AN impatient response given by the Taoiseach when asked about the transfer of Shannon Heritage was criticised at Monday’s meeting of Clare County Council, with members of Fianna Fáil as critical of the Taoiseach as anyone.
Some weeks ago Mr Martin told the Dáil that Clare County Council “should get on with it” regarding taking over the Shannon Heritage tourist attractions, comments that were very unfavourably received in Clare.
At the March meeting Councillor PJ Ryan put forward a motion asking that the Council would seek a meeting between the Taoiseach and Council CEO Pat Dowling, to discuss the financial implications of the proposed transfer.
Councillor Ryan said the staff of Shannon Heritage are anxious about the situation.
He also said that financial support is required for the take over, and that it will be profitable, but that could take some time.
In the Dáil, the Taoiseach had compared the proposed take over with Cork County Council taking over Spike Island, but Councillor Ryan said that had been “a greenfield site, and it was very easy to take it over” when compared with a large entity like Shannon Heritage with a significant number of workers.
Councillor Ann Norton said that no one should take on a business without knowing the implications, and that it was “very disturbing” that the Taoiseach appeared not to take the matter seriously.
“This is about people and jobs,” she added.
Fianna Fáil’s Clare Colleran Molloy praised the motion, and said she was pleased that the Cathaoirleach of the Council had brought it forward.
She also said she had been disappointed with what the Taoiseach had said in the Dáil, and she felt he had been dismissive.
Councillor Joe Garrihy said that the proposed takeover is “one of the biggest decisions ever made in the history of Clare County Council”.
He said that the implications for the local authority could be massive.
Cratloe-based Fianna Fáil councillor Pat O’Gorman said that he lives close to Bunratty, meets people working there regularly and knows they want clarity about their futures.
“When I heard Micheál Martin come out with that, ‘get on with it’, I thought it was the biggest disgrace.”
Councillor O’Gorman said that people who regularly vote Fianna Fáil said they might not vote for the party again as a result.
He said that people working at Bunratty are concerned about things like their pensions, their wages, while people who rent property at the Folk Park also have significant concerns about their future.
His party colleague Pat Hayes said that it is important that the Council get clarity before any takeover, while he said it is imperative that the workers be supported.
Sinn Féin’s Donna McGettigan said its important the Council proceeds with caution.
“It’s better to go slowly in the right direction rather than going fast in the wrong one.”
County Council CEO Pat Dowling said that the Council had worked on due diligence regarding the takeover for approximately 12 months and that the work done had been extensive.
He said that he had met with the Shannon Heritage staff twice, and he said that irrespective of whether it comes under the auspices of Clare County Council or not, he’d like to believe their jobs would be maintained.
Mr Dowling said the Council has given its ask to Government, and he said that if it went ahead with the takeover as is, it could consume 20% of the Council’s 2022 budget.
“We must not, can not and shall not do that,” he said.
Mr Dowling said he believes that the Shannon Heritage product can be expanded into the future, but that there is a need for support now in terms of current and capital expenditure.
“We cannot simply get on with it without risking the foundations that Clare County Council is built on and on my watch we won’t do that.”
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.