BUSINESSPEOPLE on Sherkin say a 20% hike in the cost of the ferry will damage the island’s potential, but the ferry operator claims that the company hasn’t had a fare increase since 2006.
Mark Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Pub and Islanders’ Rest Guesthouse, said it was with ‘shock and dismay’ he learned that the fare had increased on January 1st from €10 to €12 per visitor, plus a new €3 charge for island children who had previously travelled for free.
Mr Murphy told The Southern Star: ‘It makes it more difficult for us to encourage people to come onto the island, and, in the long-term, it will have an effect on the number of people visiting the island compared to other West Cork islands.
‘On Bere Island, for example, it is €8 return for the tourist trade. At €12 to visit Sherkin, I believe it will make people think twice about visiting.’
Mr Murphy said: ‘Questions also have to be asked of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and how they sanctioned these increases.’
Seán O’Neill, who owns Siopa Seán and a bike hire business on the island, said: ‘A tenner is expensive to come out here – €12 is extortionate, in my opinion.
‘All it is going to do is erode the trade to the island and diminish the sale of other services, such a bike hire, and goods on the island. I cannot understand how any minister could sign off on it.’
Mr O’Neill also made the point that the primary school on the island closed last year and – as a father of two, with a third on the way – he said: ‘The Government has done nothing to facilitate children now travelling to the mainland for education.’
Mike and Kathy O’Connor, who run the North Shore Hostel, also spoke to The Southern Star. Kathy said: ‘For a business like ours, the price increase is scandalous. It is €8 return on Bere Island, and a car plus two passengers is €25 return. Sherkin, by comparison, is expensive.
‘Questions need to be asked why our service is more expensive because it is making Sherkin unattractive for tourists and, if we don’t have tourists, the island will suffer.’
Kathy O’Connor made the point that the ferry provides a very good service to the island, and she suggested: ‘We need to work with the service to make the prices more attractive for everyone.’
But, Vincent O’Driscoll and Rosaleen O’Driscoll, who own and operate Carbery Isle Ferries Ltd, have defended the €1 each way increase in the fare paid by non-islanders, saying their last price increase was in 2006.
Mrs O’Driscoll said: ‘We cannot increase our fares without permission from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. ‘Earlier last year we went through a very detailed tendering process for the ferry contract and we priced what the department looked for.
‘In our negotiations with the department we were granted permission to increase non-island fares by €2 per return trip.’
Mrs O’Driscoll also confirmed that the islanders’ fare of €5 has not increased since 2000 and she added: ‘I don’t know of any other transport system in Ireland whose fares have been static for that amount of time.’
Vincent O’Driscoll confirmed that the subsidy received from the department had increased from €99,000 to €145,000, and he made the point that the subsidy had covered island children in the past, but not on this occasion.
He said that, while the subsidy might seem high, the costs associated with running the ferry business are increasing all the time.
‘The subsidy does not cover the cost of running the three ferries to the island all year around,’ said Vincent O’Driscoll, who mentioned some of the company’s ongoing costs, such as a boatyard bill of around €70,000, insurance of around €28,000, fuel at €30,000 and wages in the region of €100,000.