Electricity but no postal facilities for Clare Islanders

 

Clare Island in Co Mayo may be lighting its first Christmas with mains electricity, but some of the residents feel it has reverted to the dark ages. Almost six months after the post office closed, the dispute over a replacement service still has not been resolved.

The result is a much more expensive festival than normal for many of the 150 islanders, who have been forced to travel in to Roonagh pier on the mainland to do business.

"When you have to pay £8 return on the ferry, it makes posting a parcel or collecting children's allowance a costly experience," Ms Beth Moran, a mother of three and a weaver on the island, told The Irish Times.

Ms Moran of Ballytuohy Loom is currently preparing for Showcase, the annual trade craft fair in Dublin. "Yes, this is adding considerably to my overheads, and as a mother I resent having to subsidise the collection of my children's allowance.

"What's more, it is causing great hardship to the old people, and to almost everyone here."

Mr Myles Ruddy, a pensioner, said it was making life very difficult.

"Many times in bad weather the ferry can't land at Roonagh, and we have to go to Achill and get a taxi round," he said. "There is up to 20 of us affected and not all of us can travel. It means we've lost our last bit of independence."

The problem arose when the existing office, run by the McCabe family, closed last summer. An Post said it made two unsuccessful attempts to advertise for a re placement.

The post-woman, Ms Ann Moran, filled the breach by collecting the post bag from the ferry, sorting it and delivering. "I was doing two jobs and only being paid for one, " she said.

Under the legislation, the jobs of post deliverer and postmaster or mistress must be filled separately. Ms Moran said she applied to run the service herself, but the bureaucracy made it impossible.

"When I saw the conditions and pay, and the fact that you have to provide the cost of lighting, heating, a safe and all that, I realised I couldn't afford it. An interest-free loan wouldn't be enough."

She is continuing to deliver the post, and helps out pensioners who cannot travel in to Roonagh.

Comdhail Oileain na hEireann, the Irish Islands Federation, sympathises with Ms Moran. "Many people probably don't realise how little postmasters and mistresses are paid, " Ms Patricia Quinn of the federation said yesterday.

"For just under £6,000 a year, it is hardly worth it. An Post should look at a more flexible arrangement, such as a part-time post office, which might be the answer in many rural communities."

An Post said it was concerned about the community's needs, and regretted that an applicant recent ly turned down an offer to take the service over.

"The office is closed temporarily and business has been transferred to Roonagh Point on the mainland, but we will hold another competition as soon as another candidate emerges, the spokesman said.

If it is some consolation, the island will be able to enjoy a silent and much brighter Christmas this year, according to the ESB.

Although Clare Island has had electricity since the early 1980s, it had been fuelled by a noisy generator. This has now been replaced by a cable connection linking it to the national network.

The new system permits farmers to use heavier machinery and homeowners to use dishwashers, computers, storage heaters and electric cookers - "adding to our bills", one islander quipped.

The benefits have been sung by Cliara Development Company Ltd, run by manager Mr Donal O'Shea, who said he hoped more companies would "follow the lead of the ESB and bring new life to the island".