Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív are visiting Inis Mór today (Thursday ) to launch a comprehensive 12 Point Plan to improve life on the Islands.
The strategy includes the appointment of a senior minister with day to day responsibility for the Gaeltacht and the Islands; should Fianna Fáil get back into Government. Another important aspect of the plan is the provision of adequate State contracted ferry services to all islands including Inis Mór, along with connecting buses.
There is also a promise in place to maintain and develop the present air service to the Aran Islands along with a phased development of an air service to Inishbofin island. The issue of air transport to the islands has become extremely controversial in recent times. Aer Arann has been operating flights to the Aran Islands for many years, but in August it was announced that a helicopter company had been selected as the preferred new tenderer.
However residents of the Aran Islands expressed anger at the loss of fixed wing services and the proposed move of flights from Connemara to Galway. It subsequently emerged that the Department had no clarity as to the availability of Galway Airport as an aviation hub for the duration of the four year contract. In September the Government cancelled the tender process for awarding a contract for State subsidised flights to the Aran Islands. A new tender process for the air service is under way.
Other aspects of the 12 point plan include the provision of an annual infrastructure fund through the Department of the Gaeltacht, the development of a top class health system for the islands that will fully meet the health needs of islanders and will ensure resident medical personnel will provide 24 hour cover on all islands.
Parents will be glad to hear that the provision of quality primary education services on the Islands is being made a priority. Fianna Fáil wishes to ensuring all island primary schools have two teachers irrespective of numbers. There is also a plan in place to develop secondary education on the five islands by opening second level schools and then doubling the number of scholarships available for students from the mainland to attend these schools. To encourage teachers to apply for jobs on the islands, the party is promising to restore the islander allowance to all teachers as well as the provision of adequate staffing levels in Island schools to allow them to teach a full curriculum of subjects.
Speaking about the party's policy on the islands, Micheál Martin said these areas must be treasured and developed so that islanders can enjoy a modern 21st century style lifestyle. "It is acknowledged that the islands of Ireland represent some of the most spectacular places in the world. They are an important part of our heritage and culture and represent a unique way of life. They are important to the nation and also are in many cases, such as the Aran Islands, major international brands."