HC Deb 17 March 1994 vol 239 cc1002-3
2. Mr. Peter Bottomley

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who advises him on the safety of the harbours and the ferry service linking the inhabited island with County Antrim.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tim Smith)

Advice on these matters is provided by the marine directorate of the Department of Transport, which, from 1 April, will be known as the Marine Safety Agency, and by the Health and Safety Executive.

Mr. Bottomley

Northern Ireland has one inhabited offshore island—Rathlin. If Rathlin were in the south of Ireland or in Scotland, the harbour facilities would be improved. Will my hon. Friend engage all the efforts of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, who has more right to call himself Irish than St. Patrick, to ensure that, whether from European funds or from Northern Ireland funds, the harbours at Castle Bay and Ballycastle are improved? That cannot be done by Moyle council itself. There must be some other form of funding.

Mr. Smith

I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest in Rathlin island and am sorry that it was not possible to include improvements to the harbour facilities in this year's public spending round, but I will do as he suggests for the future.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister agree that the ferry services operating from Belfast and Larne, County Antrim, and my constituency operate within the highest possible safety standards? Does he further agree that the safety of ships' passengers and crews would be enhanced by the provision of a lifeboat at Larne and by the improvement of roads to the ports of Northern Ireland and to the ports on the western coast of the most inhabited island—Great Britain?

Mr. Smith

I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's interest in the port of Lame and will look carefully at what he said about the provision of a lifeboat. I am looking with great care at road links.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I, too, should like to greet the House on St. Patrick's day and also to say that the Secretary of State could do a good service to Northern Ireland for once by declaring St. Patrick's day a public holiday. That would please the nationalists, because they think that St. Patrick was a Roman Catholic, and the Protestants, because they know that he was a Protestant and a Brit.

Having said that, I remind the Minister that the real problem for Rathlin island is not its harbour but the deplorable harbour at Ballycastle. Is he aware that, last Friday, many school children could have been drowned by the terrible swell in the harbour at Ballycastle? Will he see to it that some of the structural funds that will now be available from the EEC will be put to an urgent reconstruction of the harbour at Ballycastle so that the people from Rathlin have a proper entrance to the mainland?

Mr. Smith

I am afraid that I am not in a position to render St. Patrick's day a public holiday, much as I should like to do so. I will refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the. Secretary of State.

I was very concerned to hear what the hon. Gentleman said about Rathlin island, and I will visit the island as soon as I can to see what can be done.

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