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The offshore islands are “very far down the list of priorities for our policymakers” according to the Islands’ Federation, Comhdháil Oileán na hEireann, which has decided to carry out a survey of the housing needs of the islands.

“There is a housing crisis in Ireland and unless we ourselves come up with solutions, we will be left behind,” says the Federation representing offshore island communities. “The purpose of this study is to ascertain the views and needs of island residents on their households present housing circumstances and future housing requirements. We need concrete and accurate data. We ask communities on the Islands to fill out the online survey. All the information will be processed by University College Cork.”

The research is being carried out in partnership between Comhdháil, Comhar na nOileán and researchers from UCC. “This study has obtained ethical approval from the UCC Social Research Ethics Committee and is completely confidential,” the Federation says.

The survey will provide the basis for a report on the current and future housing requirements of Ireland’s island residents, according to Comhdháil.

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Inshore fishers will benefit from new Government funding on island infrastructure, marine minister Charlie McConalogue has said.

Donegal received the “highest funding allocation” in the grant-aid of almost €286,000 for capital works on island infrastructure projects around the country, Mr McConalogue, who is Fianna Fáil TD for that county, noted.

The funding announced by Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys has been earmarked for Cork, Mayo and Donegal county councils for improvements to roads, piers, helipads and public toilets.

Donegal receives €136,414, while Cork receives €90,891 and Mayo gets €58,500 towards up to 90 per cent of the capital cost of projects. The balance will be provided by the relevant local authorities.

The islands to benefit from this round of funding are Cléire, Sherkin Island, Heir Island, Whiddy Island and Bere Island in County Cork, Inis Bigil (Doran’s Point) and Claggan in County Mayo, Island Roy and Toraigh in County Donegal.

The funding will see improvements made to the access road to Island Roy, the helipad and slipway design for Toraigh island, and an environmental study for Machaire Rabhartaigh pier, Mr McConalogue said.

“This is the latest tranche of capital funding for island infrastructure projects in 2022, with over €2 million of grants announced earlier in the year and a further funding announcement in respect of other islands expected later in the year.”Ms Humphrey’s department said.

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No other community has experienced such a dramatic population decline as the offshore islands, according to the Islands’ Federation

In 1841, the population on the islands was 34,219. By 2016 that number had reduced to 2,627.

“These figures have not improved and some islands have moved closer to the edge.

Serious and continued government support is needed to ensure the long-term viability of our offshore islands. Housing, energy, connectivity, infrastructure, lifeline services and capital funding are the main concerns says Rhoda Twombly, Secretary of Comhdháil Oileán na hÉireann, the Islands’ Federation.

Ireland's offshore islands - In 1841, the population on the islands was 34,219. By 2016 that number had reduced to 2,627Ireland's offshore islands - In 1841, the population on the islands was 34,219. By 2016 that number had reduced to 2,627

“Housing has been identified as a key challenge. Not only is appropriate housing needed for current island residents, long-term, affordable housing is required for people, either islanders who have emigrated or those attracted to living on the islands as a result of lifestyle changes and remote working instigated by Covid-19.”

UCC School for Applied Social Studies is working with the Islands’ Federation on a housing survey to identify solutions.

“There is a strongly expressed opinion that there must be an ‘outside the box’ approach to the housing challenge,” says Secretary Twombly. “While local and national Government can be instrumental in funding and planning issues, islanders feel they must look to other housing strategies. Scotland has been a leader in alternative housing schemes for years: Community-led housing, self-build loan and rent-to-buy schemes are only three.”

Federation officials have met the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community, Rural Development and the Islands to discuss the issues.

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Sketchbooks with images recording island life and landscape over the last 30 years form the basis of a new exhibition by Connemara artist Pádraic Reaney.

Entitled Oileán, it comprises 49 paintings and graphics from Irish and Scottish islands and from Malta. The exhibition was opened by poet Joan McBreen in Galway’s Kenny Gallery late last week.

Reaney, who is from An Cheathrú Rua and lives near Moycullen, began the sketchbooks in the late 1980s when he was part of a group of local artists named the Island Connection.

