Seanad debates

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Adjournment Matters

Island Communities

1:55 pm

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for attending. As he will know, Dursey Island is served by a cable car which was the first cable car to connect an island to this country. A number of difficulties have arisen in the past 12 to 18 months. The islanders have successfully accessed the island by cable car for some decades. They also transported animals but due to health and safety concerns and other issues the practice has virtually stopped. There are two points of severe concern at present. First, it has been announced that the cable car needs its structures and cables upgraded and improved. It has been proposed to cease the service for a full calendar month to carry out the work. How will people gain access to the island?

I shall outline the second concern. I tabled this Adjournment matter about four weeks ago but I have not got around to dealing with it for a number of logistical reasons. Since I tabled the matter I have learned that there is a proposal by the office of the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, to provide a ferry service to transport animals to and from the island at certain times of the year. Perhaps it will assist people who also want to repair houses. At present two properties are being upgraded so blocks, plaster, timber and bits and pieces must be transported to the island. People who either live on the island or originally came from it and still view it as their home need access on a daily or weekly basis. Today I was told by an island representative not from Dursey Island that the next proposed ferry to transport bulk loads to or from the island, or transport cattle to the island for summer grazing or transport cattle, sheep or other animals off it, will be in August. A cable car that has successfully transported animals for over 30 years is being stopped.

Local councillors and the council gave a commitment to provide a ferry which must be funded by the Department. However, it has been suggested that people must wait until August for a ferry service. That is not on. As I said here before, the people who live on Dursey Island and farm the land, some of whom live on the mainland, have the same rights as people who live in Dublin 4, Cork city or wherever. It is ridiculous to leave the islanders totally cut-off and isolated without access to the island. It is not good enough to simply provide a ferry to the island in lieu of the animals and other materials not being taken on the cable car twice a year. There should be a monthly service weather permitting. Many people say that one could use boats but Dursey Sound is known traditionally as one of the most inhospitable stretches of water due to severe currents.

In this weather, it is normally inaccessible by any boat. Only a lunatic or a madman would envisage trying to land on the island in these appalling conditions. I hope the Minister of State has some good news for the island about the cable car and the ferry. I have spoken about the rights, worries and concerns of the island people and those near Dursey who access the island regularly. Many access the island on a daily basis. Their rights are being encroached upon and they deserve better treatment.

This is a case of passing the buck from Cork County Council to the Department, and there is also the matter of health and safety and regulations. There should be joined-up thinking to deal with the problem people on Dursey Island have. I refer to people who live on the island or own land on the island and regularly farm it. One of my hobbies is affected by this, because the area is part of the Beara walkway. The two or three hours of walking are a wonderful experience. From a tourism point of view, it is a terrible drawback that there is no access to the island. The islanders deserve all the facilities we can give them.

I am coming to the conclusion that we might as well say goodbye to Dursey Island because of the problems with the cable car and the loss of a ferry to transport animals and materials. It will be like An tOileánachor "Farewell to the Blaskets". I would hate to see another island off west Cork becoming depopulated. The Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy McGinley, and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, will understand the plight of the islanders, and I hope the latter will give me a good news story.

2:05 pm

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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I apologise on behalf of Deputy McGinley, who is taking a Bill in the Dail. He wanted to be here because of his interest in the islands and because of his commitment, on behalf of the Government, to do what we can for the long-term sustainable development of all inhabited islands.

The cable car to Dursey Island is the responsibility of Cork County Council and the Department has no role in its operation. I am aware that Cork County Council engaged consulting engineers in 2010 to undertake a complete structural assessment of the cable car, in accordance with national and European legislation and with the Eurocodes. As a result of the structural assessment, the consultants recommended that the transport of animals on the cable car be discontinued. Based on this recommendation, Cork County Council prohibited the transport of animals on the cable car with effect from January 2012.

In order to alleviate the difficulty of transporting cumbersome items to the island, the Department agreed to allocate a grant for the provision of a cargo ferry service to allow for sailings on three separate days during the period 1 July 2012 to 31 August 2013. This allowed for the transport of essential cargo to the island and facilitated the occasional transport of animals on the return journey, although the subsidy was not provided for this specific purpose.

Cork County Council commissioned a further study in 2012, entitled Dursey Island Cable Car Strategic Review, the purpose of which was to consider access to the island that would sustain growth, allow farming practices to be facilitated, attract people to the island and ensure compliance with relevant legislation. The review considers different scenarios with regard to the future of the cable car and access to the island. I understand that the review will be published shortly, and it will form the basis of future decisions on the cable car and the island. The Department will consider any proposal it receives from Cork County Council on island infrastructure or access, while bearing in mind the very limited funding available for infrastructural development.

The Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, is acutely aware of the issue and is committed to doing what he can to help the island and its long-term sustainable growth. In any circumstance the issue of funding arises, but in the first instance we will wait to see the published report from Cork County Council, which has responsibility in the area, before seeing what further action can be taken.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister and I acknowledge that he is taking the matter on behalf of the other Minister of State, Deputy McGinley. The Minister of State suggested Cork County Council should commission a report on facts that are patently obvious. All it needs to do is to listen to people who live on the island and who access it. The demands are very basic and simple. They need access and they need the cable car not to be out of action for a calendar month. It sounds crazy. I hope the Minister of State can convey to the Minister that there should be a monthly cargo ferry service, subject to weather conditions. It could be funded by the council or co-funded by the Department. It may not be used every month, but if there was an emergency, such as an outbreak of TB on the island, the current cargo ferry service could not meet the needs of the islanders. With or without the report, the Minister of State could listen to the islanders and their demands, which are very reasonable. The Minister of State should convey my deep concern to Deputy McGinley, who has a love of all islands and rural areas.

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for raising this important matter and making the argument on behalf of the community in a sensible and reasonable way. I will convey the remarks of Senator O'Donovan to the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, so that he is aware of the position. We all await the report commissioned by Cork County Council, which will be published shortly, before seeing what further action can be taken.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.50 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 23 April 2013.