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'This would be a huge blow': The Valentia Island ferry may have just sailed for the last time

The service needs funding to replace its out-of-date ferry with one that meets standards.

Captain Donal Walsh has been skipper of the ferry for 22 years.
Captain Donal Walsh has been skipper of the ferry for 22 years.

YESTERDAY, THE VALENTIA Island ferry in Kerry ran its last service before stopping for the winter, like it is usually does every October.

This time, however, it may not come back as usual in mid-March, as the 56-year-old ferry used for the service urgently needs to be replaced.

Funding is required to help meet the cost of purchasing a new one. The new ferry will cost €3 million, with householders and businesses from the area able to supply the first €1 million towards the price.

With this funding not forthcoming from government agencies, locals fear that they will have to contend without a ferry service in the future.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Richard Foran, who operates the Valentia Island ferry, said that removing the service would be catastrophic for the local community.

He said: “We’re still trying to sort it out, but it’s very hard. We need the funding.

“We have the bridge to the mainland on the other side of the island, but the main town of the island is on the other side. Losing the ferry would force businesses there to close down. The ferry is the main way to get into the town.”

original (4) Source: Google Maps

Foran said that losing the service would particularly affect tourism in the area, particularly with increased numbers flocking to south Kerry because of the filming of the Star Wars films and the Wild Atlantic Way campaign.

He said: “This effectively takes us off the ring of Kerry. Skellig Ring was named by the Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 places in the world to visit. Not having a ferry takes us out of that equation.

It’s pretty serious and detrimental for the local community and the whole peninsula.

Foran said that all of the TDs in the local area had been active in campaigning for a new ferry, but that they had been unsuccessful.

In a parliamentary question last December by Michael Healy-Rae, he asked if the Department of Tourism would provide funding for the new ferry.

Last day for Valentia Island Car Ferry, County Kerry Ireland. Service may close after 22 years. Sunday 8th October 2017. Source: Stephen Power

Then-junior minister in that department, Patrick O’Donovan, replied: “This is an operational matter for the Board and Management of Fáilte Ireland.

While the Department provides funding to Fáilte Ireland to invest in tourism offerings, it does not administer those capital programmes.  Similarly, it does not have discretionary funds at its disposal to assist with tourism proposals.

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Speaking in the Seanad a few weeks ago, Fine Gael Senator Paul Coghlan said the matter was deserving of urgent attention.

He said: “As we know it links the Victorian capital of Knightstown with the mainland. It is a five-minute crossing. It is very important for tourism in the south-west and, indeed, the local economy.

In 2016, the ferry handled 250,000 passengers and 100,000 cars. The traffic handled by the 15-car capacity ferry has now reached a stage where more capacity is needed. The demand is huge. This is an old vessel. It is nearly 50 years old. It needs a modern, efficient replacement which will be able to take coaches.

Foran added: “We’d be due to restart as normal in March 2018. I just hope we can get a new ferry sorted by then.”

In a statement, Fáilte Ireland that Valentia Ferry’s application was “ineligible”.

“With specific regard to Valentia Ferry – their application was deemed ineligible under the criteria of the scheme – section 3.2 of the application guidelines clearly state that costs associated with ‘loose fittings, furniture, road vehicles and boats’ will be ineligible,” Fáilte Ireland said.

“This has been explained to the Valentia Ferry company on a number of occasions. In addition, Fáilte Ireland’s large grants scheme is subject to EU State Aid Rules which would also deem grant assistance to the ferry not allowable.”

Read: ‘It will destroy tourism here’: Islanders worried as ferry set to be decomissioned

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Sean Murray

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