We all enjoy freedom of movement but what happens when that freedom is restricted by an island ferry being 40 years old? Residents of the island of Toraigh, situated off the north west coast of Ireland are in the process of resolving a long running dispute with the Irish government over safety fears concerning the island ferry service.
In late January, residents had threaten to leave the island if the issue over the use of an ageing vessel was not resolved. It had been announced in September 2017 that a purpose-built ferry for the island would be provided following a meeting between the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and delegation of islanders. However, locals from the Toraigh community were shocked when it was announced that the proposed boat, the 40-year-old Queen of Aran ferry, was to be assigned as the vessel. Locals immediately raised concerns that the boat was too old and not up to standard for the rough 15km crossing.
Now, following intervention by a mediator, it seems that the fear of the islanders leaving has been alleviated with an agreement seemingly in place following a vote by the residents. The islanders have voted in favour of a compromise proposal which aims to resolve the row over transport links with the Donegal mainland which will see the introduction of a 12-passenger fast ferry service that will run in tandem with the conventional ferry for the 15km sea crossing between the island and Machaire Rabhartaigh on the Irish mainland.
Pól Ó Gallchóir, chairman of Foras an Gaeilge and former chief executive of Irish language TV channel, TG4, was appointed independent mediator to resolve the dispute.
Mr Ó Gallchóir’s report also refers to an upgrade of Machaire Rabhartaigh pier as well as the fast ferry carrying 12 passengers which is expected to run twice daily, seven days a week, weather permitting. A spokesman for Minister of State for the Islands said most of the proposals were “cost neutral”, as the new ferry contract was agreed at a lower cost than the current contract.
The report also recommended an increase in cargo delivery from 26 weeks to 40 weeks per year, and proving longer cover in winter for the helicopter service which is run by the Health Service Executive.
Minister of State for the Islands Joe McHugh stated that “We want to support our island communities and I’m grateful for the hard work and time the people of Tory have put into this process in recent days,”
“Now that ferry, cargo and transport services to and from the island are secure we should look forward to Tory becoming a place where more and more people will want to visit, live and stay in the coming years,” Mr McHugh said.