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Leadership questioned as Govt funding yet to be awarded to Shannon Heritage sites

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Leadership is needed to ensure one of the county’s most visited tourist sites does not close this month.

Founder of PK Travel, PJ Keogh said immediate action is required to stand up for Shannon Heritage workers at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park and King John’s Castle with the attractions scheduled to close on August 31st. Both Knappogue Castle & Craggaunowen have not reopened since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the Republic of Ireland, in March.

“We’re faced with a situation with a group of people sitting over the Airport that are making a decision to close a heritage centre that has been renown to the 1500s with the Castle and the Folk Park back to the early 1900s, I think it is very sad that there is nobody to stand up,” Keogh told The Clare Echo.

He acknowledged that the pandemic has made matters difficult for Shannon Group. “There is a problem and we know we are living in a strange environment, it is a most unusual scene but we need to know what is happening, tell the people what is happening. I do understand that there is money from Government intervention and it is important the Government stand up, I’m not going to lay all the blame at the door of the Shannon Group but they are responsible and are in charge, they need to step up to the plate, I do understand that somewhere in the region of €4m has been allocated, if that is the case we should know about it, we need positivity and good news”.

A submission has been made by Shannon Group to the Government seeking funding due to the impact of COVID-19 “to ensure the long-term survival of these key heritage operations in the context of the collapse in international visitors to Ireland, which account for over 70% of its operation,” CEO of Shannon Group, Mary Considine explained.

She confirmed that since the onset of the pandemic, Shannon Group has been working with Government to explore all possible available options and is still awaiting a decision from the Minister for Transport on his review of a multi-million euro support package the Group is seeking to secure the future and grow the business in the post pandemic world.

“In the context of the pandemic, we have sought a range of support measures from Government to promote the recovery of both Shannon Airport and Shannon Heritage. The Group has asked Government for funding for our Shannon Heritage sites because of the enormous impact on them caused by the pandemic. Our request for funding and support has been drawn up with the desire to secure the long-term survival of these key heritage operations,” Mary added.

Keogh maintained that the decision to close sites such as Bunratty Castle & Folk Park when the message coming from Government and health officials was to have staycations in 2020 was nonsensical. “We’ve handled crews from Delta, United Airlines, US Airways, Air Canada, we’ve dealt with several groups like that. Bunratty is one of the areas they love to come to, to see the castle, walk around the Folk Park and get an insight into what we were like in the past. The Americans love Castles, we’ve one sitting right here and unfortunately because of a group of people sitting over in their little empire have decided to close it, it doesn’t make sense to me,” the Clarecastle man added.

Speaking on Tuesday, Cathal Crowe TD (FF) revealed that Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath (FF) has a file about Shannon Heritage before his desk with a decision to be announced in the coming days.

“I have reiterated the importance of these sites to Clare to the Minister, particularly given the year we have been facing.This morning, I held an impromptu meeting with Shannon Heritage workers following a separate meeting I was at in Bunratty, and they have outlined all of their concerns to me,” he stated.

Crowe added, “The ask is €3.9 million to keep these sites open but my understanding now is that this figure has now fallen back a bit given the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme is now running until Spring 2021, along with the continued suspension of commercial rates and the new €26m grant opening today to assist tourism businesses in their reopening. I hope to see a positive announcement coming down the tracks on Shannon Heritage and I will continue to engage with the relevant parties until that moment arrives.

Páraic McMahon is Head of News & Sport with The Clare Echo. The Newmarket-on-Fergus native also writes for national papers including The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times along with doing work for RTÉ, Today FM, TheJournal.ie and The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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