The funding available to me for island development has risen from €7.8 million in 2002 to €8.479 million this year, representing a welcome increase of 8%. It is my view that this allocation will enable me to fulfil my commitment to improving access to the islands. Since 1997, my Department has invested nearly €30 million in the improvement of island infrastructure and access services. This investment has included funding for many capital projects – from the improvement of pier infrastructure to the provision of helicopter landing pads on the islands together with the introduction of new and improved ferry and air transport services. Subject to resources, the capital projects aimed at improving island access which it is proposed to fund over the coming years include major works on the ferry access piers on Clare Island and Inishturk and at Roonagh on the mainland, which serves these two islands, at an estimated total cost of €13.5 million; major improvement works costing over €2.4 million on the ferry landing facilities at Machaire Rabhartaigh on the mainland serving Tory Island and Inishboffin, County Donegal; the provision of a cablecar and new slipways to provide access to Inishbiggle; the improvement of piers on the Aran Islands; the construction of new piers on Clynish, Inishlyre and Insegort in Clew Bay; and the construction of airstrips on Inishboffin, County Galway and Tory Island.
The improvement of island access through the regular ferry services and, in certain cases, air services is of particular interest to the islanders. With this in mind, my Department now subsidises ferry services to 14 different islands, in addition to a fixed wing air service to the Aran Islands and a winter helicopter service to Tory Island. This compares very favourably to the five islands which were served by State assisted services in 1997. It has been, and will continue to be, my Departments policy to improve, where possible, the standard and regularity of these services as contracts come up for renewal.