Cruise and angling operators along the Blackwater in east Cork yesterday claimed that they are losing business while a recently-installed €350,000 harbour pontoon remains closed.
The facility was installed at Nealon’s Quay in Youghal last month but the gangway to the platform has since remained locked.
The pontoon, which replaced a smaller version used in recent years, was touted as a major boost for river activities and tourism and ultimately, the possible provision of a full-scale marina for Youghal.
However, an alternative access point from a nearby narrow stairway is not wheelchair accessible and operators also maintain that a link step added by Cork County Council in recent years left a dangerous gap between the steps and the boats.
Tony Gallagher, who runs river trips on the Maeve Óg says he has recently turned away more than 30 customers on safety grounds.
In the latest incident yesterday, he said an English family of three holidaying in Garryvoe lodged a complaint with the nearby tourist office after an elderly member was unable to board the boat.
“They were quite angry and cancelled their trip,” Mr Gallagher said.
The family had pre-booked on foot of an advertisement in an east Cork tourism brochure launched earlier in the week, attended by Cork County Council personnel.
“I told them on the phone I couldn’t offer guarantees and we’d have to access the situation when they arrived,” Mr Gallagher said.
“It’s a ludicrous situation. And having to ask people on the phone if they are agile enough is highly embarrassing.”
The boat owner says he “can’t risk bringing anyone frail, overweight, or with a health condition down those steps”, noting also that, “for many, it could be their first time boarding a boat or descending steps over water and they can be quite nervous”.
Last week, the cruise operator declined to take more than 20 members of a local cardiac support group after experiencing difficulties guiding a first party of 12 on board.
The cardiac group’s chairman, Tom Quirke, said there was “great disappointment” but acknowledged access to the boat was “very dangerous”.
“We felt sorry for the boat owner who depends on cruises for his livelihood,” he said.
Meanwhile, a deep sea angling provider, preferring to remain anonymous, said he has also cancelled bookings, due to “no safe access for customers, no wheelchair access and, if it came to it, no easy access for emergency personnel either if needed”.
“It’s madness to have that fine facility sitting there idle especially in this fine weather,” said the anonymous angler.
The boats’ operators say they have been unable to get information from the county council on any opening date for the pontoon and have submitted a Freedom of Information request for the terms of contract with the local authority.
Cork County Council yesterday said: “Youghal Pontoon is with the contractor for minor changes which will take approximately two weeks, after which time it will be under the control of East Cork Municipal District and ready for use.
“The pontoon will comply with current access requirements for wheelchair users.”