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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 December 2005, 11:04 GMT
Anxious wait over ferry service
Launch of Campbeltown to Ballycastle service
The service was scrapped after three summers in service
Campaigners face an anxious wait to find out if a ferry service between Argyll and Northern Ireland will be restored.

The Scottish Executive is prepared to offer a 1m-a-year subsidy, but it is unclear if any of the four shortlisted companies will submit a bid.

The late first minister Donald Dewar launched the first Campbeltown to Ballycastle service eight years ago.

But it proved a commercial failure and operators pulled out in 1999.

The service was launched in June 1997 with Sea Containers setting up the Argyll & Antrim Steam Packet company, known as the AA Line, to run it.

It received 8m from public agencies and the MV Claymore vessel was refitted for the service.

George Lyon MSP
The route needs government investment to make it work
George Lyon MSP

Operators hoped the twice-daily sailings would create more than 200 jobs and raise 7m for tourism across Scotland.

But the AA Line - reported to have lost 500,000 a year on the route - confirmed it was unable to continue in 2001.

Local MSP George Lyon said it was the "last throw of the dice" for the route and that it deserved to be subsidised.

"I believe over time it would be a success, but it needs government investment in the first instance to make it work," said Mr Lyon.

Refloat service

"I don't see where we would go after this if we don't get a bid for the route."

The executive failed in an attempt to restore the service using public money in 2002.

But campaigners have fought since then to restore the link and are confident about the latest attempt.

Les Oman, from the Dalriada Business Group, said: "People felt that the service hadn't been given a proper chance.

"For three years you don't get a proper kick at the ball, but finally people are starting to see tangible evidence that the ferry was making an impact - whether it was hoteliers, restaurants, cashing up at night and actually realising that there are more than a few coins and notes from over the water in the tills.

Ferry service sign
Local businesses are enthusiastic about the ferry route

"Or, the number of cars being driven around by locals who had Northern Ireland plates.

"So there was a degree of commerce going on between the two communities."

Inverary hotelier Donald Clark is confident a restored ferry service would benefit the whole of the west Highlands.

"When the ferry was running we had a large increase in the number of folk from the north of Ireland and from Ireland," said Mr Clark.

"It was easy access and it was in a round trip as a lot of people could have the Irish experience and go round the islands."

The executive has invited four companies to tender for the contract, but it is unclear if anyone will definitely bid before next month's deadline.

None of the shortlisted firms were prepared to discuss their intentions with BBC Scotland.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Wave of enthusiasm over ferry service



SEE ALSO:
Summer launch hopes for ferry link
30 Dec 02 |  Scotland
Views sought on ferry link
11 Oct 02 |  Scotland
Commission ferry cash boost
08 Feb 01 |  Scotland


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