Islanders must have say in any new Government policy on the islands, says Connolly

Unless those living on Ireland’s offshore islands are consulted and involved in any Government policy on the islands, any such policy will be “doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past”.

This is the view of Independent Galway West TD Catherine Connolly, who introduced a private members motion in the Dáil on Tuesday, calling on the Government to develop a policy for the State’s offshore islands.

In July, it was announced that approval was being sought to establish an Interdepartmental Committee for Island Development with a view to developing an islands policy and associated action plan. While Dep Connolly welcomed the announcement, she said it was “vague” on details and was highly critical of the fact that the structures announced did “not allow for the involvement of the islanders”.

“It is therefore doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past,” she said. “If the Government is serious about a sustainable policy for the islands, the islanders must be an integral part of policy formation from the outset. This has been recognised by all governments to date but unfortunately they never acted on that recognition.”

The 1996 report on island development by the last interdepartmental committee included the recognition that islanders themselves should be the prime movers in strategies to maintain their own communities, and that principles of equity, social partnership, and full participation should underpin the State’s approach to developing island policy.

“Island representation must be part of whatever structure is established,” she said, and she called for the Government to engage in “meaningful consultation with islanders in the formulation of an offshore islands policy”.

However, the Minister of State for the Irish Language, Gaeltacht, and the Islands, Seán Kyne, said “island voices” will be “at the heart” of the resulting policy and action plan, which emerges from the Interdepartmental Committee on Island Development.

This week, Minister Kyne announced in the Dáil that the inaugural meeting of the committee would be held on Tuesday September 24. Minister Kyne will chair the group.

“In recent years, priority has been given to the development of island infrastructure as well as subsidising access services to the islands,” he said. “This has been important ongoing work and the quality of life of the island populations has improved significantly as a result. However, in order to tackle the challenges island communities face, some of which are unique to islands, the Government has approved the establishment of an interdepartmental group.”

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