Page last updated at 15:47 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 16:47 UK

Sunday ferry sailing 'inevitable'

Caledonian MacBrayne perviously postponed a decision on the matter

Ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne believes Sunday sailings to the mainland from Lewis and Harris are now "inevitable", BBC Alba has learned.

The company has been told it would be unlawful to refuse to run a service because of the religious views of just part of a community.

Pro-sailings campaigners sought advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Those opposed to services on the Sabbath have vowed to fight the move.

Sources at the company told BBC Alba - the organisation's Gaelic service - that the services were now "inevitable".

After seeking its own legal opinion, CalMac said its advisers warned it could be unlawful to refuse running a service on account of the beliefs of a section of the community.

Company officials said consultation would start soon on "when" and not "if" the sailings go-ahead.

We are keen to consult with community representatives
Peter Timms
CalMac chairman

CalMac said timetables would not be published until a consultation process was completed and the company's board had formally approved any Sunday sailings between Lewis and Harris and Skye and the mainland.

Chairman Peter Timms confirmed that the company was approached by the commission following a complaint which suggested it was operating in breach of the Equality Act 2006.

The company is required to operate within the terms of the law at all times and CalMac directors sought independent legal advice.

This advice indicated that the company was likely to be in breach of the act.

Mr Timms said: "Although this is not a formal legal challenge we cannot ignore the underlying claim that we may be operating unlawfully.

"We have sought legal advice and it appears we are likely to be in breach of the 2006 Act.

"As a result the CalMac board are now considering the implications of this. We are keen to consult with community representatives about how to operate within the terms of the legislation and no decision will be taken until the implications for operations have been fully investigated."

Individual choice

Last March, the ferry operator said it would not embark on controversial plans for Sunday sailings to Lewis in the immediate future.

Its board discussed the issue, but postponed taking any decision until the details of a road equivalent tariff (RET) pilot had been agreed.

The Scottish Government is now running a trial of RET on routes to the Western Isles.

The pilot links ferry prices to the cost of travelling the same distance by road.

At that time 4,000 residents of Lewis and Harris had signed a petition against Sunday sailings.

A counter petition backing a Sunday service between Stornoway, on the traditionally Presbyterian isle, and Ullapool on the mainland had also attracted large support.

Supporters have said an extended service will bring social and economic benefits to the island and that Sunday travel should be a matter of individual choice.

A seven-day service between neighbouring Harris and North Uist began last year despite local protests.

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