The failure of Galway County Council to pursue the completion of the harbour and maintain what work had been carried out at a cost of €14m to taxpayers was strangling the economy of Inis Meáin.
Tarlach de Blácam said it was seven years since the Department of the Gaeltacht paid Galway County Council €100,000 towards the planning of the third phase of An Caladh Mór and nine years since the first and second stages were completed.
Tarlach, who along with his wife, Áine Ní Chonghaile, founded the Inis Meáin Knitting Company, said the lack of a proper working harbour on the island meant that islanders could not receive or despatch cargo by boat during the worst of the winter.
It also endangered lives as emergency personnel who had to carry stretched patients on the moss-covered steps on the current pier found it “absolutely treacherous”.
The pier was built at a cost of €14m to improve access to the Aran island for its 200 residents and seasonal tourists.
Work on Cé an Chalaidh Mhóir included dredging, the construction of a pier and breakwater and parking facilities, by far the largest part of the project.
Galway County Council had maintained that the final phase had been stalled because it had not received payment of €6.9 million for the work.
When that was handed over by the Department, the Council said it needed to get approval to seek planning for its completion.
Tarlach said the Council had now received a clear instruction since early summer from Roinn na Gaeltachta to move to the next stage, but still there has been no progress to date.
“Roinn Na Gaeltachta gave the go-ahead to Galway County Council to employ somebody to go ahead with the job but they haven’t made any appointment. It seems they have given priority to Inis Oírr and while we understand that their situation is equally urgent we don’t understand why they can’t progress the two together,” he told the Connacht Tribune.
“We feel badly neglected, which is quite evident the way they have failed to maintain the pier – missing lifebelts were never replaced, public water stands left in complete disrepair, the stairway, used for loading and offloading small boats including the lifeboat in emergencies, is extremely dangerous because of the build-up of moss on the steps.”
He understood that the final stage would cost in the region of €3m. Plans had already been drawn up for the project.
During bad weather cargo boats cannot land at the pier so the island can be cut off from all supplies. Last year this happened for ten days.
“I fought like crazy to maintain our air service when they changed it to a helicopter. They gave in eventually. But we need a pier to facilitate a reliable boat service all year round. My business which employs 20 people depends on accessibility as I export all over the world.”
The acting chief executive of Galway County Council Kevin Kelly confirmed to Galway County Councillors recently the Department had “indicated the advancement of works at both Inis Oírr and Inis Meáin”.
“They have approved funding for a resource to work on these projects and to avoid delay one of our existing staff was assigned to progress the work in advance of any more permanent arrangement.
“Attention has centred on Inis Oirr to date including meetings with the Department to discuss and agree the approach and issues arising.”
Tarlach is urging councillors to meet with the island committee to help them in their quest to see the project out.
The former Director of Services for Roads and Transportation, Marine and General Services, the late Liam Gavin, previously told councillors said €250,000-€300,000 would be needed to bring the planning forward – rather than the €100,000 sanctioned.
He also believed it could cost between €5 and €6m to complete the final phase.