Local News for Friday 25th November 2016

Funeral of Gravir couple
The funeral was held this afternoon of popular Gravir couple Donald ‘Boy’ and Morag Macmillan, who died outside the Post Office which was their home one week ago. The bodies of Donald and Morag were found, close together outside the house early in Friday morning, after a night of freezing temperatures. A police investigation this week concluded there were no suspicious circumstances. Donald and Morag were buried today at Gravir cemetery, after a service at Gravir Free Church. Many tributes have been paid to a couple who were at the very heart of their community, and who gave a lifetime of service to the area.

Call for tug from new fund
After a House of Commons committee this week knocked back the idea of an Emergency Towing Vessel, or ETV, for the West Coast, concluding it would not have helped when the oil rig Transocean Winner drifted ashore in high seas in August, the Comhairle is trying a new tack to get the ETV funded. They are calling on the UK Government to use part of a new cash fund announced in yesterday's Autumn Statement for Civil Resilience and Community Safety, saying a West Coast ETV falls within the scope of that fund. In his autumn statement, the Chancellor announced £102 million collected from banks who break banking rules, saying it would be used to fund emergency services, hospitals, air ambulances and emergency responders over the next 4 years. Comhairle Leader, Cllr Angus Campbell, said: "This is the perfect opportunity for UK Government to utilise less than 2% of this fund to protect the lives of mariners and to protect the environment. The Transocean Winner coming ashore at Dalmore could have seriously impacted the coastal environment. We also have nuclear waste being transported through the Minches and other dangerous cargoes which could lead to a disaster for the west of Scotland. Surely the UK Government could spend a small amount of money on decreasing the risks”.

Big Lottery win for island befrienders
Volunteering Hebrides will be able to recruit and train up to 140 volunteer befrienders thanks to an award of nearly £150,000 announced today by the Big Lottery. The money will help isolated people in island communities, and is part of a £250 million fund helping communities to overcome challenging circumstances

Strong feelings aired in Islands debate
An islands debate at Holyrood this week saw strong ideas proposed from all political parties. David Stewart, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, called for more powers to be devolved to Island Authorities, saying that the time is right for a new Islands Bill. He also said: “It would also be a strong step if public bodies could be devolved out to the Islands. For example, OfCom to the Western Isles, Crown Estates to Orkney or Marine Scotland to Shetland. Not only would this show the Scottish Government’s commitment to strengthening the powers of the islands, but would also lead to job creation in some of our most peripheral communities". His colleague Rhoda Grant, Scottish Labour's Spokesperson for Rural Economy and Connectivity, has tabled a motion calling for debate on the decision to disband the board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). It was confirmed this week that HIE will become part of a centralised economic development organisation. Mrs Grant said: "With the best will in the world, a board sitting in Glasgow or Edinburgh, cannot possibly understand the unique needs, culture and traditions of the Highlands and Islands. It is appalling that on the day the Scottish Government has a debate 'Supporting and Strengthening Scotland's Island Communities' they have just axed the very board which was set up to do this. This is a badly thought through, wrong-headed decision which must be reversed."

Big conversation comes to Stornoway
A meeting at the Bridge Centre on Monday evening forms part of the SNP’s National Survey, described by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as the chance to listen to everyone’s views on Europe, Brexit and Independence. The Stornoway meeting will be hosted by Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan, and part of the SNP plan to engage with at least 2 million people by St Andrew's Day. Dr Allan said: “The UK that Scotland voted to stay a part of in 2014 is very different to the one people are faced with today, as are the arguments around independence. With this in mind, I am very keen to hear about people’s feelings and thoughts on Europe, Brexit and Independence.”

There’s an after-school rugby club session for P5-P7 pupils this afternoon, and tomorrow morning the club holds a session for all S1-S2 players down at Bayhead from 11pm-12pm. This session is to help prepare the players for the U14 game next Saturday at home to Caithness.

Local News for Thursday 24th November 2016

Gravir deaths ‘tragic accident’
Police have issued a new statement after concluding investigations into the deaths of a couple in Gravir, South Lochs last Friday. They say that their full investigation into the circumstances confirms that Morag MacMillan, aged 67 and Donald MacMillan, aged 73, were tragic, but not suspicious. Detective Inspector Richard Baird said: "The tragic and untimely deaths of Mr and Mrs MacMillan have understandably shaken the local and wider communities of the Western Isles and our sympathies extend to everyone who knew the popular and highly respected couple. Officers would like to thank members of the local community for their support and co-operation during the investigation."  Reports have been submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.

