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Am Pàipear’s festive edition

In our last paper of the year, we cover some of the most pressing issues facing the islands this winter, including flooding, ferries and energy security.

In cheerier news, we also have a comprehensive rundown of all the festive opportunities available in the run up to Christmas and some exciting award wins for sports stars and gin giants!

We also have the latest from our regular columns – Councillor Mustapha Hocine writes a heartfelt piece on child poverty and Stòras Uibhist’s Darren Taylor discusses the opportunities and responisbilities that come with community ownership.

Suspected Uist H5N1 cases waiting to be confirmed

The RSPB and NatureScot have confirmed that a number of dead and dying swans have been found in the Drimsdale area.

In accordance with current guidance, the birds were reported to Defra but delays in testing have held back confirmation of the suspected presence of Avian Influenza H5N1.

Local NatureScot staff are now being trained to allow them to carry out the required testing regime and it is hoped that confirmation of suspected cases will be a smoother, quicker process in future.

Members of the public are reminded not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds and to report a single dead bird of prey, three dead gulls or wild waterfowl or five or more dead wild birds of any other species to the Defra helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

An Avian Influenza Prevention Zone is now in place across the UK, bringing additional regulations for all poultry keepers. The measures require all free ranging birds to be kept within fenced areas, with ponds, watercourses and areas of permanent standing water fenced off and all feeding and watering provision to be kept within enclosed areas to discourage wild birds.

Click through to Papers in the top tab to read a digital copy, or find the main stories below

Cllr Uisdean Robertson, Uibhist A Tuath

At last, we have some good news on ferry services to Uist!

After being the community most affected by the debacle of the Ferguson Marine ferry contract scandal it is hard to find the words for the relief and delight at the news that Government has stepped up to the mark and recognised that the original decision – which was made in the central belt with no regard to people in Uist and Harris – to continue a shared vessel operation on our routes across the Little Minch to Uig was plain wrong. 

I do not criticise Government for seeking to secure valuable manufacturing jobs in Scotland or restoring pride in commercial shipbuilding on the Clyde.  This was a laudable ambition.  However, this should not have been the main motivation driving the specification of lifeline ferries to island communities. 

Had we been asked, the clear and unequivocal opinion of people in Uist and Harris was that what represented innovation in 1964 when the Triangle service was introduced was long past its use-by-date in 2014.  Comhairle nan Eilean and our partners such as HITRANS had presented a report in 2010 making clear the view that what was needed on the Little Minch was a dedicated vessel on each route.  We were clear that the MV Hebrides was an excellent servant to our communities, but she needed a sister ship to operate alongside her. What a shame our efforts were ignored.

I wanted to take the opportunity in this column to record my particular thanks to our current Minister for Transport, Jenny Gilruth MSP for listening to what islanders are telling her.  The decision announced in Parliament by Ms Gilruth on 19th October that two new ferries built to the design of the two new Islay ferries would be ordered this year for deployment to the Little Minch means that we can be optimistic for the future of our mainland connectivity.  Three daily return crossings will offer our seafood industry the opportunity to achieve same day connections for shipment to the south of England and the Continent, maximising the export value of our island produce while at the same time guaranteeing a daily middle of the day departure. Our service sector can look forward to tapping a day trip and short stay market from the many visitors who currently come to Skye but don’t make it to the Western Isles.

Another person I believe deserves much credit for recognising the opportunity offered by freeing the Little Minch of the constraint of a single vessel is Kevin Hobbs, Chief Executive of CMAL.  CMAL as an organisation has been the subject of criticism for the Ferguson contract award but this predated Kevin’s appointment.  I find Kevin is easy to reach, happy to engage – often forthright in his opinions. He is the first person that I think truly understood the opportunity missed by his colleagues and Transport Scotland when they ploughed ahead with the order for 802 rather than seek views from islanders.

I finished my last piece to Am Pàipear by saying “Things can only get better – surely!” I had no reason to think that would be the case so soon.  We will still have major issues as ferry reliability is clearly going to be a problem for the time being but at least there is a happy end in sight.

The Comhairle have recently met with Transport Scotland Aviation Division, Loganair Chief Executive Jonathan Hinkles and HIAL at separate meetings to discuss the future of air services to the Western Isles. High on the agenda was the impending sale of Loganair and the PSO contract between Benbecula and Stornoway, which is due to for renewal in April 2023. The Comhairle currently subsidise the five-rotation service by a sum of £600k. This has to be set in the context of increasing costs and a Comhairle Core Budget that has seen a reduction of Scottish Government funding over the last several years. Transport Scotland subsidise a few PSOs including the Barra service but maintain that they cannot support an internal service within a Local Authority Area. They also face having to look closely at their own budget to identify savings.

