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CUNNTAS-SLUAIGH A’ SEALLTAINN ÀIREAMHAN ÙRA

FIONA MACVICAR

Air an 22mh den Chèitean chaidh na h-àireamhan as ùire de luchd-labhairt na Gàidhlig ann an
Alba fhoillseachadh, agus sheall am fianais seo a staing cunnartach as a bheil a Ghàidhlig anns na
h-Eileanan an Iar.

Tha na figearan a chaidh fhoillseachadh airson na h-àireimh de luchd-labhairt na Gàidhlig ann an
coimhearsnachdan eileanach air a bhith na bhriseadh-dùil do mhòran. A dh’aindeoin àrdachadh
mòr (21%) anns an àireamh dhaoine a b’ urrainn an cànan a bhruidhinn an taca ri 2011 – 57,602
gu 69,701, tha i fhathast a’ crìonadh anns na h-eileanan, agus anns na h-Eileanan an Iar air
tuiteam fon ìre dàrna leth an t-sluaigh airson a’ chiad uair a-riamh (45%). Le figearan a’
Chunntais-shluaigh air am foillseachadh, tha ceist ann dè cho fada ‘s a mhaireas a’ Ghàidhlig ann
an coimhearsnachdan traidiseanta.

Ged a tha an dealbh nàiseanta nas dòchasaiche na ’s dòcha bha mòran an dùil, chan eil
suidheachadh na Gàidhlig anns na sgìrean mu dheireadh far an robh i, buileach cho fallain.

Bheachdaich a bhuidhean iomairt – Misneachd dè am bu chòir do choimhearsnachd na h-
eileanan a dheànamh:

“‘S e cruaidh-chàs sgileil a th’ ann nach eil Gàidhlig a-nise na mòr-chànanas ann an sgìre
comhairle sam bith. Chan eil ach 45% de shluagh Comhairle nan Eilean Siar ag ràdh gu bheil
comas-labhairt aca sa Ghàidhlig. Bu chòir gum bi sin a’ cur an eagail oirnn uile. Tha aon rud
cinnteach – chan eil na poileasaidhean agus na taicean a tha an gnìomh an-dràsta ag obair anns
na h-Eileanan. Ma tha Gàidhlig gu bhith beò annta, ma tha ‘heartland’ sam bith gu bhith aice,
feumaidh sinn ar slighe atharrachadh agus ceumannan fada nas fheàrr a ghabhail anns na sgìrean
dùthchail agus sna h-Eileanan.”

Chaidh mòran aire a thoirt air an 22mh a thaobh aois an luchd-labhairt. Tha aois an luchd-labhairt
anns na h-eileanan a’ sealltainn gu bheil Gàidhlig aig a’ mhòr-chuid de chloinn eadar 3 agus 15
bliadhna a dh’aois.

Thuirt Lisa Reid, Manaidsear Òigridh aig Comunn na Gàidhlig:
“Bha beachd agam gur e seo an suidheachadh a bhiodh anns na h-Eileanan an Iar oir gu bheil an
ginealach as sine a’ crìonadh. Aig CnaG, tha e na amas dhuinne cothroman gu leòr a
chruthachadh dhan òigridh airson Gàidhlig a bhrosnachadh gus am bidh iad tarraingeach agus
deònach Gàidhlig a bhruidhinn taobh a-muigh na sgoile. Bheir seo neartachadh dha na
molaidhean againn.”

Ma choimheadas tu air Uibhist a Deas, chì thu gur e an sgìre as seasmhaiche anns na h-Eileanan,
agus ann an Alba.

Paraiste Uibhist a Deas (a’ gabhail a-steach Èirisgeigh agus Beinn nam Faodhla) –
• 3-15 340 le Gàidhlig 76% (den bhuidheann aoise sin)
• 16-24 145 le Gàidhlig 60%
• 25-34 189 le Gàidhlig 64%
• 35-49 356 le Gàidhlig 63%
• 50-64 474 le Gàidhlig 64%
• 65+ 539 le Gàidhlig aig 70%.

Thuirt 318 neach ann an Uibhist a Deas gur e Gàidhlig am prìomh chànan aca, le 23 dhiubh nas
òige na 15.

Tha Uibhist a Tuath diofraichte ge-tà, tha e a’ sealltainn crìonadh am measg bhuidhnean aoise.
Paraiste Uibhist a Tuath –
• 3-15 100 le Gàidhlig 66% (den bhuidheann aoise sin)
• 16-24 57 le Gàidhlig 67%
• 25-34 72 le Gàidhlig 63%
• 35-49 115 le Gàidhlig 57%
• 50-64 258 le Gàidhlig 59%
• 65+ 283 le Gàidhlig 65%

Thuirt 136 neach ann an Uibhist a Tuath gur i Gàidhlig am prìomh chànan aca, le deichnear
dhiubh nas òige na 15.

A’ bruidhinn air a’ chrìonadh sluaigh a nochd ann an toraidhean a’ chunntais, thuirt an Comh Paul
Steele:

“Tha na toraidhean seo air cuideam a chuir air na tha fios againn mar-thà, gu bheil àireamh an t-
sluaigh anns na h-Eileanan an Iar a’ crìonadh agus feumar ceumannan a ghabhail gus dèiligeadh ris.

