Aran islanders call for complete review of department policy

Helicopter company expresses disappointment at cancellation of island air contract

Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh: says it is intended “to commence a fresh tender process for the air service”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh: says it is intended “to commence a fresh tender process for the air service”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Aran islanders have welcomed a decision by Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh to cancel the controversial tender for a new air link to the Aran Islands, but have called for a “complete review” of islands policy by his department.

The Save Our Air Service (SOS) committee has also called for a central role in the new tendering arrangements.

The helicopter company which was due to get the new four-year contract from October 1st, has claimed it was effectively priced out of using the existing islands airstrip at Na Minna in Connemara by the owners.

It has acknowledged that Na Minna was more convenient for the islanders and has called for the inclusion of an alternative helicopter landing area in Connemara as part of any new tender.

Mr McHugh announced on Friday he had cancelled the public service obligation tender procedure which could have awarded the Aran Islands air service to Executive Helicopters of Woodford, Co Galway.

Aer Arann Islands, which had provided the link between the offshore communities at Galway for more than 40 years, had already initiated an appeal through the High Court.

Interim service

In his brief statement on Friday, Mr McHugh said it was “intended to advise the European Commission of the position as soon as possible and to commence a fresh tender process for the air service”.

He said the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht would “enter discussions with the existing service provider for the provision of an interim service with a view to enabling the re-tender to take place, while ensuring that there is no disruption in service”.

Aer Arann Islands said it was willing to meet Mr McHugh at any stage. However, it said its 40 staff had been put on redundancy notice to finish on Wednesday, the last day of its existing contract.

Executive Helicopters said it was “disappointed” with Mr McHugh’s decision.