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'Abandoned' islanders slam scrapping of plane service

The decision has caused deep concern among residents of the three islands.

Updated at 3.10pm

THE ENDING OF a daily airplane service linking the Aran Islands to the Galway mainland has caused deep concern among residents of the three islands.

The minister of state for the Gaeltacht, Joe McHugh, last week announced his decision to award the state’s air service contract to a helicopter company, bringing to a close the airplane service provided by Aer Arann Islands for 45 years.

Some 40 jobs are expected to be lost at the airline, which plans to appeal the decision.

McHugh said the agreement with Galway-based company Executive Helicopters will safeguard the air service for the next four years.

But a meeting on Inis Mór last night saw the passing of a motion opposing the new contract, with many residents saying a helicopter service will be unable to handle severe weather conditions around the island.

Capture Inis Mór residents pass motion opposing the deal Source: Comharchumann Forbartha Árann

Objections were also raised to the service being run out of Galway Airport in Carnmore, some five miles east of Galway city.

The Aer Arann service currently flies from Inverin, a 10-minute drive from the Rossaveal port from which ferries to the island depart.

Residents fear that the 30-mile distance between Carnmore and Rossaveal, an hour-long journey, will leave travellers stranded if flights are cancelled.

Ronan Mac Giolla Pháraic, who lives on Inis Mór, said the existing air service became “much more reliable” after it stopped flying out of Carnmore and moved its mainland base out west to Inverin.

“I remember as a child being stuck in the city when we couldn’t make a flight,” he told TheJournal.ie.

‘Nail in the coffin’

Cathy Ní Ghoill of the Inis Mór co-op, Comharchumann Forbartha Árann Teo, said close to 250 residents turned out to last night’s meeting.

“People are just shocked,” she said. “This is just another nail in the coffin for us.”

Inis Meáin resident Ruairí de Blacam told TheJournal.ie that the move is a worrying one for local businesses, who he said are more likely to be left stranded once the new service is running.

They rely on the air service for its reliability, in a place where boats often simply can’t approach in winter because of the severity of storms.
If a business owner here wants to send a Fedex for example or something that simply can’t wait, that service is essential, while cargo can only be brought in and out by air.

A committee of local residents is due to meet Minister McHugh tomorrow to discuss its objections to the agreement.

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Ní Ghoill said the committee unsuccessfully petitioned for the tender to be withdrawn shortly after it was first advertised in March.

The four-year contract has been capped at an annual cost of €900,000 – a 30% cut to the tender currently in place with Aer Arann.

00001478 Archive photo of Aer Arann sign in Connemara Source: RollingNews.ie

No guaranteed transportation

Ní Ghoill said residents primarily objected to the new contract as it allowed the tender to run flights out of Carnmore, adding that concerns were also raised about the reliability of a helicopter service.

The unsubsidised ferry service provided to all three islands is “at the grace of the operator”, she said, meaning the air service is the only guaranteed mode of transport for islanders seeking to travel to the mainland.

The decision has also been criticised by Sinn Féin Gaeltacht spokesperson Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, who said last week that the agreement “beggars belief”.

“The people of the Aran Islands are hugely concerned by this decision,” he said.

There are 40 direct jobs at stake here and it would seem incredible that 45 years of continued, high quality service given by Aer Arann might be jettisoned at this point without ensuring that a more superior and improved service would be replacing it.

A spokesperson for Executive Helicopters said it is prevented from making a statement on the deal until after a formal contract is signed next month.

Read: What will become of the Aran Islands now that their airplane service is gone?

Read: Joy for locals as second teacher found for school on Aran Island >

About the author:

Catherine Healy

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