That group, including John Behan, Vicki Crowley, Jay Murphy and Brendan Fitzsimons, travelled to several European islands including Malta, Tenerife and Inishbofin. Reaney later visited Scottish islands including Lewis and Mull.

Old House, Inishlackan, Acrylic on BoardOld House, Inishlackan, Acrylic on Board

As Reaney told Judy Murphy of The Connacht Tribune, he first explored the transience of existence in 1979 when he created a series of prints of cottages that were ruined or disintegrating in and around the fishing harbour of Ros-a-Mhíl in south Connemara.

He took the same approach to housing on the island of Inis Áirc, close to Inishbofin, off the north Connemara coast in 2002.

The last 23 residents left Inis Áirc in 1960, as recorded in Kieran Concannon’s documentary film Inis Airc, Bás Oileáin (Inishark, Death of an Island), which was produced in 2007 by C-Board Films for TG4 television.

“Inis Áirc opened my eyes to the value of what I was putting down,”Reaney told Murphy. “ A sense of capturing something that was slipping away, unbeknownst to the world.”

This work inspired his exhibition entitled Inis Áirc which ran in the Kenny Gallery in 2018, and which forms part of the new display.

Impressions from the Mediterranean island of Malta dating from 1988, and from High Island and Inishlacken off Connemara and Inishnee close to Roundstone are also incorporated, along with Inchagoill on Lough Corrib, the Aran island of Inis Mór, Mayo’s Clare island and recent drawings from Achill island.

Oileán runs in the Kenny Art Gallery, Liosbán, Galway until December 8th, with opening hours Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm.

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An Islands Bill to help drive sustainability is essential for the future well-being of the offshore island communities, according to Comhdháil Oileán na hEireann, the Islands Federation.

Following extensive consultation about the future of the islands and discussions with the Department of Rural and Community Development and Minister Heather Humphreys, a workshop on policy for the islands and meetings with the Scottish European Small Islands Federations, Comdháil na hEireann says that several challenges for the future of Ireland's offshore island communities have been identified.

On the Maritime Ireland Radio Show, the Comhdhail Secretary, Rhoda Twombly, outlined the challenges – a decreasing ageing population, housing difficulties, education and infrastructural upgrading needed to piers, pontoons, slipways and roads.

Listen to Rhoda Twombly here

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Award-winning harpist Laoise Kelly has embarked on a concert tour to five west coast islands on a Galway hooker.

As The Times Ireland reports, Kelly aims to reconnect island communities with music, storytelling and song.

Kelly, a TG4 musician of the year and artistic director of the Achill International Harp Festival, is collaborating with fellow Achill islander Diarmuid Gielty.

Their project named “Casadh na Taoide/Turning of the Tide” has secured Arts Council support.

Casadh Na Taoide - An epic cultural journey connecting five off shore islands. Launched on the feast day of St. Macdara, is a traditional maritime pilgrimage off the coast of Connemara’s Carna bay, to the uninhabited monastic island, Oileán Mhic Dara /St. Mac Dara’s island, where fishermen and locals come to venerate the patron saint of seafarers, bless the boats and to keep fishermen safe for the for the year ahead. Pictured is musicians Diarmuid Gielty (Achill Harp Festival), Freda Nic Giolla Chatháin (Casadh Na Taoide) and Laoise Kelly (TG4 Musician of the Year and Director of the Achill international harp festival. Photo: Michael McLaughlinCasadh Na Taoide - An epic cultural journey connecting five off shore islands. Launched on the feast day of St. Macdara, is a traditional maritime pilgrimage off the coast of Connemara’s Carna bay, to the uninhabited monastic island, Oileán Mhic Dara /St. Mac Dara’s island, where fishermen and locals come to venerate the patron saint of seafarers, bless the boats and to keep fishermen safe for the for the year ahead. Pictured is musicians Diarmuid Gielty (Achill Harp Festival), Freda Nic Giolla Chatháin (Casadh Na Taoide) and Laoise Kelly (TG4 Musician of the Year and Director of the Achill international harp festival. Photo: Michael McLaughlin

Both are on board the Galway hooker Mac Duach, skippered and owned by Dr Michael Brogan, who is chairman of the Galway Hookers’ Association.