Tha obair air pròiseactan leithid Uist Repopulation Zone agus taigheadas, comas-cosnaidh,
leasachadh eaconamach agus foghlam uile a’ dol air adhart agus a’ toirt adhbhar gu leòr do
dhaoine fuireach anns na h-Eileanan an Iar, tilleadh às dèidh ùine air falbh no gluasad an seo gus
cur ris na h-Eileanan againn.”

Tha a’ Chomhairle den bheachd gu bheil crìonadh luchd-labhairt na Gàidhlig a chaidh a
chomharrachadh ann an toraidhean a’ chunntais-shluaigh ceangailte ri crìonadh àireamh-sluaigh
san fharsaingeachd sna h-Eileanan Siar.

Tha cuid as a choimhearsnachd a’ càineadh Comhairle nan Eilean Siar ge-tà, agus a’
ceasnachadh dè thathar a’ dèanamh taobh a-muigh foghlam. Thuirt neach air na meadhanan
sòisealta:

“Mura h-urrainn dha CNES fìrinn an t-suidheachaidh aideachadh, tha duilgheadas mòr againn. A-
nis na mhion-chànan anns na h-Eileanan Siar – dè dìreach a tha CNES a’ dèanamh airson

cuideachadh taobh a-muigh Foghlam?”
Gu h-oifigeil, ’s e mion-chànan a th’ innte a-nis anns na h-Eileanan an Iar, ged a tha cuid de
sgìrean far a bheil i fhathast ga bruidhinn leis a’ mhòr-chuid.

Tha Bòrd na Gàidhlig ag aithneachadh gu bheil adhbharan ann airson seo agus gu bheil feum air
poileasaidhean airson cùisean a leasachadh.

Bhruidhinn Ealasaid Dhòmhnallach, Ceannard BnG air am fianias cuideachd:
“Tha na h-Eileanan ag atharrachadh. Tha tòrr dhaoine air na h-Eileanan fhàgail a thaobh obair
agus a’ feuchainn ri beatha ùr a lorg dhaibh fhèin, agus tha tòrr dhaoine air tighinn a-steach – gu
h-àraidh aig àm Covid.
“Tha na daoine a tha a’ fuireach anns na h-Eileanan eadar-dhealaichte.
“Ach tha na daoine a tha a’ tighinn a-staigh gu math taiceil don Ghàidhlig.

“Tha mi gu math cinnteach, ann an deich bliadhna, nuair a thèid an ath chunntas a chumail, gum
faic sinn gu bheil na h-àireamhan air a dhol suas a-rithist anns na h-Eileanan.
“Ach bidh feum air leasachadh aig ìre na coimhearsnachd, agus tha Bòrd na Gàidhlig air a bhith a’
togail ar guthan thairis air na mìosan a dh’fhalbh mun airgead a tha a dhìth oirnn airson dèanamh
cinnteach gun leig a’ Ghàidhlig nas làidire aig ìre na coimhearsnachd.”

NEW FEARS RAISED OVER FUTURE OF GASAY FERRY WORKS

In 2017, an official Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) report concluded that the
existing Lochboisdale ferry terminal ‘had reached the end of its serviceable life’; eight years
further on and the project to replace it has received yet another kick back to the long grass.
CMAL unexpectedly announced last month that ‘extensive additional technical and economic
studies’ would now be required to ‘…strengthen the strategic mandate for the project and to
better define Do-Minimum options for consideration alongside the preferred option.’

The new studies will form the basis of a revised business case, which will need to pass another
Scottish Government Gateway Review before being presented to Scottish Government decision
makers in 2025.

If the project passes all hurdles, ‘the revised expected date for commencement of operations from
a new Lochboisdale ferry terminal is now spring 2029.’

Am Pàipear asked CMAL to clarify what the new ‘do minimum’ options might entail and was told:
“Any Outline Business Case study needs to present three options for consideration. These are:
“1. Do-Nothing: What happens if no investment is made? – At Lochboisdale, this will be the
closure of the terminal when the existing terminal condition deteriorates to a point where
operating a ferry into it becomes unsafe
“2. Do-Minimum: What is the minimum investment required to keep the existing facility (without
any enhancement) operational long-term? – At Lochboisdale this would be the sequential
replacement of each element of the existing terminal as and when that element gets to end-of-life.
“ 3. Preferred Option: The option that provides an enhanced facility to best meet the needs of all
stakeholders. At Lochboisdale this is the preferred option (3a) new-build terminal at Gasay (as
presented to the public in September 23)
“The Do-Minimum is (by OBC definition) at the existing Lochboisdale terminal. However, we
recognise that there may be a better, alternative ‘Do-Minimum’ to keep a ferry service to
Lochboisdale running, based on a basic new-build at Gasay. We are currently investigating the
option of a Do-Minimum at Gasay for consideration alongside the standard Do-Minimum at the
existing facility.”

Despite the gloomy picture presented by CMAL, Storas Uibhist’s Lochboisdale Development Ltd
(LDL) Chair Donnie Steele was determined that the Gasay development would continue:
“Responding to local concerns, I met with Campbell MacIver, CMAL Senior Civil Engineer and
was assured that Gasay is still the main focus. The work now will allow the project to come back
below the £50m cut off point and should hopefully see things progress more quickly.”

