Minister pledges support for islanders

 

THE Republic’s depopulated islands were not abandoned by their communities, rather they were abandoned by the people and bodies charged with looking after them, a Minister has said.

Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley assured islanders at the Cómdháil Oileáin na hÉireann (Federation of Irish Islands) agm, held on Clare Island, Co Mayo, over the weekend, that the Government would continue to support the 2,944 islanders who live on islands around the coastline.

During his address on Saturday, he said both his maternal and paternal forebears were from Donegal islands.

Mr McGinley told representatives from islands along the west and south coast, he planned to visit as many islands as possible during his ministerial tenure to identify their needs.

Praising previous governments for their work in stabilising “the haemorrhaging of people” from these communities, he cited the significance of the 1996 report of the Inter-departmental Co-ordinating Committee on Island Development as a cohesive policy document.

“An amount in excess of €100 million has been spent by my department in the last 10 years. This has resulted in a huge improvement in island-access facilities. The department has passenger and cargo ferry contracts agreed for 15 islands, to which passenger ferry, bus, cargo and air services are provided by a total of 23 contracted operators.”

Noting that access and infrastructural issues had been addressed, he said the next focus for sustainable development was the creation of enterprise and employment.

He conceded that while islands had benefited from the fruits of the Celtic Tiger, there was no longer funding available for major expansion. However, the maintenance of such services as childcare, healthcare and waste management would be continued.

Speaking about the unique tourism attraction of islands, Mr McGinley said he had seen cars with registration plates from all over Ireland in the mainland carpark of Roonagh, Co Mayo.

“Developing a tourism industry is a core goal of this Government, and our offshore islands, given their uniqueness, will be a vital cog of this goal.”

During a question-and-answer session afterwards, Padraic O’Malley, chairman of the cómdháil, said: “We are trying to encourage people to move to the islands and if services are not up to scratch it is not very appealing.

“The infrastructure work is wonderful and has cost a lot of money but, while the next phase [of employment creation] may not cost as much, it is essential.”

Mr O’Malley was commenting on remarks about the downgrading of health services on some islands.

Islander representatives argued that, in the case of islands, there needed to be a unique and innovative inter-departmental and local authority approach to the rationalisation and integration of community development programmes, Reps schemes, fire-fighting, primary school education and healthcare.