Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Islands Access Services.

Bertie Ahern

Question:

2 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach the consideration, if any, that will be given to the views of island inhabitants when settling the schedules of transport to and from our offshore islands. [8556/96]

The report of the Interdepartmental Co-ordinating Committee on Island Development sets out new mechanisms in order to deal with the key issue of access services to the offshore islands in a strategic and integrated way.

On foot of the recommendations of the report, which were agreed by the Government, relevant local authority islands committees, in consultation with islanders and Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, are preparing a programme of works to bring the level of access services to the offshore islands up to a socially desirable minimum standard. The programmes of work will reflect the priority needs of the islands concerned and will be submitted to the interdepartmental committee for consideration.

The Government believes that this process, which is in line with the principle of subsidiarity, will enable each island community, in partnership with their local authority, to take a proactive role in ensuring a coherent approach to the development of suitable access to offshore islands.

I raised last week some issues concerning the islands which I am sure the Minister of State is following up and he may wish to give me some information on them. Is the Minister of State aware of the complaints of the inhabitants of Dursey Island that in the summer months the cable car service is scheduled to serve the needs of tourists rather than those of the inhabitants? Will he ensure that the needs of the inhabitants are given priority?

I listened to people from Dursey Island make preliminary submissions at the first meeting of the Cork islands committee held in Bantry earlier this year. The county manager offered to negotiate concerning the needs of people on Dursey Island and they were asked to make further submissions. I notice from newspaper reports that there seems to be a difference of opinion between the islanders and the county council about the long-term use of the cable car or a new cable car which could be installed there. A meeting of the Cork County Council island committee will take place in the near future and when I receive information I will send it to the Deputy.

Coney Island in Sligo Bay was omitted from the initial report prepared by the interdepartmental committee. I am glad this mistake has been corrected and that the island has been included in the Finance Bill by way of amendment. Will the Minister of State give a guarantee that Coney Island, which fulfils all the criteria, will be included in future developments in the same way as other islands?

Under the Finance Bill Coney Island will enjoy all the privileges such as tax relief etc. However, Coney Island is not part of Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann and, as I have advised the Deputy on numerous occasions, the residents of the island should get in touch with the officers of comhdháil in Inisheer and ask them to look at the other areas to which the Deputy referred.

Is the Minister aware that Deputy Nealon informed the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs that there were two residents on Coney Island and one pub? On the question of offshore islands, is Spike Island included——

It has an excellent transport service.

——and are the inhabitants consulted about the scheduled transport to and from the island?

The Deputy wants to privatise the prisons.

I read about the frivolous remarks made during Question Time last week about the role played by me in trying to order the affairs of the inhabitants of offshore islands. Deputy McDowell can read all the details about offshore islands in the magnificent report which was recently published. However, I can give him a short summary. There are 42 offshore islands, 22 of which are inhabited and form part of Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann. This is the group recognised in the report and it has worked in partnership with the Department of the Taoiseach and the local authorities. Great progress has been made since I became involved.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to listen to the views of the island inhabitants. Inishbofin Island in County Galway is part of Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann and while it has excellent pier and berthing facilities the pier on the mainland which services the island from a passenger, mail, post and cargo point of view is in an appalling condition. Will the Minister give a commitment that, in conjunction with the Minister for the Marine, he will work with Galway County Council in an effort to improve Cleggan Pier which is in a dangerous condition?

The report sets out in detail what needs to be done. One of the first steps to be taken is that the Galway County Council island committee, which includes people from Inishbofin and the other island communities off the Galway coast, will prioritise the works which need to be undertaken this year to ensure safe access. I am concerned about Inishbofin and have received a request to do something about the air services to the island. This matter will also be looked at while the condition of Cleggan Pier will be favourably considered by the interdepartmental committee, assuming it is given priority by the Galway County Council island committee in the first instance. During the dire winter of 1995 we gave the inhabitants of Inishbofin £30,000 to continue work on the community hall. We are not unaware of the difficulties being experienced by these people.

Deputy McDowell got it wrong yet again. If one was not bound by constitutional impartiality one might ask, "what is new?" At the Select Committee on Finance and General Affairs I said that there were two houses open on the island, which is totally different from two residents. The more the population is reduced the more threatened it is and the more need there is to provide incentives to keep the inhabitants there. I hope this will be the case in regard to Coney Island.

I was beginning to wonder to which Coney Island the Deputy was referring.

I am referring to Coney Island in Sligo Bay after which Coney Island at the entrance to New York was called because of the number of rabbits on it.

On the question of the wildlife on islands, during the debate on the islands report I drew the Minister's attention to the rewriting of geography and the omission of Lambay Island. He promised to discuss the future of the island with the inhabitants and I would like to know the progress made in this regard.

I understand from preliminary inquiries that Lambay Island is owned by one family who want to retain it in private ownership. If they want to have it included it will have to be done next year as there was not time to include it in this year's Finance Bill.

During the debate reference was made to the rare wildlife on Lambay Island and the possibility of negotiating with the family on the acquisition of the island as a tourist amenity. Has any progress been made in this regard and, if not, will the Minister consider the matter and communicate with me?

The matter is being examined and a new wildlife list has been published. Lambay island was not included in the list and I will re-examine the matter to ascertain the position.

The Minister said he would report back to me on the position in regard to Dursey Island. Will he ensure that the requirements of the inhabitants of the islands rather than of the tourists are taken into account in any discussions?

Perhaps I did not make the position clear in my reply. At the first meeting of the islands' committee the Dursey Island representatives had an opportunity to outline their position and the Cork County Manager undertook to review it. I am certain that this will be done as the Cork county manager is an agreeable and affable man who will treat the Dursey islanders fairly.