Mr Steele said the LDL Board would meet on 19th June to discuss proposals to charge CMAL a
‘holding rent’; this, he said, would help compensate for the loss of other potential projects held
back as a result of the uncertainty around CMAL’s requirements for the pier site.

Mr Steele was not able to say whether the current 50-year lease agreement with CMAL was being
re-evaluated but did confirm that the option to amend the Harbour Empowerment Order was still
on the table, adding that LDL was in talks with specialist lawyers to ensure the correct legal
advice was considered.

The 2017 Lochboisdale Harbour STAG looked at the feasibility of continuing with the current pier
and concluded: “Even with significant investment to repair the berthing structure and linkspan
approach to allow for current operations to continue, due to the level of chloride ingress it is likely
that the existing structures would only be able to serve the current vessel for the short to medium
term (say up to 10 years).”

The Report concluded that the costs of refurbishing the current pier would outstrip a start from
scratch project at Gasaigh.

Am Pàipear asked CMAL for a copy of the Gateway Review report that set out the ‘do-minimum’
requirement but was told it was not available at this stage.

ENA MACDONALD’S NEW BOOK LAUNCHES AT THE NU TRACTOR RALLY

Am Pàipear’s much loved and widely read columnist Ena MacDonald was in Hosta on Saturday
1st June to officially launch her new book Born to Croft, a collection of her monthly columns in
Am Pàipear spanning two decades.

The event was hosted by the North Uist Tractor Rally, and was opened by NU Agricultural
Committee Chair Joan Ferguson, who warmly welcomed Ena:
“Launching Ena’s book here today is especially poignant as the Tractor Rally, as it runs today,
started in 2016 in support of A Million Miles for Ellie, in memory of Ena’s grand daughter Eleanor.”
Joan described Ena as “a crofting icon and an amazing stalwart for ladies in crofting.”

Born to Croft, the book itself, was introduced by publisher and editor Lynn Michell who founded
and still runs the UK’s only independent women’s publishing company, Linen Press.

Patrick Krause, past CEO of the Scottish Crofting Federation, was on hand to praise Ena’s time as
the Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation. He described Ena as a passionate campaigner for
the crofting cause, saying: “Her good looks and gentle demeanour might fool some, but Ena is
ferocious – and in the best way possible. She has fought for crofters with passion and tenacity,
sitting down with Ministers to tell that what’s what. She is afraid of no-one!”

Iain Stephen Morrison, past Editor of this paper, recounted the considerable contribution Ena had
made and continues to make to Am Pàipear:

“In a day and age when people are brands, when every photo has been through a filter and every
quote has been drafted by a PR person, Ena’s column stands out as an oasis of authenticity. Her
words are insightful, interesting, forthright, funny and sometimes sad; above all, they are real and
that is relatively unique in this day and age.”

“This is a real picture of who we are as a people. What life used to be like here and what life is like
now. For us as islanders, it is very important to remember who we are, what makes us special.
And that’s what Ena’s articles are for me; that’s what her book is all about.”
After the warmest of introductions, Ena treated those gathered to a reading from her new book:

“The most exciting day I have ever experienced was 7th March 1988 when I sold the first
Ardhbann pedigree bull in Oban.” Ena’s story goes on to describe the thrill of out-performing the
Reserve Champion by quite some margin, when the hammer went down on Pibroch Dubh of
Ardbhan at a mighty 2,500 guineas.

Others too, took turns at reading, with Ena’s daughter in law Michelle MacDonald recounting the
dramatic rescue of a stranded calf, and Joan MacDonald reading Ena’s account of ‘Alexander
and the black puddings’.

When she wasn’t reading from her work, she was signing books for the eager fans lined up to
have their copies personalised.

Ena’s wonderful Born to Croft will be loved by readers today and highly valued by historians for
many years to come. The book is published by Linen Press and is available in most island stores.

Thriving rural communities? The Scottish Government need to think again…..

It’s almost 8 months since I took up the post of Chief Executive at the Scottish Crofting Federation and it’s certainly been eventful!

Let’s talk positives first…..

I was delighted to join the SCF to continue its work supporting and representing crofters and crofting.  At the time of writing, we have completed our first set of roadshows of the year and are about to start our second and my ambition is that we will be out and about to each crofting area at least a couple of times a year.  Face to face get togethers are such an important way to meet members and find out what’s on everyone’s minds, how policies are impacting in their area, what the key concerns are, how we can help and I enjoy these very much.  We have many plans for the future focused on improving the support we provide to crofters and the results of our recent membership survey will inform how we develop services and activities and we are very grateful to all who participated in this.

A key function over and above member support is our political activity and I arrived in my role at a crucial time for crofting with many legislative bills going through Parliament that will impact on crofters and crofting for years to come, including the Agriculture & Rural Communities Bill, Land Reform Bill, Good Food Nation Plan, National Biodiversity Strategy and the much awaited Crofting Bill itself.

