Gaeltacht Junior Minister agrees one-year deal with Aer Arann
Gaeltacht Junior Minister Joe McHugh has agreed to sign a one-year deal with Aer Arann Islands to continue flights to the Aran Islands.
This follows a verbal agreement between department representatives and the carrier who negotiated a year-long 'reprieve' earlier this week following the failed proposal to replace the air services to the islands with a helicopter service.
Pádraig Ó Céidigh, owner of Aer Arann Islands, said he was very glad to hear about the new deal.
"We don't have any contract signed yet but I'm positive that we'll be signing a contract over the next couple of days for an extension of 12 months," he said.
He added that funding Aer Arann Islands was "critically important for keeping communities like the Aran Islands alive".
"It's critical for keeping tourism there," he said.
"It's operating day in, day out for the past 45 years and it will continue to operate as the contract is being drawn up."
Tarlach De Blacam, a local businessman living on Inishmaan, said the atmosphere on the island last night was one of "huge relief".
However, despite the short-term agreement, Mr McHugh defended his reasoning behind the initial decision, saying other islands were "suffering" because of the "complete imbalance" in funding.
"I have a budget of €5.9m every year for the islands, all our island communities, and 58pc of it goes to the Aran Islands. We spend €2m a year on the air service alone, just over a third of the budget for all our islands. That was why I was trying to look at other options," he said.
"It's unfair on the other islands, for example to Tory, where the ferry is 20 years old and where islanders are lucky to get post twice a week."
However, local Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív refuted this, saying: "He's obviously misguided. The Aran Islands have 50pc of the national island population and secondly the Aran Islands are well out to sea and cost more to service than the inshore islands."
The Galway West politician said he would be working with the islanders to place a new tender for five to seven years during the next 12 months.