‘It’s a mess’ – Farmers stranded on Dursey Island for weeks after cable car shuts for repairs

Four farmers have been stranded on an island off the southwest coast for the past three weeks.

The men, who have homes and families on the mainland, have been trapped on Dursey Island since March 31. This is when the famous cable car that links them to the mainland – the only one of its kind in Europe – was temporarily shut down by Cork County Council.

A fifth man has been able to get on and off, but only because he has a small boat and is prepared to scramble up and down cliffs to get to his farm on the island.

The men, who have homes and families on the mainland, have been trapped on Dursey Island since March 31. Photo: Dan Linehan

An elderly islander stranded on the mainland for at least two days had to wait for sea conditions to improve before a boat owner could take them back to their home on the island.

Martin Sheehan, who last saw his family on the mainland on March 31, said: “I will be on the island three weeks on Wednesday.

“I’m coping OK, and I have frozen milk and things like that. But it’s a mess, and I don’t know what’s going on.

I have called the council to try and find out. I hear something might be happening this week.

He said the spirits are high among those stranded on the island but patience is wearing thin.

Mr Sheehan had tickets to the Cork v Limerick game at the weekend but couldn’t get off the island to go and see it.

Rosario O’Neill, who lets out her home on the island to tourists, said: “I haven’t been back since the cable car closed and I’ve no idea when a replacement ferry service will be up and running.”

A Cork County Council spokesperson said the delay in setting up the ferry is due to the ongoing procurement process.

After the government agreed to “part fund” an emergency temporary ferry service for islanders to Dursey Island, the council initiated an emergency tender process for the interim ferry service.

Tenders were invited by the council and a preferred tenderer was identified and then asked to provide supporting documentation.

But, on April 11, the preferred tenderer informed Cork County Council that it could not get the necessary marine license to operate the ferry service.

“The council was disappointed that the emergency procurement process that it undertook did not secure a valid / compliant tender,” a spokesman said.

“Cork County Council immediately invoked the next stage of the process which involves inviting further tenders based on modified terms.

“The tender documents were issued on April 12 thereby ensuring no undue delay.

“Tender responses were received on 14th April and are currently being assessed.”

The decision late last month by the department to fund a ferry service for Dursey Island had been welcomed by farmers and island residents.

What is still unclear is when the service will start and whether or not tourists will be able to use it. Businesses that rely on tourists visiting the island and using the cable car are worried about the impact on their living.

An estimated 22,000 people pay to use the cable car every year. Of those, it is estimated around 16,500 stay in accommodation on the island or in the local area.

In her March 30 statement, Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys confirmed “once-off emergency funding” for Cork County Council to provide a temporary ferry service to ensure “Dursey Island residents and the local farming community” will continue to have “reliable mainland connectivity ”.

 The public notice for the Dursey Island cable car. An estimated 22,000 people pay to use the cable car every year. Photo: Dan Linehan
The public notice for the Dursey Island cable car. An estimated 22,000 people pay to use the cable car every year. Photo: Dan Linehan

Nowhere in her 333-word statement are the words “tourist” or “visitors” mentioned. The words also weren’t mentioned in Cork County Council’s own 193-word statement on providing “a temporary ferry service to facilitate the Dursey Island farmers and residents”.

Although the decision was taken on February 7 to close the cable car on March 31, none of the islanders were consulted. The lack of consultation caused a certain degree of anger among islanders.

When asked why islanders, among the 19 registered ESB meter users on Dursey, had not been contacted directly by the council, it stated “a database of service users does not exist”.

However, it insisted that “significant effort was made to bring public attention to the necessity to suspend the service from March 31”.

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