Wednesday 24 January 2018

Population of islands ravaged by economic downturn

Ralph Riegel

IRELAND'S offshore islands are bearing the worst fallout of the economic recession with fears now mounting of a dramatic reversal in population statistics.

Anecdotal evidence has indicated that emigration linked to the recession may have stripped some islands of more than 10pc of their population in the space of just two years -- with island economies savagely hit by the downturn in both the fishing and tourism industries.

The population drain comes as a body-blow to Irish islands which, over the past decade, had recorded their first population increases since the time of the Great Famine.

The past 10 years -- including the Celtic Tiger boom -- witnessed the first increase in the population of Irish islands for more than 170 years.

There are 65 islands off the Irish coast which have been inhabited over the past 50 years.

Remarkably, the Celtic Tiger period saw a total of 61 of those islands boast resident populations at the last census. A total of just 35 islands have sizeable populations which are focused off the coasts of Galway, Mayo, Cork, Kerry and Donegal.

The three biggest populations are focused on Achill (2620), Gorumna (1015) and Aran (543).

Five islands that were totally uninhabited in 1996 secured new residents by 2008 -- including Horse, Gola, Foynes, Inisraher and Deer islands. The resident population ranged, according to the last census, from one to five inhabitants.

Deer Island -- off Co Clare -- has just a single female inhabitant while Inishlyre, off the coast of Co Mayo, has a population of 12.

In some cases -- specifically the Kerry and Cork islands -- a worrying number of non-nationals who moved on to Irish islands are now returning to their native countries because of economic factors.

The Irish Islands Federation (IIF) has been campaigning for enhanced support for island communities. One IIF member -- who asked not to be named -- said the recession was impacting on islands more severely than communities on the mainland.

"Islands need to be supported. Tory is a great example of what can be achieved if people who want to remain living on an island are supported," he added.

Irish Independent

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