More than €9m spent on Inishbofin airstrips

Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht’s annual budget for islands is now only €600,000

The pier at Inishbofin. The airstrips at Inishbofin and Cleggan, Co Galway, were developed over five years and were completed in about 2009. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

The pier at Inishbofin. The airstrips at Inishbofin and Cleggan, Co Galway, were developed over five years and were completed in about 2009. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

 

More than €9 million of public money was spent on landing strips to improve access to Inishbofin Island, but air services never got underway, it has emerged.

The airstrips at Inishbofin and Cleggan, Co Galway, were developed over five years and completed in about 2009. Arrangements are now being made to transfer them to the coast guard, according the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Secretary general of the department Joe Hamill told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee the only use to which the landing strips may have had was to aid the coast guard on occasion, and perhaps by unauthorised private aircraft .

But as far as facilitating small aircraft access to the islands as they were intended, the air strips had not been “officially used” he said.

Mr Hamill said further proposals to provide a landing strip at Tory Island had not gone beyond the planning process.

Maintenance costs of Inishbofin and Cleggan airstrips were included in costs for the three working airstrips on on the Aran Islands, which currently amount to about €300,000 per year, Mr Hamill said.

He told Labour TD Joe Costello the strips were made of tarmac and sufficient to land a small aircraft. They had been fenced since 2009. No terminal buildings were ever built.

Mr Hamill told Gabrielle McFadden TD the airstrips were a product of a time when the department’s annual budget for the islands was about €40 million. The budget was now about €600,000, he said.

He said the project had to be seen as part of broader attempts to improve air access for islanders and tourists, and included in the National Development Plan in 2003. He said there was some proposals at the time that the air service to the Aran Islands could be extended to serve Inishbofin and Cleggan.

The department is now in discussions about selling the airstrips to the Coast Guard.

Mr Hamill has agreed to commission a more detailed report on the airstrips which he said he would forward to the committee.