EXCLUSIVE A CAR ferry service linking Greenore and Greencastle moves a step closer this morning when its developers formally submit planning applications to both Louth County Council and the north's planning service.
Carlingford Ferries, which is privately funding the scheme to the tune of £7 million, says the service could be operational within 12 months.
The proposal - which has been on the agenda for 30 years but has never advanced to the planning stage - would see a roll-on-roll-off service launched across the mouth of Carlingford Lough, going 1.3 miles between Greenore on the southern side and Greencastle in the Mournes area.
The crossing would take just 15 minutes and cuts out a 33-mile car journey of often more than an hour, depending on congestion in Newry.
The project is being financed by three families from Clare and Limerick with significant experience in the car ferry industry in the Shannon region.
According to an independent economic impact appraisal undertaken last year by Dr Pat McCloughan, 24 direct jobs and at least 300 knock-on jobs would be created and sustained as a result of the proposal.
It also suggests that the ferry service would create upwards of €10m (£8.5m) of additional annual spend in the region and would open up tourism and economic links between the two counties north and south of the border.
The developers believe their service would complement the proposed Narrow Water bridge scheme between Warrenpoint and Omeath, insisting the two can operate in tandem by creating a circular tourism route between the Mourne region and the Cooley Peninsula.
Carlingford Ferries director Paul O'Sullivan told The Irish News: "We've been working on our proposal for six years and believe there is a compelling interest in the prospect that a car ferry service across Carlingford Lough would bring destinations as far apart as the Boyne Valley in Co Meath and Newcastle in Co Down within touching distance of each other.
"The outstandingly beauti ful coastal regions of the Cooley Peninsula and the Mournes have intrinsic natural attractions but restricted access to the area has been and continues to be a major problem.
"The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has adopted the Mournes as a signature project for its potential as a world-class destination. On the southern shore, Carlingford and the Cooley Peninsula is designated a European destination of excellence.
"Our project would also copper-fasten links established in the memorandum of understanding signed between Newry and Mourne and Louth local authorities in 2011.
"We are committed to investing substantial private funds in the project, which offers a significant economic boost to the wider Cooley-Mournes region.
"Our internal due diligence work, an independently conducted environmental impact assessment and various public investigations all confirm the operational, financial and navigational integrity of the Greenore-Greencastle ferry proposal."
Carlingford Ferries has also engaged in intensive public consultation and has kept residents updated on plans to enhance the Pier Road in Greencastle and consulted through various mechanisms including resident committee meetings, a survey, newsletter, drop in event and a public meeting.
"With the necessary infrastructure in place, and when marketed holistically, the Cooley-Mournes region is capable of becoming a major destination for Irish, British and overseas visitors and be a new stimulant for economic growth in the jobs rich tourism sector," Mr O'Sullivan said.