The Scottish Government talks a lot about wanting to have thriving rural communities and a just transition for all as we move towards net zero but I have to say that what I have seen so far seems to often fly in the face of this aspiration.  It very much feels like they are doing all in their power to add more and more burdens to those communities by implementing policies that seem to be guided more by what works for large scale agriculture or urban settings and little real consideration of how they impact small scale agriculture and remote, rural communities, many of which are situated within crofting areas.

For many crofters, the potential impacts of the new Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill are causing a lot of uncertainty. Much is still unknown about what changes to the payments programme will mean in terms of placing more and increasingly complex admin requirements on crofters.   What we do know now is that in order to receive basic payments, a whole farm plan will be required from 2025 and some conditions, such as carbon audits, may need to be paid for and require consultants to conduct them which may not be available in sufficient numbers in all areas to keep up with demand.  Fears being expressed at our roadshows is that many crofters, particularly those working at the smaller scale, may decide it’s no longer viable to remain in the system.   The wider negative social and economic impacts of this on local communities is also a concern.  If folk stop keeping livestock, for instance, there are not only the environmental impacts of reduced land management but also the knock on effects to other local businesses, employment and ultimately, potentially population retention.  All of this would have the opposite effects on some of the desired outcomes of the Government’s key objectives.

Recently our focus turned to responding to the Good Food Nation Plan consultation.  I think it’s fair to say that we had high hopes for this plan, it could be a great opportunity for small scale producers to play an active role in strengthening food security within our country, but alas, we have been left sorely disappointed with what is currently in the plan.  We feel it lacks ambition, pays little attention to the needs of local food systems such as support for abattoirs and shows an ignorance in relation to prime Scottish produce such as beef and lamb.  A missed opportunity if nothing changes.

A final example of increasing burdens on rural communities came recently when the implementation of new building regulations which effectively mean that the installation of solid fuel burners, such as wood burners, is now banned in any new build or conversion.  The Scottish Government’s attempt at reassurance was to tell us that they might be allowed as an alternative emergency back up where there is a high risk of power cuts, but how and who determines that will fall to the local councils so feels like a bit of a lottery.

This new policy, whilst perhaps making sense in urban settings, is a further display that no consideration was given to the situation in rural parts of the Highlands and Islands where many rely on solid fuels such as wood and peat to provide reliable, cheap sources of heat and it isn’t so many years since the Government was promoting wood as a carbon neutral fuel source!  A point which we have very publicly made and will continue to do so.  

So, what can we do about it?  

Behind the scenes at SCF HQ, we are very busy lobbying politicians on behalf of crofters about the impact of these policies and in particular at the moment, changes we would like to see in the Agriculture & Rural Communities Bill.  This work has seen us meeting with many MSPs on a one to one basis and we will continue to do this as the Bill progresses through the next stage, presenting the case for a truly good deal for crofters in the new support system.  The views and concerns that have been shared at our local meetings so far have been relayed to MSPs during these conversations and are a powerful way of impressing upon them the potential realities of what they are considering.  

We have seen some success so far  and in the stage 1 debate on the Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill held on Wednesday 27th March, SCF’s asks for better support for smaller businesses and for the redistribution of direct payments from larger towards smaller producers (also known as ‘frontloading’) featured prominently.  

There is still much to do, however, and our over-riding message to the government is that if they want to talk about thriving rural communities and a just transition for all, then they must start listening much more to those of us who live and work in remote rural communities, who are already looking after the land in a sympathetic way, who keep their communities alive and populated, who display true resilience every day and then let’s make it a truly just transition for them.

COMHAIRLE COMMITTEES TAKE TO THE ROAD

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar took their regular round of committee meetings on the road in April, holding sessions in Uist and Barra for the first time since 2014.

Cllr Paul Steele, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “An important element of our local democracy is that the public have access to observe the decision-making process of elected members in the chamber. I am delighted that these meetings are taking place in Daliburgh and Vatersay, allowing those outside of Lewis and Harris to attend in person.”

In Daliburgh, officers and members were treated to a warm Uist welcome at Cnoc Soillier. All our elected members were in attendance and aside from a few closed sessions, the meetings were open to members of the public.  

The following day, the Comhairle roadshow headed south to Barra, where the delegation faced a number of controversial agenda items, not least the Barra and Vatersay Community Campus, which had been stalled by Scottish Government withdrawing support for the new Hospital that was to share the site with a new school.

A marathon session of the Sustainable Development Committee

The first meeting of the day was the Sustainable Development Committee.

The bulky 25 item agenda saw the committee discuss everything from museums and tourism to energy and housing. 

Rebecca Rennell of UHI North, West and Hebrides Archaeology began the meeting with a presentation on the Uist Virtual Archaeology Project and the impact and importance of digital heritage.

The delegates were impressed and some of those from beyond the Sound of Harris were even surprised to hear of the Uist Unearthed app at all, despite the Comhairle being one of the primary funders for the project.

The two museums managed by the Comhairle, Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway and the museum in Sgoil Lionacleit, are the latest victims of the infamous cyber-attack. 

The committee discussed the lowering of the museums’ accreditation status from Full Accreditation to Provisional Accreditation and what can be done to ensure they are fully reinstated in 12 months time. An updated security, documentation and forward planning review were recommended.

