Galway county councillors have issued a strong message to the Government that the present level of air service to the Aran Islands must be maintained. Aer Arann has administered the service to the islands since 1970 and currently operates daily flights to Inis Mór, Inis Oirr, and Inis Meáin. All flights which take about 10 minutes from lift-off to touch down, depart and arrive from Connemara Regional Airport. The contract for the service is now up for renewal and there are fears due to a cut from Government to the air service subvention, the service will be reduced.
Indreabhán councillor Seán Ó Tuairisg, who proposed the motion, said the service was integral for islanders. "It affects every aspect of lives from businesses to schools to medical issues. The islands population is dropping as it is, if this service was reduced it would have a drastic effect. Everybody living there now could not imagine life without the air service. Young familes have set up home on the islands with the premise of this service being in place to easily access the mainland."
It was noted that there was continuous difficulty trying to secure primary school teachers who were prepared to travel to the islands on a daily basis and the air service was vital to this also. Fianna Fáil's Michael Connolly said the air service was the lifeblood of the islands. "Without it there would be no schools and the population would be decimated."
Fine Gael councillor Frank Kearney said he had memories of his brother living and working on the Aran Islands in the early 1970's. "The only mode of transport that time was the Naomh Eanna and in the early days that only sailed on Wednesdays and Saturdays so if you missed it that was that. Since the air service has been introduced it has proved invaluable."
Councillor Mary Hoade said Inis Meain and Inis Oirr did not have a full-time doctor and public health nurses used the air service to travel there. "It is vitally important that the council sends out a message that it supports this motion."
Oughterard Independent Tom Welby said there were certain services that were so crucial they must be secured. "The island services are too important not to be put on a more firm footing. The service is under threat this year because of a decrease in funding but I think every Government needs to make a decision to ringfence this service."
Another Connemara representative Thomas O' Curraoin said the air service was not just important for everyday life but absolutely vital for tourism. Sinn Féin's Tom Healy remarked that the Islands were a unique, cultural asset which needed to be protected. 'An attack on the islands is an attack on Galway and cannot be tolerated." Fellow Clifden councillor Eileen Mannion likened the air service to people on the mainland having adequate roads.
Fianna Fáil's Seamas Walsh said the item should not even be up for discussion. "There is no way in the world that there should be a consideration given to cutting it back. The islander's safety and wellbeing must be prioritised at all times. Galway is known worldwide, and is immensely proud of its Gaeltacht, and the Aran Islands are a flagship of the Gaeltacht - the Government should be ashamed of themselves for even thinking of cutting this service back- it is preposterous."