Fears over loss of ferry service to Aran island of Inis Mór
Island Ferries in dispute over over by-law seeking levies from islanders and tourists
An aerial view of part of the Aran island of Inis Mór. Residents of the island have called on the Government to take urgent action over the impending loss of the sole ferry link with Galway over the winter months. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.
Residents of the Aran island of Inis Mór have called on the Government to take urgent action over the impending loss of the sole ferry link with Galway over the winter months.
Island Ferries, which runs the service from the south Connemara harbour of Ros-a-Mhíl, has said it is stopping sailings from November 2nd-March 17th due to a failure to resolve a dispute over passenger levies. The company says it is putting 25 staff on protective notice.
An emergency meeting is to be held on Inis Mór on Wednesday by Comharchumann Forbartha Árann, the island co-op.
Co-op manager Cathy Ní Ghoill said this was not the first time the service has faced a threat but that islanders were very upset. Winter services to the islands of Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr are not affected by the action.
“Island Ferries has been giving a brilliant service with good vessels, and it has been one of the reasons that people have moved back to the island,”she said.
In a statement, Island Ferries Teo said it had served Inis Mór for more than 33 years, and was forced to suspend the twice-daily winter runs due to “policy decisions beyond our control”.
Last December, the company threatened similar action after it lost a Supreme Court appeal against passenger levies imposed by Galway County Council to help pay for the new Inis Mór harbour.
The council voted in a by-law requesting the company to collect the equivalent of €0.80 per tourist using the ferry, and an annual €5 fee from islanders.
Island Ferries owner Paddy O’Brien said he was not opposed to harbour dues, but believed the passenger levy was unfair.
A temporary resolution reached early this year saw the Department of the Gaeltacht offer to pay a subvention for the winter, but Mr O’Brien said the sum was conditional and he never received the payment.
“We have engaged with Government and Galway County Council members and officials in open dialogue for the last number of months in an attempt to avert such drastic measures,” the company said in a statement.
“We had hoped that some level of reasonable negotiation would prevail and that both Government and Galway County Council would have taken note of the recent U-turn by Clare County Council, in its failed attempt to introduce such discriminatory charges on the Islanders and tourists of Doolin, Co Clare.”
The ferry company said it had “continually raised questions” on the “legitimacy of the alleged running costs” presented by Galway County Council for Cill Rónáin harbour on Inis Mór.
It said that such estimates should be “entirely transparent and independently audited”.
It said it had put forward “progressive alternatives” to reach an “amicable resolution” and was now at an “impasse”.
The development comes as the long-term future of the Aran island air service has still not been resolved. An existing contract with Aer Arann has been extended to December, when it is hoped that a new contract will have been agreed.