There was also a recommendation to provide an update on recruitment including the post of Heritage Manager which has now been vacant for five years. Budgetary constraints on the Comhairle have not allowed this post to be filled despite the role having responsibility for developing income generation strategies and opportunities.

The Energy Developments Update report detailed a variety of major capital works bringing in around £7bn to the Western Isles. These works include several large offshore wind farms due to be developed in Lewis over the coming years. 

Comhairle Leader Paul Steele called for recognition of the contribution the Western Isles will make to Scotland’s renewable energy supply once these have been developed and addressed the need for the islands to have substantial decreases in their energy rates as a result.

Before breaking for the longed-for soup and sandwich lunch, the committee discussed housing and the Local Housing Strategy Early Engagement Survey which was conducted over the festive period.

The results of the survey showed that population decline, lack of social rented housing and the cost of construction were the top three concerns for respondents with almost 32% saying that increasing housing supply would be the one major action that would have the most positive impact. 

The Housing Need and Demand Assessment (HNDA), which informs the Housing Supply Target and then the Local Housing Strategy, looked at the HHP waiting list to gather information on the demand for housing.

With the numbers currently on the waiting list and the projections for population decline in the Outer Hebrides in the coming years the HNDA estimated that there would be no further housing need beyond 2032, though it was stated that the Comhairle “do not expect the HHP waiting list to be empty by 2032.”

After lunch the members were updated on the progress of the Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill, which would see the Scottish Government create a discretionary power for local authorities to charge a levy on overnight visitors to the islands.

It is currently proposed that this levy would be collected by the accommodation provider as it is calculated per night, but concerns were raised on the impact that this would have on local accommodation providers.

The main concern was that the levy would be included in the accommodation price and would be liable for VAT. This may impact small businesses which are currently operating under the VAT threshold, and they may consider closing before they reach the threshold which would limit available accommodation during the peak tourist season.

It was suggested that the levy could be collected at point of entry to the island, but this would require discussion with CalMac and Loganair to plan the logistics. 

Education Committee

Proceedings for the afternoon’s Education and Children Services Committee began with what Chair Cllr Paul Finnegan described as ‘the good news’. Achievements of school pupils from across the Western Isles were highlighted and amongst the success stories was Sgoil Lionacleit, where pupils were commended for their success at the recent Film G Awards and in the Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships.

A key paper for discussion was ‘A Review of the Catchment Areas of Daliburgh and Iochdar Schools’, which the Committee passed unanimously marking the first step in what could be a lengthy process to extend Daliburgh School’s reach.

The proposal follows a request from Daliburgh Parent Council to extend their current boundary to encompass the whole of the original Stoneybridge School catchment area as well as the townships of Peninerine and Snishival, which were historically always assigned to Iochdar School.

Six children currently enrolled in Daliburgh School reside within the catchment of Iochdar School, and as a result are not eligible for free school transport. 

The Committee’s Vice Chair Cllr Mustapha Hocine asked what might happen if opposing views were received and was assured that all feedback would be fully considered and incorporated into a report back to the Comhairle. 

Cllr Iain Macleod, supported the proposal but urged the Comhairle to be wary of unintended consequences so that those children happily enrolled at Iocdar School did not face the upheaval of a move.

A change in school catchment areas is bound by statutory process, and Officers were clear that any change would not be delivered quickly: 

“Should the proposals be agreed, it is likely that it would take until the committee series in either November 2024 or February 2025 for the process to be finalised for subsequent implementation in August 2025.”

NEW STOVE BAN REGULATIONS FAIL TO DELIVER CLARITY

Scottish Government’s introduction of a New Build Heat Standard has been met with widespread alarm and considerable confusion.

The new regulations apply to new build projects applying for warrant after April 1st and do not pertain to stove installations in existing properties.

A month after coming into force, the full detail of the new regulations is still being unpicked.

Hopes of a get-out clause   for the use of solid fuel as an ‘emergency heating’ were dashed when the guidance clarified there would be no such justification in domestic properties.

The Comhairle has confirmed that as things stand, they will have no option but to reject applications that include stoves as an emergency heating source.

The new regulations pertain to building warrants for new build projects, and not to changes made after warrant has been secured. It is not clear what regulation would prohibit the retro-fitting of a solid fuel stove after a house has been signed off. 

Cllr. Paul Steele, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has written to Scottish Government seeking urgent clarification:

“The definitions within the amendments to the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004 are confused and confusing.  This looks, once again, like an urban style policy being foisted onto island communities without proper consideration of island circumstances.  The Comhairle will continue to engage with Government to make the case for island-proofing and to ensure an approach that does not disadvantage islanders.”

The Comhairle has confirmed that of the 20 new build homes in Uist granted warrant last year, the vast majority used Air Source Heat Pumps as the primary source of heating, with around 70% incorporating solid fuel stove as part of the mix.

Senna Volbeda Richardson has moved back to North Uist with her family and is building a new home:

 “We managed to get a stove before the ban, however, we would still have tried it on the basis that it is necessary here in the islands.  Last year we had a long power cut and our current house only had electric heating and a cooker, so with a young child at the time, we had to live elsewhere until the power came back on.”

