Islanders warn of ‘terminal decline’ as funds services axed

Communities on nine non-Gaeltacht islands have expressed concern at the news that the Department of the Environment, Community, and Local Government is to terminate funding to their five community development company offices from the end of next month.

The development offices deliver supports and services on the islands, addressing disadvantage, social exclusion, and isolation, and provide social and community activity.

The impacted islands are Inishbofin, Heir, Inisturk, Whiddy, Sherkin, Dursey, Bere, Long, and Clare Island.

John Orpen, vice-chair of the West Cork Islands Community Council, said the withdrawal of this funding will mean the collapse of a wide range of programmes, activities and initiatives on the islands.

“Current funding enables the community development company offices to provide supports and services to all islanders,” said Mr Orpen. “For example, the funding gives us the capacity to organise educational training courses, run programmes like childcare services, island waste management, island festivals, tourism projects, manage community buildings, and provide representation for the islands.”

Finbarr Harrington of the Cork County Community and Voluntary Forum says the viability of island communities depends on the work of development officers.

“We really need to ring-fence this funding as a matter of urgency. All of the islands depend on tourism for their survival,” said Mr Harrington.

Tim O’Leary from the West Cork Islands says the offices have become the heartbeat of the islands.

“The islanders have come to rely on the offices to drive initiatives and programmes on their behalf,” he said. “If the funding is pulled on December 31, these services will go into terminal decline, resulting in a hugely negative impact on island life.”

The five island community development companies are managed by local voluntary committees, who through the community offices employ staff to deliver frontline services.

The funding involved is €600,000 per year.

Michelle O’Mahoney of Clare Island said the islands are key economic drivers in their regions and are a major tourism draw.

“They are of added importance as a symbol of and link to the promotion of the Wild Atlantic Way, which relies on the island connection to create a complete experience of the west,” said Ms O’Mahoney. “The inhabited islands off the Irish coast are a unique reservoir of arts, culture, identity and heritage. They are home to living, breathing communities and the Government has a duty to ensure that these communities remain viable and vibrant.”

Representatives from the islands meet in Buswells Hotel, Molesworth St, Dublin, on Wednesday to raise public awareness.

They plan to lobby Oireachtas members to put pressure on Community Minister Alan Kelly to fund an islands development programme.

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