Police sail to Rathlin amid ferry travel row

A 76-year-old Rathlin Island resident has been cautioned by police after he refused to get off the Rathlin Island ferry, insisting he had a right to travel to Ballycastle for essential food items as lockdown continues.

By Helen McGurk
Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 4:28 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 5:42 pm
The Rathlin Island ferry didn't sail either yesterday or today
The Rathlin Island ferry didn't sail either yesterday or today

Bertie Currie, who has operated the island’s bus service for years, said residents had last week received correspondence from the Rathlin Island Ferry company stating it would resume passenger travel from June 1, with 20 people allowed on the passenger ferry and 30 on the vehicle ferry, although the company stipulated this would be ‘subject to change’.

Today the ferry company said it is currently only sailing for “deliveries and essential travel”.

Mr Currie, who hasn’t been off the island for 12 weeks, said he had booked a ticket and believed he could travel to Ballycastle. He boarded the ferry on Monday and again today for the 9am crossing to Ballycastle.

However, both times the sailing was cancelled and Mr Currie refused to get off, remaining on the ferry for five hours, until police officers sailed to the scene.

In a statement the PSNI said: “One man was spoken to by officers and a file will be submitted to the Public Prosecution Service following the incident.”

Mr Currie insisted: “My journey was essential, but not an emergency. I’d only got enough provisions in to do me for about eight weeks. Mother Hubbard’s cupboard was bare. When I challenged them (the police) why they were over to see me they said ‘we’re charging you with obstruction’ and I said ‘how can you do that, it’s a public ferry?’. ‘On no, they said’, they told me it’s a private ferry. I had to take their instruction, so they charged me.”

No one has travelled to or from Rathlin Island since March 24, except for essential workers, in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus.

On its website, Rathlin Island Ferry stated ‘essential travel’ from Ballycastle includes: a visit by the island nurse; an emergency service to attend in an island emergency; emergency repairs or maintenance to water, electricity or gas; ferry personnel travel to relocate ferries during periods of mandatory maintenance and surveys; animal welfare issues; and delivery of controlled drugs.

It added that essential travel from Rathlin would include: medical evacuations and essential hospital appointments; ferry personnel travel to relocate ferries during periods of mandatory maintenance and surveys; and travel for animal welfare issues.

So far, the island, which has 75 residents, has remained virus-free. Opening the island to visitors is currently under review between the Department for Infrastructure, the island community and the Rathlin Island Ferry.