The regulation changes were subject to ‘island proofing’ with an Island Communities Impact Assessment; the document covers everything from fuel poverty to supply chain concerns but fails to provide any mention whatsoever of the word ‘peat’.

Labour’s Western Isles Westminster candidate Torcuil Crichton said: “This is another example of policy-making from the warmth of Edinburgh offices with complete ignorance of cold comfort it will mean for people building or converting island homes.”

“Left to stand these regulations will in time mean goodbye to the peat-burning stove and effectively outlaw the tradition of peat-cutting. You only cut peats for one reason – to burn them in your stove and under these regulations having a solid fuel stove in a new house will be against the law.”

The loss of solid fuel stoves will have particular impact in the Western Isles, where, with more than half of residents living in fuel poverty, peat is seen as a free, or almost free fuel.

Angus (Kyles) MacDonald has operated the machine peat cutting service across Uist for a quarter of a century. He told Am Pàipear that while the numbers have declined over the years, demand is still strong:

“We have 140 regular customers on our list, from Locportain in the north to Eriskay in the south. Fifteen years ago we had around 300, so the decline in numbers is clear. Partly that is down to changing regulations and the drive for so called environmentally friendly energy but for the most part, people are just not willing to put in the hard work required to get the peat turned, dried and home.”

“The new rules won’t stop our work. I’ve been cutting peat since I was ten years of age, I’m certainly not going to stop now. As long as there are customers who want it, we’ll be bringing the machine out and cutting peat for them.”

ENA MACDONALD

Readers of Am Pàipear will be delighted to hear that long-serving and greatly loved columnist Ena MacDonald has published a book based on her contributions to this paper over two decades.

A mix of humorous stories and pithy comment, the book not only charts Ena’s crofting and family life, but takes in the wider context of a changing world; where else would politics, wars and coronations sit in the same column as cattle, crops and cooking? Only Ena MacDonald, in her wise, kind and very human way could pull off such a blend.

The book begins in February 2006 and runs through 300 entertaining pages to the present day, and includes a great array of photographs – something that the Am Pàipear column never provided.

Ena MacDonald really needs no introduction, but readers who are not familiar with her credentials may be interested to know that she was born in 1940 in Ardbhan, Kyles, North Uist and has spent almost her entire life in crofting. 

As a young woman, she left home and spent ten years working first in Glasgow and then in Australia. She returned in 1966 to help her father on the land, and crofting quickly became her passion. 

She recalls creating a stir driving her father’s little red tractor with her blonde hair in a ponytail and often with her young son, Angus, at her side. 

After her father’s death, Ena took over the croft, played a full and active role in all crofting affairs and travelled widely as a representative of The Crofting Federation. She wrote occasional articles for the Scottish Farmer and Highland Cattle Society before starting her regular monthly articles for Am Pàipear.

In 2006 Ena was awarded the MBE for services to crofting and to the community in North Uist. 

For Ena herself, the book has been long in the making:

“Over the years, so many people have asked me ‘Why don’t you put those stories in a book?’ In the late 70s, I wrote to the Highland Cattle Society and had articles published in their newsletters and journals, as well as various other magazines. In 2003, I became chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation and decided that Am Pàipear would definitely be most suitable for me to write about crofting matters. As crofting was my passion, the local crofters enjoyed reading the political and practical news. I had many treasured memories that were still so important to me and my stories were very varied. I enjoyed writing over the years and I do hope that you will enjoy reading this collection of my articles.”

Born to Croft is published by Linen Press and will be enjoying an an official ‘launch do’ at Hosta Hall on Saturday 1st June alongside this year’s Tractor Rally. 

The book will be available to buy and Ena will be signing copies and reading excerpts at 11am and at 2pm.

Chair of Transportation & Infrastructure


There has been much talk about the new PSO service between Benbecula and Stornoway. While I
recognise the concerns of my constituents, I feel duty bound to remind the community of the very
dire choices we have faced; a choice between this service, or no service.


Whilst this route is governed by a Public Service Obligation (PSO) it is not a statutory service and
does not come with a ring-fenced funding allocation.


Officers of the Comhairle were tasked this year amidst severe budget cuts to find savings and it
was with some relief that we agreed the £450k per annum that enabled us to tender for the new
contract.


Airtask, operating as Hebridean Air Services, submitted a suitable bid and were duly awarded the
contract. It should be noted that theirs was the only compliant bid we received.


This contract is for four years and is in line with the available budget. Although the aircraft to be
used is smaller than what was previously used on the route, the service timetable has increased
from two rotations (return flights) on Tuesdays and Thursdays to two rotations on Mondays,
Tuesdays, and Fridays.


Hebridean Air Services currently operate PSO services for Argyll and Bute Council and Shetland
Islands Council. The Airtask group also have significant experience of operating from Stornoway
for contract work with QinetiQ and Marine Scotland.


Although not part of the PSO contract, there is also the potential to offer direct flights between
Stornoway and Barra during the summer months to test demand.


As the community will know, the vast majority of passengers who travel this route are making the
journey for medical purposes. We have long called for the Health Board to recognise this fact and
contribute to the cost of what is for the most part, a medical service, yet we still have no financial
contribution from our colleagues in health, other than the purchase of tickets.


