18th December

Ireland’s environment minister is urged to reverse potential death knell of offshore islands

Islanders on nine non – Gaeltacht islands set to be affected by the termination of core funding of their community development offices have received huge support from their colleagues across Europe. The European Small Islands Network (ESIN) is a network of national island organisations comprising 1,400 islands and 448,000 islanders.

 Inis-Bofin core funding

 Non-gaeltacht islands such as Inisbofin are demanding retention of their core funding. Photo Gillian Mills

A letter of support from the President of ESIN, Bengt Almkvist, and the national chairpersons from the ESIN member countries to Alan Kelly TD, Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government reads:

Ireland is an inspiration (to the ESIN Islands) because of the enlightened way it has supported its islands. The decentralised Island Community Development Companies Offices stand out as a model of how to support small, vulnerable Island societies.

It has come to our attention that the crucial core funding for these offices may be removed from five of the islands, thus preventing them from continuing to function as enablers for their communities. Island communities have permanent geographical handicaps as has been recognised by Article 174 of the Lisbon Treaty.

They are fragile socially and economically and deserve all the support they can get from their national government, at a time where it is harder than ever for them to compete equally with mainland communities. The ESIN members therefore urge the Irish government to reconsider this decision.

At a Dublin press conference organised by Comhdháil Oileáin Na hÉireann (COE)/ Ireland’s Islands Federation, islanders outlined concerns to members of the Oireachtas over the proposed termination of core funding for the Community Development Programmes that operate community development offices on five Islands.

Simon Murray, Inishbofin, outlined an historic and present-day overview of funding and programme delivery on the non-Gaeltacht islands. He explained that termination of funding for the Community Development Offices, which act as a ‘one stop shop’, would have disastrous consequences.

“You are the members of the Oireachtas at this moment in time ― government, opposition, party or independent ― all of you have a responsibility to ensure not one more island is depopulated. “Surely this State must learn from the past and never, ever, again allow the death of another island. To put it simply, who will then do the work on behalf of the island organisations if they have to close?”

John Walsh, Bere Island, outlined the work of voluntary committees:

“The committees have put years into managing island development companies that have done extraordinary work on behalf of their communities. These committees are fully trained to manage staff and budgets, and have built networks across Ireland and Europe to ensure the island sustainability. How can this work continue if there is no core funding to keep the community offices staffed and open?”

He added that the solution was very simple:

“Island organisations are calling on Minister Kelly to re-establish the Island Development Programme and to fund it to meet the costs associated with managing the Community Development Offices.”

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