Boatman loses application to permit landings at Skellig

A High Court judge has dismissed an application by a boatman to allow him land passengers at the Skellig Michael Unesco world heritage site until his legal action against the Office of Public Works has been determined.

Boatman loses application to permit landings at Skellig

Sean Feehan brought High Court proceedings after the OPW revoked permits allowing him land visitors at the monastic settlement site, a location for blockbuster movie Star Wars The Force Awakens.

Last January, the OPW, citing its concern for visitors to Skellig Michael, said it was revoking two permits that had been issued to Mr Feehan after he had pleaded guilty at Cahirciveen District Court in September 2015 to three offences under the Merchant Shipping Act.

Mr Feehan claims the revocation is unfair, invalid, unlawful and in breach of his constitutional rights.

The OPW, which manages the Skelling Michael site and issues permits on an annual basis permitting boat operators land passengers there, denies his claims.

Mr Feehan, of Dunegan, Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, has taken visitors to Skellig Michael since 1980, operating boats from Ballinskelligs.

Last month Mr Feehan secured temporary High Court injunctions preventing the OPW issuing to any other party two of four permits for which tenders have been invited. Mr Feehan’s lawyers asked the court to continue, pending the hearing of the full action those injunctions, plus an order allowing Mr Feehan land passengers at Skellig Michael.

In his ruling yesterday, Mr Justice Tony O’Connor said he was not going to grant Mr Feehan an injunction because he had not made out a strong case likely to succeed at the full hearing. The court also found damages would be an adequate remedy.

The judge added even if the court had to consider the balance of convenience, there is little doubt the safety of visitors to the island trumps any reputational damage Mr Feehan might be able to establish at trial.

The judge also noted the undertaking offered by the OPW not to issue the two permits in replacement of Mr Feehan’s previous permits until after the determination of the action.

The matter will now proceed to a full hearing. The case was adjourned and will return before the court in a month’s time.

In January, the OPW told Mr Feehan the permits he had held were being revoked with immediate effect.

It said the revocation arose because of the 2015 convictions, which related to offences in 2012.

Mr Feehan was fined €850. His convictions were for operating a vessel in a manner that might be dangerous to passengers having regard to the conditions in the waters between the mainland and the island, operating a vessel without an appropriate licence and failing to ensure the master of one of his boats was properly qualified.

The OPW cited safety concerns over provision of safe carriage to visitors to Skellig Michael as its reason for revoking the permits.

Mr Feehan says the convictions were technical in nature and did not reflect his ability to safely land visitors.

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