DURSEY islanders appear to be caught in a tug-of-war between the Department of Rural Affairs and Cork County Council over who should provide them with a means of accessing the island this summer.
And local councillors said this week that they are devastated by the way the community on the island is being treated.
With just over a week to go before Cork County Council closes down Ireland’s only cable car service for essential repairs (on Thursday April 31st) Cllr Ross O’Connell (SD) said the islanders need a replacement ferry service and none has been provided.
Cllr O’Connell also directed his comments at Heather Humphreys, Minister for Rural Development, but this week her office said the responsibility for any ferry service rested with Cork County Council.
And Cork County Council has already said the provision of a temporary ferry service is Minister Humphreys’ responsibility.
Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) said county mayor Gillian Coughlan (FF) wrote to Minister Humphreys and highlighted the urgency of the situation, but the members are still awaiting a reply.
‘What’s the story?’ asked Cllr Collins. ‘The stakeholders are worried. There’s only days left before this service is going to close down.’
According to Cllr Karen Coakley (FG), farmers are in the depths of despair worrying how they are going to look after their animals. ‘We need answers,’ she said.
Cllr Paul Hayes (Ind) said: ‘There seems to be a gap in what was agreed at our Council meeting and what has transpired. We are in a state of limbo.’
He urged the Council executive to ‘up its game’ and ‘get the information out to the people who need to know what is happening.’ Senior executive officer MacDara O h-Icí said the members had been briefed and ‘there hasn’t been any change since.’
He said the Council issued a statement saying the service would be out of operation from March 31st to the beginning of November and ‘we made it clear that the Council had no plans to provide any other facility.’
Mr O h-Icí said it was unfair of the councillors to allege that the Council did not communicate with the island community.
He said they have a list of people with whom they communicate with and they were contacted.
In addition, he said a sign was posted at the cable car service.
National coverage of the story was, according to Cllr Ross O’Connell, a source of embarrassment.
Cllr Declan Hurley agreed, saying: ‘To see this played out on our national news was embarrassing.
‘Did Cork County Council sit down with the stakeholders and discuss it face-to-face?’ he asked, ‘because emails and notices on the cable car are not good enough.’
Cllr Paul Hayes said the Council and the minister need to ‘inject a bit of urgency’ into the situation. And if the Council still hasn’t got a reply from the minister, he suggested someone should ‘pick up the phone and give her a call.’
This week a Department spokesperson told The Southern Star that ‘Cork County Council own and operate the cable car service’ and are ‘responsible for ensuring mainland connectivity’ for the island residents and for those who require access to their farmlands during the period of maintenance.
‘During periods of scheduled routine maintenance in the past, the Council has provided a temporary ferry service to the island,’ it said.
The decision to withdraw the service was taken without any prior consultation with the residents, with island representative groups or indeed with the Department, they added.
‘Minister Humphreys understands the urgency of the situation and she has advised Cork County Council that her Department remains available to discuss proposals from the local authority on how an appropriate alternative service can be provided during the period in which the cable car is closed. To date no such proposal has been put forward to the Department by officials in Cork County Council.’