Solution urged over threatened cut to Aran island ferry service

Sole winter service due to cease on January 17th following Supreme Court ruling

Tourists arriving back on the mainland after a ferry trip to Inis Mór. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Tourists arriving back on the mainland after a ferry trip to Inis Mór. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs Joe McHugh has urged the “various stakeholders” to find a solution to the threatened cut in the sole winter ferry service to the Aran island of Inis Mór.

Mr McHugh was commenting on the eve of an emergency meeting on the issue which islanders are holding with public representatives in Galway on Friday.

The Aran island co-op, Comharchumann Forbartha Árann, was informed by Island Ferries Ltd earlier this week that the service between Ros-a-Mhíl and Inis Mór would stop on January 17th, and would not resume till March, following a Supreme Court ruling on passenger and harbour dues.

The company, run by the O’Brien family of Ros a Mhíl, Co Galway, had taken two sets of proceedings arising from passenger charges imposed on the island and harbour charges at Ros a Mhíl - losing its appeal on one and winning on the second.

Owed monies

It had objected to collecting the passenger dues, levied to pay for a €50 million harbour extension on Inis Mór which the local authority is still owed monies for.

Mr McHugh said the company had provided a ferry service to Árann since 2013 without receiving any subsidy from his department, and he understood it was not seeking a subsidy now.

“My department has listened to the company’s views and I believe that the current difficulty arises from bylaws to be imposed by Galway County Council, ” Mr McHugh said.

“Of course, I am open to any reasonable measures which may help to resolve this matter, and I again urge the various stakeholders to come together to ensure that the ferry service to Árann will continue,” he said.

Reprieve secured

The threat to Inis Mór comes only weeks after all three islands secured a reprieve over the fixed wing air service provided by Aer Arann, after Mr McHugh’s department rowed back on a tender switching it to a helicopter service from Carnmore, east of Galway city.

Cniotáil Inis Meáin Teo managing director Tarlach de Blacam said his export business worth over €1.3 million annually was threatened by the inability of the Aran island cargo ferry Bláth na Mara (italics) to serve Inis Meáin for over 10 days as the basin is too small.

“Widening the basin and extending the breakwater is not an expensive job,” he said. “All of the expensive deepwater work is done.

“It is quite difficult to operate an export business from an offshore island and it is doubly difficult when we are left with no cargo service for a long period like this,” he said.

Cniotáil Inis Meáin Teo employs 18 people and exports to leading outlets in the US, Canada, Japan and Germany.