News - Naidheachdan

SNP Members of the Scottish Parliament representing Scotland’s west coast island communities are seeking an urgent meeting with Scottish Ministers over ferries.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan, Argyll and Bute MSP Jenni Minto and Cunninghame North MSP Kenny Gibson (whose constituency includes Arran and Cumbrae) have asked the Scottish Government for discussions on the service to island communities as a matter of urgency.

This comes as the date of return for CalMac’s largest vessel, the MV Loch Seaforth, has been pushed back for the fifth time to the end of May. Island communities have suffered reduced sailings and disrupted timetables as the ferry operator reshuffles its fleet.

CalMac’s second-largest vessel, the MV Isle of Lewis, also suffered technical difficulties over the weekend.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“This situation is becoming increasingly intolerable for island communities.

“CalMac simply does not have enough vessels for there to be proper cover when ships inevitably encounter technical issues. While the delay of the two vessels under construction at Port Glasgow has unfortunately had a big impact, we cannot go on like this or wait until 2023.

“The west coast needs additional ferries, whether they are built or chartered from elsewhere, as a matter of urgency.”

Jenni Minto MSP commented:

“This morning I began my journey back to Edinburgh from Islay on the MV Isle of Arran, which is 35 years old.

"The need for new ferries here in Argyll & Bute to ensure the vital services providing connections for our rural and island communities and businesses are both reliable and resilient, could not be more clear.

"I look forward to meeting with The Scottish Government and working to ensure our ferry fleet is fit for purpose timeously.”

Kenneth Gibson MSP added:

“Many of my Arran constituents and businesses are in despair at the current situation.

“Even once resolved, the next crisis will surely be just around the corner.

“Vessels are available in Europe to lease. Scottish Ministers, Transport Scotland, CMAL and CalMac need to check them out now, lease additional boats and ensure our island communities and businesses have the lifeline service they need, expect and deserve.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan called on NHS Eileanan Siar to clarify plans to restart orthodontic services in Uist.

Dental services have restarted across the Outer Hebrides after suspension last year due to COVID-19. Regular orthodontic care is available for patients continuing treatment in some island clinics.

However, residents have complained that orthodontic services have not recommenced in Uist. Alasdair Allan MSP initially wrote to the island health board on 12 April to ask for an update on service resumption.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“Clearly COVID-19 has caused a great deal of disruption and health efforts have focussed on the vaccination programme. But it is highly inequitable that patients in Uist do not have access to the same dental services available in other island areas.

“Several constituents have contacted me over the last month to ask when the orthodontist will be allowed to see people again in Uist. Patients have been left in the dark about the continuation of their treatment, with instances of device malfunction and pain.

“There has been poor communication as to when orthodontic care will continue again, and some individuals have had to wait 9 months to be seen. Some have had to travel to Barra under their own steam to receive emergency care, but I have heard that even this option is now unavailable.

“Even if conditions at the Uist dental clinic prevents safe working, the health board should at the very least arrange for patients to access appointments at other island centres.”

Private COVID-19 PCR tests will soon be available in the Western Isles as Superdrug have confirmed their Stornoway store will be stocking home testing kits.

This follows representations that Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan and MP Angus MacNeil have made to health retailers to address the lack of private testing in the islands. Boots are also considering how they can assist with this situation.

A negative PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) COVID-19 test is an entry requirement for many countries. The island parliamentarians had been contacted by constituents who were having to leave their homes days in advance in order to get a test on the mainland prior to travelling abroad for work.

Angus MacNeil MP commented:

“This is really good news and something which I have been pursuing for some time.

“This will be a massive improvement for the many workers from the islands who have encountered difficulties in securing valid tests.

“I am also in contact with Boots who are actively looking at how they may also be able to assist with this situation.”

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“This is a really positive move from Superdrug and I am grateful to them for responding so quickly.

“As the pandemic has gone on and countries have introduced testing requirements at their borders this has presented real problems for those who work abroad. People like offshore oil and gas workers were having to have even less time with their families to access private testing on the mainland.

“I hope that this will make their lives a little bit easier as we all adjust to the new normal.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has written to Cabinet Secretaries Paul Wheelhouse and Michael Mathieson highlighting the recent interruption in the ferry service to the Isle of Barra.

Inclement weather and poor fleet resilience has meant that Barra has gone ten days with only one ferry run to Oban. The two main vessels suitable for the Oban – Castlebay route are in dry dock at the same time, with MV Isle of Lewis’s overhaul facing delays. Meanwhile, the two relief vessels, MV Hebridean Isles and MV Isle of Arran, have been struggling to cope with the exposed waters of the Sea of the Hebrides during a period of rough weather.

This has resulted in shops in Barra attempting to stock food via Eriskay, with perishables arriving days old. Other businesses, including seafood processors, are unable to ship fresh produce off the island on time. MV Hebrides was redeployed from the Tarbert – Uig route to Barra over the weekend to provide relief.

Alasdair Allan MSP has asked the Scottish Government what can be done to improve fleet resilience. He commented:

“This is an exasperating situation for the people and businesses of Barra. Barra’s seafood industry has had lorries stranded even before they encounter similar problems further south.

“The lack of resilience within the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Network is having real economic and human consequences. This situation is mirrored by last year, which saw several 5-day periods with no mainland ferry sailings.

“I have asked the Scottish Government what they can do to consider chartering an additional vessels or other measures that might relieve the current strain on the fleet. While Barra is worst effected at present, other ports such as Lochboisdale, and now Tarbert, are suffering from the lack of suitable vessels.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has praised the efforts of local fire crews tackling moorland blazes across the Western Isles.

Since Wednesday, services have responded to a high number of call-outs, often working through the night, to bring muirburn under control.

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has warned of an ‘extreme risk’ of wildfires on the West Coast due to sustained easterlies and sunny periods which have dried out the moorland.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“The fire crews are to be praised for their efforts in helping protect life and property. Many individuals are volunteers, attending call-outs after a full day’s work only to be up all night fighting the blazes. Several of the fires have been of considerable size and in difficult to access areas.

“Fire crews, alongside the coastguard, have also been busy assisting with vaccination clinics. In the current pandemic, we should avoid any actions which may put our emergency services under any unnecessary pressure.

“I would urge people to refrain from undertaking muirburn under the present extreme conditions. With the forecast high winds, a controlled burn can easily get out of hand and turn into a fast-spreading wildfire.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan and MP Angus MacNeil have written to UK Government Fisheries Minister George Eustice MP to ask that he meets with island fishermen to hear first-hand about the crisis facing the industry. 

The EU is an important export market for island produce, particularly seafood which is worth millions of pounds to the local economy. Since the UK left the EU single market and customs union on 1 January, exports have been disrupted by a range of regulatory issues and delays at the border. 

These issues have heaped more pressure on fishing businesses already trying to cope with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“The current crisis facing the fishing industry is really concerning. The last few weeks have seen prices collapse, produce left behind and vessels told not to go out to sea.

“The UK Government has labelled these issues as “teething problems.” The reality is that they are a direct consequence of the deal they struck with the EU – to the detriment of the fishing industry. While the announcement of a compensation scheme for seafood exporters is welcome, the level of funding will be a drop in the ocean compared to the damage done and it doesn’t remove the Brexit red tape exporters now have to face. 

“UK Government Ministers should face up to the consequences of their actions and hear directly from fishermen in the Western Isles about what has happened in the last few weeks.”

Angus MacNeil MP commented:

"This is a problem of Westminster and the Brexiteers' making and it is for Westminster and the Brexiteers to sort."

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