Island voting in Election 2016 commences one day early

Residents criticise lack of interest shown by most political parties in their future

The ballot box arrives on Gola Island, off the west coast of Donegal, as voting begins. Residents speak about how important the island and the chance to vote on it is to them. Video: Alan Betson

 

A dozen offshore island communities on the west and northwest coasts have cast their ballots in the 2016 general election, amid criticism of the lack of interest shown by most political parties in their future.

Five islands off Donegal, four off Galway and three off Mayo had a combined total of just over 2,100 names on the electoral register, but turnout was reported to be slow and low throughout much of the day – with a late evening rush in several polling stations.

However, the southernmost Aran Island of Inis Oírr had a turnout of almost 75 per cent – or 148 of 200 registered voters – one of the highest recorded in recent years.

Galway West and East returning officer Marian Chambers-Higgins said that the overall turnout was 25 per cent by 4pm on the three Aran islands and Inishbofin.

Mayo returning officer Fintan Murphy hired a rigid inflatable boat to collect the ballot boxes from Inishturk, where the station closed at 6.30pm and from Inishbiggle and Clare island after 7pm.

Seven islands in the southwest vote on Friday, and the Irish Islands Federation, Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, has questioned why this could not be the case for all offshore communities.

The federation said that it was very disheartened at the low number of canvassers who travelled to islands, and disappointed at the lack of awareness and understanding displayed by parties in their specific issues.

It noted that only two parties had made explicit reference to islands in their policy statements.

It said it had examined all the literature available, and noted that Fianna Fáil had a specific island policy document, while Sinn Féin includes the islands in its new deal for the west.

The federation said it was “ironic that Ireland, an island nation, does not seem to have the political will to support the islands as other European countries do”.

“Politicians are fond of saying that the islands are very important to the country in terms of their beauty, tourism, culture, arts, heritage and natural resources, yet there has been little work over the past five years on serious sustainability issues,”it said, citing high-speed broadband, improvements to education, a ring-fenced annual infrastructural fund and unified healthcare strategy as examples.

The federation warned politicians to” remember that time and time again many a seat in Dáil Éireann was secured with less than 100 votes”.