The discussion with Loganair in relation to the Benbecula/Stornoway service was positive and we outlined the pressure on Comhairle budgets and the need to look at ways that this service could be maintained. The service is particularly essential for the people who have to travel to the Western Isles Hospital for appointments. Currently NHS Eilean Siar refuse to contribute to the costs of running the service, which is disappointing.

In relation to the impending sale of Loganair, which has caused a lot of concern locally, the following points were made by their Chief Executive Jonathan Hinkles:
• Loganair has been serving the Western Isles since 1964 and over that time, the airline has undergone five changes of ownership – Logan Construction Company, the Royal Bank of Scotland, British Midland, Scott Grier and latterly the Bonds.   Throughout all of that, services to the islands have continued, ranging from delivering daily newspapers (its first venture to Stornoway in 1964) to being sole operator of the air service at Barra continually since taking over the route from British Airways on 1 September 1974. 
• Loganair’s recently-announced return to profit after the pandemic is very helpful ahead of any change of ownership – using the straightforward maxim that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  If the airline was heavily loss-making, it’s inevitable that any new owner would be seeking to make major changes to stem those losses – which could well have ramifications for island lifeline flights.  That isn’t the case as is apparent from Loganair’s performance through the pandemic.

• Equally, the airline needs to make a profit to survive and re-invest.   Setting aside the Barra
and the Stornoway-Benbecula routes which are operated as PSO subsidised air services, all of its other Western Isle’s routes – Glasgow to Benbecula and Stornoway, Inverness and Edinburgh to Stornoway – receive no direct public subsidy.    Loganair operates these at its own risk, so if it carries no passengers, it receives no income.   Of course, the Air Discount Scheme is in place to subsidise fares for non-business trips for island residents, but this is no guarantee of income for Loganair.  

• And where fuel prices have shot up, the Scottish Government pays the additional bill for Calmac’s ferries, but Loganair has to recover this through its own means.   It also has to invest in its fleet – again, unlike Calmac, there’s no cheque from the Scottish Government to cover new equipment (which many might see as a good thing) and Loganair’s profits are being reinvested into its fleet renewal.   The Saab 340 aircraft – the oldest of which G-LGNI is 33 years old, so right up there alongside a Calmac ferry – are being replaced over the next 12 months with next-generation ATR turboprops.    The Spiorad de Beinn na Faghla (which is now 32) will be making its last flight for Loganair before year-end.   
This replacement programme for equipment used on lifeline air services is being achieved without public subsidy, with minimal fuss (certainly compared to a similar programme on ferries!) and will future-proof the island air services for at least a decade and probably more.   Dedicated freighter variants of the new ATR aircraft are already in service delivering the Western Isles’ mail on six days a week into Stornoway and Benbecula, from where the mail is then taken on the inter-isles ferry to Barra too.

• The airline has assured that its fleet renewal programme will continue apace and will not be affected by any impending change of ownership.   Its policy of employing staff within the Highlands and Islands – where it supports over 180 full-time jobs – is also set to continue.

• Current shareholders have supported the airline through thick and thin, including the pandemic when they made additional investment into Loganair and strengthened its balance sheet. 

Forgiveness

Sorry seems to be the hardest word. That is, at least according to the famous song by Elton John. Yet it is not just saying sorry which is difficult. It’s forgiving people when they have done us wrong which can really test us. Examples of lack of forgiveness can be seen dramatically online. A few years ago, a woman made a horrible joke on Twitter just as she got on a long-haul flight to Cape Town. By the time she arrived, she found that thousands of people online had called for her to be sacked and sent her hateful messages. Some people even travelled to the airport so they could see her face when she turned her phone on and saw all the messages. There was a glee in hating this woman. Forgiveness was not an option.

Yet not all incidents need to be as dramatic as this. Sometimes even small hurts from our dearest family members can be difficult to forgive, let alone others in our community or at work.

