Tory Island residents threaten to leave over lack of suitable ferry

Purpose-built vessel planned in September but 40-year-old boat won contract

Local children lead the parade of islanders on St Patrick’s Day on Tory Island in 2016. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Local children lead the parade of islanders on St Patrick’s Day on Tory Island in 2016. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Residents from Tory Island in Co Donegal have threatened to move from the island unless a suitable ferry is provided for transport to and from the mainland.

Plans were announced in September 2017 to make a purpose-built ferry for the island following a meeting between the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and delegation of islanders. However, locals from the Toraigh Gaeltacht community have raised concerns that the proposed boat, the 40-year-old Queen of Aran ferry, is too old and not up to standard for the rough crossing.

“We still don’t understand how the Queen of Aran could have won the contract,” manager of the Tory Island Co-op Marjorie Uí Cearbhaill told RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke show, adding that the tendering process had not been carried out properly. “There was no spec of a vessel put into that. You could have a 100-year-old boat, what we call here in Donegal a punt, anything in it. There wasn’t any conditions in it, any boat could have been put into it.”

Ms Uí Cearbhaill explained that the current contract holder, which expires on April 1st, 2018, used a boat that was purpose built 25 years ago. “It does need to be updated. It provided a great service to the island over the years, but it is time to update that service.”

She said islanders had been in contact with the Department of the Gaeltacht regarding the ferry since January 2016.

“We discussed concerns based on the current service. We gave a list of recommendations that we would like to be included in the new ferry contract.”

She says the community was shocked to discover that none of their recommendations were included in the online call for tender.

“We had to wait two weeks to find out who got the contract . . . we were totally disheartened, just shocked, and stunned about this vessel when we found pictures of it.”

Ms Uí Cearbhaill said she had serious concerns regarding the age and size of the Queen of Aran vessel. “As island residents we all feel the boat isn’t suitable for a trip into Tory Island. I’m not condemning anyone’s vessel, it may be safe enough for other trips on the mainland. It’s nine miles in notorious seas. It’s just not suitable for the island.”

Ms Uí Cearbhaill said “five to six families” from the island, which has a population of 119 based on the latest census figures, are threatening to leave the island unless a stronger, more efficient vessel is provided.

Protest

Members of the community will travel to Dublin next Wednesday to protest outside the gates of Leinster House to underline their discontent at the vessel set to replace their current ferry service from April.

A statement from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said it had run an open tender competition, in accordance with public procurement rules, and had awarded the service to the company Réalt na Maidne using the vessel MV Queen of Aran.

It said Minister of State for the Islands Joe McHugh and officials from the department had met representatives from Comharchumann Oileán Thoraí last week in Donegal following a previous public meeting on the island.

The statement wrote: “The department indicated that it would be open to looking at a range of options for future ferry services to the island including, the possibility of purchasing a new vessel, building a bespoke vessel, subsidising the provision of a separate fast ferry service for the island to supplement both the new service scheduled to commence onApril 1st , 2018, and the island’s subsidised weekly winter air service. The department has also committed to the development of the pier of Machaire Rabhartaigh.”