Following a recent meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, Jim Fairlie MSP (Minister for
Agriculture and Connectivity) has written to CnES to advise that the Scottish Government are
exploring how they can facilitate closer and more cohesive working across public bodies in relation to transport for medical purposes They recognise the fact that transport and health need
to sit at the same tables to ensure the best possible outcome when it comes to patient travel.


Working with HITRANS (The Regional Transport Partnership for the Highlands and Islands) we
reached out to the partner NHS Boards to identify how we could collectively address some of the
challenges patients encounter to access health services in our region.


At the end of March we hosted a joint meeting with the regions NHS Boards to identify how we
can collectively address some of the challenges patients encounter. Chairs or representatives
from every relevant Heath Board were there, but the Western Isles Board was unable to send any
representative at all. If we are to find a way forward, then the Health Board needs to come to the
table.

Fèis Tir A’ Mhurain Committee Member, South Uist


A MESSAGE OF POSITIVITY AND HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF GAELIC


Gàidhlig is my language. It means home to me; it is a major part of my identity and my culture.
Speaking the language has always given me such pride, it is something I am and always will be
immensely proud of. Gàidhlig means a lot to me because it is something that my parents passed
onto me. I am lucky to have gained such a high level of fluency from my Granny through all the
years that I have spent with her listening to her talk, as well as hearing the language out in the
community so often.


It means such a great amount to me as it is not only the language of me and my family, but of my
ancestors before me, which leaves me with a very strong connection to the island, the people and
to the language itself. Gàidhlig is such a major part of our history and is something that is majorly
important to us as a community and as islanders.


Gàidhlig has always been an interest of mine between learning all the different phrases and
discovering old Gàidhlig words and their meanings. To me Gàidhlig is powerful. Personally, I find it
easier at times to express things in the Gàidhlig than I do in English. I find that poems, plays,
stories and songs are always extremely moving and capturing when portrayed through the
medium of Gàidhlig.


Gàidhlig has already given me so many incredible opportunities, from making films for Film G to
attending Fèis Tir A’ Mhurain. Through my entire primary years, the Fèis gave me the chance to
speak Gàidhlig more and use it through the arts, and has led me to be able to join the committee
and give other children that same opportunity that I had as a young child. One thing that I am sure
of is that it will bring many more amazing opportunities in all the years to come. Gàidhlig has
always been one of my passions and is what I am wanting to go to university for, as I would like
my career to be in Gàidhlig.


I would like to see Gàidhlig not only continue in Uist but to grow. In my opinion, to see the
language grow and in order to keep it alive we have to accept changes in the way we speak it and
we need to keep a strong Gàidhlig presence in the community.


Just like many other languages, the vocabulary and the grammar are being created. I think that it’s
important we move on with the times while also holding onto the importance of some of the
words and phrases passed through many generations.


I think we should aim to have more opportunities to use Gàidhlig in our employment and in
situations out of our homes.


I would personally like to see more and more young people using Gaelic, and using it as their daily
language with their friends as well as their families. I would like to see an increase in Gàidhlig on
social media and more opportunities to use the language in modern settings.


I think that it is important for the education sector to allow for more immersive learning in order to
ensure the richness of the language found in Uist is kept for many generations to come. We need
to ensure that we keep the language getting stronger and keeping it alive for many more years.
I think that we need to encourage more and more people to learn the language and I would like to
see more opportunities for support to be given to learners.

It is important to me that this island continues to use the language and that we stay away from the
mindset that Gàidhlig is dying, because when that mindset is accepted then that is when we will
lose the fluency and natural spoken language.

PLANA GÀIDHLIG AIR LETH AIRSON A CHOIMHEARSNACHD AIR FAD


FIONA MACVICAR


Thàinig na daoine a th’ air cùl iomairt ùr – Plana Gàidhlig Uibhist còmhla air an 19mh là den Mhàirt
gus bunait a stèidheachadh airson na tha iad ag ràdh a bhith ‘na inneal-atharrachaidh’ airson na
Gàidhlig agus Uibhist.


Chan eil Planaichean Gàidhlig ùr, ach tha sgioba na pròiseict air a bheil e an urra ri leasachadh
Plana Uibhist soilleir gu bheil an obair seo gu math diofraichte bho na chaidh roimhe.
Thathas ag ràdh gu bheil Plana Uibhist ‘ar-a-mach’, leis gu bheil e dha-rìribh air a
chumhachdachadh bhon talamh suas – is mar a dh’innis aon neach-uidhe:


“Chan ann mu dheidhinn buidhnean corporra is poblach a tha seo a’ cur riaghailtean sìos, tha e
mu dheidhinn coimhearsnachd Ghàidhlig làidir, ghnìomhach a’ cur an cèill na h-iarrtasan aca
fhèin.”


Tha am pròiseact Plana Gàidhlig Uibhist air a stiùireadh leis an Oifigear Leasachaidh Gàidhlig Joe
MacNèill, a dh’innis do Am Paipear carson a tha am Plana seo eadar-dhealaichte bho chàch:
“Tha planaichean Gàidhlig, mar a tha fios againn, gan ullachadh le ùghdarrasan poblach ann an
Alba. Tha iad sin cudromach anns an roinn phoblaich airson Gàidhlig a chleachdadh nan obair
làitheil. Le plana sgìreil, tha cumhachd agus dùil aig coimhearsnachd Uibhist a thaobh mar a bu
chòir Gàidhlig a leasachadh gus am bi a’ Ghàidhlig ri fhaicinn agus ri cluinntinn air feadh Uibhist.”


