UNIVERSITY College Cork is hosting a think-in about the sustainability and future of the West Cork Islands this week.
Islanders, academics, policy-makers, the public and Seán Kyne, Minister for the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, will be in attendance on Friday.
John Walsh, coordinator of the Bere Island Projects Group, will be at the event in UCC.
He first arrived on the island in 1986 and has worked on fish farms and volunteered with the group before becoming its coordinator in 2004.
John says the West Cork islanders face many issues. “The cost of living on the island is about 40% higher than average. This is because of transport, getting to and from the island. For example, if you were building a house, you’d have to pay the electrician for the time spent waiting and travelling on the ferry. There’s an extra cost to ship building materials onto the island too. The council doesn’t have social housing here, and because the cost of building is so dear, young people who want to stay here are forced to leave. It’s either that or live with their parents.”
The island ferry is subsidised, but John would love for it to be free.
“Even kids who wants to go see their friends on the mainland are out of pocket.”
Landing facilities on the island are another issue. People have to climb up or down a ladder to access the island from their own boats.
“You can imagine this is difficult if you have shopping bags with you. I broke my leg a few weeks ago after trying to get onto my boat,” says John.
Unemployment is another blight on island life. While Bere Island has a thriving marine industry, many people are not qualified to work in it.
“The education system here is all geared for people leaving rural areas and moving to cities for work,” John says.
Marine entrepreneurs have been successful on the island, with Seán Harrington of Atlantic Towage and Marine Ltd being a good example.
“We need to start creating our own jobs, to be innovative,” says John.
However, to start a business, fast broadband would be helpful. This is something John feels needs to come to Bere Island.
“We need fibre-optic broadband. This would open up so many services, like telemedicine.
“We need proper policies and laws put in place. This is what’s been done in Scotland with an Island Bill. Currently, in Ireland we are dependent on a good minister who takes an interest.”
UCC researcher Sarah Robinson is part of Grassroots Radio Project, a European initiative. She’s investigating how a community radio station could help the West Cork islands and will also speak at the event.
“Introducing a community information platform will allow island communities to deliberate issues they face. It also increases civic engagement.
“Island populations need to be sustained. If islands lose people, they lose services.
“We need to keep schools and post offices alive.
“These communities are part of our heritage, and they should be sustained.
“We need to come up with work opportunities so people aren’t forced to leave. This event hopes to bring people together to achieve this.”
The event is currently full, but to be added to the waiting list contact Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org.