The vessel participated in a blessing of the boats off the Connemara island of Oileán Mhic Dara last Friday before setting sail for Inishbofin, Co Galway.

The annual blessing event pays tribute to Mac Dara, the patron saint of seafarers.

After Inishbofin, the hooker sets a course for the Mayo islands of Inishturk, Clare Island, and then AchillAfter Inishbofin, the hooker sets a course for the Mayo islands of Inishturk, Clare Island, and then Achill Photo: Michael McLaughlin

After Inishbofin, the hooker sets a course for the Mayo islands of Inishturk, Clare Island, and then Achill.

It will then head north for its final destination, finishing at Árainn Mhór /Arranmore in Donegal.

Kelly, Gielty and crew will meet musicians, artists, storytellers and historians along the route.

As part of the project, an artist has been commissioned on each island to collaborate, compose and create a new body of work.

They include Inishbofin singer Andrew Murray; Inishturk musician Cathy O’Toole; Clare Island weaver Beth Moran; and Árainn Mhór writer Proinsias Mac a’Bhaird.

A tribute will also be made to the late Achill island visual artist Mary Lavelle Burke, who was an enthusiastic participant in the project and passed away last year.

The voyage is being filmed, as is the artistic work on the five islands.

It will feature as the Friday night performance of this year’s Achill International Harp Festival in October, Nic Giolla Chatháin says.

Read The Times Ireland here

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“There is a better way” than the present approach taken by government to the fishing industry, according to the Chairperson of Comhdháil Oileán na hEireann, the Islands’ Federation.

“This is a matter of huge importance regarding island community livelihoods and sustainability not to mention heritage and traditions,” wrote Chairperson Aisling Moran in an open letter on behalf of the offshore island communities to Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

They have asked him to “intervene personally in the difficult situation facing the fishing industry.”

“We implore you to act to prevent the loss of hundreds of jobs, a way of life and a key element to coastal communities, Irish heritage and tradition. Island communities are intimately acquainted with the consequences of changes to fishing rights and regulations inflicted through the years. Islanders are by nature people of the sea. To sacrifice their ability to make a living though life-learned skills they are passionate about is beyond unreasonable. This continued decimation of the Irish fleet has been magnified with the onset of Brexit and the Irish fishing industry is fighting for its life.

“As Taoiseach we consider it appropriate for you to personally intervene in this serious situation. We ask all involved with the control and regulation of the fishing industry to have a hard look at the consequences of their actions against a proud and respected Irish livelihood.

“There is a better way.”

The Federation represents 16 offshore island communities. It was set up in 1984 to draw attention to “the difficulties facing islanders” in socio-economic development, problems which they felt were not being addressed at regional or national level

“We don’t know if he read our letter, but his Department sent a reply that it had been forwarded to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine,” the Comhdháil told Afloat.

Charlie McConalogue is Minister at that Department, but the islanders had already sent a copy of the letter to him.

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An Island Housing Trust has been suggested by the Islands' Federation because of the difficulties of offshore island residents in getting housing on their own islands.

While housing has become a major public issue, the problems for island communities in this regard are not getting the same attention.

"Several families have had to give up their dream of staying on their island. Property prices are prohibitive," according to the Secretary of Comhdháil Oileán na hEireann, the Islands Federation, Rhoda Twombly.

Planning permission is the chief problem, but the increasing number of holiday homes on the islands is adding to the difficulties she said on Tom MacSweeney's Maritime Ireland radio show.

Listen to the clip below from Rhoda Twombly:

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Irish offshore islands may have mixed feelings about hosting school tours, but the Department of Education says they can take place within Covid-19 guidelines.

As The Times Ireland edition reports, The department says that “educational trips” by both primary and post-primary schools are a matter for “each individual school authority”.

Transition year students visited the largest Aran island of Inis Mór on two consecutive days last week.

