Bere Island. Pic: Helen Riddel

ISLAND communities across West Cork as well as along the entire West Coast say that cuts to core funding allocations to non – Gaeltacht Islands will lead to the islands becoming unviable as permanent communities.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has announced that it is to terminate funding to their five Community Development Companies Offices from December 31st, 2014.

The cuts ammounting to €600,000 will affect six of West Cork’s seven inhabited islands: Bere Island, Sherkin Island, Dursey Island, Whiddy Island, Long Island and Heir Island as well as Inishbofin in Galway and Inishturk and Clare Island in Mayo.

The termination of core funding for Island Community Groups has come as a shock to islanders. Representatives from the Islands now plan to hold a press conference at Buswell’s Hotel in Dublin on Wednesday, November 19th at 4.30pm calling on Environment Minister Alan Kelly to provide core funding under an Islands Development Programme that will save these vital services on the islands.According to John Orpen, the vice chair of the West Cork Islands Community Council, “The withdrawal of this funding will mean the collapse of a wide range of programmes, activities and initiatives on the islands. Current funding enables the Community Development Company Offices to provide supports and services to all Islanders. For example, the funding gives us the capacity to organise educational training courses, run programmes like childcare services, island waste management, island festivals, tourism projects, manage community buildings and provide representation for the Islands.”

Tim O Leary from the West Cork Islands says, “On the islands, the Community Offices have become the heartbeat of the Islands. The Islanders have come to rely on the Offices to drive initiatives and programmes on their behalf. If the funding is pulled on December 31st, these services will go into terminal decline, resulting in a hugely negative impact on island life.”

Since 1994 it has been government policy to provide core funding to Island Development Companies on the non-Gaeltacht Islands. Since 1994 special recognition has been given to communities on non-Gaeltacht Islands through the Islands Development Programme.

The core funding to the Island Development Companies was designed to facilitate the Government’s remit to support the work of voluntary and community organisations on the non-Gaeltacht islands. Special emphasis was placed on assisting projects which address disadvantage and social exclusion. The core funding, as it is applied to islands, takes into account the unique features affecting islands and the specific needs of island communities.

According to the Irish Islands Federation, the representative body for the inhabited offshore islands of Ireland without the Community Development Offices the islands will “lose their community structure and all the work that the offices are responsible for on behalf of the Island communities”.

They say that many services will be lost to these islands as a result including activities for marginalized and disadvantaged within the community, youth services, elderly services, playgroup services, after school services, waste management facilities, community employment and training schemes, community services programme, rural social scheme, island festivals, rural transport services, employment support, training/educational courses, tourism projects, running of community buildings, support for voluntary groups and much more. A spokesperson said, “The termination of core funding will have devastating consequences on the work that is being undertaken by the Islands Community Development Offices on the Islands.

“The termination in funding goes directly against the report of the Interdepartmental Coordinating Committee on Island Development (1996), which stated that the non-Gaeltacht Islands should have structures similar to the Gaeltacht Islands. The management committees of the five Island Community Development Companies believe that the termination in core funding will have disastrous short, medium and long-term effects on the Island communities they represent.

“All of the work that has been done over the years as mentioned above along with training volunteers and staff, networks set up, contacts made etc. will all be lost and the Islands will never recover. Great work has been done over the last number of years on the non – Gaeltacht islands at a local, regional, national and European level and it will now all cease due to the termination of funding.”