*Shannon Heritage workers protesting outside Bunratty Castle. Photograph: Natasha Barton

NO CONTACT HAS BEEN made to Clare County Council by any Government Department or Shannon Airport Group since it announced its withdrawal from the planned transfer of Shannon Heritage absence in the absence of State funding.

This comes despite Shannon Airport Group and the Taoiseach stating in the aftermath that the local authority had been contacted.

€15m across three years is the figure required by the County Council to take over the sites but this sum has been disputed by Shannon Airport Group.

Tensions between both bodies show no signs of dissipating with conflicting accounts given in the aftermath of Friday’s announcement by the Council to pull the plug.

Shannon Airport Group in a statement to The Clare Echo said, “We have been in contact with Clare County Council and Government over the weekend to get clarity on the transfer, and we have been told that discussions are still ongoing between the Council and Government”.

However a spokesperson for Clare County Council refuted this. “Clare County Council wishes to clarify that no communication has been received from Government since last Friday’s announcement, prior to this limited engagement has taking place between Clare County Council and national government. Despite efforts undertaking by Clare County Council to seek a response to its funding request, which was submitted in July 2022”.

An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin (FF) in a letter to Clare TD, Michael McNamara (IND) on Wednesday stated, the Government would “continue to support the Shannon Airport Group in working towards a successful transfer of the Shannon Heritage business and heritage sites to Clare County Council as soon as possible”.

He stated that an inter-departmental group set up to consider the funding requirements was set up in May and has met four times, the most recent of which was on October 14th. “Since the last meeting in October, relevant Government Departments are actively continuing to engage bilaterally with a view to progressing the transfer”.

On Friday, the County Council confirmed it was withdrawing its bid, for now, to take over the ownership of three heritage sites and a retail outlet in the county currently owned by Shannon Airport Group. The local authority announced that it cannot proceed with the proposed takeover of the Clare assets of Shannon Heritage at this time without real and meaningful support from Government.

However, the Chief Executive of Clare County Council says the Local Authority remains open to further engagement on the future management and development of Shannon Heritage assets in County Clare.

As reported by The Clare Echo last week, the Council had given an indication they were prepared to walk away with the constant passing of the buck between Government departments.

Following engagement with Elected Members, the local authority cited ongoing uncertainty around the proposed terms of the legal guarantees and funding in relation to the transfer of Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, Craggaunowen Bronze Age Park, Knappogue Castle & Walled Garden, and the Cliffs of Moher Experience retail unit from Shannon Airport Group.

Workers at Shannon Heritage sites have told The Clare Echo they are not surprised with the announcement from the Council and are sympathetic to their stance. They remain frustrated with the lack of clarity from Government Departments and Shannon Airport Group.

Current Tánaiste and soon to be Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar (FG) seemed to issue some positivity on the need to speed up the process when questioned by Clare TD, Michael McNamara (IND) in the Dáil on Thursday.

On the same day, Shannon Heritage workers held their second protest in Bunraty which was attended by Cathal Crowe (FF), Senator Timmy Dooley (FF) and Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND). At this event, Deputy Crowe told workers an agreement could be reached before Christmas.

Surprisingly there was no mention of the development at Monday’s meeting of the County Council.

Clare County Council was requested by government to conduct a Due Diligence process into the transfer in 2021. In July 2022, a final report, produced on behalf of Clare County Council by independent consultants in the fields of Finance, HR and Legal, was submitted to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Department of Transport in which a funding package to support the upgrading and maintenance of the sites for three years was identified. Legal negotiations have been ongoing with Shannon Airport Group while regular consultation with Shannon Heritage staff and Elected Members also has been a key part of the two-year process.

In this report, the Council detailed “significant neglect of the sites, the urgent need to halt the deterioration of the assets and the investment required to achieve this. The Local Authority also outlined its vision for overseeing the management, development, and promotion of the Shannon Heritage sites and their incorporation into a portfolio of signature visitor attractions and sites throughout Clare, including the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience, Loop Head Lighthouse, Vandeleur Walled Gardens, and Inis Cealtra Visitor Experience (currently under development)”.

For almost two years, the Council said it has “engaged constructively with all parties” involved. “Despite every effort made and the good faith demonstrated by the Council throughout the process and in the absence of any funding commitment from government and a resolution to outstanding significant elements of the draft legal agreement between the Local Authority and Shannon Airport Group, including the footprint of the site and indemnities at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, the Local Authority is unable to proceed with the proposed takeover at this time. To do so would have a significant impact on services and commercial businesses in Clare”.

Staff of Shannon Heritage were acknowledged by the Council for their cooperation and ongoing commitment. “Bunratty, Craggaunowen and Knappogue are integral to the overall tourism product offering in Clare and Clare County Council will continue to support efforts to ensure their development into the future”.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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