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Shannon Heritage transfer in balance as funding fears grow

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THE long-awaited transfer of Shannon Heritage sites to Clare County Council hangs in the balance after Chief Executive, Pat Dowling told councillors he was informed by two senior government officials a funding package estimated to be €15 million over three years would not be approved.

While some councillors who attended a two-hour briefing behind closed doors to the public and media on Wednesday are adamant that no final decision has been taken by the council, this latest bombshell represents a major setback to the proposed transfer.

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin gave a vague response about the future of this deal when questioned by Deputy Michael McNamara this week.

Speaking in the Dáil on Wednesday, Deputy McNamara recalled the Taoiseach had told him on Tuesday he had met Mr during his recent visit to the Shannon Industrial Estate and the CEO had identified there was a funding gap from the council’s perspective.

Deputy McNamara said the Taoiseach also stated, “I have spoken to the Minister about it and the Minister who is working on this with all the stakeholders to try to get this resolved.”

“This morning (Wednesday) Clare County Councillors were told on Budget Day last week Clare County Council was informed by a senior official of the minister that a decision has been made about their funding application and the funding was being refused.

“So that is the end of the matter from Clare County Council’s perspective. Do you want to take the opportunity to contradict that account given to Clare County Councillors this morning or do you want to correct the Dáil record.”

The Taoiseach, who seemed to be unhappy this issue is being raised again, said he wasn’t responsible for what officials may be saying to councillors or to others.

“It is not the end of the matter,” he said.

The Independent Deputy told the Clare Champion this is not the correct way to treat Shannon Heritage workers.

Responding to Clare Champion queries on Wednesday, Mr Dowling said: “We are still in ongoing discussions with Government concerning the transfer of Shannon Heritage to Clare County Council. Once we are in a position to report on progress we will be happy to notify all media. In the interim we are not available for comment.”

A number of different options were presented to councillors on Wednesday for debate on the basis that any decision about this deal will be made by elected members at a future local authority meeting.

One of the proposals is an annual loan of up to €5 million for three years, which would present a significant interest burden that would have to be repaid.

It was suggested that the council would approach a number of different government departments to obtain funding from each of them that could facilitate an acceptable deal.

The doomsday scenario is the council opts to walk away from the project, despite committing significant resources to the completion of a comprehensive due diligence process.

Council officials have repeatedly stated they don’t want the transfer of Knappogue, Craggaunowen, Bunratty Castle and the retail outlet in the Cliffs of Moher to become a financial burden on the local authority.

One source, who attended the meeting, said he couldn’t understand why the government couldn’t sanction a relatively small sum of money to facilitate the transfer out of the €11 billion in Budget 2023.

Another source stressed the council is still in negotiations with government departments and noted there are a number of questions that still have to be addressed by different departments.

Rightly or wrongly, some councillors are questioning whether or not the Taoiseach is fully supportive of this project.

The fact that Deputy Martin hadn’t time in his schedule to go to Shannon Airport recently during his recent visit to Shannon Industrial Estate is being used to criticise the party leader and his supporters.

If this transfer fails to secure government funding, some political observers predict it will damage Fianna Fail’s hopes of winning two seats in Clare.

The political fallout from this controversy would also not be helpful to Fine Gael or the Green Party in Clare in the event the door is shut for government funding.

The latest revelation will further incense Shannon Heritage workers who have already stated they feel completely “let down” by the government who announced funding for tax cuts and various groups in Budget 2023 but failed to confirm the long-awaited investment package.

It is also contrary to strong indications at a recent rural SPC meeting where councillors were told senior Clare County Council officials had received positive vibes about a major funding announcement on Budget Day.

SIPTU members have condemned the failure of the Government to announce the long awaiting multi-million euro funding required to facilitate the transfer of Shannon Heritage tourism sites to Clare County Council.

In a hard-hitting statement issued to the Clare Champion last week,  SIPTU Organiser, Rachel Keane, admitted their members are shocked, bitterly disappointed and feel completely left down by the Government.

“They have been waiting patiently for confirmation of this funding in budget 2023. Representatives from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Public Expenditure and Reform and Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media, and the OPW established an interdepartmental working group in June 2022 to consider the funding requirements to enable this transfer to proceed and the announcement of this funding was widely anticipated yesterday”.

“SIPTU members fully support this transfer to Clare County Council and both parties have had meaningful engagement throughout this process. Without this funding, the transfer cannot proceed which leaves our members in a very precarious situation.”

Clare County Council has drafted a 600-page report outlining the extensive due diligence it has undertaken to take on four key visitor attractions.

However, this is contingent on the government providing funding to support the upgrading and maintenance of these sites for three years.

Councillors were told at a recent Rural SPC meeting the council has received positive vibes state funding will be provided to facilitate this transfer.

In fact, Rural Development Director, Leonard Cleary, said the council are hopefully of an announcement confirming this funding on Budget Day and would be “very disappointed” if it was let down by the government.

If funding isn’t approved, Mr Cleary stressed this isn’t really an option for Clare or regional development.

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