As someone who has been lucky enough to visit High Island in recent years, I am a rare breed. I landed there on a very calm day and it is a spectacular island. On its southern side are monastic settlements on which very detailed excavations have been done. The headstones of the monks are incredible. It is a tremendously interesting and important site. It is similar to the Skelligs in terms of archaeological and historical importance.
When I landed on the island I also discovered that really important scientific work is going on there. University College Cork has been doing some really groundbreaking and important ecological and scientific assessments. Researchers have been tagging and monitoring the very significant populations of Manx shearwaters and storm petrels. These are very large populations which are hugely important in a European context because of the numbers and rarity of the birds. The research being done is also very important in a wider context because, in tracking the movements, breeding and ecology of the birds, the whole north-west Atlantic is monitored. It is hard to believe it considering the size of the birds, but on occasion they fly out almost 1,700 km to feed. The monitoring, management and assessment of that tells us a massive amount about what is happening in the north-west Atlantic, where climate is changing, where cold water is coming down from the Arctic and where the Gulf Stream itself may be weakening. These are very large populations of very rare and critical seabirds. They are one of the birds which are most threatened. The whole issue of protecting biodiversity is critical to the Minister's Department. This area of scientific research is of critical international and European importance.
The island has no possible use other than the maintenance and monitoring of the archaeological, ornithological and other ecological sites.
A house could not be put on it because it is not accessible, except on a really calm day. A helicopter pad or any other landing system would ruin the ecology. Richard Murphy, the poet, owned it briefly at a time when he sailed in and out of Cleggan to Inishbofin. He wanted to give it to the State but my understanding, based on his biography and from talking to people who knew him, is that he grew frustrated at the slow response of the State and sold it to a local person. That person has been very good in supporting the scientific and archaeological research that has been done and has provided an excellent caretaker role. The island is now for sale and it is important that the State steps up to the mark and purchases the land so that it is protected. The island is of acute ecological importance and a State purchase would also be an investment in our archaeological heritage and our scientific research system. It would not be expensive relative to other projects the State engages in but it is important. It may require further investment, for example, if we were to have some limited tourism capability for visitors to an amazing monastic site. That might take the pressure of the Skelligs and other locations but we would have to do it very sensitively in respect of how we would get landing and so on.
We should support UCC in its critical scientific research. We should make sure we protect these really important populations of sea birds which tell us a lot about what is going on in the north Atlantic. Doing so would send out a signal to our people and to the wider world that we are monitoring what is happening in the north Atlantic and it is in our care.