Ross not for turning on closure of Inishmurray

No access to island until construction of approved landing facility.

Sligo News File

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has again ruled Inishmurray out of bounds to boats and visitors.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross…no access to Inishmurray

Speaking in the Dail where TDs yesterday questioned the closure of the island, Ross said that, following an assessment, the Marine Survey Office had deemed the island’s docking facilities “wholly unsuitable for the landing of passengers.”

The MSO had recommended that no passenger licences be issued until “the appropriate landing facility has been provided,” he said.

However, Deputy Marc MacSharry took issue with the decision, describing Inishmurray as the site of a monastic settlement where people had been landing for 1,500 years.

He said 102 residents had lived on the island at the turn of the last century. They raised cattle, brought their animals to the mainland and they fished.

Marc MacSharry TD

Now, he said, the MSO “has unilaterally taken action which will put boat people out of business and inhibit former islanders – members of the Brady and Herrity families who are still alive – and many hundreds of descendants who have a tradition of visiting every single year.”

Declaring that it would take four years to design and build a suitable landing structure, he appealed to Ross “to work with everyone involved to get a derogation” to enable the island to be accessed immediately.

Supporting MacSharry, Deputy Tony McLoughlin said islanders were living on Inishmurray up to 1957. People had been landing there for hundreds of years. He submitted that “there has never been an accident” on the island

Tony McLoughlin,TD

He also called attention to the existence of a monastic site and a cemetery to which families return to tend graves of deceased relatives.

“The MSO has done the people a disservice.”

He understood, he said, “that it was once more difficult to embark and disembark on Skellig Michael than on Inishmurray. Perhaps if ‘Star Wars’ had visited the latter we would not be in this situation.

“We have an obligation to those skippers who have paid up to €200,000 for their boats. Why would they risk their boats in terms of landing on the island? They have their own insurance for passengers to embark and disembark at Inishmurray.”

“Would a disclaimer suffice until such times as the island receives funding for proper landing facilities?” he asked.

Ross said that the MSO is the safety regulator for maritime transport in Ireland, and one of its key responsibilities is to ensure the safety of all passengers travelling by boat.

“In 2008, officials from the MSO carried out an assessment of the landing facilities at Inishmurray island and deemed the recognised landing on the island to be wholly unsuitable for landing passengers. As a consequence, no passenger licences have been issued which include Inishmurray on their plying limits.”

He said no passenger boat licences had been revoked owing to the issue. Boats which have the appropriate licences “may approach the island so that passengers may see the island and take photographs.”

Ross said the solution was simple, “namely the provision of an appropriately safe landing facility.”

Countering, McSharry asked: “Are there any brains in the Department at all? People have been going to Inishmurray for 1,500 years. They raised and sold cattle fished and supplied food to people on the mainland. Is the Minister so bland that he cannot use leadership and common sense to instruct that office to implement a derogation until such time as a solution is found?”

McLoughlin said the response “is typical of the Civil Service.” He met boat owners and skippers “who confirmed that there has never been an accident involving passengers embarking and disembarking at Inishmurray.” He said: “These skippers are acting responsibly. They have invested significant money in the boats. People sitting in an office in Dublin have insulted some of these skippers, for example, by saying they will report them.”

Saying that he did not want to see “any place closed,” McLoughlin said it was easier to get into Inishmurray than some of the other islands. “I think the people in question should be brought to book. The Minister is responsible for ensuring people in the Marine Survey Office will not start to use a heavy hand in that regard.”

MacSharry: “Hear, here.”

Ross said that while he acknowledged the difficulties in which people have found themselves, “they should be debated in a calmer atmosphere. This is a safety issue for which there is a remedy. I have spelled it out. Like any responsible politician, I am not prepared to allow people to take risks by bringing fare-paying passengers to places that are deemed unsafe, regardless of whether they are islands or tourist spots. The moment it is safe to do so, the relevant authorities will give those involved the go-ahead to resume bringing passengers to the island in order that it can retake its position as a very worthy tourist destination.”

Ross added: I hope Deputy MacSharry is not annoyed that I mentioned Ms. Marie Casserly. She has been presenting the case for Inishmurray in a far more calm and reasoned way than the Deputy has today. I suggest the Deputy would be more effective if he were a little less excitable and a little more reasonable and logical.”