I propose to take Questions Nos. 2061 to 2072, inclusive, 2074 and 2075, and 2077 and 2078 together.
The Interdepartmental Committee referred to by the Deputy was established in June 1993, and went on to publish its report “A strategic framework for developing the offshore islands” in 1996.
This document set out a strategic framework within which future action in relation to the islands would be pursued. The main recommendations of the report centred on the provision of improved harbour infrastructure and life-line transport services. Other recommendations included health care provision, information technology, agriculture, tourism and fisheries.
Following on from this report, a major programme of State investment was embarked on. Many of the recommendations in the 1996 report, in particular those focussed on island transport and infrastructure, have been achieved.
In 1996, there were just were just three State-funded passenger ferry services, one cargo service and an air service route. The State is now subsidising 13 ferry routes, 9 cargo routes and 2 air services, carry over 500,000 passengers and 29,000 tons of cargo annually.
The period since the report was published has also seen an extensive programme of pier development to facilitate safe access to islands, under which funding in excess of €100 million has been provided towards completion of harbour infrastructure for the islands. This investment continues today with several pier development projects featured in the National Development Plan.
The capital investment also saw the construction of helipads on several islands, providing rapid coast guard and HSE access to the islands to deal with emergencies. As with pier construction, provision of helipads is an ongoing process with a new helipad planned for Inishturk in County Mayo this year. There has also been significant investment in roads, coastal defences and other smaller capital projects throughout this time.
Several island-based Health Centres have been developed, and as recently as 2017, the HSE published a Primary Care Island Services Review with a view to developing a sustainable, cost effective, quality and fair primary care service that meets the everyday needs of the island populations.
The adverse logistics of island based businesses and communities have also been addressed through a variety of schemes such as the island specific support to island farmers through the Areas of Natural Constraints scheme and additional social security grants to claimants on the islands. The challenges on the islands has also been recognised through enhanced social welfare payments to island residents.
Provision has been made for additional teachers on island-based schools. Schemes have been developed to attract mainland students to some of the Gaeltacht island schools, providing the students with an opportunity to immerse themselves in the Irish language, while also boosting the numbers in the schools. A Gaeltacht e-Hub Pilot Project has also been developed. This utilises online blended-learning delivery to extend the subject range available through the medium of Irish to students in Gaeltacht post-primary schools, including three island based schools.
Since 1996, provision of basic telephony services to the islands has improved dramatically and in recent years the rollout of national broadband has included many islands. This period has also seen significant investment in electrical and water supplies to the islands.
Support for enterprise, cultural and social development has been supported through grants to development companies on the non-Gaeltacht islands and cooperatives on the Gaeltacht islands who provide support services and advice to island communities. These bodies have functioned successfully as hubs to advance LEADER, EU and local LEO projects.
Fáilte Ireland have developed a range of promotional campaigns in which the value of the island are recognised as cultural destinations.
As the Deputy will be aware, responsibility for the islands transferred to my Department in September 2020. The development of a new Islands Policy is an objective within the Programme for Government, and will build on what has been achieved to date.
To this end, an Interdepartmental Committee, which is now chaired by my Department, was established in late 2019 and met most recently in January 2021. This is different to, and supersedes, the Interdepartmental Co-Ordinating Committee on Island Development which was established in 1993 and which has not met for many years.
My officials have undertaken a wide consultation process to ascertain the views of island communities in the development of the new policy, and went on to meet with other stakeholders such as the island's representative body, Comhdháil Oileán na hÉireann, and the relevant Local Authorities.
A series of bilateral meetings with various Government Departments are now underway, to apprise the Departments of the findings of the consultations and to establish how Departments can address the issues raised by island communities.
These discussions will conclude with preparation of a new 10-year policy for the development of the islands, and associated three-year Action Plans, which will underpin island development for the next decade.