BY JACKIE KEOGH
A FATHER of three and his wife are selling their house and relocating from Sherkin Island to the mainland because the State won’t provide children with a ferry chaperone to their mainland school.
Sean O’Neill and his wife Olive made the decision after the Department of Education refused to provide children of school-going age with a chaperone while travelling to the mainland, after the island school closed last year.
Sean, who works in construction and also runs a 200-acre farm on the island, told The Southern Star: ‘I watched when Deputy Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (FF) raised the issue live in the Dáil on Wednesday, September 27th and I could tell that the Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, didn’t get it. If he had shown some understanding of the problem, we’d have a hope. But he doesn’t, so we don’t.’
Sean said that he and his wife are ‘about ready to pack it in.’ He said: ‘We’ve put our house on the market and will relocate to the mainland when it sells.
‘We have to because we have to think of the needs of our children William (4), Christopher, who is two-and-a-half, and Anna, who is nine months old.’
There are two other children – aged seven and eight months – on the island who would, in years to come, benefit from having a chaperone on the 10-minute ferry journey, and the three-mile journey to Rath National School, or the eight-mile journey to Skibbereen each day.
Sean said: ‘The lack of understanding and the failure of the Department of Education to provide for island children is a pity – not just for us but for the island as a whole.’
He acknowledged that the primary school on the island closed last year after being in existence for 124 years because there were only two children from the mainland in attendance on the final day of term at the Sherkin Island Girls and Boys National School.
‘In that scenario,’ Sean said, ‘we realised there was no hope of saving the school, but we had hoped that the department would do all that it could to preserve education on the island, and safeguard the island’s population, by providing a chaperone service, and we flagged the issue at the time.’
Sean explained: ‘My working day starts at 6am and my wife gets the 8am ferry to her job with the HSE in Skibbereen, and we need support with the logistics around what is ultimately a five-hour commute going to and from the school on the mainland.’
Sean said: ‘This is the end of Sherkin as a functioning place.
‘There will always be people on Sherkin, but it will never again be like it was in my parents’ day when there was a school with full classrooms, a functioning post office, a shop, and a busy fishing industry,’ he added.