by Máirtín Ó Méalóid,
Cape Clear Island Development Cooperative Cape Clear Island, Ireland
There is a strong case to be made for the protection of the smaller islands of Europe as they are literally on the edge of the Union and are vulnerable communities that are already under pressure to maintain viability. Some steps have been taken at a national level, for example there is a specific order regarding access to the islands in Ireland and other EU States in the interest of the protection of island communities from Covid 19 virus. The occurrence of COVID 19 cases on the islands would involve an extra layer of complication in terms of transport to mainland hospitals for treatment.
Financial support to individuals, community organisations and businesses is needed now to enable them to meet immediate financial costs and to avoid complete closure. Local, regional and national authorities should work with oversight and financial support from the EU institutions to back this up.
While there is currently no tourism activity allowed the opening up of activities over time will mean the reduction of these travel restrictions and enforcement. In the case of the small islands where small ferries operate taking only 100 passengers or less the operation of social distancing will create an immense challenge and may mean that the small islands will lag way behind in tourism re-development for the foreseeable future. Obviously, this is absolutely devastating to these fragile communities that are relying on the summer tourism to survive and for the sustainability of the island populations into the future. In essence without proportionate support there is a real danger of total economic collapse on the smaller islands in Ireland and other EU countries and the subsequent damage to the sustainability of island populations.
Support mechanisms specific to the islands are needed urgently to ensure that there is not a total collapse of small island economies across Europe. There will also be a need for island supports to rebuild their economies when the initial crisis is under control and economic activity can begin to resume. The importance of the continued provision of services to islanders and the supplying off goods and materials to the islands needs to be recognised and identified by the EU Commission as a priority.
The effect on islander’s mental health and the psychological impact of the extra layer of isolation will of course need to be addressed with some programs, as will their physical health which may have suffered due to the reluctance of people to attend doctors’ surgeries or hospitals at present because of the fear of catching the virus.
A most important factor is to ensure that supports that are made available are accessible by those who need them most. Some previous EU island specific funding has been completely inaccessible by small island entities and ended up with Universities and big organisations with very little direct positive impact for the development of European islands.