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BBC Scotland's Joanne Macaulay
"Business people and politicians are confident of putting forward a strong case for subsidy"
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BBC Scotland's David Calder
"It only ran during the summer months, but it did have an impact"
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Tuesday, 29 August, 2000, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
New hope for ferry link
MV Claymore
It is hoped the MV Claymore will be back in service
Independent experts and politicians have backed the restoration of a ferry link from Scotland to Ireland, saying it will bring major benefits.

Consultants were asked to look at how the economies of Cambeltown in Scotland and Ballycastle in North Ireland would be affected by the reintroduction of the service - which was closed earlier this year.

They concluded there would be "strong social and economic benefits".

Details of the consultants' report were revealed at a meeting in Ballycastle on Tuesday.

Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson: "Hurdles to overcome"
The UK Government wants to subsidise the service to Ballycastle, which played a vital role in Kintyre's struggling economy

But first it will need to secure permission from the European Commission.

Scotland Office Minister Brian Wilson, who chaired the meeting, said although there were many hurdles still to jump he was convinced restoration was the right step forward.

"The consultants' report will allow us to establish a socio-economic case that will provide the justification to the European Commission for the UK Government to declare a public service order on the route.

"If the EC agrees that an order is appropriate this would allow for subsidy to be paid."

Government pledge

Operator Sea Containers pulled out of the route in February because it said the service was not economically viable.

Earlier this month a consortium of local businesses and tourism organisations launched their bid to re-establish the route.

So far campaigners' efforts to secure the "lifeline" subsidy have failed - but the government says it will do everything it can to help.

It must convince Brussels that it is keeping a vital passenger service alive and not just propping up a venture that is losing money.

The ferry link closed in February
The service between Campbeltown and Ballycastle 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 was refitted for the service.

It was hoped the twice-daily sailings would create more than 200 jobs and raise 7m for tourism across Scotland as well as giving a boost to the Kintyre economy.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Argyll and Bute, Ray Michie, said: "There is no doubt that when the service was launched three years ago it was a tremendous boost to the area.

"It really increased confidence and morale for both businesses and the people, but that has rather dwindled since the service closed."

In February, the AA Line - reported to be losing 500,000 a year on the route - confirmed it was unable to continue.

A group of Kintyre business people, trading under the name of Kintyre Ferries, then launched the campaign to have the ferry route re-established.

The group has been negotiating to buy the MV Claymore and hopes that twice-daily sailings could resume next year.

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See also:

01 Aug 00 | Scotland
Ferry campaigners seek EU support
11 May 00 | Scotland
Axed ferry reprieved
23 Feb 00 | Scotland
Axed ferry 'badly promoted'
21 Feb 00 | Scotland
Ferry service axed
13 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
Fears over ferry future
04 Nov 99 | Scotland
MP's plea for struggling ferry route
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