*Bunratty Castle & Folk Park is among the sites now set to come under the Council’s control. 

AN AGREEMENT HAS BEEN reached to transfer the ownership of the four Shannon Heritage sites in the county to Clare County Council.

A funding package has been agreed by Government and must now be ratified by Clare County Council. A due diligence report submitted by Clare County Council last July identified that a sum of €15m would be needed to support the upgrading and maintenance of the sites for three years.

An upfront figure of €6m has been signed off on by Cabinet to assist the Council in taking over the sites for 2023, after a memo was agreed on Tuesday. The remaining funds will be distributed over 2024 and 2025 and could possibly exceed €10m with the Office of Public Works (OPW) to give a commitment to make further capital for the project a priority as part of the estimates process. When the transfer is complete, opportunities for further support from Fáilte Ireland and the Department of Housing will also become available.

Two years ago, the Council was asked to commence a due diligence process to facilitate 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.

Over the last 22 months, the process has been far from smooth sailing with former Taoiseach Micheál Martin (FF) telling the Council last February to “get on with it” when asked about the transfer. The local authority in December released a critical statement where it said it could not proceed without “real and meaningful support from Government,” this was released after they were offered one sixth of the sum sought.

Senator Timmy Dooley (FF) was confident Clare County Council would accept the deal put before them. “I am really pleased that Government has made a significant offer to assist Clare County Council take over the sites. It has been an ongoing saga for over two years, I recognise the commitment of the Council, they have had tough negotiations, they played hardball and rightly so. They held out and worked hard for the people of Clare”.

Government are committed to ensure the transfer does not drain the existing Council resources, Senator Dooley noted. “The workers will have the same rights, the Council will be taking over the businesses and that is really good, it is really positive for the tourism offering in the county”.

Clare TD, Cathal Crowe (FF) said “the long-running saga relating to the takeover of Shannon Heritage sites in Clare is now finally being resolved”. He stated, “This funding package secures the future of the iconic sites in our region including Bunratty Castle and brings certainty to the workers of these sites who, for far too long, have been left wondering what the future had in store for them. The government have committed €6m in funding for this year alone and have also, in writing to Clare County Council, outlined how they propose to support these sites in the coming years”.

Shannon Heritage can now move into a new phase, Deputy Crowe maintained as he praised the Council’s track record in running tourism sites like the Cliffs of Moher. “Before Covid, sites like Bunratty were capable of attracting upwards of 350,000 visitors per annum and my sincere hope is that we will very soon get back to that level again, but this is contingent on resurgent international tourism. In particular, these sites are very reliant on tour buses that stop in Bunratty. “It’s imperative that all opportunities are now seized to best promote Bunratty and ensure that it makes a swift recovery to pre-Covid levels”.

Senator Martin Conway (FG) maintained that it was “vital this tourist offering is secured into the future without being a burden on Council’s finances”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

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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