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Tuesday, 16 October, 2001, 10:23 GMT 11:23 UK
Island's pensioners welcome free ferry
Rathlin beach
Rathlin island is off the north Antrim Coast
Pensioners will be able to travel free on the Rathlin Island ferry service to and from the island off Northern Ireland's north coast.

The announcement by Regional Development Minister Gregory Campbell puts the service on a par with buses, trains and the Strangford Lough ferry service on the mainland.

Pensioners on the island off the County Antrim coast had felt they had been forgotten about in the Northern Ireland Executive's free transport agenda.

The ferry to Ballycastle six miles away is an essential service for islanders, who travel for half price, with pensioners on the island also benefiting from a further 1 discount.

Rathlin island map

However, it was still not on a par with the free travel available to those in the rest of Northern Ireland.

Peggy McFall is one of the 18 pensioners among the 100 people who live on the island.

"If we're entitled to anything more I don't see why we shouldn't have it," she said.

Customers in the island's Post Office said that the ferry was a service that every islander had to use.

"Wherever we have to go we have to get the ferry first. That is something you have to pay for before you go anywhere else," said one.

In announcing the extension of free travel to include the ferry, which comes into effect in the New Year, Mr Campbell said the service was important for the island.

"The Rathlin Island Ferry Service provides a life-line service for the people of Rathlin and enables others to visit Northern Ireland's only inhabited island," he said.

We're trying to develop the island to encourage more people to visit

Alison Hurst
Rathlin islander

Now that the free transport has been secured some residents believe that the island's economy may benefit, with an increase in visitors.

Alison Hurst of the island's community association said the announcement was a welcome development.

"It is something that we have been really hoping for and now we can really say that Rathlin is going to get a lot of people travelling backwards and forwards.

"It will make a big difference to the economy of the island.

"We're trying to develop the island to encourage more people to visit.

"The people who live here needn't feel isolated. They are able to go backwards and forwards as much as they like and not have to worry about it coming out of their pension," she said.

BBC NI's Jeremy Mitchell reports
"The Rathlin ferry is an essential service"
See also:

02 Sep 00 | Northern Ireland
Island pub goes on the market
10 Apr 00 | Northern Ireland
Islanders fear desertion of youth
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