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Families say they will leave Tory Island if 42-year-old ferry comes into service

Islanders are taking their protest to the gates of Leinster House next week.

shutterstock_404531971 Tory Island, Donegal. Shutterstock / Maria_Janus Shutterstock / Maria_Janus / Maria_Janus

THE VAST MAJORITY of Tory Island’s 150-odd population are planning to rise before dawn next Wednesday for a planned protest at the gates of Leinster House.

The islanders are incensed at what they say is a step backwards for the tiny community – it’s planned that from 1 April, their current ferry service will be replaced with a vessel built in 1976.

A series of local meetings has been held on the issue in the wake of the contract being awarded to the operator of the four-decade-old Queen of Aran, and some families are warning they will leave the island for good if the ferry comes into service.

One islander who spoke to said locals may even go as far as to block the Queen of Aran from docking on Tory if, as planned, she comes into service in two months’ time.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, a Donegal TD, is calling on the government to buy out the contract of the Queen of Aran’s owner and to recommission the existing ferry as a stopgap measure.

A new, purpose-built ferry should be built for crossings to the Atlantic island, he said, after which a tender for its operation could be opened.

The controversy over the service arose last year when operation of the ferry was put out to tender – as happens every five years.

The company that has operated the current vessel, the Tormór, put in a tender, alongside the operator of the older ferry, and the Queen of Aran was awarded the contract.

“The islanders are making the point that we have now gone back 20 years in terms of the type of service,” said Doherty

If Dublin Bus suddenly started operating buses from the 1970s through Ballsbridge I’m sure we’d know about it pretty fast.

Regarding the row over the tender, Doherty said:

The contract has been awarded to owner of the Queen of Aran.
Now, that individual has done nothing wrong – but in my view the contract should never have been awarded.
Sentiment on the island is very sincere about this – the’re very, very committed to making sure this is resolved.

tory Tory Island Google Maps Google Maps

Fine Gael’s Joe McHugh, the junior minister with responsibility for the islands, who is also a local TD, attended a meeting with locals recently.

A statement from his department said that the tender competition for the provision of “a passenger and light cargo ferry service for Toraigh Island” was run openly and in accordance with public procurement rules.

Following evaluation of tenders received, the contract for this service was awarded to the company, Réalt na Maidne Teo, using the vessel, MV Queen of Aran.

McHugh, the statement said, had attended a further meeting with the island’s co-op, Comharchumann Thoraí, last Friday to discuss islanders’ concerns.

It added:

At the meeting on Friday last, the Department indicated that it would be open to looking at a range of options for future ferry services to the Island including, the possibility of purchasing a new vessel, building a bespoke vessel, subsidising the provision of a separate fast ferry service for the island to supplement both the new service scheduled to commence on 1st April 2018 and the island’s subsidised weekly winter air service.
The Department has also committed to the development of the pier of Machaire Rabhartaigh.

Funding for any of these proposals, the statement went on to say, “would have to be evaluated in accordance with the Public Expenditure Code as set down by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform”.

“As with any major capital project, it is the norm for funding to be allocated at different stages of the project from start-up stage to completion, depending on the availability of resources and the results of detailed evaluation at each stage.

The representatives from Comharchumann Thoraí agreed to consider the Department’s proposals and revert to in due course.

Michael Rodgers, who lives on the island with his wife and young family, said four families had threatened to leave and live on the mainland if the Queen of Aran came into service.

And that could just be the start of it – it will be like a domino effect, that’s how things go on islands.

“The population needs to be protected, the culture, heritage and music needs to be protected,” Rodgers insisted.

Islanders intend to take their protest to the gates of Leinster House at 11am next Wednesday.

Two coachloads will be making the journey from Donegal, and Rodgers said people with roots on Tory would be making the trek to Dublin from all over the country.

Read: Fishing boat off Donegal coast nearly hit by submarine >

PHOTOS: People living on Donegal islands go to the polls >

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