24/04/2009

SOS For Sinking Ferry Service

As a scenic cross border transport link remains in jeopardy, a Coleraine Sinn Féin councillor has urged NI Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster to take action to save the ferry.

Billy Leonard wants the DUP Minister to play her part along with other Stormont Executive colleagues to save the Magilligan ferry service to Greencastle.

The Minister who has responsibility for tourism was at Coleraine Council offices meeting local businessmen and councillors to discuss jobs and the economic development of the area this week with Councillor Leonard underlining the case for funding for the 15-minute international car ferry journey to be supported.

"Minister Foster confirmed her discussions with DRD Minister Conor Murphy and that her Department was waiting on some documentation on the ferry service," he said, afterwards.

"She was also aware of our debate this week when Coleraine Council called for the abolition of the security classification and the linking £90,000 costs which threaten the ferry's survival.
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"I stressed the importance of the service to the entire North Coast and beyond, its contribution to the all important tourism industry and how it would be a travesty if we were to lose the service at a time when we are encouraging more Irish visitors to spend their euro here," he continued.

"She is in no doubt of the pressure of time given that the current contract expires in June and she agreed to promptly work on the issue with Conor Murphy and their Executive colleagues."

The Lough Foyle Ferry Company used to receive an annual subsidy but that has now run out.

It has been operating between Magilligan and Greencastle in Co Donegal for the last seven years.

Back in February, Mr Murphy said replacement funding "was not possible" because the ferry runs between two jurisdictions and also government budgets were so tight.

"I do recognise the importance of the ferry service in the local area and, despite the limitations of my own department, I think that at the very least there is a need for interested parties to explore more fully whether there are any options available which might help the service," he said, at the time.

SDLP MLA John Dallat also commented in February that the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dáil in the Republic of Ireland should both step in.

However, last year, the Lough Foyle Ferry Company lost €56,000 with estimates that it could lose nearly €224,000 this year.

See: Donegal Ferry Funding Plan 'Sunk'

(BMcC/JM)

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