Local News for Friday 20th April 2018

Cycling sisters will be at Royal Wedding
Cycling sisters Kerry and Kirsty MacPhee are to represent the Western Isles at the wedding of HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle on Saturday 19th May. Kerry and Kirsty, from South Uist, were nominated for the honour by Western Isles Lord Lieutenant Donald Martin, who said they would be ‘excellent ambassadors’ for the islands. Both sisters have represented the islands as competitive cyclists, with Kerry cycling at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, as well as numerous Scottish, British and European championships. Her sister Kirsty followed her lead into cycling and joined her in the NatWest Island Games, where the sisters were both medallists. Kerry said “Kirsty and I are extremely proud to come from the Western Isles and we very much look forward to the opportunity to once again represent our beautiful islands at the forthcoming Royal Wedding.”

Lifeboat on course for Leverburgh arrival
Leverburgh’s new lifeboat, RNLB 13-25, will sail in to her new home harbour at exactly 13.25 tomorrow to a great welcome from the local community. The new Shannon class lifeboat has been specifically built for service to the Leverburgh station, and has been sailed up from Poole over the past 10 days with members of her new crew taking her over the last stages of the voyage. A celbratory event is planned tomorrow at the pier before hard work begins on RNLI volunteer training. An extra vessel, RNLB Brianne Aldington (13-21) has already arrived in Leverburgh and will remain for a couple of weeks to help with training and familiarisation. The new vessel is to be named the RNLB Stella and Humfrey Berkeley at a separate ceremony on July 14th.

Comhairle adds to pressure on CalMac
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has added to pressure on CalMac and the companies involved with its service delivery, demanding an increase in island jobs and better decisions on future vessels and harbour facilities serving the Hebrides ferry routes. The Comhairle’s call adds to pressure from tourism bodies and politicians, who have been unsettled by the company’s prediction of a ‘summer of discontent’ as ageing vessels struggle to meet the needs of the network. The Comhairle says that CalMac are not recruiting and retaining enough staff locally to meet the operational requirements of ports and ferries. Up to 455 staff are needed to run Outer Hebrides ports and ferries, but CalMac admit only 204 of their staff actually live in the islands. A statement from the Comhairle said: “If these jobs alone were to be recruited from the Outer Hebrides this could have a hugely positive economic impact. In addition CalMac have a head office with 250 staff located at Gourock which is not even a port on their network. It is time for the Scottish Government and our elected Parliamentarians to ensure a fair dispersal of jobs to the islands served by CalMac.”

The Comhairle intends to hold companies like CalMac to the Scottish Government’s commitment of bringing employment and economic growth to all of Scotland. Not only CalMac, but Highlands and Islands Airports, CMAL and Transport Scotland are on their hit list to bring a fair distribution of jobs to the islands. At the same time the Comhairle drew attention to the service disruption at Easter, which affected island industries like tourism and aquaculture. Cllr Uisdean Robertson, Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: "To help our economy grow sustainably we need the right operational and investment choices to be taken on our ferry services. Instead we have seen £80M spent on MV Loch Seaforth and the ports at Stornoway and Ullapool to deliver a less frequent service than the general public had before. Ferry services that cross the Little Minch face a spend of up to £100M on a single new ferry shared between the two routes, a service level little better than it was in 1964. A smaller investment would have delivered a dedicated vessel on each route and improved access to the Outer Hebrides from the Butt of Lewis to Eriskay. Lochboisdale needs a reliable dedicated ferry service that can be relied on to sail to timetable. That the wrong choices are being made by CalMac and CMAL around vessel and harbour investments is concerning but it is perhaps little surprise when the management of both companies is so remote to the lifeline routes they are supposed to serve."

Bearded seal off course
Wildlife rescuers had an unexpected call this week, when an Arctic-dwelling bearded seal was reported to have found itself far from home. Western Isles branch of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue group were called on when the seal was reported, alive and well, on a beach in Harris. Usually found 1,500 miles north of us on Arctic ice floes, it’s the first sighting to have been reported in the Outer Hebrides. Islanders Eilidh Campbell and Gordon MacDonald reported in to the BDMLR and assistant co-ordinator Sara Kwasniewska worked with out-of-hours co-ordinator Teri Charlton to monitor the health of the unexpected guest and to keep everyone updated. The animal is not in danger, but people are asked to keep their distance and avoid disturbing the seal.

Weekend sport
In the weekend’s sport, Stornoway Rugby Club welcome Mackie RFC to Bayhead on Saturday. After last week’s spirited performance up in Shetland, when the Lewis club agonisingly lost by just one point in the last moments of the game, Stornoway are hopeful of putting on a display for the home crowd. Kick-off is at 3pm at Bayhead.

Highland Amateur Cup first-round football matches are being played at home in Point and Stornoway tomorrow, Aths playing Back at Goathill and Iochdar Saints travelling up to Garrabost to meet Point, while Lochs are away to Southend and Carloway to North Uist. Kick-offs expected to be at 12 noon.