SHOULD the Clare County Council takeover of Shannon Heritage proceed it can’t come at the expense of services in Clare County Council or the ratepayers of Clare.
This was the view expressed by Senator Martin Conway in the Seanad this week, as he raised the transfer with Minister of State Robert Troy.
“Some €15 million over three years is required, but that will only be the start of it. I understand that due diligence is still under way.
“This investment is necessary so that ratepayers and the council do not take a financial hit. We cannot compromise critical services that the local authority provides, for example, housing.
“If the council is expected to take over the facilities – it is happy to do so – then the Government needs to step up to the plate and provide the necessary financial resources to make this happen, allow it to be successful in the short term and make it sustainable into the future.
“Some 150 people are working in the facilities. They deserve clarity, and only the Government can provide that clarity.
“The Government will be required to write the cheque to make it viable in the short term and sustainable into the future,” said Senator Conway.
Responding, Mr Troy said an interdepartmental group has been established and he said the OPW are looking at the costs.
“The OPW has agreed to re-engage on its maintenance responsibilities in the conservation and maintenance role of Bunratty Castle and King John’s Castle.
“In preparation for undertaking this role, the OPW has been carrying out necessary assessments of both buildings to inform the programme of works needed and the associated costs.”
He also said that things have been looking up for the Shannon Heritage sites.
“Almost 500,000 people visited the Shannon Heritage sites in 2021 representing a 64.2% increase on the 2020 visitor numbers.
“The recent resumption of transatlantic flights at Shannon Airport also presents an opportunity to welcome back international tourists to the sites over the coming months, which is most welcome.”
Senator Conway welcomed the reply, but reiterated that taking on the sites cannot come at a cost to the Council or Clare’s ratepayers.
“I accept people’s bona fides in this. I accept the fact that there is an interdepartmental working group, which is absolutely the correct way to go about this, but there is a bottom line, which is that the taking over of the Shannon Heritage sites in County Clare cannot result in a negative financial impact on Clare County Council.
“The council executive will not tolerate it and, certainly, the members of Clare County Council will not tolerate it. I can absolutely guarantee that the ratepayers of Clare will not tolerate it. That is the bottom line.
“Beyond that, engagement will have to happen in terms of a significant capital investment in the future, which will include significant borrowing because of the audiovisual and all that is on offer in other facilities.
“We need to ensure that there is capital investment to protect the buildings in the first instance, but then improve the offering that is available to tourists.
“Tourists now are much more discerning and absolutely will be much more demanding in the visitor experience they would want.”
He requested a time frame for the recommendations of the interdepartmental working group.
While Mr Troy said he did not have this, he undertook to request clarity from Minister Eamon Ryan. ” I will ask the Minister to reply to the Senator directly in terms of the time frame. I can understand that this time of uncertainty creates anxiousness and concerns in the community.
“We need to bring that uncertainty to a conclusion very quickly. I will look for the completion date to reported back to the Senator as soon as possible.”