The transition students from Presentation College, Athenry travelled by ferry from Ros-a-Mhíl in south Connemara to Inis Mór, and hired bikes on the island.

All activity on the island was outdoors, with students wearing masks, and cycling, swimming and sending a postcard home, the principal said. The students took a picnic with them.

The school enjoys a close relationship with the Aran Islands, and sent first-year pupils in four separate groups to the Aran Islands during the first term of 2020, the school confirmed.

These first-year trips are designed as a familiarisation exercise, and as an educational experience of an Irish-speaking community, the school explained.

In a statement, the Department of Education said it has “published guidance for schools that provide various teaching and learning approaches, including bringing pupils/students outdoors and to local amenities to enhance learning, support social distancing, promote physical activity and help positive wellbeing”.

“Decisions in relation to educational trips are a matter for each individual school authority and it is the responsibility of each school authority to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place while pupils/students are participating in school trips and that all such activities are in line with public health guidelines,”a department spokesman said.

However, there has been some confusion among schools, and it is understood that the education unions met department officials last week and raised concerns about the "lack of clarity" in the wording of the guidelines.

Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, the Irish Island Federation, said that once school tours were to islands within the same county and within current guidelines, its members have no issue.

“Mayo pupils can visit Mayo islands, Galway pupils can visit Galway islands, since county-wide travel has been permitted,” federation secretary Rhoda Twombly said.

However, businesses are still very restricted on many of the islands, she pointed out.

Most offshore islands were restricted to “essential visits” only during several phases of the Covid-19 lockdown from Spring 2020.

Early last year, a vote by residents on the Aran islands was overwhelmingly in favour of restricting visits – at the expense of tourist revenue.

When the National Public Health Emergency Team’s approved an early lifting of travel restrictions from June 29th last year, island communities were thrown into confusion – having planned for a re-opening on August 10th.

In Mayo, the island of Inishturk opted to keep guesthouses closed and host day-trips only.

The cautious approach largely paid off, with only one or two cases on some islands.

However, relaxation of national restrictions over Christmas resulted in an outbreak on Mayo’s Clare island, with 20 positive cases reported in January.

Large numbers of elderly and vulnerable island residents have now been vaccinated, as the roll-out of vaccines continues on offshore communities.

Read The Times here

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Four west coast islands received Air Corps helicopter delivery of Covid-19 vaccinations yesterday as part of a plan to vaccinate all residents over 70 years of age together.

As Times. ie reports today, general practitioners on the Aran Islands and the Donegal island of Arranmore welcomed the move which allows more vulnerable residents to be vaccinated on the islands.

Fears had been expressed about the impact on elderly and vulnerable islanders who might have been otherwise forced to make several ferry journeys to mainland health centres when vaccines became available.

The supplies of the Moderna vaccine were flown to the Aran islands primary cares centres and Arranmore from Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, west Dublin yesterday.

Aran island GP Dr Marion Broderick, based on Inis Mór, welcomed the decision to treat all over 70 years olds as one cohort.

There are an estimated 130 people over 70 years of age on Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran islands with a population of 800.

“The islands are not looking to jump any queue, and those over 85 will be vaccinated first,” she said.

Residents of the island’s community nursing home have already received their vaccines.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” former fisherman and basket maker Vincent McCarron (73) on Inis Mór said

Arranmore GP Dr Kevin Quinn said that there are some 155 people over 70 years of age on the Donegal island, out of a population of some 480 people.

“That’s a third of the island, and it is great that these people will be offered the vaccine here,” Dr Quinn said.

Comdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, the Irish Island Federation, also welcomed the development and paid tribute to the Health Service Executive and authorities.

There are about 3,000 people living on islands around the Irish coast.

Two former island ministers – Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív and Fine Gael senator Sean Kyne, both in the Galway West constituency – had called in the past week for offshore communities to be treated as a separate cohort for logistical and safety reasons.

The HSE said that "work is also ongoing to ensure that all remaining islands and remote locations are appropriately addressed" and "special arrangements have already been put in place to provide the vaccine to over 35 remote rural practices over the coming days".

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