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A lighthouse on Inis Oírr Carl Bruemmer/PA Images

Government accused of 'dividing' Ireland's west coast islands over whether or not to reopen as part of Covid-19 road map

The Cabinet is expected to decide this week whether the islands are to re-open on 29 June.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS been accused of creating divisions in west coast island communities over plans to re-open the region under the Covid-19 road map.

Last week, it was announced that tourist travel to Ireland’s offshore islands can resume from 29 June under the accelerated roadmap for re-opening the economy.

Travel to the islands has been significantly curbed for a number of months due to restrictions on movement as a result of the pandemic.

Island residents and essential workers are currently the only people allowed to travel to the islands, while the initial version of the roadmap published last month said travel would not resume to the islands until mid-August.

Some islands on the west coast are reliant on tourism during the summer months and it was expected that re-opening them to travel earlier than that could provide a boost to their economies. 

However, communities on the islands have raised concerns that re-opening would present a risk to public health, with fears that tourists could potentially bring Covid-19 with them.

Despite last Friday’s announcement which appeared on the government’s website, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (which has responsibility for the islands) said in a statement the matter was still under consideration.

Minister of State for the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands Sean Kyne also told Galway Bay FM yesterday that Cabinet would now make a decision on re-opening the islands when it meets on Thursday. 

Tensions are said to have risen on the islands after residents on Inis Oírr held a vote this week calling for the government not to re-open the island on 29 June.

It’s understood this led to calls for similar votes to be hold on other islands.

Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuiv told that the government had “badly mishandled” the situation, saying the lack of clarity had created a debate among islanders.

“It’s not for the islanders to tell the government what to do, it’s for the government to make their decision,” he said.

“They need to get on and make a decision, and not be dividing the islands.”

Water shortages

The situation is understood to have been exacerbated by water shortages on the Aran Islands, which are popular with day tourists.

In April, Irish Water introduced overnight water restrictions on Inis Oírr and Inis Mór, while restrictions were extended to Inis Meáin on 1 June due to drought conditions.

“It’s a major problem, at a time when we’re told to wash our hands repeatedly,” independent TD for Galway West Catherine Connolly said.

“The second major concern is that there are vulnerable groups. There’s an older population and a nursing home on the big island.”

Amid the concerns of those who want to re-open the islands and those who want them to remain closed, the government has been accused of a lack of clarity.

In response to a Parliamentary Question last month, Sean Kyne said that although the government recognised the importance of tourism to the economy of the islands, “the well-being of island residents and the operators of lifeline services to these islands must be given priority at this time”.

This week, Comhdháil Oileán na hÉireann – a group representing island communities – called on the government to clarify the issue and provide guidance on the safe re-opening of Ireland’s islands.

Ó Cúiv claimed that the biggest problem for islanders was that residents had been left “in a vacuum”.

“The minister should get out and make a decision, and he should have done that the first day,” he said.

“It isn’t the people’s call to make, it’s the government’s, because they’re doing the work. They need to make a call on this immediately.” 

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