Logically this doesn’t make any sense. If we accept the ‘Golden Rule’, and ‘always treat others as you would like them to treat you’ (Matthew 7:12) then we should want to forgive others quickly. Afterall, none of us would want our lives ruined for a single mistake, online or in person. If we are honest, we have all done wrong ourselves and need the forgiveness of others just as they need our forgiveness. How can we withhold our forgiveness but expect it from others?

Here are three of the many reasons people find it hard to forgive. Which ones resonate with you?

1.Forgiveness carries a real cost. Consider for a moment the language used around revenge. “Make them pay”, “you owe me”, “payback”. They all point to the fact that when we do wrong against another we create a debt that must be paid. We really do owe them. Yet to forgive someone is to release them from this debt whether or not they have paid it. This is costly and it is unsurprising we find this difficult.

2.Forgiveness and victimhood. Victimhood is a powerful identity for the one who has been wronged. At its best, it can drive them towards justice no matter what barriers are put in their way. At its worst, it can make us bitter, distrustful, and stop us engaging with life and its problems. We will always struggle to give up any identity, let alone one as powerful as this.

3.Forgiveness is daunting. There can be real fears attached to forgiving someone else. What if by forgiving them I make myself look weak? Or I become a doormat for others? At other times we can worry that forgiving someone means giving up any hope of justice in a situation.

It is this last reason which is easiest to answer. It is important to note what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness does not mean you have to pretend the event never happened or let the forgiven person treat you however they want to. It does not mean you never feel hurt from the wrong others have done. Neither does it mean the forgiven person does not need to face the full consequences of any laws they might have broken. When I lived in Dundee, I read a wonderful story in the local paper about a woman who forgave a man who had tried to kidnap her. She let go of all bitterness towards him. But the man still rightly went to prison. She forgave him at his sentencing.

So what about the first two reasons for not forgiving?

To answer those, lets look at the greatest example of forgiveness – given by Jesus. During his ministry Jesus taught his followers to forgive their enemies. And he did the same himself. As Jesus was being crucified, literally stretched out on a cross for his execution, he called out ‘Father, forgive them’ (Luke 23:34). Jesus was forgiving those who were killing him and prayed that they would know God’s forgiveness as well. Yet this was not just a great example. During his ministry Jesus declared that he had come ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). Jesus came to pay the debt we have all incurred for the wrong things we have done. As he was put to death he asked for his enemies’ debt to be cancelled, and provided the payment that made it possible.

This payment by Jesus allows us to forgive freely. We know the debt has already been paid by another. But it also calls us to a new identity for ourselves – from seeing ourselves as victimised to seeing ourselves as forgiven, as people who have been bought at a price.

It is for this reason that Jesus taught his followers to connect the forgiving of others with the forgiveness we have received. In the Lord’s Prayer, or Our Father, Jesus taught his followers to pray “forgive us”, “as we forgive others”. Some traditions use the language of forgiving trespasses, those times we have overstepped the mark. Other traditions use the language of forgiving debts, the payment due. But the meaning is the same. Once we consider how Jesus has forgiven us – and how he has done so – so we can in turn forgive others.

Forgiving is not easy. It is hard and costly. But when we look at what Jesus did we know we can forgive others. For some of us that might start by receiving forgiveness for the first time from God. For others, it might mean reminding ourselves of the forgiveness we have already received. May we forgive as the Lord has forgiven us.

Rev Tom Penman, Minister of South Uist and Benbecula Free Church

Scroll through this month’s stories or click on PAPERS in the menu to read a digital copy of the paper.

Local university rated best in Scotland for postgraduate student satisfaction

Postgraduate students at UHI have rated their study experience as the best in Scotland in a UK-wide survey.

Local postgraduates returned a 95% student satisfaction score, earning UHI the number one spot in Scotland, and fourth place across the UK.

More than 20 students from across UHI completed this year’s survey, rating the university particularly highly for organisation, engagement, teaching, assessment and support.

Commenting on the results, Dr Iain Morrison, Dean of Student Experience, said: “These are exceptional results. Students are the best judges of what makes a good education and to be rated highest in the country is to the great credit of our wonderful staff. Coming so soon after our extremely high undergraduate student satisfaction results, this survey confirms that UHI really should be the first choice for anyone considering postgraduate study this year.”

“UHI’s postgraduate courses reflect the unique environment, culture and heritage of the Highlands and Islands and are often linked to academic research carried out by its staff and students. Courses are taught locally from the UHI region but are also available to study online across the world.”

