Outgoing Gaeltacht minister Sean Kyne has expressed disappointment at the Government decision to approve early re-opening of offshore islands to visitors from Monday.
The Attorney General had advised the Cabinet that there could be legal consequences if it did not abide by the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), Mr Kyne confirmed.
Offshore communities had been taken by surprise when NPHET announced a week ago that travel to and from islands could resume from June 29.
The Government’s “road map” had originally set from August 10 as a date for all but essential travel to and from the islands.
Mr Kyne said he contacted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Cabinet colleagues about the need for a more phased approach, given the lack of time to prepare for anticipated large numbers of domestic visitors.
Mr Kyne confirmed that he had received appeals from Aran island medical professionals urging caution, but had also been contacted by tourism interests seeking an early reopening.
He said that NPHET’s advice to Cabinet was that there was no reason on public health grounds for curtailing visitors to the islands.
“I am disappointed - I expect some businesses will decide against reopening on Monday,” Mr Kyne said.
Two Aran islands – Inis Oírr and Inis Mór – held surveys which overwhelmingly rejected an early reopening.
All three Aran islands are in a declared Irish Water “drought” category, and have had water rationing due to the severe dry spell.
In Inis Oírr’s case, 92% of residents and businesses voted against re-opening for the remainder of the summer due to fears over the spread of Covid-19.
A number of other islands have limited health facilities, lack of provision for public toilets, and limited scope for social distancing on piers during busy ferry berthing periods.
"The Government seemed to be more afraid about protecting itself against lawsuits by businesses than our public health," one island resident said.
Earlier this week, the Irish Islands Federation , Comhdháil Oileáin na hEireann called on the Government and NPHET to provide “clear guidance and protocols” on the safe re-opening of islands to visitors.
The federation pointed out it had not received any written reply to submissions to State agencies "seeking direction and supports for the offshore islands".
Government Covid-19 data suggests that up to six electoral districts with islands had less than five cases of the virus, but the Department of Health would not comment further. Island representatives are only aware of one case on the largest Aran island of Inis Mór and a very small number on Achill island, Co Mayo, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge.
The island federation had no comment to make today.