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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
the islands

All smiles as Minister visits Donegal island but dwellers want more than 'just a piece of paper'

The first national plan for offshore islands in 27 years was launched yesterday amid a warning about whether government departments are supporting it.

ireland-co-donegal-the-rosses-burtonport-arranmore-ferries-at-the-slipway Alamy Stock Photo Ferries leaving for Arranmore at the slipway of The Rosses Burtonport, Co Donegal. Alamy Stock Photo

A LONG-AWAITED government strategy for the revitalisation of island communities has received a broad welcome, but some who call the islands home want action to ensure the plan doesn’t become “just a piece of paper”.

Although groups have strived to be welcoming about the measures put forward, a former minister for the islands criticised the strategy as only holding “vague commitments” with one funding initiative blasted as a “minuscule return for four years work”. 

There were also warnings on whether various government departments are prepared to meet the task at hand, including from the minister overseeing the project. 

The ‘Our Living Islands’ strategy was published yesterday on Arranmore Island, near Co Donegal, almost three decades since the last such plan for islands dotted around Ireland’s coast.

While it includes measures on housing and remote in a bid to make living on offshore islands easier and more affordable, one proposal also caught the eye of islander groups amid a warning shot fired by Minister Heather Humphreys about other government departments. 

PastedImage-31910 TheJournal / Eoghan Dalton Humphreys yesterday launched the first national policy for all of Ireland’s islands in almost 30 years. TheJournal / Eoghan Dalton / Eoghan Dalton

The strategy promises rolling three-year action plans across the next decade, but with a review group chaired by her department overseeing its implementation and including island representatives among its membership. 

Humphreys, who holds the brief for Rural and Community Development, told the gathering for the launch that the “time-bound commitments” would ensure accountability for other departments.  

“However I also have this warning for them; deliver your actions and meet your targets,” the Cavan-Monaghan TD said.

There is an onus on every government department to step up to the plate now and deliver for our islands and I believe the will is there from my cabinet colleagues to do just that.

She added: “And to ensure accountability to our key stakeholders, I am pleased to say that I will be appointing representatives of the island communities to that committee.”

‘Emasculating’ the department

This concern was shared by Galway West Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív, who served as minister with responsibility for the islands in the 2000s. 

Ó Cuív claimed to The Journal that the government as a whole had “seemed to have emasculated the ability” of Humphreys’ department to ensure action in providing island services, from water to pier upgrades and other infrastructure. 

Aisling Moran, who travelled to the launch from her home on Inisherkin in Roaringwater Bay off Co Cork, told this website that it could yet be a crucial measure.

“This is just a piece of paper otherwise. Unless we have a voice to say, ‘look, this was in the action plan to say we’d look at housing’, then it’s just a document,” said Moran, who heads up a development group on her native island.

Humphreys also promised that island communities will benefit from “positive discrimination” when applying for investment in local projects from her department so that they “get their fair share of the cake”.

PastedImage-80379 DeptRCD Minister Humphreys visits Arranmore yesterday. DeptRCD

These funds, which are drawn down from local authorities, will be specifically for island communities and will be held separately from funding for similar projects in communities on the mainland.

These include programmes such as CLAR, which provides funding to fight population decline, and the local improvement scheme (LIS) for roads and lanes, as well as the Town and Village and the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund.

Housing plan

Housing is one of the big ticket items featured in the plan.

Minister Humphreys and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien have agreed to introduce changes to the Vacant Property Grant Scheme to support the renovations of vacant and derelict properties on offshore islands.

The measure allows home buyers who wish to refurbish and live in vacant and derelict properties on islands receive a 20% top up on the Government’s Croí Cónaithe funding grant. 

The maximum grant for island properties will be 20% higher for vacant properties – €60,000 compared to €50,000 on the mainland.

Derelict properties on the islands can receive a grant of up to €84,000 compared to €70,000 on the mainland.

This will come into effect from 1 July and will be applied retrospectively to any existing applications.

abandoned-property-or-house-on-arranmore-island-republic-of-ireland-county-donegal-derelict-or-destitute-home-shows-irish-rural-depopulation-problem Alamy Stock Photo Abandoned property on Arranmore island. Dereliction is among the problems for any programme tackling depopulation. Alamy Stock Photo

This was welcomed by Moran who said: “The announcement on vacant homes is super, as is the stuff around ringfencing of Rural and Community Development [funding]. We’re up against bigger projects on the mainland that we don’t have the numbers for, even though we have the equal need.

“It appears the department has listened to us and what we need, and we’ll know further once we get to sit down with it.”

Máire Uí Mhaoláin, who leads non-profit island group Comhar na nOileán, said she was pleased to hear Humphreys outline what was described as a “strong commitment” from the Housing Minister that the forthcoming draft planning guidelines for rural housing will “recognise the specific challenges that island communities face”.

This followed feedback from islanders over struggles to build homes on land owned by their family, partially due to planning and environmental restrictions.

“There were some very positive things said on the planning system, that it needs looking at on the islands. We haven’t heard that for years,” Uí Mhaoláin said.

We’ve been hearing about environmental constraints on planning for years but it’s great that’s been recognised now.

However, she added: “Overall we can’t say much about the policy document at the moment – it’s the actions that come out of it really that will be the measure of it.”

Summing up his reaction, Ó Cuív declared the plan as “simply a copy and paste of existing policies” with a lack of specific new financial commitments.

He added that he welcomed the top up grant for vacant and derelict houses but added that he believed a larger increase in the region of 30% was required.

Ó Cuív said this would cover the extra cost of bringing materials and specialised labour into islands.

“Due to EU law they have to even resort to importing stone onto many islands for building purposes,” he said. 


A Noteworthy investigation earlier this year examined the depopulation crisis facing our offshore islands, speaking to islanders who fear their voices are going unheard with policymakers.

Noteworthy spoke to dozens of islanders and community leaders, and visited islands from Cork to Donegal to examine the key infrastructure issues facing the islands, including housing constraints, concerns over healthcare services, damaged pier infrastructure and a lack of support for traditional fishing communities.

Islanders expressed concern with long delays in publication of the islands plan. They said that it needs to be implemented urgently to deal with population decline and ageing populations, as well as a myriad of other infrastructural issues.

The Islands Federation told the Noteworthy team at the time that it was not directly involved in designing the policy document and have not set eyes on the draft report despite various requests.

When asked why the Federation did not get to view the document, Humphreys said she was eager to get the document published after it had already been hit by numerous delays.

These were due to the pandemic and a lengthier consultation than planned, but also when Humphreys had previously sent the islands strategy back to the drawing board, after stating that she would not publish a review until she was “satisfied that it contains credible actions that will make a difference to our island communities”.

Speaking to The Journal on Arranmore, Humphreys said: “I wanted to get this island policy published today. There was online and face to face engagement, and the face to face may have delayed it a little longer but they were dead right to look for that.”

She added that the strategy is a “living document” owing to the review group and that “islanders can recognise that a lot of their asks” are in the published strategy.

“They put a huge input into it and I thank them for that.”

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