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30/12/09 (Kerry) Council to wait before giving ferry funding
By KEVIN HUGHES - The Kerryman

KERRY County Council is to wait until the annual budgetary meeting in January before deciding on whether to invest cash in the Cork Swansea Ferry which is due to recommence operations on March 1 after a gap of four years.

A major Internet led fundraising campaign eventually led to the purchase of a new ferry in September after financial backing of €6.3m was secured. Online bookings are currently being taken but further funding is now needed to help sustain the service on a long term basis.

Pressure is therefore mounting on the council to financially support a new community-driven company backing the project – Fastnet Line Ltd – after Cork County Council last week unanimously declared its intention to invest €200,000 in the scheme. While Kerry's local authorities say they fully support the reinstated service, financial backing has not followed.

Although figures in the region of €50,000 have been mooted, Co-op General Manager Paul O'Brien refused to be drawn on a sum and has simply asked Kerry County Council to 'do its bit' to support the service.

"I would encourage them to come up to the mark as Kerry is the biggest and most recognisable tourism product in the area. They are suffering as badly as west Cork, so investment can only benefit them in the end."

The figure has been proposed as the ferry company has issued secured bonds in units of €50,000, repayable after a four year term. Councils can invest in co-operatives under the Local Government Act 2001.

Cllr Patrick Connor-Scarteen, meanwhile, made a call for an investment of at least €50,000 at the Corporate Policy Group meeting of Kerry County Council where Head of Finance John O'Connor said the matter would come before the county council budget meeting in January for approval.

"I know things are tight but it is projected that restarting the service would provide a €40 million boost to the region in the first year and Kerry has as much to gain as Cork from the Ferry. I will continue to work closely with former Mayor of Cork Noel Harrington from Castletownbere who has vigorously pursued the ferry's reinstatement," the Kenmare councillor stated.

While Kerry's business and tourism interests have also been vociferous in their support they coughed up just €200,000 in setting up a trust behind the project, a figure massively overshadowed by the €2.2m raised in west Cork.

Fasnet Line Ltd secured a vessel the 'Julia" in September 2009, with a capacity of 1,860 passengers, a car capacity of 440 and a freight vehicle capacity of 39. Funding to date includes bank financing secured on the vessel of €6.3m and investment of €2.7m from co-op members, comprising of tourism, business and individual contributions.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach is to speak to the Finance and Tourism Ministers about securing funding for the ferry. He was speaking at a meeting with Kerry Oireachtas members and representatives from the ferry company last week.