TORY island families will have no option but to accept houses on the mainland, leaving behind ‘a retirement island’, if the proposed new ferry service starts on April 1.
The stark warning has been issued by concerned islanders ahead of a crunch meeting with representatives from Roinn na Gaeltachta, Minister Joe McHugh, County Council officials and the island’s new ferry operator this afternoon, Friday.
The row centres around the decision by Roinn na Gaeltachta to replace the ‘Tor Mór’ with a new ferry ‘Queen of Aran’ after two companies submitted tenders for the provision of the new five-year contract of service. The new contract is scheduled to start on April 1.
Islanders claim that the Tormór, a purpose built vessel, is better equipped for the notorious ‘Tory Sound’ in heavy westerly seas than the new vessel.
Patrick Gerard Boyle was born on Tory. He drives a bus while his wife Anna is teacher in the primary school. They have three young children.
“No one is listening to the concerns of the people on Tory and who use the ferry service day in, day out. We’re not bothered if this man or that man has the contract. Our only concern is for the safety of our families and loved ones. We know what the weather conditions are like and we feel the new boat isn’t suitable for the journey that it is being asked to cover. It really is that simple,” he explained.
Mr Boyle’s father, also Patrick, was a member of the island’s Co-op in the 1980s at a time when there was mass emigration from Tory.
“We all remember those stories. It was a time when families felt they had no option but to accept houses in Falcarragh due to the lack of facilities on the island.
“We’ve all worked hard in the years since to help Tory retain its population base and develop tourism. And yet my parents are now faced with this. It’s gone back to the bad old days of the eighties,” Mr Boyle said.
If the situation was allowed to continue Tory will become “a retirement island” as it will be impossible for young families to live there.
Anna Boyle has been teaching at the primary school on Tory since September, 1998. The couple married in 2006 and moved into their house twelve months later.
“We made a conscious decision to stay here and we can’t just lift up sticks and leave. We spent a lot of money transporting building materials to the island. We’ve three young kids. It’s heartbreaking. If I decide to go tomorrow I’ll never be able to sell. It’s not as if the house is made of Lego. How can I afford to go? And yet I’ll be left with no choice,” he said.
“My wife is under enough pressures as a teacher without putting her life and those of our kids into jeopardy every time they take the new ferry service from April 1.
“People are talking about the new ferry being an old boat but that’s nothing more than a red herring. Yes, we would like to have a better boat but we’re realistic enough to know that we’re not going to get five or six million handed to us by Government. That said, we would expect them to at least listen to our proposals.
“The people in Galway who are making these decisions don’t understand the weather,” he said.
“It’s being said that four families will leave the island if this issue isn’t resolved but I can tell you it’s at least double that. We’re right on the edge here.
Anne Bridget Rodgers works in the first ever Naíonra on the island, which opened its doors to five young boys and girls last September.
Born and brought up on the island she lives there with her partner Craig Woodrow from Scotland and their two young children, Ruby and Harrison – one of three babies Christened on the island in the days leading up to Christmas. They too have indicated that they may be forced to look elsewhere to live.
Ms Marjorie Uí Chearbhaill is the new manager of the Co-op on Tory. A native of Magheraroarty, she moved to the island last summer together with her husband Donal Cearbhaill and their three young children, Pádraig, Caitlín and Anne.
“We’re not happy at all with what’s happening. We’ve already met with Roinn na Gaeltachta on a number of occasions and we can’t figure out why they allowed this decision to happen. Local sea-farers say that the new ferry service will not be fit for purpose and yet a new five-year contract of service is due to start on April 1,” she said.
It is understood that two companies submitted tenders for the provision of the new ferry service, the existing operator of 25 years’ standing and the new one whose contract starts in a few weeks time.
“They didn’t take on board any of the recommendations we put forward at previous meetings so I wouldn’t be too hopeful about this Friday’s meeting.
“The service we had was not perfect and could be improved upon but the service we’re getting now is much worse. It’s slower and there are fewer crossings proposed. Not only that but the style of boat we’re getting is higher than the one we have and will catch too much wind.
“The boat we have at present has railings all the way around which allows the wind to escape. This one is closed in,” she said.
“I don’t mind rough seas when I’m on my own but I wold be concerned for the children’s safety. The crossings will take longer and, with the shape of the boat, we can expect there to be much more rocking.
“We’re going back twenty years or more with this decision. Instead of trying to attract tourists and visitors to the island these people will be turning them away.
“My main concern though is that many young island families are prepared to pack up and leave. That’s heart-breaking. There are 144 people on Tory at the moment and we could lose up to thirty per cent of them in one fell swoop,” she said.
“What makes me really sad is that my three kids have all really settled in to life on Tory. We’re already moved them once and we don’t want to have to do it again but, like so many others, we can’t stay on the island after April 1 unless things change,” Ms Uí Chearbhaill said.
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Posted: 8:30 am January 19, 2018