Regional Development Minister visits Rathlin Island
Sinn Féin Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy went to Rathlin Island today to listen to residents' concerns.
The Rathlin Development and Community Association (RDCA) presented the Minister with a policy document developed by the Irish Islands Federations. The document recommends a partnership approach, involving islanders in policy and project development in a range of areas including agriculture, education, fire and emergency services, health and social services, childcare, housing and planning, marine policy, waste management, environment, enterprise and employment and access and transport.
Mr Murphy said: "Rathlin Island is the only inhabited offshore island in the north and has a unique and special environment. It is important that government continues to recognise the importance of island living.
"Rathlin is of great ecological, historical and cultural value and needs good access services and infrastructure in order to ensure its sustainability. Government has recognised the importance of encouraging tourism and improving the economic prospects.
"In 1991 islanders converted fishing boats to provide a ferry service. Today government currently provides an annual subsidy of £440,000 to Ballycastle Ferries Limited, a company owned by CalMac, who run the route. Last year the ferry carried almost 50,000 people and over 2,500 vehicles.
"Over the years, government also contributed to significant improvements at both Ballycastle and Rathlin harbours resulting in slipways being built."
In April the Department for Regional Development (DRD) announced a tender for the ferry contract, which will begin in April 2008. DRD had meetings in June with the pre-qualified bidders with final bids due by the end of September. DRD is currently in discussions with the RDCA about the contract specification and will be considering the appropriate length of the new contract.
Roads Service has improved the most critical section of roads on the island. Mr Murphy said: "Our main priority is to maintain the existing surfaced roads to prevent deterioration. We plan to carry out surface dressing of the western section of the Spire Road from Church Bay to Kebble Cottage next year. This will cost around £50,000."