Statement from Joe McHugh T.D, Government Chief Whip and Minister of State for the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands in relation to the Passenger and Light Cargo Ferry Service for Toraigh, 2018 – 2023
On 8 September 2017, I announced that my Department had awarded the contract for the above service to Realt na Maidne Teoranta. The contract will come into effect on 1 April 2018 and will last for five years. Under this contract, a passenger and light cargo ferry service will be provided between Toraigh and Machaire Rabhartaigh on the mainland.
The contract was awarded following an open tender process, which had been advertised on eTenders in February of this year. Two companies submitted tenders for the service by the advertised deadline, neither of which proposed the provision of a new vessel. Following due consideration, the contract was awarded to Realt na Maidne Teoranta.
Once in place, I am confident that the new contract will offer an improved service to islanders. The vessel that will come in to operation, the Queen of Aran, offers an improvement in speed, cargo capacity and facilities. The vessel is undergoing a refit in advance of coming into service on this route and this includes the installation of a lift, allowing passengers ease of access to both decks. In addition to providing a comprehensive passenger and light cargo service for the island, the new service will provide 4 specific sailings per year to assist with the removal of scrap from the island – an issue that I know has been the subject of concern among the island community. Furthermore, a new bus service will be provided to transport passengers between Machaire Rabhartaigh and an Bun Beag, where bad weather requires the vessel to use that harbour.
My Department is mindful of the challenges faced by small island communities. I am aware that there are particular geographical and maritime challenges relating to the harbour in Machaire Rabhartaigh. In order to address these challenges, my Department has previously carried out research in partnership with both the Scottish and Northern Irish authorities. The results of this research, which was funded by the EU, recommended a long term solution to this problem, involving the construction of a new vessel. Due to the latest concerns raised by the island community, I have now asked my officials to revisit these recommendations with a view to examining the feasibility of their implementation in the longer term.
In the meantime, I am arranging to meet with representatives of the Tory community without delay in order to discuss their concerns.