Western off-shore islands fight loss of community funding

Inhabitants of nine non-Gaeltacht islands concerned at Department of Environment plans

Ferry arriving at Sherkin Island. Photograph: David Sleator

Ferry arriving at Sherkin Island. Photograph: David Sleator

 

Inhabitants of nine off-shore islands in the west are concerned at news that funding of their five community development companies will be stopped at the end of the year by the Department of the Environment.

The threatened community development offices deliver a wide range of supports and services on the non-Gaeltacht islands addressing disadvantage, social exclusion and isolation. They provide hubs of social and community activity on the islands.

Impacted islands are Inishbofin, Inishturk, Whiddy, Heir, Sherkin, Dursey, Bere, Long and Clare Island.

John Orpen, the vice chair of the West Cork Islands Community Council, said the end to funding will mean the collapse of a wide range of programmes, activities and initiatives.

“Funding enables the Community Development Company offices to provide supports and services to all islanders. For example, the funding gives us the capacity to organise educational training courses, run programmes like childcare services, island waste management, island festivals, tourism projects; manage community buildings and provide representation for the islands.”

Finbarr Harrington of the Cork County Community and Voluntary Forum says the viability of island communities depends on the work of development officers. “We really need to ringfence this funding as a matter of urgency. All of the islands depend on tourism for their survival.”

Tim O’Leary from West Cork Islands says the community offices have become the heartbeat of the islands.

“The islanders have come to rely on the offices to drive initiatives and programmes on their behalf. If the funding is pulled on December 31st, these services will go into terminal decline, resulting in a hugely negative impact on island life.”

The five island community development companies are managed by voluntary committees who, through the community offices, employ staff to deliver a range of frontline services across the nine islands. The funding is to €600,000 a year.

Michelle O’Mahoney of Clare Island said the islands are key economic drivers in their respective regions and are a major draw for tourism in Ireland.

“They are of added importance as a symbol of, and link to, the promotion of the Wild Atlantic Way which relies on the island connection to create a complete experience of the west. The inhabited islands off the Irish coast are a unique reservoir of arts, culture, identity and heritage. They are home to living, breathing communities and the Government has a duty to ensure that these communities remain viable and vibrant.”

Representatives from across the affected islands are meeting in Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street, Dublin, on Wednesday to raise public awareness.

They plan to lobby members of the Oireachtas to put pressure on Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly to fund an islands development programme.