“Business is Business! Everyday, all around the country, deals are made behind closed doors. Names signed on dotted lines followed by congratulatory handshakes or maybe a good ol’ pat on the back, and possibly a martini afterwards. These deals used to be orchestrated by ‘business’ men. You know those men in suits that somehow seem disconnected from the real world. Most of the time these deals are mundane, business type arrangements, but ultimately the outcome is to make one party wealthier than the other. Power.
I worked in Baggot Street in Dublin for a number of years, so I was very central to the high flying business and government district. I saw these business men in suits EVERYWHERE! And I saw ministers and leaders of our country hobnobbing too. They would often emerge from those big glistening office blocks that lined that area at coffee time, and in a wave would disappear back into them as quickly, only to again return to the light of day for their lunches, big guffawing, drink buying, back slapping lunches. I wondered what they actually did all day, these business men in suits and law makers with their briefcases, making their deals behind closed doors. But now I do know what they did, as we all do. They made bad decisions. They made bad deals. Deals that have this country in the current situation we are in, and decisions that have all been made with blatant disregard for anyone outside of those rooms. And sometimes that doesn’t become more apparent than when you live on a small island off the west coast of Ireland.
For the last couple of years, this island has been in defence mode. Fighting off the tide that was hurtling our way. It seemed it was relatively untouched by the banking collapse, but experienced the fall out with the drop in tourism and the reduction in our visitors’ buying power. But locals carried on and did what they did best, worked as hard as they could when they could. That, the island could handle. However it was the underhanded behind closed door deals that seemed to have side swiped us. Have a little Google search for ‘galway bay fish farm’ for example and you’ll be quick to find a plethora of information regarding the colossal ‘organic’ fish farm they are trying to locate just off our island. Of course this is a million dollar deal for them, them being BIM, and of course it has almost complete government backing, but it highlights how little regard they have for consequences, caring little for the absolute detremental effect it would have on Galway Bay and in particular Inis Oirr, the environment or the people. This deal was all in hand, ready to go ahead, just awaiting the dotted line signing. And it took the islanders, maybe a few to begin with, but an army of them now to say ‘hold on a minute’ this is our home, and then the movement started, and the fight began.
As it stands Islanders and Galwegians have been fighting tooth and nail for three years to stop this from going ahead. Losing seaweed rights was another stressor for the islanders, who had been harvesting their own plots of seaweeds for years and now faced the news that these were to be sold off to a Canadian company. And lets not forget Iour neighbouring island Inis Meain, who has been in the news of late, with the fear of losing their school because the government wouldn’t provide funding for a second teacher, only to be given a lifeline by a private insurance company, Zurich, who stepped in to sponsor that second teacher. But the latest shock, and the hardest it seems, to hit us as a community, was the news that Aer Arann, the islands plane service for over 40 years, had not been successful in their tender and will cease to operate from next month, with the 4 year contract going to Executive Helicopters! The shock of this has rippled through the island for days, and not just Inis Oirr. Inis Meain and Inis Mor are also reeling from this decision. To the deal makers, this is probably a savvy high five move. I’m sure ministers were delighted to think that a helicopter would be quite fitting for them in any future trips to the island. And judging by some genuine comments I’ve read on social media about this, some people don’t seem to understand why the locals are so upset by it all, thinking plane, helicopter, whats the problem. Here’s the problem. There are people outside these rooms that deals are made in. And people matter.
Yesterday the island fell silent. People left en masse, on boats and planes, to attend a protest in Galway at the Connemara Coast hotel, and then over to the ministerial offices. Young little faces behind home made placards, old weathered faces, needing no placards at all because you know they’ve been fighting for the islands since they themselves were young. Island business’ closed, and business’ in Connemara and Galway also turned out to show their support in fighting for a reversal of what seems to be the most absurd decision. And the message was simple.
“Nil aon Arainn gan Aer Arann” – Theres no Aran, without Aer Arann.
Unless you live on an island, remote or otherwise, then you’ve really no idea how important it is to have a direct connection to the mainland. We have a boat service, and it’s a great one. Leaving the island twice daily, and some extra sailings during the summer. But to travel into Galway for an errand that may only take one hour for example, you’re talking a round trip of twelve hours. There are older islanders that are unable to travel by boat, but with the plane they can make it into important hospital appointments that they would without a doubt not attend. New mothers, I’ve been one three times, on leaving hospital can be home on the island with their newborns within ten minutes. Emergency situations that occur, that are unable to be dealt with by the rescue service, will be handled by Aer Arann if at all possible. Blood tests can be sent out on the plane by the local doctor within the required time limit on them, the vet can travel to the other islands, and teachers can travel within the day to posts that otherwise would be left unfilled, another worrying concern for the future of the islands. But this is nothing. The amount of stories of people making it home for Christmas when Aer Arann went above and beyond to ensure they were home with their families when the weather was so bad the boat was completely cancelled, or when flights laden with boxes of food arrived again due to the weather affecting the cargo boat service from Galway, or the plane flying as soon as it was bright enough to bring a pregnant mother of twins to the mainland, which she maintains saved their lives. Sure even on my own wedding, Aer Arann managed to get all my flowers AND my harp for my musician here on time. And lets not forget the people. These are the heart of the service, the ones that know you by name, will monitor the cancellation list for you, will ring you when they think there may not be a flight later, to ensure you get off the island, or home as often the case is, that will make sure you’re driven to the boat when they’ve waited as long as they could to see if there was a fly window, the ones that make you feel at ease when they get on board to pilot the plane for the short, but spectacular trip. Ultimately lets not forget the people. Because a service is only as good as the people that provide it, and for our island, it doesn’t get much better than Aer Arann. A service worthy enough to make a neighbour of mine choose it as her dissertation for her degree in 2005.
There is a petition here, that you can sign to add your voice. And you can also contact the ministers in charge of this fiasco. There is so much information out there, but also not out there, more to the point, which is becoming more obvious by the reluctance of Paschal Donohoe or Joe McHugh to come out and really say why this is happening, what was the exact deal that went on behind the doors. But we’re slowly getting there, which can be seen by this opinion piece by David McWilliams .They’re fluffing around it all, hardly even paying lip service, but ultimately they are just slowly hitting nails into the coffin of disconnection that will be carried by all the islands and rural communities across the country by these decisions. I shudder to think of what is ahead of us if this is how the government is treating us now, in a run up to an election.
This is our transport service and its vital.
But if this deal goes ahead, then you may fly me to the moon, and most certainly not in a bloody helicopter!