A HIGH Court challenge against Galway County Council’s Aran Island passenger levy will be heard in March, a ferry company which brought the action was told this week.
The council’s decision to impose an 80 cent levy on all passengers disembarking at Cill Rónáin harbour on Inis Mór brought islanders onto the streets of the city last month.
Island Ferries Teoranta, Forster Street, Galway, operates a number of vessels from the quays of Rossaveal harbour in Connemara and the three Aran islands of Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr.
It has challenged a decision of the council, which manages and controls Cill Rónáin harbour, to introduce bylaws imposing a charge of 80 cent for every passenger who enters that harbour, location of the company’s busiest service.
Leave to bring the proceedings was granted, on an ex-parte (one side only basis ) by Mr Justice Michael Peart, who returned the matter to March next.
The company claims that the council, in introducing this charge at the start of this month, acted unreasonably and in breach of its statutory powers and the provisions of the 2002 Competition Act.
The council, in correspondence about the matter, has contended that the bylaws are legally valid.
The company says its use of Cill Rónáin at present is confined to berthing its vessel in the harbour and using the pier to enable passengers to embark and disembark. It says it does not use any of the facilities in the harbour such as water, waste electricity or fuel, storage facilities, buildings or car parking facilities.
It also does not use any offices or terminal for ticketing or other passenger-related services or the assistance of any harbour staff for berthing or navigation or security in the harbour, the company says.
The court heard family-owned Island Ferries carried more than 145,000 passengers to Inis Mór in 2011 and is claiming the purported charge would result in an additional annual operating cost of more than €100,000.
Island Ferries says it would be unable to pay such charges and its business and tourism numbers on Inis Mór would be adversely affected if the charge was passed on to passengers. It is also concerned similar charges will be implemented on the other two islands.
The company had brought earlier proceedings against the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, arising out of a decision in 2003 to implement a charge of €1.20 for passengers in respect of the use of Rossaveal harbour. The High Court ruled in 2011 that the charge imposed by the Minister was beyond his power to impose.