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Ferry service faces uncertain future amid struggle to reach Brexit deal

Today marks the second anniversary of the Brexit vote.

The inaugural Scenic Carlingford Ferry service arrives at Greencastle, Co Down, in July 2017.
The inaugural Scenic Carlingford Ferry service arrives at Greencastle, Co Down, in July 2017.
Image: Michael McHugh/PA Archive/PA Images

THE CARLINGFORD FERRY was only launched a year ago but is already facing an uncertain future with a solution to the post-Brexit border problem still to be found.

The service has proved popular with commuters looking for a speedy crossing to work, but the potential imposition of time-consuming customs checks means it may be increasingly reliant on an underdeveloped tourism sector.

The project was 10 years in the making when Britain voted on 23 June 2016 to leave the European Union, but despite the setback, Frazer Ferries, which operates the service, has vowed to plough on.

“There is no clearly defined endgame for Brexit yet and we don’t know what it will ultimately look like, but we do feel very confident that we will adapt,” Paul O’Sullivan, director of Frazer Ferries, said.

The service, which can accomodate 10 cars, runs every 30 minutes across Carlingford Lough, an inlet of the Irish Sea.

There are no checks along the border but EU and British negotiators are so-far stumped on how to maintain the open border post-Brexit.

The quiet region around the lough is renowned for its idyllic, mountainous scenery, but remains somewhat isolated.

“A lot of people didn’t know this part of the world existed,” said Geoffrey Chestnutt, owner of a holiday resort on the Northern Irish coast, noting that the ferry had boosted business.

“They would have travelled directly from Newry (in Northern Ireland) to Newcastle, just missing it out,” added the 40-year-old. “It’s a good thing for both sides of the lough”.

Jobs

In addition to the 17 jobs directly created by the service, it also has the potential to provide a broader boost to the economy, O’Sullivan said.

The operator said a fishery based in the Northern Ireland coastal town of Kilkeel had been in touch about the possibility of making deliveries to the south.

“The ferry would obviously cut a 30-mile journey down to a couple of miles,” he said, explaining that the boat takes 15 minutes, compared with more than an hour by road.

Ticket-seller Nora McKee told AFP: “Most of our commuters are from the north side — a whole lot is travelling through to Dublin for work.”

But the return of a physical border could spell an end to the shortened journey for professional clientele.

‘Neglect’ 

The ferry is already trying to increase its tourist numbers, but the holidaymakers are still few and far between, according to Brian Mac An Bhaird, who blames a lack of investment.

“Look at today, this is the middle of the summer … there are no people. Where are the tourists?” asked the 71-year-old, noting: “You can’t even get a sandwich here.”

Paddy Malone, from the regional chamber of commerce, said Carlingford was hit particularly hard by the Troubles, and has “been neglected” since peace was achieved.

He partly blames authorities south of the border, whom he said “feel that if they get people up to the border, half of the money will be spent on the other side”.

Malone believes the area has “huge potential if we can manage Brexit”, but admitted that uncertainty hung over the border region and the future of the ferry.

On a more optimistic note, O’Sullivan insisted that if a physical border reappeared, “perhaps those cars would rather wait for these checks in the comfort of the ferry terminal overlooking Carlingford Lough” than take the motorway.

© AFP 2018 

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