THE COST OF COMPLYING WITH GOVERNMENT POLICY– GALWAY ISLAND COMPANY SACRIFICED.
After a review of the decision of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht not to select the Local Development Strategy submitted by Galway Local Community Development Committee (LCDC) of which Comhar na nOileán and Galway Rural Development were implementing partners, Comhar na nOileán wishes to make the following statement.
- Comhar na nOileán were advised after numerous meetings that the only option for the company was to comply with Government policy and that no extra sub-regional area was to be created for Galway County or any county in the country. As a result of the meetings Comhar na nOileán started engaging on the process with the Department on this as far back as 2012.
- The then Minister, Alan Kelly, confirms the above in an answer to a Parliamentary Question on the 14th July 2014. Board Members of Comhar na nOileán again held a meeting with Minister for State, Ann Phelan, and Officials on the 11th February 2015 and another Departmental meeting in April 2016, asking specifically that another sub-regional area for the Islands be considered. The request was not entertained and Comhar na nOileán were told emphatically Government policy was that Comhar na nOileán aligns with the LCDC’s to ensure programme delivery to the Islands and the sustainability of the company. Certain assurances were made at the meeting that the future sustainability of Comhar na nOileán would be maintained. The Board of Comhar na nOileán took the decision that the best option for the company was to comply with Government policy and work with the LCDC’s in four Counties with offshore Island communities to compile Local Development Strategies.
- Comhar na nOileán have been informed by the Department that another sub-regional area might come about in East Galway or that the sub-regional area will be subdivided, which was the one thing that successive Departmental Ministers, Officials and Chief Officers told Comhar na nOileán would not be done.
- The decision now by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, is to award the contract to another company, which did not comply with government policy on Alignment, and is not a Gaeltacht or Island based Local Development Company instead of awarding the contract to those who did comply with government policy i.e. Galway LCDC, Galway Rural Development and Comhar na nOileán. The awarded company submitted an Local Development Strategy for a portion of Galway County and received a contract for this area which is the Connemara Municipal District and Comhar na nOileán feels that it is unfair and procedurally wrong to compare a submission for one Municipal District of the county with a county-wide submission as made by the LCDC with the full cooperation of two long established Local Development Companies. At every stage of the process since 2012, it was reiterated to Comhar na nOileán that the preferred outcome was one Local Action Group and one county-wide Local Development Strategy.
- This decision puts the work of Comhar na nOileán on other programmes such as the Rural Social Scheme, The Walks Scheme, SICAP on the Cork Islands and the Non-Gaeltacht Islands Programme, LEADER in the other counties of Donegal, Mayo and Cork, in jeopardy.
- There is also an issue with the Operational Rules of the LEADER Programme being changed after the submission of the Local Development Strategy and continuously changing since the beginning of the Alignment Process.
- It is now likely following discussions with the Department and the likely scenario with East Galway as outlined, that Comhar na nOileán will be the only Island & Gaeltacht-based Company in the country that aligned with LCDC’s and Government Policy, that will end up being burnt by the process. The unified voice of the Islands is now fragmented by the allocation of the Galway Islands of Inishbofin, Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer to a mainland-based Local Development Company that has no previous experience delivering LEADER in the Gaeltacht or on the Islands.
Comhar na nOileán will be calling for a meeting with the Minister Heather Humphreys and senior officials ASAP.
Comhar na nOileán will also be calling for a meeting with the Oireachtas Members of Galway West.
This latest onslaught on the Galway Islands comes after a protracted period of threats and cuts to essential services such as;
- air services,
- bus services,
- the threat to the administration funding to the non-Gaeltacht Islands Community Development Offices,
- the slashing of health services,
- the ongoing threat to cut teachers in Islands schools and
- the continuous cuts to Islands Co-Operative organisations on the Gaeltacht Islands.
All the above is now added to by a further blow where the Islands Leader Company, Comhar na nOileán, has not being awarded the Leader Contract for the Galway Islands. It is ironic that the above has all been done by the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which has responsibility for the islands through its ‘Islands Division’, and through government policy which is supposed to sustain island communities and the future of the offshore islands of Ireland.
Comhar na nOileán would like to state categorically that the Islands and the Island agencies are not dispensable. Comhar na nOileán feel that this decision was unfair and unjust and answers are needed to serious issues. Comhar na nOileán strongly feel that they have been misled and are examining processes and procedures and fighting this decision.