19/12/2007

Rathlin Ferry's Future Fears

Rathlin Island residents are seeking reassurances from the Department of Regional Development (DRD) on the future of its ferry connection with the mainland.

The residents of Ulster's only inhabited island are nervous and fear a vital lifeline is in jeopardy - after the Government failed to find a new ferry operator.

Concerns were raised after the DRD abandoned the tendering process to find a company for Ballycastle to Rathlin route last month.

In a statement from the Department officials they said none of the applications for the five-year contract were "economically advantageous".

Despite receiving "a number" of tenders since competition opened in April the Department abandoned competition on November 29.

Chairman of Moyle District Council Madeline Black said DRD must act immediately to allay people's fears.

She said: "The council is disappointed that the current tendering process has failed to produce a result.

"We would want to be assured by the department that there will be a new contract in place for April 2008."

The contract, which is up for renewal in April 2008, has been held by Rathlin Ferries, a subsidiary of the Scottish Executive-owned David MacBrayne. During 2007-08 Calmac received a DRD subsidy of £450,000.

In a statement the DRD said it was their intention to re-advertise the tender.

It read: "The DRD has decided to abandon the current competition to provide the Rathlin Island to Ballycastle ferry service which closed on October 11, and to re-tender on a revised basis.

"The Department had received a number of bids from interested operators but following tender evaluation, the selection panel advised that none of the bids offered a most economically advantageous solution in terms of affordability and compliance with the service requirement.

"In the light of this, the Department is reconsidering its approach and the tender will be re-advertised in the near future, with a view to an award of contract by April 2008."

(BMcC)

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