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The red Arranmore ferry leaving the Island towards Burtonport, County Donegal. Alamy Stock Photo
Island Living

Minister sets out 'positive discrimination' policy to ringfence offshore island funding

The ‘Our Living Islands’ strategy published today is the first national island policy in 27 years.

LAST UPDATE | 7 Jun 2023

MINISTER FOR RURAL and Community Development Heather Humphreys has said island communities are to benefit from “positive discrimination” in her department when applying for investment in local projects so that they “get their fair share of the cake”.

She outlined that “too often” island communities are left competing with applications from the mainland with their applications to local authorities “falling short” due to budget issues. 

It’s one of numerous measures in the ‘Our Living Islands’  strategy – the first national island policy in 27 years. 

Launching the document on Arranmore off Co Donegal, the first national policy for offshore islands in 27 years, Humphreys said funding for various facilities will be ringfenced from now on for local amenities. 

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

Humphreys also announced funding of €1.9m for minor capital works on the islands this year.

“That means more funding for playgrounds, for sports facilities for
walking and cycling trails and for community centres,” the Fine Gael minister said.

“I want to see positive discrimination towards our islands,” she said, listing out 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.

“In future, all of my Department’s main funding schemes . . . will have ringfenced allocations specifically for applications from our island communities – that will ensure the Islands get their fair share of the cake.” 

It’s part of a raft of measures aimed at getting more people living, working and raising their families on offshore islands.

Also included in the long-awaited strategy is that home buyers that wish to refurbish and live in vacant and derelict properties on islands around Ireland’s coast will get a 20% top up on the Government’s Croí Cónaithe funding grant. 

The new measure is contained in the ‘Our Living Islands’ strategy – the first national island policy in 27 years.

Under the Croí Cónaithe scheme, you can get a grant of up to €50,000 to renovate a vacant property and up to €70,000 if the property is derelict.

Minister Heather 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 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 provided 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.

Vacant Home Officers will be in place to identify vacant and derelict properties on the islands. 

Boosting island populations

As The Journal reported last summer, 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”.

It is understood that the minister wanted more housing measures and incentives included in the plan that would help boost island populations.

Population decline on the Irish islands following the Famine of the 1840s has been an ever-present threat for island dwellers, and is on the cards again as Census data points to worrying declines in recent years, as reported by Noteworthy in its recent series.

Arranmore, off Co Donegal, where the plan was launched, was where islanders set up a Coming Home campaign – working to bring the country’s first offshore remote working hub to the island with connection speeds that would make any rural mainland dweller jealous.

In a bid to attract residents to the island, the islanders put out open letters appealing to the likes of Australians and Americans to swap the hustle and bustle of the city for a peaceful island life.

Topping up the refurbishment grant is likely to be welcomed by islanders – however, with such a differentiation between the policy for both island and mainland vacant and derelict houses, it’s also likely to generate a wider debate. 

Remote working

The ‘Our Living Islands’ plan contains 80 commitments under a three-year action plan with a focus on improving services in housing, health and education, delivering high speed broadband, increasing tourism, supporting employment and remote working and further developing our outdoor amenities.

Housing and securing planning permission are particular issues that have been raised by island communities in recent times. Many have complained that planning blockages, high building costs and no rental options are creating a housing crisis on our offshore islands.

While there had been a delay with the publication of the Government’s forthcoming new Rural Planning Guidelines, it is expected they will be revised to recognise the specific challenges that island communities face.

Other highlights within the report published today include supports being provided to every single island community to develop remote working facilities so that people can live and work within their own community.

The delivery of high-speed broadband to island-based schools and digital hubs was also singled out as key to the plan.

Government agencies will also work with its partners to increase job opportunities, including apprenticeships on the islands, states the report.

Supports for outdoor recreation activities such as cycling, swimming and walking will also be ramped up. 

The minister is also set to announce the plan to investment in infrastructure such as piers and roads, and the completion of the upgrade of coast guard building and stations of units servicing islands. 

Waste management plans for island communities is also set to be progressed. 

Launching the policy, Humphreys said today that the new ten year plan is ”designed to support and empower our island communities and the people living there”.

“It’s all about improving housing, better access to essential services in health and education, delivering high speed broadband, and further developing our outdoor amenities, which will in turn increase tourism and support sustainable island communities.

“It’s about ensuring our islands have proper infrastructure in terms of water, roads and piers. And it’s about supporting island communities to develop remote working facilities, ensuring people can live and work in their own community,” she said. 

“And I’m particularly pleased to have worked with my colleague, the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, to provide additional funding under Croí Cónaithe to support islanders who wish to turn vacant and derelict properties into homes.

“‘Our Living Islands’ is an ambitious ten year policy – recognising our commitment to supporting our island communities so that they have a bright and sustainable future,” concluded the minister.

Additional reporting from Eoghan Dalton on Arranmore Island

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