Heather Innes, President of the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association, added: “These results are certainly something to smile about. We’re looking forward to another great year where we’llbe welcoming postgraduate students back for the start of session and also to the important partnership work with UHI to make their experience even better.”

Finds on our beaches – cetaceans

Though the weather lately has been very variable, with longer days and good spells, more of us, residents and visitors alike, are out around our shores, especially beaches.

Some are fairly clean: seaweed accumulates in deep beds in some spots, rubbish of various sorts collects in corners or lies at intervals along the strandline.

Occasionally there is a dead cetacean – perhaps a tiny newborn Porpoise, about 80cm (2’6”) long or an 18m (60’) Sperm whale, or one of the other whales and dolphins that have been recorded here over the years. Some are very fresh and may have died after stranding; some may be decomposing, sometimes washing up as lumps of flesh and blubber with odd bones, or almost skeletal.

Recorded locally, in order of adult size, roughly, we see among the toothed cetaceans: Porpoises, Common dolphins, Euphrosyne or Striped dolphins, Atlantic White-sided dolphin, White-beaked dolphins, Risso’s Dolphin, Bottlenose dolphin, Pilot Whales, Killer whales or Orcas, Sowerby’s beaked whale, Cuvier’s beaked whale, Northern Bottlenose whale, Sperm Whale; and among the Baleen whales or Rorquals: Lesser Rorqual or Minke, Sei, Fin and Blue whales. In some species adult males can be considerably larger than the females.

Although it’s sad to see dead cetaceans, they can provide us with valuable information; not just what is alive in the sea around us, but information on each individual and the species, and some of the challenges they face, both natural and man-made.

Local trained volunteers who collect information and sometimes samples for the national recording scheme will try to visit every reported stranding. They pass on measurements and photographs of each animal, so, if possible, the length, girth, sex, any external evidence of damage such as scars or cuts, samples of skin, blubber and muscle from fresh carcasses and several teeth if appropriate. These provide DNA information, the types and levels of artificial contaminants and naturally occurring elements such as mercury that the animals are absorbing from their food. Tooth sections give away the age of the animal.

Gradually, these build a picture of our local populations and the threats they may face from chemicals released from household, industrial and agricultural activities, and from rubbish such as household plastics, or lost fishing gear, net and ropes.

If you find a dead cetacean (or turtle – they do come up occasionally) please e-mail the location, species (if you know it), and size, with a few photographs if possible, to reports@www.strandings.org, or phone 07979 245893. They will alert the local volunteers. If the animal is very fresh we may try to send it to them for a post-mortem, or if too large, they may come over to collect it or perform a post mortem on the shore.

Any live strandings should be reported with the same information as soon as possible to the SSPCA (03000 999 999) or British Divers Marine Life Rescue (01825 765 546). Covering an animal with wet seaweed will help to keep it comfortable while awaiting help. Make sure water does not go down the blowhole, and never drag an animal.

Mary Harman

Photographs are by Peter Keiller and Bill Neill

Comann Each nan Eilean celebrates the history of the Eriskay pony

The Eriskay Pony Society will celebrate its 50th year anniversary with a Michaelmas event on Saturday, 24 September, in Eriskay Community Hall.

The Society preserves and promotes the Eriskay Pony and was founded in February 1972 when concerns were raised that the native pony breed was in danger of being lost. The society changed its name to Comann Each nan Eilean (The Eriskay Pony Society) in 1978, and 50 years on, the Society is run by the second generation of the original members.

A native pony breed and listed as a priority breed by the Rare Breed Survival Trust, the Eriskay Pony is considered to be the last remnant of Scotland’s native horse, with an estimated population of less than 300 remaining. The breed has long been a welcome sight on these islands and has been of great utility to numerous generations of Èirisgich.

Latha Fhèill Mìcheil, or Michaelmas, remains one of the focal points in the traditional Gaelic calendar. In Uist, horses were closely associated with the holy day, when ‘odaidhean’ races were held on beaches throughout the islands.

Comann Each nan Eilean’s Michaelmas celebrations will include talks from Prof Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI, and Donald John MacInnes, the Society’s Registrar, who will provide a personal insight into his family’s work to maintain the Eriskay-based herd.

Pony owners and society members will be invited to take part in a panel discussion about the history, heritage, and prospect of the breed, especially in relation to the Society’s new home within the new Eriskay Heritage Centre.

A new packsaddle pad, known as a plàda, will be woven to replace the Society’s existing piece used for carrying creels, which is overdue for retirement.

