Press Notice – Toraigh Ferry Services
In February 2017, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht commenced an open tender competition, in accordance with public procurement rules, for the provision of a passenger and light cargo ferry service for Toraigh Island.
Prior to going to tender, Minister of State McHugh and Departmental Officials had met with representatives from Tory Island Co-op. The islanders requested that it be a condition of the new contract that:
- The vessel would be berthed on the island overnight, and
- That the duration of the journey would be no longer than 30 minutes.
The Department deemed it impractical to be this specific in a tender document as to do so could result in no tenders being received in a very limited market.
The Department launched the tender process in 2017 and two tenders were received.
These were evaluated in accordance with pre-published criteria, including:
- Suitability of the vessel
- Cargo facilities
- Additional services tendered
- Safety and Environmental issues
- Irish language issues
Following this evaluation the contract for this service was awarded to the company, Réalt na Maidne Teo, using the vessel, MV Queen of Aran.
While this vessel is older than the one currently used on the service (the Queen of Aran was built in 1976, the Tormór in 1992), it is currently undergoing a full refit, in consultation with the Marine Surveyor’s Office (MSO) which has statutory responsibility for the safety of passenger vessels in Ireland.
The new service will be a considerable improvement on that currently provided:
- The vessel will have a lift for passengers with impaired mobility.
- The vessel will be faster than the current vessel and carry more passengers
- A dedicated bus service will be provided between An Bun Beag and Machaire Rabhartaigh on days when it cannot dock at the latter pier. Previously, islands had to arrange taxis from Bun Beag to Machaire Rabhartaigh.
- The operator will provide additional cargo services as part of the contract.
This contract will come into effect from 1 April 2018 and run for a 5 year period.
A proposal was submitted to the Department, whereby another vessel might be used as the main vessel, in place of the Queen of Aran other than in bad weather or if cargo needed to be transported. The outline information on the vessel also stated that she is certified to carry:
- 72 passengers between 1 April and 31 October, and
- 12 passengers between 1 November and 31 March.
The Department did a review of the passenger numbers over recent years. The Department is of the view that the vessel in question is not appropriate as a main vessel as the licence to carry 12 passengers is not sufficient. Changing the primary vessel is considered not to be practical for the following reasons:
- In excess of 12 passengers regularly travel on individual sailings during the winter period
- There is no indication that the vessel can carry light cargo
- The Queen of Aran has permits to carry 96 passengers and 3 tonnes of cargo. Changing the vessel would, therefore, reduce the service available.
Recognising the concerns expressed by islanders, the Department has offered a number of options for future ferry services to Toraigh. These include:
- The building of a new vessel to service the island or the purchase of a new vessel;
- Development of the pier at Machaire Rabhartaigh, in order to accommodate any new vessel;
- Subsidise the provision of a separate fast ferry service for the island to supplement both the new service scheduled to commence on 1stApril 2018, its existing heavy cargo service and the island’s weekly winter air service. This fast service would require a small boat, with a capacity of between 12 and 20 passengers, operating alongside the main service and the island’s subsidised weekly winter air service.
The Minister of State has reiterated his commitment to pursuing these options at all meetings with the Toraigh community.
The Department has also confirmed its commitment to reviewing the various procurement options, which include
- Commencing the planning process to build a new vessel for the island, with the intention that it be built within 2/3 years. The Queen of Aran would come into service to Tory on 1 April 2018
- Commencing the planning process to build a new vessel for the island, with the intention that it be built within 2/3 years. The Queen of Aran would come into service to Tory on 1 April 2018. In addition, a small fast ferry service (circa 12 passengers) would be provided between the island and Machaire Rabhartaigh
- Commencing the procurement process to procure a second hand vessel for the island. This process could take one to one and a half years, with no certainty that there is an appropriate vessel on the market to serve Toraigh. The Queen of Aran would come into service to Toraigh on 1 April 2018
In addition to this, the Department has also committed to commencing the process to upgrade the pier at Machaire Rabhartaigh to facilitate any new boat. Meetings with Donegal County Council are being arranged accordingly.
It is important to note that in line with standard procedure, the funding of any major capital project must be evaluated in accordance with the Public Expenditure Code as set down by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
It should be noted that funding has been earmarked for both the upgrade of the pier at Machaire Rabhartaigh and for the new vessel under Project Ireland: 2040.
A meeting has also been arranged with the Department of Infrastructure in Northern Ireland in relation to the boat they built for Rathlin and a delegation from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Tory island will visit Rathlin in the coming weeks.