Earlier this week, Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Joe McHugh announced that Executive Helicopters, based in Woodford, Co Galway, was the “preferred tenderer” for a four-year air service agreement.
The company will offer daily return flights by helicopter between the islands and Galway Airport from October to September 2019, ending the Aer Árann Islands which has operated uninterrupted since 1970.
Cathy Ní Ghoill, from the Coiste leis an Seirbhís Aeir a Chosaint (Save our Air Service committee) said islanders were “stunned” by the decision and said that offering a service from Galway Airport made no sense.
The group was launched three years ago across Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oirr, after widespread speculation that the public service obligation funding, to maintain the service, was to be withdrawn by the Government.
“We are stunned in relation to the decision, especially in relation to the location of the service. We had requested that Galway Airport as a location be removed from the tender, as this location does not suit the logistics for islanders. Minna Airport is the suitable location due to its close proximity to Ros a Mhíl harbour which provides ferry service to all three Aran Islands.
“On the day the service was unable to operate, islanders had the option of going via ferry and were within a 10 minute drive to the airport to collect their cars. Also on days that the service was booked out, one had the option of going via ferry and be within 10 minutes of the airport if your car was parked there,” she said.
Ms Ní Ghoill said it was “unbelievable” the Government and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht would “ignore” the concerns and wishes of the people to whom they were providing the service.
“We have had an excellent service to date that has worked. It also has an outstanding safety record and we fail to understand why this was not recognised by the department,” she said.
Sinn Féin spokesperson for the Irish Language and the Gaeltacht Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said it “beggared belief” that such an important decision was made without consulting the very people it affected.
“All information in relation to the tenders that were submitted, the scoring system that was used and the results which were arrived at must be made available for scrutiny. It is difficult to comprehend what improvements for service users can be envisaged on foot of this decision, or what are the expected benefits for the taxpayer and I would like the minister to explain that to us,” he said.
Mr Ó Clochartaigh said up to 40 jobs were at stake and it was “incredible” that such a high quality service operating for almost half a century was being “jettisoned”.