Minister cannot give guarantee on island access

Brendan Griffin hopes to find a ‘common sense solution’ for Inishmurray

Keith Clarke on his boat in the harbour of Inishmurray Island,  Co Sligo, before the ban.

Keith Clarke on his boat in the harbour of Inishmurray Island, Co Sligo, before the ban.

 

The Minister of State for Tourism Brendan Griffin says he cannot give a guarantee that boats will be allowed to land on Inishmurray island off Sligo this summer.

On Tuesday the Minister met local boatmen who run day trips to the island where one of the country’s best preserved early Christian sites is located.

Among those appealing with the Minister to end the ban on boats landing on the island were two local women who were born on Inishmurray which was inhabited until 1948.

Last month the Marine Survey Office (MSO) attached to the Department of Tourism and Transport warned local commercial boat owners they would be prosecuted if they brought visitors to the island. The MSO expressed concern about safety when passengers are embarking and disembarking, and said the existing landing facility was wholly inadequate.

Keith Clarke, one of four men who met the Minister, refused to say afterwards whether he would obey the ban if it was not lifted. “I am reserving my position on that,” said Mr Clarke, who says he has been bringing visitors to the island for more than 30 years. He said locals had stressed to the Minister that there had never been an accident. “I might get 30 bookings in one summer and do only 10 trips. We know better than anyone when it is safe,” he said.

The Minister said he hoped to get all the parties with a role to play around the table as a matter of urgency in a bid to find a “common sense solution”.

He said he had come to Sligo to fix the problem as he was conscious of the time of year. “The tourism season is already running in many parts of the Wild Atlantic Way,” he said.

Livelihood

He was also aware that the boat trips provided a livelihood for some of those involved .

Mr Griffin said he could not give the boat owners a guarantee that they would be able to run tours this summer. “I gave them a solid guarantee that I would do my very best to work with the agencies that are involved to try to find a resolution.”

Local Fianna Fáil TD Eamon Scanlon said the ban on boats landing on the historic island appeared to have “come out of nowhere”. He said it would have a major financial impact on local boat owners.

“One man who contacted me had spent €200,000 on a boat. What is he meant to do now?” asked Mr Scanlon.

Mr Clarke said the survey had been carried out by the MSO in 2008. “Why suddenly the ban now after 10 years?” he asked.