MINISTER of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan met with Shannon Group management at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park on Wednesday morning, with the key tourist destination still due to close at the end of the month.
He described the talks as “very useful” and Shannon Group representatives were also quite happy with how they had gone.
Afterwards Mr Noonan said he couldn’t confirm that Shannon Group will receive the multi million support package it says it requires to keep going into the autumn. “It’s not my call, I’m here in relaiton specifically to heritage and the heritage of Bunratty. That’s a wider cabinet and government decision and it’ll be framed around the budgetary process. Again, I will make my own representations through that process on what I see is required from the heritage aspect, but it’s a bigger question for Government at this stage.”
He said that Government are dealing with a unique situation and are trying to give what supports they can. “It’s a huge challenge, there’s no doubt about it, and we’re heading into a seriously challenging situation with regards to this year and the 2021 budget as well. I think we’ve made every effort possible through the July stimulus packabe and the ongoing supports for employment to help every industry and business to try and trade through what could be another year or two years of the current situation. We’re trying to meet everybody here today, I’m meeting the workers unions as well to see if, through collaborative dialogue, if we can come to solutions that will allow them to be supported to survive into the next couple of years.”
He feels it is important that major economic drivers like Bunratty do endure. “Resources are stretched in every sector of Government, what we want to do is try and seek an equitable solution for everybody, to ensure these projects can trade through this incredibly challenging time, and be there on the other side of it to be part of the recovery in 2022 or 2023 or whenever that is. Again from my own perspective I’m here purely with an interest in heritage and the built heritage aspects of this really important project. But there are the human stories as well, there are families employed here, this is a huge economic generator for the region and it could have a devastating impact if it’s not supported. So I think it’s really important from a Government perspective and a balanced regional development point of view that projects on this scale are helped to trade through this.”
He said that the situation is particularly difficult, given the reliance of Bunratty on international tourism. “They have been proactive here in Bunratty in trying to extend out the season and benefit from the staycation element, but it’s a limited market. This is a project that was primarily dependent on overseas visitors and to try and reconfigure that is going to be a challenge for Shannon Group and also Government. We want to ensure we can have a sustainable product here when the pandemic is addressed and it can only be addressed by a viable vaccine, that could be a year away, it could be two years away, it’s an unknown factor for Government so it’s very difficult to make any short or long term projections. All we can do is plan the budget for 2021 and within that try and support projects like this.”