CalMac hoping for smooth sailing with Sunday service
FERRY operator Caledonian MacBrayne will breach the last bastion of Sabbatarianism in the Outer Hebrides this weekend with its first Sunday sailing from Lewis.
The state-owned operator announced yesterday it plans regular return services between Stornoway and Ullapool, leaving traditionalists angry and claiming they have not been properly consulted.
The first Sunday service will depart Stornoway at 2:30pm in time to cater for crowds leaving the Hebridean Celtic Festival in Lewis, which ends on Saturday night. CalMac previously avoided running Sunday sailings to or from Lewis because of the strict religious belief of many islanders.
However, in May it said it had received legal advice that the practice of not providing seven-day sailings was likely to fall foul of the Equality Act 2006.
The company says ferry traffic is also rising and passengers have complained that they cannot get on the Saturday and Monday sailings on the Stornoway/Ullapool route.
Peter Timms, the CalMac chairman, said one return trip on Sundays would minimise the impact on the culture and amenity of the islands, while providing economic and social benefits.
He added: "We remain acutely aware of the sensitivities surrounding Sunday sailings, but we cannot operate unlawfully, nor fail to provide lifeline services when there is a growing demonstrable demand from the communities we serve."
It was revealed yesterday that the Scottish Government approved the proposal the day after a CalMac board meeting to discuss it. Phil Preston, CalMac's managing director, said: "The Scottish Government gave us the nod to go ahead. They have never expressed their feelings. It is an operational matter for the company."
Mr Preston said that only one member of staff – a shoreside worker in Stornoway – had raised concerns about working on a Sunday and their wishes will be respected. Police have also been informed about the start of the service this Sunday in case of protests.
"We have given an assurance that we are not going to make a celebration of this", he said.
Last night, bookings were already being made for the inaugural Sunday service.
A Scottish Government spokesman said ministers approved the request for Sunday ferries because of the concern over breaching equality laws.
He added: "This was a legal and operational matter for the company to consider."
The decision was welcomed by some last night. Uisdean Macleod, spokesman for the seven-day sailing campaign, said: "There will be the minimum amount of disruption. I don't think it will change the ethos of the island."
And Donald John MacSween, a councillor and Labour's Westminster candidate for the Western Isles, said the move was "common sense".
He added: "I think the majority of islanders will welcome this, in the same way as they did with the introduction of Sunday flights. There was some opposition to them at the beginning – but none now."
But Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) expressed "deep disappointment" at the decision.
Angus Campbell, the council leader, said: "This is not a matter of surprise, but it is still a disappointment. I am particularly unhappy that Caledonian MacBrayne have refused to meaningfully consult with the wider comhairle; nor have they provided us with the legal advice that they have based the decision upon."
The Lord's Day Observance Society has also vowed to fight the move and has retained the leading QC Gordon Jackson.
Ian Macrae, of the LDOS, said: "I am very disappointed. CalMac is riding roughshod over the democratic elected representatives of Lewis and Harris."
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
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Wind direction: North east