Bus and ferry services to the Aran Islands are set to continue for another five years following the announcement of a new contract, but there is concern air flights to the island are under threat.
Aran Ferries Teo has been awarded a contract to provide ferry and bus passenger services between Inis Meáin/Inis Oírr and mainland County Galway from today until October 31 2017. However the Dáil heard this week that State support for the air service to the Aran Islands is only “under consideration”.
The Minister of State in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dinny McGinley, has announced that his Department and Aran Ferries Teo had signed the new five year contract. The level of service provided under the old contract will remain, that being two return sailings daily, seven days a week, plus an additional sailing at midday on Sunday in the months of June, July, and August.
Fine Gael Galway West TD Seán Kyne said the contract is “very welcome” as it “maintains existing levels of service at a time when State finances are under severe pressure”. He added, “it demonstrates a clear commitment by Government to carefully balance the achievement of necessary savings with maintaining essential services.”
However Minister McGinley also said, in reply to a parliamentary question, that the cessation of State support for air service to the Aran Islands is under consideration.
Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesperson and Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív is “very concerned” regarding the “uncertainty of the future” of what he calls “a lifeline service”.
“Without State support it would not be possible to run the Aran service commercially,” he said. “The air service to Áran started 35 years ago and has contributed enormously to the development of the Islands themselves.”
The present contract finishes in August next year and allowing for the processes involved in tendering for the service a decision needs to be made in the next few months to go to tender for a new contract.
“The possible cessation of the service will put the Islands back many years and put many jobs on the Islands in jeopardy,” said Dep Ó Cuív. “This bolt out of the blue once again shows the callous nature of the way the Government treats vulnerable, isolated communities.”