*Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

CLARE COUNTY COUNCIL has confirmed it is pulling the plug, for now, on its bid to take over the ownership of three heritage sites and a retail outlet in the county currently owned by Shannon Airport Group.

On Friday, 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 in this week’s edition of The Clare Echo, the Council had given an indication they were prepared to pull the plug with the constant passing of the buck between Government departments.

The Local Authority, following engagement with Elected Members, is citing 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 to the Local Authority.

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.

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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