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*Bunratty Castle. Photograph: John Mangan

Shannon Heritage workers have been “left in limbo” as continuous pressure mounts on the management of Shannon Group to extend the planned opening period for its Mid-West attractions this year.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and King John’s Castle opened to the public on June 29th and will close again on August 31st. The Shannon Heritage operated sites are considered two key tourist attractions in the Mid-West and the planned closure next month continues to be a surprise given the emphasis from leading health officials for members of the public to go on staycations in 2020 as opposed to travel abroad.

Recently the matter was brought before a meeting of Clare County Council with a motion tabled by Cllr Donna McGettigan (SF), Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) and Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG). The trio requested Shannon Group to liaise with the local authority in Clare and its Limerick equivalent on the matter and referenced its contribution of an estimated €20m annually in spin-off revenue to the regional economy.

Up to 160 permanent staff are employed by Shannon Heritage with the figure rising to 350 at peak times. “Staff are in limbo,” Cllr McGettigan stated. She questioned why cash reserves were not put in place subsequent to the volcanic ash ejected during the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland. The Shannon resident believed 2020 was a real opportunity for the sites to benefit from a focus on the domestic market.

Elected members must be part of negotiations between Shannon Group and the local authorities, Cllr Gerry Flynn maintained. Cllr Garrihy described the decision to announce the closures as “very premature”. Cllr Alan O’Callaghan (FF) predicted, “There will be a lot of weekend breaks in our country, if we haven’t facilities like this open they will go to another part of the country. It is disappointing to see these places closed”.

Further support was voiced by Cllr PJ Ryan (IND). “Shannon Heritage took this action without putting thought into it, they jumped the gun and had no consultation with the staff,” he stated in calling for the decision to be reversed. The actions of management were “an insult to the local people within Co Clare and Co Limerick,” Cllr Ann Norton (IND) commented. “When you see what Aer Lingus have done to Shannon, it seems the West of Ireland is the poor relation,” she added.

“It is an ironic twist that Shannon Heritage are opening Malahide Castle and other properties in Dublin but the management of Shannon Group have decided not to open tourist attractions here,” Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) flagged. “If we ever needed the likes of Bunratty, we need it now,” Cllr John Crowe (FG) declared, “When you look at your county, you look at your strengths, we can’t afford to let something like this happen. I can’t understand how a decision like this was made”.

Locking the doors at the end of August was depriving the Mid-West of major pieces of infrastructure, Cllr Pat O’Gorman (FF) outlined. “Surely Shannon Group have a duty to promote the Clare and Limerick area, if they are not doing that are they doing their job,” he questioned. Cllr Joe Cooney (FG) said the thinking was “crazy” at a time when local businesses are working together more than ever.

“I think it is a disgraceful decision, it tells us as a county what is thought of us. They will have a peak of five weeks and they will try take out as much money as they can and there will be no giveback to the community,” Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) warned. He labelled the move as “an awful short-sighted commercial decision” with Cllr Ian Lynch (IND) adding that it “beggars belief”. Cllr Joe Killeen coined the decision as “very negative” and urged management to reconsider.

Workers were very aggrieved with the lack of consultation, Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) told the meeting. “It would make you think of Shannon Group’s competency to run Shannon Heritage”. He added, “It is a pity that this has happened, it questions the whole company’s attitude towards the Mid-West, it is ironic that their Dublin sites remain intact”.

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