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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 March 2006, 20:14 GMT 21:14 UK
Sabbath ferry service makes waves
Cal Mac ferry
A petition opposes Sunday sailings across the Sound of Harris
A decision to run a Sunday ferry between parts of the Western Isles has triggered a major row.

Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne has been accused of "wrecking a way of life" by running the Sunday service between North Uist and South Harris.

It is the first scheduled Sunday ferry service to operate in or out of the island of Lewis and Harris, which has traditionally observed the Sabbath.

Western Isles councillors opposed the move at a meeting on Thursday.

The council's policy and resources committee agreed the authority should stick to its policy of its staff and contractors not working on Sundays.

Councillors expressed opposition to Sunday sailings to Lewis and Harris.

The committee's recommendation was backed by the full Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) late on Thursday.

But if CalMac chose to go ahead with the service there is nothing the council can do to stop it.

It is now four years since a Sunday air service to Lewis began.

'Difficult decision'

On Wednesday, three councillors presented CalMac chairman Dr Harold Mills with a 711-name petition against the ferry move.

They claimed more than two thirds of voters in the most affected area of Harris were opposed to such a service.

Dr Mills said it was a difficult decision but people in Uist would now be able to go through the islands like everyone else.

The service currently runs six days a week between Berneray and Leverburgh.

Roll on roll off ferry Loch Portain
The ferry Loch Portain would service the new Sunday route

It has not yet been revealed when the Sunday service will begin.

North Uist councillor Archie Campbell said there was support across the island communities for Sunday sailings.

He had been pressing for such a service to allow people on North Uist to visit relatives in hospital in Stornoway on Lewis.

Mr Campbell said: "A number of people who have spoken to me - people of all ages, people who are members of churches and not members, people who are elders in churches - said that they don't have a difficulty with a ferry running across the Sound of Harris."

But Donald MacDonald, councillor for Harris East, said two thirds of voters in the most affected area of Harris were opposed to the move.

Mr MacDonald was critical of existing CalMac services, adding: "They are there as a public company representing our people and if they do not listen to that then I don't think they should be there."

The particular communities we are talking about here have a difference of opinion within these communities about how the ferry should operate
Hugh Dan MacLennan
CalMac spokesman

Morag Munro, councillor for Harris West, added: "Councillors represent people and the company should be looking at the needs of the people, so they should be taking account of what the elected representatives are saying."

CalMac spokesman Hugh Dan MacLennan said the operator was "damned if it did and damned if it didn't" over the Sunday service.

He said the CalMac board considered the service on Wednesday following a request from Uist councillors.

Mr MacLennan said: "Councillor Campbell is one of the six councillors on Uist - five of whom supported the introduction of the seven-day service.

"It was at Councillor Campbell's request that the board was deliberating in the first place.

"He made the case that for the social, economic and other reasons such as hospital visits and school activities that a seven-day service would be beneficial for the Sound of Harris."

Difficult position

Mr MacLennan added: "Every ferry has two different ends. It has people on both sides.

"The particular communities we are talking about here have a difference of opinion within these communities about how the ferry should operate.

"Now given that circumstance the board was in a very difficult position.

"They have also stated quite clearly that they recognise the sensitivities of the service and the area it operates in."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the reaction of islanders



SEE ALSO:
Sunday ferry splits communities
30 Mar 06 |  Scotland
Airport hails Sabbath flights
26 Oct 03 |  Scotland
Islands consider Sunday trading
29 Jul 03 |  Scotland
Sabbath ban decision delayed
12 Jun 03 |  Scotland


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