Cuts to vital air services to the Aran Islands “remain on the table” despite fears being raised that any such a move would place the social and economical future of the islands at risk.
Islanders have voiced their concern that the Public Service Obligation (PSO) funding for air services to Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr will be withdrawn completely or drastically reduced next year, and Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley has again refused to rule budget cuts out this week.
Islanders and local public representatives yesterday met with Minister McGinley and Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Jimmy Deenihan in Dublin to voice their concerns, with a further meeting with Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin expected to take place in the coming days.
While refusing to rule out cuts, Minister McGinley yesterday indicated that there exists a “window of opportunity” for stakeholders to discuss the future of the service.
Speaking to the Galway Independent, Connemara Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said he is hopeful that a deal can be struck in light of the “very strong case” that has been put forward by the islanders on the need for a fast, reliable and safe service.
He also said that stakeholders, including islanders, department officials and service provider Aer Arann should be part of future negotiations on potential service cost savings.
“To cut the thing completely would be an absolute disaster. To cut the PSO dramatically would also cause huge problems because it would bring into question the viability of whatever company would be running the service,” said Senator Ó Clochartaigh.
Meanwhile, County Galway VEC CEO Seosamh MacDonncha has raised concerns for the future of three VEC schools on the islands should the air service be withdrawn.
“We would have a serious concern that such a basic service would be discontinued,” he said, adding that this would impact not only on islanders taking part in school excursions, but also on teachers coming from the mainland.
He added that school principals use the service when attending meetings at County Galway VEC, while island teachers utilise it while attending service courses. Teachers based on the mainland also use it when teaching in one of the three island schools.
Mr MacDonncha also pointed out that a number of students from the mainland who receive scholarships from the Department of the Gaeltacht to attend island schools also utilise the service, and that the attendance of these students make these small schools sustainable.
Facts and figures:
– The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has a contract under Public Service Obligation (PSO) with Aer Arann Islands for the provision of air services for the three Aran Islands. This contract will expire on 31 August 2013.
– The total cost of the PSO contract with Aer Arann Islands from 1 September 2009 to 31 August 2013 is €6,087,360.
– The contract provides for three daily return flights to Inis Mór and two daily return flights to Inis Meáin and to Inis Oírr on weekdays with four return flights on weekends. Additional flights are also provided depending on demand.
– A separate contract is in place with Bainistíocht Aerfoirt Teo, a subsidiary of Aer Arann Islands to manage the three aerodromes on Oileáin Árann and two airstrips at Inis Bó Finne and Clifden in Co. Galway.
– The cost of the contract from 1 March 2012 to 31 August 2013 is €540,585.