Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Island Ferries Funding.

Paul Bradford

Ceist:

6 Mr. Bradford asked the Minister for the Marine his views on the lack of adequate grant-aid to ferries serving island communities; and the proposals, if any, he has to deal with this problem.

Paul Bradford

Ceist:

72 Mr. Bradford asked the Minister for the Marine the steps, if any, he proposes to take to ensure proper access for personnel and vehicles to Bere Island, County Cork.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 72 together.

I refer the Deputy to a reply to a question from Deputy O'Keeffe which I gave in the House on 10 February last in which I stated that the Department of the Marine has no responsibility for the provision of funding for ferries to the islands off the Irish coast.

The interdepartmental committee on island development, which is chaired by the Department of the Marine, is currently examining all aspects of island development, including the important question of access transport and the possibility of obtaining EU funding to improve access. I am awaiting the report of the committee which is expected shortly.

Safety of ferries is of paramount importance especially in the context of the most recently tragedy in Castletownbere and in that context it is my policy that statutory requirements in relation to vessel safety be rigorously enforced.

I am surprised that the Minister has no official responsibility for the funding of ferries. From the point of view of responsibility for safety the quality of the ferry service is of vital importance if safety measures are to be implemented. In that regard, is the Minister making representations to those people who have responsibility for funding to ensure the same level of funding to ferries serving non-Gaeltacht islands as to those serving Gaeltacht islands? There should be no difference in the grants available to the various ferries.

Yes, I am making representations. The issue of funding for ferries is being examined by the interdepartmental committee on islands development, whose terms of reference include the recommendation on actions to ensure a co-ordinated approach by the Government. The committee's report is expected in the not too distant future.

I would like to impart information to the Deputy which puts into perspective the disparate nature of the number of Departments involved. The interdepartmental committee on island development was set up on the initiative of the Taoiseach who appointed the Department of the Marine to co-ordinate the efforts of many other Departments. I would have thought one of the reasons islands have not been properly serviced in the past is that so many Departments are involved. For example, grant aid is available from a number of sources. The Department of Transport, Energy and Communications provides £0.5 million per annum for the Galway Aran service; the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht subsidise the ferry service to Oileain Cléire, County Cork. The Department owns the boat and provides an annual subsidy. Údarás na Gaeltachta provides a ferry service for Tory and Aranmore islands, County Donegal, and subsidises a helicopter service to Tory during the winter and air services to the Aran Islands. There is a need to co-ordinate the various efforts in relation to the islands. As a general principle, rather like the fishing industry, the islands were seen as a second class citizen category and were disregarded for many years. I hope the interdepartmental committee on island development will report quickly and that action will be taken shortly thereafter to ease the lot of people living off the coast.

Question No. 7, please.

I should like to ask a very brief supplementary.

Let us not forget the need for brevity at this stage, otherwise we shall not complete the remaining questions.

Did the Department's submission to the interdepartmental committee on island development point out the Minister's viewpoint on the difficulties caused by the plethora of fund raising agencies in place? Will the report of the interdepartmental committee be published?

I assure the Deputy that spokesmen or spokeswomen, as the case may be, will have a copy. I also undertake to lay a copy in the Oireachtas Library.

What is the timescale for the publication of the report?

I am not avoiding the question but I would not like to put a timescale on it.