Islanders angry at what has been described as a “tax on Inis Mór” are to continue to fight against an increase in the charge on passenger journeys to and from the island, with representatives saying that the fight could be brought all the way to the European Union.
On Monday last, more than 250 residents of Inis Mór staged a protest outside the Galway County Council building at Prospect Hill ahead of the monthly meeting with one of the items on the agenda being the Cill Rónáin and Cill Éinne Harbour Bye-Laws. The bye-laws include a number of charges which council officials say will help generate “much needed revenue for the maintenance and operation” of the €40 million Cill Rónáin harbour. Ferry users, travelling to Inis Mór more than five times a year, were set to be charged an extra 40 cent per trip; however, following consultation Mayor of County Galway Cllr Michael Maher proposed that the charge was too much and an amendment to reduce the charge to an annual flat rate of €5 for multiple passenger journeys was put forward, with councillors voting 16/12 in favour.
There had also been proposals for cargo charges specific to fishing vessels, at 50 cent per gross registered tonne, as well as charges for the use of the harbour in connection with the landing of fish, at 50 cent per tonne. However, following amendments proposed by Cllr Maher these charges were removed from the bye-laws. Following the approval of the bye-laws ferry passengers visiting the island fewer than five times a year will be charged an extra 80 cent per trip.
Following the meeting Cllr Maher told the Advertiser that there had to be some sort of passenger charges following legal advice and given the investment in building the harbour. “I have spoken to many of the islanders, taken on board their concerns, but hard decisions have to be made. There couldn’t just be no charge, otherwise it would come down on the roads. There were recommendations that were far worse but I felt it was too much. The comments from many of the councillors was that it [the €5 annual charge] was very fair, that the happy medium had been found.”
However, fair is not how many of the islanders would describe the annual €5 charge, according to spokesperson for Comharchuman Forbatha Árann Teo Michael Gill, who described it as a “tax on Inis Mór” and yet another example of the inequality and discrimination shown to island inhabitants.
Regarding the charge on passenger ferry travel Mr Gill explained that islanders had already campaigned in the past to bring the charge down from €15 to €10, a reduction which was brought in through Government subsidies, which are far less than those given for mainland services. He said: “These are our subsidies, for use of our ferries, our tickets are subsidised much less than tickets for the Dart or Dublin Bus. Islanders are subsidised much less than those on the mainland. It is not the fact that it is €5, it is the whole principle of the extra charges.
“There were figures released recently that showed when tourists come to Ireland and spend €100, 50 per cent goes to the Government; if that is the case there is huge money being collected for central funds from the islands. We have huge fishing vessels, using tonnes of oil, and foodstuffs to feed locals and tourists, and it’s all taxed. We fear we are giving back more than we are receiving. The Government are trying to make a killing from tourists, by collecting tax indirectly from islanders and this is in turn killing tourism.
“These islands, for the last 40 to 50 years, have developed a fishing industry against all the odds, and we’ve developed a fine tourist business with very little help from Government and now when it is developed and we are trying to make a go of it in bad times we are being hit with charges. We’re very angry about that. Our county council should be fighting for us but they refused to do that. We’re not accepting the charges. We want a policy from Government that every effort will be made to ensure that islanders can live at the same cost as those living on the mainland,” said Mr Gill, who added that if necessary the fight will be brought to European Union level.