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Gales Cushion Impact of Island Reopening to Visitors - Sean Kyne Plays Down Impact of Social Media Post

5th July 2020
Aran residents were similar to Australopithecus robustus, according to Inis Mor hotelier Keith Madigan Aran residents were similar to Australopithecus robustus, according to Inis Mor hotelier Keith Madigan Photo: ALAMY

Gales over the weekend have cushioned the impact of full re-opening of offshore islands to visitors as COVID-19-related restrictions are eased.

However, there has been a steady increase in traffic to the Aran islands, served currently by one ferry from Ros-a-Mhíl in Galway to all three islands.

Ros-a-Mhíl company Island Ferries requires passengers to wear masks. However, Comhar Caomhán Teo, the Inis Oírr co-op, has asked the Government to sanction resumption of the subsidised ferry to Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr as this would allow for greater social distancing.

Former Gaeltacht and Island minister Sean Kyne - now a senator - had argued for a phased re-opening of all islands on public health grounds, stating he had received compelling medical advice from island doctors.

He had opposed the advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) which had cleared visits to offshore islands from all parts of Ireland from June 29th.

Several days before the announcement, Inis Oírr said that 92 per cent of its residents and businesses oppose re-opening for the remainder of the summer due to fears over the spread of Covid-19.

There has been one confirmed case of Covid-19 to date on the largest island of Inis Mór, with a population of 800 people. All three Aran islands have had water rationing over the last couple of months, with night-time restrictions on two islands only eased last week.

Two Co Clare-based ferry companies offering seasonal day trips to the Aran islands and Cliffs of Moher did not sail to the two smaller islands last week due to the residents’ concerns.

Mr Bill O’Brien of Doolin Ferry Company, which has three vessels with capacity for almost 600 passengers in total, said he had received an email from the Inis Oírr co-op after its vote, asking his company to respect the wishes of the islanders.

“We said we’d do that, but we are hoping in a week or two that this might change,” Mr O’Brien said.

Doolin 2 Aran Ferries marketing manager Joan Hamilton said that it was also “respecting the wishes of the people of Inis Oírr” and had decided not to sail to Inis Meáin also as it had limited facilities and “it would not be fair to them”.

Inis Meáin businessman and owner of the internationally successful knitwear company Tarlach de Blacam said he believed the debate over the pressures of tourism on the islands was “now taking place”.

“People including my son [Ruairí de Blacam of the Inis Meáin Restaurant] have invested in quality accommodation on the three islands and that brings in more revenue than day-trippers,” he said. “This debate about sustainable tourism is taking place now all over Europe.”

Inis Mór wedding celebrant Dara Molloy said that effectively there had been a phased re-opening last week, as only one Island Ferries boat was sailing from Ros-a-Mhíl for all three islands and there had been “no big crowds”.

Meanwhile, as The Sunday Times reports today, Aran island residents have expressed anger and disappointment over a social media post – uploaded during a divisive debate over re-opening to visitors without adequate supports - which depicted them as one of the earliest primates in the human evolutionary tree.

The graphic, which has since been removed, compared “the people of Aran” to Australopithecus robustus, an extinct species dating to between 1.5 million and 2 million years old and first identified from fossil remains in South Africa.

Over a caption reading “Minister Sean Kyne says ‘Islanders are nervous about reopening after not seeing any tourists for a long number of months’,” the graphic showed five evolving primates with one arrow for “The people of Aran” pointing to the hunched Australopithecus and another for “People on the Mainland” pointing to upright Homo sapiens.

In the second graphic, a cartoon image of Mr Kyne depicted him as “Minister for Primitive People”.

Mr Kyne said he had been sent the links but had taken no action as he believed the debate had been very heated and such criticism was “part of the cut and thrust of politics”.

Comdháil Oileáin na hÉireann/Irish Island Network secretary Rhoda Twombly said she understood the social media graphics posted by Inis Mór’s Óstan Arann owner Keith Madigan had been removed after criticism.

She said she would “deplore anything that denigrates any of the island population”.

Mr Madigan did not respond to requests for comment.

Read more on The Sunday Times report here

Published in Island News
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

Email The Author

Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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