Island shop halts condom sales after secret ballot

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The Independent Online
SPACE for more Wellington boots, hen feed and fish hooks was made available yesterday at the co-operative shop on the remote southern Hebridean island of Barra when shareholders voted to stop selling their most controversial goods, condoms.

The predominantly Roman Catholic islanders, every bit as devout as their strictly Protestant Sabbatarian counterparts on Lewis and Harris, called in the Electoral Reform Society to run a secret ballot of the 164 shareholders of the co-operative. By 58 votes to 48, the result went against the condoms.

The Catholic priest, Canon Angus John MacQueen, a former member of the co-operative organisation, resigned last year, along with two other members of the clergy, when the shop began stocking contraceptive sheaths. He argued then that the shop was supposed to be there to provide the necessities for a crofting and fishing community. He wanted it to sell 'Wellingtons, hen feed and fish hooks'.

Before the vote, he said: 'This has nothing to do with condoms. It's to do with whether we can buy hen feed at this shop.'

The co-op, which also runs the post office, a fish farm and the island's airstrip, is one of only two shops on Barra, which has a population of 1,500 and a steady tourist trade. The other shop has never stocked condoms, though they can be obtained through the health centre.

Jessie Macneill, the chairperson of the co-operative, who survived a vote of no confidence before the result was announced, said: 'We are willing to abide by the shareholders' decision.'

One islander pointed out: 'They were never a big seller anyway.'