News - Naidheachdan

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP Alasdair Allan MSP has secured a debate for Members Business on the next National Gaelic Language Plan, which will run from 2023 to 2028.

The debate is scheduled for 23 June and will discuss Allan’s motion on the Gaelic language which received cross-party support.

Consultation has started on the fourth National Gaelic Language Plan, prepared by Bòrd na Gàidhlig on behalf of the Scottish Ministers. The plan represents the principle vehicle for detailing public strategy and policy for the promotion of the language.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“The next parliamentary term will be important in securing the status and vitality of the Gaelic language. The SNP outlined the most ambitious commitments for Gaelic in the history of the Scottish Parliament in our 2021 election manifesto.

“Amongst these, the Scottish Government will introduce a Scottish Languages Bill to further support Gaelic, and also legislate on the Scots language for the first time.

“We are now 15 years on from the Gaelic Act and it is right to take stock of the situation. The public policy landscape has changed a lot in that time. Gaelic education continues to expand apace, and the National Islands Plan and extensive community buyouts is growing local empowerment in communities like Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

“But rural and island communities are also increasingly fragile. Housing shortages and connectivity problems continue to represent complex issues contributing to demographic decline. These challenges weaken the Gàidhealtachd. The UHI study on the Gaelic language in island communities concluded that social use and transmission of the language is nearing collapse.

“I hope this debate will contribute to a national reflection on the present and future prospects of the language.”

The motion (S6M-00166) for members’ business is available here:

SNP Members of the Scottish Parliament representing Scotland’s west coast island communities will tomorrow meet with Graeme Dey MSP, the new Minister for Transport, over mounting disruptions to islands transportation.

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) will meet the minister with responsibility for ferries on Tuesday afternoon (25 May).

Alasdair Allan MSP has highlighted the need for immediate additional capacity for the Hebrides and Clyde ferries network. Transport Scotland is actively exploring chartering additional tonnage in addition to an investment plan worth at least £580m over the next five years.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“Island communities are beyond exasperation with the current ferry situation. The unreliability and unavailability of ferry services is having serious effects on the islands’ economy, construction projects, healthcare provision and food delivery.

“What started over a month and a half ago with the loss of the fleet’s main vessel has spilled over onto nearly every other route, significantly reducing capacity across the region, not least in South Uist and Barra.

“Calmac have now stopped taking bookings in Lochboisdale, Castlebay and Stornoway until 8 June. Emails are left unanswered for a fortnight and people can’t get through to change bookings on the phones.

“Flights are filling up as a consequence, causing both essential and non-essential travel plans to grind to a halt. I will be raising these issues as a matter of urgency to the new Minister for Transport.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MSP Alasdair Allan has re-iterated his call for the leasing of an additional vessel to boost’s CalMac’s fleet following the appointment of a new Transport Minister.

Ferry services to the Western Isles and other west coast island communities have been seriously disrupted following CalMac’s largest vessel, the MV Loch Seaforth, being taken out of service five weeks ago because of engine problems.

The Western Isles MSP, along with his colleagues Jenni Minto MSP and Kenneth Gibson MSP, wrote to Graeme Dey MSP yesterday. The MSPs asked what steps the Scottish Government would be taking to secure additional vessels and specifically asked for the chartering of MV Pentalina to be considered.

Alasdair Allan MSP commented:

“I continue to hear from islanders and island businesses about the serious difficulties they’re having due to the latest disruption.

“With most ferries serving the Western Isles fully booked for the next two and a half weeks, the return of the MV Loch Seaforth cannot come quickly enough. However, this will not address the long-term problem of there not being enough resilience in the fleet to cope with major vessels breaking down; only more ships can do that.

“I welcome the Minister for Transport to his new role and look forward to working with him on the problems facing island transportation over the coming weeks and months.”

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.”

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