Tuesday 20 March 2018

No decision made on helicopter service to islands, insists Minister

A child at the protest in Furbo, Co Galway
A child at the protest in Furbo, Co Galway

Brian McDonald and John Downing

Gaeltacht Minister Joe McHugh insisted that no final decision had been made, and no contract signed, for the controversial air service to the Aran Islands.

Speaking after he had met a delegation from the islands, Mr McHugh stressed the tendering process was still ongoing.

The minister admitted that his department had received correspondence from one of the tendering companies threatening a High Court injunction in the continuing row.

More than 600 Aran islanders travelled by boat and plane to the Galway mainland yesterday in a show of strength.

The islanders, from Inis Mor, Inis Meain and Inis Oirr brought placards opposing a plan to replace the fixed-wing air link provided by Aer Arann Islands with a helicopter service.

Many of the protesters were families who took their children out of school for the day to drive home the message.

Mr McHugh announced last week that the preferred tender for the new air service to the Aran Islands for the next four years was from Executive Helicopters of Woodford, Co Galway.

The news has been greeted with dismay by the islanders as it would be based at Galway Airport in Carnmore.

Aer Arann Islands, which has provided the air service since the 1970s, has always flown from Connemara Airport in Inverin. The islanders insist that basing a helicopter service over 50km away and through heavy Galway traffic is unworkable.

And it emerged that neither Galway County nor City councils, which own the airport facility, had been consulted.

Inis Meáín Knitting Company managing director Tarlach de Blacam said the decision represented "death by a thousand cuts" for the islands' economy.

The biggest employer on the islands, the Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board, which has 36 teachers travelling to the three post-primary schools on the islands, is also opposed to the new arrangements.

The owner of Aer Arann Islands, Padraic Ó Céidigh has said he was "devastated" at the loss of the contract and had warned that up to 40 jobs at the airline would now be lost.

After meeting the delegation in Furbo, Minister McHugh said: "It's very important to point out that this process is still live. The preferred tenderer was Executive Helicopters. So there are opportunities for unsuccessful tenderers to make an appeal."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he hoped the new helicopter service to the Aran Islands could meet islanders' needs.

"It's important that the service should be safe, efficient, and meet the needs of the people. I hope the new service is a success and meets those requirements," he said.

Irish Independent

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