Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman, has appealed to the Stormont Executive to use Rathlin Island as a springboard to develop more tourist links with Scotland.
Assemblyman Swann, who is also North Antrim Chairman, has visited the island in his constituency on numerous occasions to campaign for the rights of islanders.
Speaking during a special adjournment debate on Rathlin Island, Mr Swann added: “It was really heart-warming to see representatives from the Rathlin Development and Community Association in the Chamber to hear the debate.”
In a major policy speech about Rathlin, Mr Swann emphasised: “That shows just how many of the islanders would have liked to have been present to hear the debate, but realised that, when it finished, by the time they got back up to the ferry, there would be no service until the next morning. We should always bear that in mind when we speak of Rathlin and its inhabitants.
“As the only inhabited island of Northern Ireland, we should always bear that in mind when we refer to them. Rathlin is a fantastic place to visit. From Marconi’s cottage to Robert the Bruce’s cave, it is a fantastic launching pad for invading Scotland.
“That is how Rathlin was described to me, but, as a North Antrim Member, I was not prepared to go that far at this time. But our Stormont Executive could consider the island as the perfect launching pad to boost and develop Ulster Scotland tourism.
“The Rathlin Island policy and action plan is a fantastic template for what many communities in Northern Ireland would wish to have. It is a template that shows that a community association can come together, tap into their elected representatives and set up a progressive, positive plan for engagement with Government Departments to ensure proper delivery and to enable them to access all of the services that are available to them.
“One recent announcement that was welcomed by the islanders was that they have managed to retain their post office, which was under threat due to the retirement of the postmistress. That is one of the positive signals that can be sent out and echoed.
“When there are so many rural constituencies and areas across Northern Ireland, including areas in my own constituency such as Glarryford, which is losing a sorting office, those are positive notes for the islanders.
“But we should not forget the difficulties which the islanders face. It was an Ulster Unionist Health Minister who delivered the 24/7 nursing cover for the islanders. They were very appreciative of that, and they mentioned it during my visit.
“They are now faced with another serious health issue in relation to their two social carers. That has been raised with me at a constituency level. Of the two home helps that they previously had, they are now down to one to deliver all of the service provision on the island.
“That delivery, no matter who lives in a rural constituency, always seems to rely on someone who can be drafted in from another trust area. However, when you live on Rathlin, there is nobody that you can draft in, because it is an island community. I ask the Minister - I am sure that I can get his support - to ensure that that provision of home help is increased back to two providers.