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April 27th 2005

Lessons must be learned

Maybe it’ll clear the air. For weeks, the accusations have been flying. Depending on which side you listened to, the story differed dramatically. Allegations of insurance being cancelled, locks changed, an arrest made, unauthorised expenses run up, freebies - it went on and on. It couldn’t continue - the bad feeling that was permeating the town had to be exorcised.
And so an Extraordinary General Meeting was called for the 21st April in the Central Hotel. Attempts to brok er a peace deal at preliminary gatherings, in the days previous, were unsuccessful. The report by Jason McGarrigle alongside details the ebb and flow of the discussion at the EGM - and the result of the vote. A new interim executive has been put in place, Billy Bustard is re-installed, and the boat will operate for the summer.
The general feeling is that the ex-directors brought about their own downfall by unwillingness to compromise. They meant well. Having presented a business-plan and achieved a major grant on the strength of it - they intended to stick to the conditions contained therein to the letter - even if it meant temporarily disposing of a major town asset in the process. Though well-meaning, their inflexibility on this major issue made them vulnerable. All sections of the community wanted to retain the Waterbus for the summer season and the top table’s unwavering insistance that it had to go to finance the new vessel, cut no ice with the floor.
But, despite their downfall, the old directors did much good. They had started to implement appropriate business practices, laying down disciplines, structures and ground-rules that must now be maintained and built upon. If these rules are ignored, all this could happen again. A major voluntary club can’t be run in an ad-hoc manner. The new directors must be serious about their application to the job in hand, and strict about enforcing all the criteria laid down in the business plan.
Hopefully all factions can now come together in peace and harmony. At the end of the day, the people running our clubs and organisations are mainly voluntary, and the town needs their talents, drive and motivation - there has been too much strife and division - let it end now.

Billy Bustard and Sean Quinn Photo: Margaret Gallagher

New directors of Donegal Bay Waterbus: Ciaran Twomey, Patsy Kelly, Sean Quinn and Daniel Ward Photo: Jason McGarrigle

INTERIM EXECUTIVE TAKES OVER RUNNING OF WATERBUS

Previous directors voted out as floor decides against immediate sale of existing vessel

By Jason McGarrigle

An Extraordinary General Meeting of the Donegal Town Enterprise Scheme Ltd was held in the Central Hotel, on the 21st April, to discuss the future of the Donegal Bay Waterbus. The existing Waterbus, under Captain Billy Bustard, has served the town well since 1997 but, now that a new vessel is being constructed, differences of opinion arose between the existing directors and a group that is largely involved in operating the boat. This new vessel has attracted a grant of €500,000 from the International Fund for Ireland (IFI) and is presently being built at the Mooney boatyard in Killybegs. Basically the disagreement boiled down to whether the existing Waterbus should be sold immediately to part-fund the new craft, as laid down in the business plan submitted to the IFI, or should operate as usual until September when the new vessel is due to be launched. The executive in-situ was essentially calling for a vote of confidence on its policy i.e. to sell the existing boat immediately. A vote against would mean a new committee being appointed from the floor, with the aim of retaining the existing boat for the summer.
Outside the meeting room, in the bar of the hotel, a large number of people had gathered, who could not gain admission, as their names were not on a list displayed at the entrance. Probably 100% of these would have been in favour of re-employing Billy Bustard and retaining the boat for the summer.
The chairman of the Enterprise Group, Maurice Timony, opened the meeting and, having declared a quorum present, the business of the evening commenced. Along with four directors at the top table, Maurice Timony, Eamon O’Donnell, Jody Gysling and Mark Wickham, there were 22 other attendees, including legal and press representatives. The directors announced they would abstain in the event of a vote - on my count, sixteen members could excercise their franchise, including some proxies.
Mark Wickham, secretary, presented a brief financial report confirming the books were totally up to date. Mark declared that, in 2004, ticket sales were €85,188, with a net profit of €9,000.
Eamon O’Donnell enlightened the attendance on the status of the new boat presently being built. In a fortnight the engines go in “the best case scenario is that it will be ready for the end of August”. On the sale of the old boat, Eamon said that two buyers were eager to purchase it before the season starts - one for €100,000 and another for £70,000 stg “the money is on the table now” he declared.
Next to speak was Jody Gysling who admitted there were “discrepancies of opinion on how to run the company”. He told of how twelve months ago a business plan was drawn up by chartered accountants and presented to the IFI, after which the directors applied for funding based on these projections. The agreement with IFI was that the waterbus be sold and a bank loan acquired to fund the first €250,000 towards the new boat - the IFI would then step in with the remaining €500,000 needed to complete the project. “It was a good enough business plan for IFI, Ulster Bank and Leader. I understand now that some people don’t want to sell the boat, but personally I want to. It bears risks if we hold on to the boat now”. Jody outlined some of the risks. These included: •buyers pulling out later in the season, leaving the company with a boat and no money to fund the €1/4 million; •Department of Marine regulations changing; •breakdown of craft or accident, with resulting costs. “There are buyers here now” said Jody “and while it may make commercial sense to keep it, it’s a small wait (till September) and that’s the price you pay for a new state-of-the-art waterbus. By the end of the year we WILL have a new boat at the pier if we follow this plan.”
Maurice Timony acknowleged that a number of members were unhappy with the direction the company executive was taking.
Sean Quinn, from the floor, asked “What’s the rush to sell the existing waterbus as we have received an offer for €80,000 for the boat at end of September?”. Profits for the season would make up the shortfall, declared Sean. He questioned the ‘business common sense’ of the decision to sell now. When Jody asked why the directors had not been made aware of this offer, Patsy Kelly replied, “it was only made yesterday”.
Billy Reid said the Waterbus was not set up as a business but as a service, and costs should not be an issue - the service should not be disrupted as “this whole damn saga will deprive the community of a valuable amenity”.
Patsy Kelly said boat is in ‘tip-top condition’ with a new engine, adding “it can easily be sold at the end of summer”.

