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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Alamy Stock Photo Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys
island policy

Heather Humphreys tells department officials she's 'not going to settle for more of the same'

The Minister told her officials that they needed to re-engage with government departments on commitments to the islands.

A LONG-AWAITED GOVERNMENT plan for island communities has been sent back to the drawing board after the minister in charge told officials to revisit the document and “firm up” its proposals.

Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, said the report won’t be published until she is “satisfied that it contains credible actions that will make a difference to our island communities” living off the coast of Ireland.

“While it’s clear that a lot a work has been done in getting the draft policy to this stage, I believe there’s more work needed to firm up the text and, more importantly, the actions,” she said.

The island-specific policy document is the first of its kind since an interdepartmental committee published a framework for developing Ireland’s islands in 1996 - by increasing access to the islands with more ferry routes and improved pier infrastructure. 

panoramic-landscape-of-inisheer-island-part-of-aran-islands-ireland Alamy Stock Photo Inisheer, part of the Aran Islands off Galway Alamy Stock Photo

As reported last month by our sister site Noteworthy, the overdue document is to provide solutions for long-term problems facing islands, whose inhabitants feel they have been increasingly left to compete with mainland towns and villages for funding and services.

The islands policy, which is a commitment in the Programme for Government, saw the Cabinet agree in July 2019 that a new Inter-Departmental Committee for islands be established – formed from 12 Departments – to develop a national policy for the inhabited offshore islands.

But consultation for the report, which was initially due to be given to Cabinet and published in 2020, was hampered by the pandemic and restrictions to travel to the islands.

The deadline then changed to 2022 after consultation resumed in January 2021 but the report is now not expected to be returned to Humphreys until later this year. 

A former minister with responsibility for the islands in the 2000s, Galway East TD Éamon Ó Cuív, told The Journal that the delays surrounding the report have meant “paralysis” and “stagnation” for the communities awaiting the plan’s outcomes. 

Officials to ‘revisit’ the plan

In a response to a parliamentary question from Ó Cuív, Humphreys said she received a draft of the policy before Christmas but that “more work” was needed so she has asked her officials to “revisit” the plan.

“Our island communities been waiting a long time for this policy and I’m not going to settle for more of the same from State bodies if that doesn’t deliver anything better for the islands. I want to see them committing to meaningful actions in this plan,” the Cavan-Monaghan TD said.

“On that basis, I’ve gone back to my officials and asked them to re-engage with colleagues across Government Departments and agencies to revisit the document and make sure that this Islands Policy is accompanied by a robust Action Plan.”

Humphreys added that she is determined the policy will be finalised as soon as possible, and then brought to Government for approval so it can be published.

“But I won’t do that until I’m satisfied that it contains credible actions that will make a difference to our island communities,” the Fine Gael deputy told Ó Cuív.

The Fianna Fáil TD had queried the publication of the report with the minister and the reasons behind its delay.

Speaking to The Journal, Ó Cuív said it was crucial that more consultation takes place with islanders for the plan.

“I believe that the drawing up of the pan has led to four years of stagnation in relation to implementation of new policies for the islands,” he said.”The lack of dynamic interaction with the islanders themselves means that a lot of consultation is rigid and formulaic and… not getting to grips with day-to-day and medium-term issues on the island.”

He said the minister should meet islander groups twice a year and that the senior department officials should meet them quarterly.

“I am deeply worried that rather than a radical new plan for the islands, that the plan will contain a copy and paste of existing policies of agencies and departments as they pertain to islands collected in the one place,” he said.


A senior figure on one island welcomed the news that the report is being revised with the promise that it will deliver stronger results for the thousands living off-shore.

However, a number of island representatives told The Journal that consultation with islanders was needed to ease long-held feelings that they are an afterthought in the State’s plans.

Marjorie Carroll, from Tory Island, while welcoming the revision, warned that it would be “foolish” if the new report does not contain new consultation with island representatives. 

The importance of the document was also emphasised by Máire Uí Mhaoláin who leads Comhar na nOileán – a non-profit group advocating for island communities. 

“For 38 years, the Irish Islands have been fighting to be recognised as a specific sub-regional area in all aspects from economic development, social, community and environmental development and treated as a specific sub-regional areas when it comes to all government sponsored programmes,” said Uí Mhaoláin, who lives on Inis Oírr, one of the Aran Islands off Co Galway.

She said due to the size of the islands, challenges facing people can often be “hard to identify and hidden”, but they range from depopulation to unemployment and their vulnerability to extreme weather events given the impact on transport.

Ó Cuív warned that in a “rapidly changing world” the islands are particularly affected due to climate change and cost-of-living impacts.

He claimed that it is not appreciated that prior to the 1990s, there was little in the way of regular and standardised maritime transport to ferry islanders to the mainland and vice versa.

‘At the mercy of market rules’

Marjorie O’Carroll, from Comharchumann Thoraí Teo (Tory Island Co-op), said islands such as hers badly need investment in water services, but that major funding is also needed for health services.

“We’ve been living under a boil water notice for years,” she said.

While Tory Island received funding and was able to build a primary care centre, O’Carroll said it isn’t staffed fully – meaning that islanders often need to leave Tory for various treatments.

“We have an island nurse who is resident but we have very little services here. Really we have just the basics at the moment; we need more services and need to allow people to be able to see the visiting doctor more, especially in winter.”

Islanders are also often at the “mercy of market rules” where a cost-benefit analysis has to be done before a project can receive the greenlight, Uí Mhaoláin claimed.

“The islands are constantly in competition with mainland areas for resources or programmes. Development constraints on the islands cannot be solved by market rules,” she said.

“We welcome a policy for the islands and look forward to it as we hope it will address many of these inequalities.”


Ensuring that “sustainable permanent populations” will need to be key, Uí Mhaoláin said.

“The residents of the Irish Islands would like more than anything else to be consulted on the policy document before it is finalised and published,” she added.

“We would recommend this practice and hope that the department will use this approach and as already stated look forward to a specific policy for the Irish Islands.”

The department has maintained that it has carried out consultation with island groups including running public information meetings to discuss the overarching plan.

It said the revised report is due to be published in the second quarter of the year – potentially May or June.

If you want to find more about Ireland’s offshore islands, read Noteworthy’s recent ISLAND NATION investigation which revealed that islanders have been waiting 25 years for policies to thrive and not just survive.

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