00:00 Saturday 03 March 2012  Written by Leo McMahon

West Cork Islands Community Council and website launched

'OUR aim from now on is to speak with one voice and I hope you'll listen to us,' said Syd Cheatle in County Hall at the formal launch of West Cork Islands Community Council and its much acclaimed new website, www.westcorkislands. com.

Mr Cheatle is the newly elected chairperson of the council, which was launched by Deputy Mayor of the County, Declan Hurley.

The body, modelled on Muintir na Tíre, represents all seven inhabited islands and also promotes, through the website, Garnish Island.

Elected members are: Sarah Matthews and John Moore, Heir Island; Robert O'Rourke and Hueston Dagg, Long Island; Ferdia Ó Liatháin and Fiona McLoughlan, Cape Clear Island; Robbie Murphy and Syd Cheatle, Sherkin Island; Rosarie O'Neill and Martin Sheehan, Dursey Island; Tim O'Leary, Whiddy Island; and John Orpen and Colum Harrington, Bere Island.

'This is a great day for West Cork', said Ms Theresa White, assistant county manager and chairperson of the West Cork Islands Inter-agency Group. She paid tribute to all the voluntary council members. She specially praised Cllr Gerard Murphy of the county enterprise board, Breeda Murphy, community development officer; Máire Ní Shé of Údarás na Gaeltachta, Majella Ní Chríocháin of Comhdhail ni nOileán, Mairtin O Mealoid of Comharchumann Chleire Teo and other agencies (which also included West Cork Enterprise Board, An Garda Siochana, Fás and the IFA). Padraig Moore, Rose O'Sullivan, Niall O'Mahony and Orpen Design Solutions also attended.

The main aim, said Ms White, was for islands to have a collective voice rather than act individually and through the use of new technology and marketing, to increase their visibility and profile and attract more tourists and business.

Syd Cheatle, who pointed out that his mother, Aileen Foley, came from Skibbereen, recalled that when he became active in his community 30 years ago, the islands were very much the poor relation. However, through the county council, an islands committee was set up in the 1990s and now these had a fully representative body to work for their long-term interests. He and Cllr G Murphy thanked everyone associated with the launch.

John Walsh of Bere Island Projects Group illustrated to councillors, using a large screen, the new website with beautiful photographs about the 'diamond necklace' of seven inhabited islands plus Garnish as well as general information, a video by John and Sarah Carey and how to access these. Objectives were to build the brand of West Cork islands, attract visitors, generate business, assist with marketing and update communities of news and events. He said the group was working closely with Failte Ireland, the county council and others.

The website, he pointed out, was available in several languages, including Chinese and Arabic. A further official video was planned and there would also be a quarterly newsletter. A marketing brochure had been developed and an open weekend for all islands held under the islands strategy. Already the website had received 'hits' from 35 countries, including Jamaica, and was linked to Facebook and Twitter.

Collective approach

County manager Martin Riordan welcomed the collective approach, which was the result of a great amount of hard work, and urged more people to get involved to ensure the islands' needs were heard and met. The West Cork islands were a hidden gem and renowned for the friendliness of their people. Apart from tourism, they could provide a good niche for business by availing of the council's economic development unit.

Cllr Christy O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail) said it was 'a fantastic development' and it was now important to promote the website and meet the wish list of the islands' community council, particularly regarding better access and infrastructure.

Cllr Donal O'Rourke (FF) paid tribute to the pro-active role of Ms White, who was retiring the following day, and urged Mr Riordan to retain the position of divisional manager for West Cork. He also stressed the need for the council to always reflect the unique culture of the islands in the county development plan.

Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy (FF) congratulated all concerned as did Cllr Aindrias Moynihan (FF).

Cllr Jerry Sullivan (Fine Gael) said the new council and website for the islands represented strength in numbers and could only be of benefit to West Cork while Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) praised all involved for doing so much good work and featuring such beautiful images. She also referred to the potential for other developments such as the third-level arts course on Sherkin.

'A momentous day for West Cork,' said a delighted Cllr Dermot Sheehan (FG). For seven islands and 21 agencies to be able to come together and achieve so much was remarkable and he agreed with Cllr O'Rourke of the importance of having a divisional manager. Cllr Adrian Healy (FG) concurred, pointing out that the Western Committee had been retained in order to keep its two electoral areas united. As for the new website, he said it further enhanced the experience for the visitor.

Formally launching the new West Cork Islands Community Council and website, Cllr Hurley (Independent) also welcomed the collective representation, promotional and implementation role and objectives through a now permanent body to co-ordinate development of the islands which would provide opportunities for integration and community focus. The benefits were endless and remarkable and he wished the new council and website every success.

Cargo service

There was further good news this week when Labour TD for Cork South-West Michael McCarthy announced a new heavy cargo service for four West Cork islands which, he believed, would improve the lifestyles of local islanders by reducing transportation costs.

'This new service has been made possible by a Government-sanctioned grant and it will ensure that people living on Cape Clear, Sherkin, Heir and Long Islands have a reliable cargo service from now on. The service will run for 50 days over the next year and will be provided by Carbery Isle Ferries Teo,' he stated.

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