An announcement on the long-term future of air services to the Aran Islands is expected in the coming weeks.
Aer Arann is currently operating flights to and from the Aran Islands under an interim contract, while a procurement process is underway for a new contract.
Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Dáil this week what improvements are being made to transport links to the Aran Islands and Inishbofin, and when the current contracts will expire.
“I say this because they need improvements,” MP Ó Cuív said. “They were introduced about ten or 15 years ago.”
“However, they have remained static or, in the case of the Aer Arann service, have regressed horribly over the past ten years.”
Rural and Community Development Minister Heather Humphreys said the public service obligation (PSO) status for air travel to the islands expired years ago, but the department is now correcting that.
“The procurement process is currently underway for the new contract,” said Minister Humphreys. “Once completed, it will provide long-term certainty of service to island communities.”
The existing interim contract will remain in place during the procurement process, she added, to ensure there is no disruption to air services to the islands.
“I am confident that a successful operator for the service will be announced in the coming weeks and that island communities will enjoy better air service over the next four years.”
MP Ó Cuív also asked whether air travel to the Aran Islands will benefit from the 20% reduction in fares for all subsidized public transport which was rolled out this month.
“As the minister knows, they pay some of the highest fares. They have no choice but to take public transport to get in and out of the islands.
However, Minister Humphreys said the reduction applies to PSO bus and train services run by the National Transport Authority.
It does not extend to transport services to offshore islands funded by her ministry, although the minister said the ministry is not opposed to such a scheme.
There are concerns that retroactively applying a tariff reduction to government procurement could create problems, Minister Humphreys added, and she has written to the attorney general seeking legal advice, which is expected in the coming weeks.