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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 26 May, 2019
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Concerns that four-decade-old air service to Aran Islands could be at risk

Residents on the Aran Islands are concerned that the government subsidy for air services to and from the three islands could be cut in the forthcoming budget.

A view from an Aer Arann flight to the islands.
A view from an Aer Arann flight to the islands.
Image: Christine Bohan/TheJournal.ie

RESIDENTS ON THE Aran Islands have raised concerns that the subsidy to run air services from the mainland to the three islands could be at risk in the forthcoming budget.

Aer Arann Islands runs a daily service to and from Inis Mór, Inis Meáin, and Inis Oírr off the west coast of the country with as many as 30 flights a day in summer that could now be at risk if the government decides to cut the €1.8 million annual subsidy.

The service has been run continuously for the past 42 years but may no longer be feasible if the government cuts the funding as some of the 1,100 residents on the three islands fear.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which distributes the funding, said that its contract with Aer Arann Islands – under the public service obligation (PSO) – runs until August of next year and said that no decision has been made with regard to renewing it.

The general manager of Aer Arann Islands, Marie Mulrooney, told TheJournal.ie: “We haven’t been told about what’s going to happen, so we don’t know, it isn’t official but there are rumblings.”

“We’ve operated continuously for 42 years and the service would be impossible without the subsidy.”

Asked if there were any specific concerns raised about the future of the service, Mulrooney said that the current climate meant there could be no assumptions that their funding would be safe.

As well as running 30 flights a day in summer and around eight in the winter time, Aer Arann Islands also runs medevac flights as well as carrying post, medicines and vaccines to the islands.

“Residents on the island are nervous and haven’t been told anything officially,” she said.

One resident of Inis Mór said in an email that the air service is a vital part of island life and important in cases of medical emergencies.

Louise O’Flynn said: “If this service is withdrawn, it leaves us vulnerable and I can see families leaving to live on the mainland.

“As an islander with a young family, we use the service and depend on it. It scares me to think that we might lose it.”

Aer Arann Islands, which employs 38 people full-time and two part-time in order to run the service, is currently tendered to provide this service up until the end of August of next year.

This is under a contract commenced in September 2009 which will cost a total of €6,087,360 over its lifetime to the 31 August 2013, according to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Department said that under this contract 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 are provided.

Additional flights are also provided depending on demand.

There is also a separate contract with Bainistíocht Aerfoirt Teo, a subsidiary of Aer Arann Islands. This is to manage the three aerodromes on Oileáin Árann and two airstrips at Inis Bó Finne and Clifden in Co Galway.

The total cost of that contract for the period from March of  this year to 31 August next year is €540,585.

“The estimates process for 2013 is continuing at the moment and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has not as yet been informed of its allocation for 2013,” a statement said.

“No decision has therefore been made with regard to the renewal of the air service to and from the Aran islands.”

(All Pics: Christine Bohan/TheJournal.ie)

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Hugh O'Connell

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