Hip Hip Sssshhh!

4 12 2007

The Campbeltown-Ballycastle ferry has been thrown a lifeline. The Scottish and Northern Ireland Executives are looking again at reviving the maritime link.

This story is being covered by BBC Scotland, PA (Scotland) and, erm, the Midlothian Advertiser. But not a dickey bird in media over here. No one is talking about it. Think Dodds might want to acknowledge it. Why so shy? Christ, if he knew you could bet your bottom dollar he’d be commenting on it.

But hold the fanfare! It’s not all good news. According to the Scottish press, Councillor Donald Kelly, chairman of the Kintyre Initiative Working Group, said:

‘The funding for a potential operator is not the issue. I’m concerned that there is a massive problem with civil servants on both sides of the water dragging their heels over this.

‘I have written numerous times to Stewart Stevenson stressing the need to maintain the relationship with the two companies who were successful in the pre-tender qualification round for this route. This has not been happening.’

He’s right in so far as DETI civil servants have been dragging their heels over commenting on what’s been in the public domain for most of the day.

But now’s not the time for negativity. Now’s the time for coy and silent celebration over the return of a service that provoked such widespread whingeing when originally withdrawn. Altogether now… Hip Hip Ssshhh!

UPDATE (6/12)
All a bit strange. Still nothing. The Herald is now reporting this, as is the estimable Shipping Times.

Why are the Scottish Executive and the Scottish media better informed about DETI decisions than we are? And how come a Scottish Minister happy to talk to the Scots press and refer to our Minister’s decision, yet on this side of the Irish Sea neither our Minister nor his department are content to say anything on the subject?

Is there some kind of problem about the announcement? Are the Scots attempting to bounce DETI into a decision it doesn’t want to make? After all, would anyone co-fund an economic appraisal for a scheme if they’re implacably opposed to it?

Or maybe DETI didn’t put a bid in for the Ballycastle ferry in the draft budget? The Scottish Executive could be throwing a lot of money at this and look for match funding from DETI. And given the budget is hard to the bone here, maybe the department can’t afford to back it?

Baldly stating that DETI is running away from the story because it failed to bid for ring-fenced funding in the budget, or is trying to avoid being bounced into a proposal it opposes is something staff at Bobballs will not do. However, staff here feel that some questions do present themselves. Maybe an announcement will soon arrive containing details on DETI’s commitment to Ballycastle.

One thing is clear – there is a gap in the level of co-ordinated, joined-up activity we would naturally expect between the devolved executives of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Why are the two executives out of step with one another? Is it happening elsewhere? Surely, this in itself is cause for some passing concern.

All right, all right. DUP North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey went on to EveningXtra tonight to welcome the economic appraisal. So we’ve got an announcement, right?

Well, not really. It sounded to staff at Bobballs like Mervyn was commenting on the information contained in the Scottish Executive press release, and not new information from a DETI press release. The Executive Information Service hasn’t posted up an announcement.

Remember, this was the position just 12 months ago. Nigel is back in Northern Ireland, so I don’t think there’s any logistical reason why he can’t publicly take this on.

When the tender went out in 2002, Ministers from across the isles were desperate to get a piece of the action. But Nigel has unusually kept quiet this time. Why?

This isn’t a minor story. This is the season of investment balls. The ferry could mean a lot of jobs in an area that has suffered considerably of late.

Government spending and departmental policy shouldn’t get handled by constituency MLAs. DETI generally doesn’t shirk big opportunities to talk nice about genuine job creation opportunity. Unless, of course, there is no genuine job creation opportunity.

Staff at Bobballs remain suspicious. Something isn’t adding up.




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