Friday 30 September 2016

Minister is urged to clarify Aran Islands air service row

Emma Jane Hade and Ciara Treacy

Published 14/09/2015 | 02:30

Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs Joe McHugh
Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs Joe McHugh

Residents living on the Aran Islands have been left in limbo over their air service and are calling for clarity as fears are mounting over its future.

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Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs Joe McHugh is being urged to intervene as it appears that the current provider, Aer Arann Islands, will not accept the Government's offer of a contract extension.

Concerned residents and local representatives fear the islands may be left without a vital connection to the mainland in the coming weeks.

The current provider lost out in the State tendering process last month and the contract was instead awarded to Executive Helicopters Limited, which was due to begin operating the service from October 1.

However, last week it emerged that the Department of the Gaetacht would be "engaging with the existing service provider with a view to extending the existing contract until February 1, 2016".

This came about as there is a need to clarify the availability of Galway Airport for the duration of the four-year contract that was awarded to the helicopter service as the airbase - which is 52km away from the ferry port to the islands - had also been included in the tender.

An Aer Arann Islands staff member yesterday said an extension had been offered, but added: "Our contract ends on September 30 and for us there is nothing else after that."

Residents on the three Aran Islands have been outraged since the news emerged, as the service - which has been in operation for 45 years - uses the Inverin airbase only, which is 6km from the ferry on the mainland. There are also concerns about how the helicopters will operate in the winter months.

Cormac Coyne, a schoolteacher who is living on Inis Oírr, said the community felt "lost" and they were holding a public meeting last night. "We feel like we have been let down by the Government. This came out of nowhere, we didn't see it coming, it has come as a second blow," he said.

"I feel like they have forgotten about us. They are trying to put in this air service that is not suitable. I am calling on ministers to fix this and to give us a service that will work."

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Michael Kitt, Fianna Fáil's spokesman on Gaeltacht Affairs, said he would be raising the matter with Mr McHugh when the Dáil resumed as he wanted him to offer "some clarity on what is happening".

"Come October, we don't know where we are really. The service that was there for 45 years is the service that people want to continue with," the Galway TD added.

His party colleague Éamon Ó Cuív, who represents Galway-West, said the islanders would "campaign for as long as it takes".

"Last week it looked like the matter might be resolved, but it has only got into a worse mess. What I would say is the ministers should start again, cease the present process," he said. "We have gone backwards rather than forwards."

The islanders are planning to protest outside Leinster House.

Irish Independent

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