Thuirt Iain Mac a’ Mhaoilein, Stiùiriche Leasachaidh aig Bòrd na Gàidhlig, ri Am Pàipear:
“Air feadh na coimhearsnachd Ghàidhlig san fharsaingeachd, tha daoine a’ coimhead air an obair
seo le ùidh a’ sìor fhàs. Chan e a-mhàin gu bheil mòran spèis ann don dòigh anns a bheil Uibhist
air tighinn còmhla gus Plana coimhearsnachd a chumadh, ach tha fìor dhòchas ann cuideachd air
na dh’fhaodas an deagh obair seo a lìbhrigeadh.


“Tha comas aig an obair a thathar a’ dèanamh anns a’ choimhearsnachd, agus às a leth, a bhith
brosnachail agus tha mi làn dùil gun toir e buaidh air leasachadh na Gàidhlig anns na
coimhearsnachdan Gàidhlig anns na bliadhnaichean ri teachd.”


Thuirt Shona Masson, Oifigear Foghlam Gàidhlig, aon den fheadhainn a bha an làthair aig
tachartas a’ Phlana:
“Tha mi a’ smaointinn gu bheil e air leth cudromach fios a bhith againn gu bheil tòrr obair mhath
air a dhèanamh mar-thà gus faighinn chun na h-ìre seo. Gun teagamh tha dùbhlain ann. Tha
taigheadas ceangailte ri atharrachaidhean ann an cànan is cultar na Gàidhlig; tha trioblaidean
còmhdhail a’ bagairt air. Chan e naidheachd a tha seo dhuinn ann an Uibhist – tha fios againn dè
tha a dhìth agus dè tha sinn ag iarraidh atharrachadh.”
“Bidh an rud a tha math dha na raointean leasachaidh seo math don Ghàidhlig aig a’ cheann thall.
Feumaidh sinn dèanamh cinnteach gu bheil a’ Ghàidhlig aig cridhe de tòrr den obair sin; chan
urrainnear a dìochuimhneachadh, tha i air leth cudromach.”
“Tha e gu math furasta a bhith air ar bogadh sìos leis na dùbhlain, ach feumaidh sinn an dòchas
fhaicinn. Tha an cunnart bho na dh’ fhaodadh tachairt mura dèan sinn rudeigin ro mhòr, agus
chan e suidheachadh a tha sin a tha duine againn airson fhaicinn. ”


Bha Christina Mhoireasdan, Oifigear Ath-shluaigh aig Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, soilleir gum
feumadh a’ Ghàidhlig a bhith air a faicinn ann an co-theacs chùisean agus chothroman nas
fharsainge:
“Tha e sgoinneil gun urrainn dhuinn uile suidhe còmhla agus beachdachadh air planaichean, ach tha feum againn air a’ bhun-structar an sin gus taic a thoirt dha; taigheadas, còmhdhail, cùram-
chloinne is msaa, tha e uile ceangailte ri chèile. Airson Gàidhlig a shoirbheachadh, feumaidh sinn daoine a bhith an seo aig cridhe a’ chùis. Feumar aithneachadh a bhuaidh làidir a tha aig feartan
bhon taobh a-muigh air a’ chànan.
Tha e soilleir gu bheil tòrr obrach ri dhèanamh, agus gu bheil cothrom aig mòran bhuidhnean
beagan uallaichean a ghabhail orra airson a’ chànan adhartachadh agus taic a thoirt dhi.”


Bhruidhinn Eilidh NicIain, Oifigear Leasachaidh aig Taigh Chèarsabhagh, air càit am bu chòir dhan
obair tòiseachadh:

“Is e an rud a tha cudromach gu bheil a’ Ghàidhlig air a bruidhinn le daoine aig an taigh, anns a’
choimhearsnachd, anns na bùthan agus na h-àiteachan dhan tèid iad, agus gu bheil daoine a’
faireachdainn comhfhurtail agus comasach air sin. An toiseach, feumaidh sinn aithneachadh gu
bheil trioblaidean ann, fiù ‘s ann an Uibhist, chan eil a’ Ghàidhlig cho làidir ‘s a tha sinn ag iarraidh
a bhith. Tha e na mhisneachd dha-rìribh a bhith a’ faicinn na tha de dhaoine an sàs sa Phlana, ach
cuideachd a’ bruidhinn air am beatha dachaigh fhèin, am foghlam aca fhèin, dè bu toil leotha
fhaicinn.”


Bhruidhinn Joe MacNèill air cho cudromach sa tha e ruighinn a-mach chun a h-uile duine sa
choimhearsnachd bho gach seòrsa beatha agus chuir e cuideam air gur e com-pàirteachadh
farsaing sa choimhearsnachd an ath cheum: “Tha beachdan gach neach sa choimhearsnachd
cudromach do Phlana Gàidhlig Uibhist agus tha sin dha-rìribh am prìomhachas.”