The day will finish with a dance in the Eriskay Community Hall with the Islands Cèilidh band, who have strong ties to the society.

The event is supported through the Sealladh na Beinne Mòire community fund. Entry during the day will be by donation.

Liam Alastair Crouse, who is helping to organise the event, said: “Michaelmas remains a popular festival in Eriskay and South Uist. Over the last century, however, the customs associated with the ponies grew less significant. We’d like to change that and help revive the equine aspects of the Michaelmas tradition and reroot the Eriskay Pony within its cultural setting.

“We would also like to use this opportunity to hear what the community wants to see the Society doing in the future, especially within the context of the new heritage centre. What better way to celebrate the pony and these upcoming developments than with a tea, a piece of strùthan and maybe some Swedish baking.”

What you need to know

Most of us have heard of a Power of Attorney (or POA as most call it), but do we really know what it is? POA is a legal document that can help a person if there ever comes a time when they lose capacity and can no longer make decisions for themselves, or in other words, how to plan ahead while you have the capacity to do so. It is a legal document that allows a person to nominate someone to deal with certain aspects of their affairs should they lose capacity. This can be a relative, friend, a solicitor, or a combination of all of these. You can appoint one or more persons, each with different roles or all acting equally.

According to the Office of Public Guardian (OPG) in Scotland, there are three types of POAs:

  1. A Continuing POA gives powers to those whom the person nominates to deal with their money and/or property affairs. A Continuing POA can take effect as soon as it is granted if the person requests it and it is registered with the OPG, but usually they only take effect in the event of the person’s incapacity. This would be stated clearly in the POA.
  2. A Welfare POA gives powers to those whom the person nominates to make decisions around health or personal welfare matters. Welfare POAs only take effect when the person has lost capacity to make decisions. “Incapable” means incapable of making decisions; communicating decisions; understanding decisions; or retaining the memory of decisions they may have made. This determination of incapacity will be undertaken by a GP or other relevant professional and a report will be produced stating so.
  3. A Combined POA – includes both welfare and continuing POA powers. Most POAs are a combined POA, but it is the person’s choice as to the type of powers they wish to grant to those they nominate.
    Lots of people think that losing capacity “won’t happen to me” or “there’s no need”, but suffering a heart attack or stroke, a serious injury or accident, or diagnoses such as Alzheimer’s or dementia could render a person incapacitated in a very short space of time.
    POAs are no longer an option after a person loses capacity, and the only other alternative is Guardianship, which is a longer and much more expensive and complex legal process. In some cases, the Local Authority (Council) will undertake this process and family members will lose all their rights to have a say in the loved one’s care and financial matters.
    Advocacy Workers for Advocacy Western Isles have noticed an increase in the number of people with no POAs. In the past four months, AWI has been involved with 12 individuals with this issue who needed Independent Advocacy to be their voice and support them through the POA process.
    Dr. Kate Dawson, GP Partner at Benbecula Medical Practice, Griminish, Benbecula, says: “POA is part of preparing for the future, your chance to choose who can make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. You also need to talk to your nominated person/s about your wishes.” 

    Myths (Source: OPG)
    “I Have a Will” – Wills are for when a person has passed away; a POA is for a person when they are still alive. A POA ceases to be a legal document when a person passes away.
    “My Family Can Look After Me” – If you lose capacity and have no POA your family can’t make any legal decisions on your behalf with regards to your personal and financial welfare (decisions on your care, selling property, etc) without a POA in place.
    “I Don’t Have the Money” – If you are on a low income, that shouldn’t deter you from making a POA. Financial help is available for those on low incomes or unemployed.

    For more information contact:
    Find a solicitor: https://www.lawscot.org.uk/find-a-solicitor/
    Legal Aid Services for POAs: https://www.slab.org.uk/new-to-legal-aid/
    Detailed information on POAs and Guardianships: https://www.publicguardian-scotland.gov.uk/
    Access to Public Services in Scotland: https://www.mygov.scot/
    More information on POAs Western Isles-wide: https://mypowerofattorney.org.uk/in-your-area/western-isles/

    If you feel you require the support of Independent Advocacy regarding a Power of Attorney and/or Guardianship, please contact Advocacy Western Isles for free and confidential assistance:
    uistandbarra@advocacywi. co.uk
    01878 700 000
    office@advocacywi. co.uk
    01851 701 755
    www. advocacywi.co.uk.