Read more: Local News for Thursday 24th November 2016

Local News for Wednesday 23rd November 2016

No tug decision ‘vindicated’ – MCA
The chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Sir Alan Massey, yesterday told a House of Commons committee that the decision to leave the West Coast of Scotland had been ‘vindicated’. His  remarks came as the committee took evidence on the grounding of the Transocean Winner, the oil rig which went aground at Dalmore in August. After attending this week’s meeting, Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil said the west coast of Scotland remains unprotected and vulnerable. Despite the grounding of the rig, Sir Alan Massey told the House of Commons Transport Select Committee that it had been the right decision to reduce ETV provision in Scotland to just one vessel. The Committee was carrying out an evidence session into the Transocean incident at the request of Mr MacNeil, who said: “It was not surprising to hear the comments from the MCA yesterday, they do after all work for the UK Government. Sir Alan Massey said that it would take ‘very unfortunate circumstances of bad luck’ for the case for two ETVs in Scotland to be looked at again – the reality is that most maritime emergencies are ‘unfortunate circumstances of bad luck’ and that is when a tug would be required. The UK Government is playing fast and loose and crossing its fingers that statistically rare probabilities do not ever occur.” Isles MSP Alasdair Allan added his concern, saying that the remarks were completely misguided and defended Tory cuts rather than offering a justifiable reason for reducing the number of emergency towing vessels. 
Dr Allan said:
"The grounding of the Transocean rig should be a wake-up call for industry. Towing rigs to places such as the Mediterranean for decommissioning is less safe, more harmful to the environment and more inefficient than decommissioning in Scottish ports."

Read more: Local News for Wednesday 23rd November 2016

Local News for Thursday 17th November 2016

Energy row pits community against Comhairle
A row has broken out over renewable energy projects in the islands, after a statement released by Cllr Angus McCormack this week accused the Comhairle of ‘consistently ignoring’ community windfarm projects. Cllr McCormack, who is chair of Point and Sandwick Trust, urged colleagues at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to "start backing the community energy movement" and to “stop putting all their eggs in one basket” by supporting larger projects under development. In his statement, he said:  "Neither LWP nor The Stornoway Trust has built a single turbine in 13 years of trying. Meanwhile the communities have invested nearly £30million, built 15 turbines from Barra to Ness and are distributing £2million per year in community benefit. By any measure, this is a real success story.” Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have strongly refuted his claims. Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell said: "Over the recent past the Comhairle has invested £1.5m in community renewable projects the length and breadth of the Outer Hebrides.  In the course of this year to date Community Energy Scotland have assisted some 40 community organisations.  It would not have been possible for then to deliver this support and advice to potential community generators were it not for the assistance of the Comhairle.  Ironically one of the supported community organisations was Point and Sandwick Trust”. Cllr Campbell went on to say that arguments between community and commercial wind farm companies were irrelevant. He said: "There is no such thing as a community or commercial inter-connector – there is simply the need for a proper robust grid connection to the National Grid.  The case that the Comhairle is making for the inter-connector is just as much about ensuring connections for new community organisations as it is for large scale projects.  The more positive way is to work together to achieve the big renewables win that the Outer Hebrides public deserves.”

Read more: Local News for Thursday 17th November 2016

Local News for Wednesday 16th November 2016

Storm heroes on island ferries
A new BBC Alba series which started last night focusess on the work of two Barra mariners in keeping the ferries running. Storm Heroes gives Caledonian MacBrayne lifeline routes a feature role throughout, with masters from MVs Hebrides and Lord of the Isles talking about stormy weather and the challenges they face getting through, as well as the difficult choices they must sometimes make. The four-part series, in Gaelic with English subtitles, sees presenter Donnie Mackay joining people who leave their warm beds to battle the elements on our behalf. We see how they prepare ahead of bad weather, and how they manage to do their jobs when the storm arrives. Barra Masters Michael MacNeil, skipper of MV Hebrides and Iain MacNeil, skipper of MV Lord of the Isles, both featured in yesterday’s programme. Crews from MVs Hebrides, Loch Portain and Loch Bhrusda also feature later in the series, as does SSE Hydro worker Neil McCormick in Uist, delivering emergency power where it’s needed, and care worker Chrissie Macrae in Stornoway, who looks after the elderly in their own homes. Comhairle nan Eilean Siar roads manager Roddy MacDonald also features in a later episode.

Read more: Local News for Wednesday 16th November 2016