Paddy Meehan, in a lengthy contribution (see right) commended Billy Bustard’s work, “experience you cannot put a price on”, adding that it was vitally important that directors stay until new boat delivered.
John Feeley, on behalf of White Hotels, declared it was a worrying time at present for the hospitality sector and that this would be added to if the boat weren’t there. He said he was “very concerned - we need the waterbus as we have tour operators coming here specially because of it”.
Peter Kennedy declared his amazement “to think we’re not going to have a waterbus - it makes me shiver - it’s known far and wide - and so is Billy’s courtesy. To sell the waterbus before the new one comes doesn’t make sense. I will do everything in my power to ensure I can get more money to keep it running”.
Other contributors included Eddie Marshall, Brian Neilan, and Malachy Sweeney - one saying he was glad to see the sudden surge of interest because when the boat was in financial difficulties in the past, “there were only about half-a-dozen at meetings”.

Then came the vote. The choice put to the floor was a simple one - to keep the existing four directors, leading to the boat being sold immediately - or dispose of them, vote in a new team, and thus retain the vessel for the summer.
Brian O’Sullivan sought confirmation that keeping the current directors meant that the boat would be sold immediately.
Maurice Timony ‘Yes’.
Advice was sought from the legal advisor present who said the IFI grant was to the company - not the directors - so top table could change.
John Feeley asked the directors to stay on, but not sell the boat. Maurice replied “I cannot stay on as director while not knowing what’s happening - if you want to run the boat your own way - set up a new committee. Please respect our opinion.”
Nicolas Davin “This is stalemate - whichever option - both are intrinsically dangerous - there is a need for compromise.”
Patsy Kelly questioned if it was a fact that if the present directors were voted back in, the boat goes, and if voted out, it stays.
Eamon O’Donnell “In a nutshell”.
At that a secret ballot was taken, the result of which was 13 voting against retaining the existing directors, and 3 voting for.
Maurice, accepting defeat, declared, “We will support the incoming group 100%”.
Nominations were then taken for a new executive. Elected were:
Sean Quinn, proposed by Patsy Kelly and seconded by Daniel Ward; Patsy Kelly, proposed by Billy Reid and seconded by Peter Kennedy; Ciaran Twomey, proposed by Sean Quinn and seconded by Billy Reid; Daniel Ward, proposed by Patsy Kelly and seconded by Sean Quinn
The new directors took their positions at the top table. Congratulatulations were extended to the past executive on its achievements
And so the meeting ended. While some expressed reservations, saying it was not the ideal scenario, almost all affirmed their belief that is was essential to keep the boat running for the summer, until delivery of a new craft.


The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

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