the island to supplement both the new service scheduled to commence on 1st April 2018, its existing heavy cargo service and the island’s weekly winter air service. This fast service would require a small boat with a capacity of between 12 and 20 passengers, operating alongside the main service and the island’s subsidised weekly winter air service.
· The representatives from the co-op agreed to consider the Department’s proposals and revert to in due course.
· The Minister of State has reiterated his commitment to pursuing these options at all meetings with the Toraigh community.
· With the exception of the complementary fast service, the options of a newly built, nor a newly purchased vessel, and the associated developments at Machaire Rabhartaigh pier will take time to progress. In the meantime, the Department has in place a legal contract to commence the new ferry service on 1 April 2018.
· The Minister re-iterates the commitments he made at meetings with the community and will continue to support this important Island and Gaeltacht community in addressing the challenges associated with island-living.