I am working to ensure that sustainable vibrant communities continue to live on the islands, and I have made this one of the key elements of Our Rural Future, the Government’s new Rural Development Policy. Furthermore, my Department is currently developing a new National Islands Policy, a central objective of which is to ensure that sustainable vibrant communities continue to live on the offshore islands.
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.
Whilst a specific island product marketing group was not established, the intervening years did see the establishment of a number of support initiatives to assist island producers including schemes such as the Areas of Natural Constraints scheme which provides payments to people farming land on offshore islands. It aims to support the continuation of farming in these area by compensating farmers for the additional costs involved in farming such land.
Support for enterprise, cultural and social development has been provided 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 also played a role to advance LEADER, EU and local LEO projects.
Fáilte Ireland has also developed a range of promotional campaigns, recognising the value of islands as cultural destinations.
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. A series of bilateral meetings with various Government Departments are now underway, to apprise the Departments of the findings of the consultations and to explore how Departments might address the issues raised by island communities.
These discussions will contribute to the preparation by my Department of a new 10-year policy for the development of the islands, with associated three-year Action Plans, which will underpin island development for the next decade.