HC Deb 14 November 1996 vol 285 cc475-7
3. Miss Hoey

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on compensation arrangements for those who lose their jobs as a result of the new ferry introduced between Rathlin island and Ballycastle. [2511]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Malcolm Moss)

The forthcoming introduction of a new ferry service will mean the withdrawal of subsidy from the existing operators. As a result they are most unlikely to continue with a ferry service and they have no entitlement to compensation for that eventuality. Should any employee of either operator not be offered employment by the provider of the new service, that employee is at liberty to seek compensation from that provider under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981.

Miss Hoey

I thank the Minister, but surely he must accept that there is a moral responsibility to ensure that those people living on the island who will lose their jobs as a direct result of the introduction of the ferry are compensated. Tommy Cecil runs the Iona ferry, his family have run the ferry for more than 100 years and he has kept the link going between Ballycastle and Rathlin when no money had been spent on the harbours and the crossing was dangerous and attracted no subsidy. Is the Minister really saying that we will throw those people on the scrap heap and not allow them compensation?

Mr. Moss

The Government's purpose is to provide a safer, more reliable and more comfortable ferry service. We are spending, with our European neighbours, around £7.25 million to improve the harbours. We have paid in subsidy around £300,000 to the operators since 1991 and we hope that when the new ferry service is brought in, six new full-time jobs will be created, all of which will go to the islanders. That will bring in £80,000 of permanent employment to Rathlin island.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I am sure that the Minister is aware that Rathlin island is the only large island off Northern Ireland that is inhabited. In 1900, it had more than 1,000 inhabitants and that figure has now been reduced to 200. I am sure that he is also aware that never, in all the time up until 1991, did the Government do anything to facilitate the Rathlin islanders getting to Ballycastle and back. They did that on their own initiative. Does the Minister agree that Mr. Cecil should be congratulated on how hard he tried, and managed, to keep a passageway open from the island to Ballycastle? He sacrificed much—lives have been lost on that passage and we should keep that in mind—and he did so willingly and gladly. Mr. Cecil will lose his employment and there will not be jobs for everybody who was employed. Does not the Minister feel that he has an obligation, having taken away—through a large subsidy—that man's right to run that passageway, to do the decent and morally right thing and give him adequate compensation?

Mr. Moss

There are two operators operating the current ferry from Rathlin to Ballycastle and Mr. Cecil is only one of them. He is the only person asking for compensation. The new contract for the new ferry requires the vessel to be stationed overnight at Rathlin island and that means that all the new jobs will go to Rathlin island people.