The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on State subsidised transport services to the Aran Islands was published in September 2002. Following on from this report, my Department has advanced a number of measures to ensure best practice in relation to the award of contracts, quality of services, and value for money for subsidised island transport services.
These measures include the development of a management information framework which will provide the Department with enhanced financial and non-financial systems and quality management information; the appointment of independent assessors to critically review and validate each future tendering process; the allocation of additional staff to the area so as to strengthen control and compliance with contract requirements; a specially designed software package which will enable more rigorous monitoring of the performance of all subsidised ferry operators; and an imminent competition for independent consultants to review other issues raised in the comptroller and Auditor General's report and to provide future performance indicators.
The independent consultants to which I have just referred will review the ferry services to the Aran Islands as part of their brief. I have recently approved draft terms of reference for the study concerned and a steering committee has been put in place to oversee the project. This committee consists of the Dingle harbour master together with representatives from my Department, from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and from the Marine Institute. The first meeting of the committee was convened on Monday, 3 February, at which the terms of reference for the study were finalised. It is intended to convene a further meeting in early March at which, it is expected, tender documents will be agreed with a view to seeking tenders for the study shortly afterwards.