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Northern Ireland ferry operators will receive £17m to help keep crucial supply chains open

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Support: Nichola Mallon

Support: Nichola Mallon

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Support: Nichola Mallon

Financial support of up to £17m has been announced for ferry operators who are aiming to keep Northern Ireland's supply chains open during the Covid-19 crisis.

Operators including Stena Line have come under pressure since the lockdown, with a fall in passenger numbers forcing Stena Line to furlough staff, reduce the frequency of some routes and suspend operation of one freight vessel.

And last week, P&O vessels sailing between Dublin and Liverpool - some of which would carry goods destined for Northern Ireland - were stalled after a row over an unpaid bill.

Now Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has unveiled financial support jointly funded by the Executive and the Westminster Department for Transport.

The financial support is to cost between £10.6m to £16.6m and will cover two months.

The Executive is to fund 40% of the costs.

The Department for Infrastructure said the support "will ensure that the supply routes which Northern Ireland relies on for food, medicines and other essential supplies continue without any interruption during this period".

Ms Mallon said: "Throughout this crisis I have been working closely with ferry operators to keep our necessary goods flowing and I wish to extend my personal thanks to these companies, for their determination to maintain our critical routes during this difficult period.

"Today we have been able to secure supplies to this part of our island, the impact of which cannot be underestimated and I am pleased to play my part," she added.

"There's more work to do - and I remain committed and focused to doing all I can to secure safeguards and support for people across Northern Ireland in the days ahead."

Seamus Leheny, regional director of the Freight Transport Association, which represents hauliers, said the funding brought welcome reassurance for supply chains.

"Ferries are an essential tool in making sure supplies of critical goods keep moving but, like many other sectors, have been hit hard by the outbreak.

"The recognition of the crucial importance of sea freight to the NI and GB economies cannot be underestimated and the desperately needed funding will reinforce these key ferry routes."

Angela McGowan, director of the CBI in Northern Ireland, said the routes which would be protected through the funding were the "lifeblood" of the local economy.

"These routes are critically important at this time for the movement of goods, including food and medical supplies.

"Businesses and the communities they serve across Northern Ireland will breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that these crucial parts of the supply chain will remain in operation."

The financial support will be available to operators Stena Line, P&O and Seatruck to maintain five routes - Warrenpoint to Heysham, Belfast to Liverpool, Cairnryan and Heysham, and Larne to Cairnryan.

Belfast Telegraph