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*Bunratty Castle. Photograph: Paschal Brooks

ISSUES SURROUNDING the transfer of Shannon Heritage sites remain unresolved while discussions continue between Government Departments, Shannon Airport Group and Clare County Council.

Last June, Shannon Airport Group announced plans to transfer ownership of Shannon Heritage sites to local authorities.

In April of this year, ownership of King John Castle reverted to Limerick City and County Council while on New Year’s Eve Shannon Heritage ended their management contracts with An Post and Fingal County Council for sites in Dublin and the transfer of the business and employees took place without issue.

However, fifteen months the Clare sites of Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Craggaunowen, Knappogue Castle and a retail outlet at the Cliffs of Moher remain in limbo.

When questioned on the delays in the Dáil in February, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin (FF) said Clare County Council need to “get on with” the acquisition, remarks which saw him lambasted by local members of the Fianna Fáil party.

An Taoiseach defended his remarks when speaking to The Clare Echo in Shannon on Friday and insisted they were not flippant. “I’m a believer that we should move and get it done, I accept that discussions are underway, the Government can play a part in making sure the transfer can be smooth but also the County Council’s worry and genuine concern is that it has the capacity to make a success of this and to deal with deficits that are there, there’s a lot in the various assets and entities, those discussions are underway and I will talk to the Ministers to get the thing resolved”.

He stated, “There’s ongoing discussion between the County Council and various Government departments, Shannon Commercial Properties, this tends to happen when one agency Shannon Commercial Properties wants to offload what its policy position is, the Government has approved it to offload is one phrase but perhaps to transfer various entities to the County Council, this has happened in other areas as well and it has gone very smoothly and success has been made of the transfers throughout and they have thrived under the surroundings of a new authority and that is what I meant by my comments”.

Shannon Chamber President, Eoin Gavin was present when the Taoiseach was questioned about the sites by The Clare Echo. He said he was encouraged by the sentiments expressed by Martin.

Eoin said, “As a chamber representing over 300 members extending to 15,000 employees in the region, Shannon Chamber has already expressed to Government and the region’s elected representatives the pivotal role the heritage sites play in the economy of the Mid-West region, in attracting tourists to the area and in driving passenger traffic through Shannon Airport. A decision on the approval of funding to enable the transition to the Council should be considered urgent and vital as these sites cannot be neglected at a time when there has never been a greater need to develop all our resources for economic development, especially in the West of Ireland”.

Clare TD, Michael McNamara (IND) in a parliamentary question to the Minister for Transport, Eamon Ryan (GP) sought information on when a decision would be made on the proposed transfer and if financial supports would be provided by the Government to Clare County Council to facilitate the development.

Minister Ryan in response outlined that Shannon Airport Group has had “extensive engagement” with relevant local authorities on the transfers since June 2021. He said the Department was “engaging regularly” with the Group and Clare County Council to progress the matter.

He added, “As part of its engagement with Shannon Airport Group, Clare County Council identified a funding gap for which it sought government assistance to enable it to take over the sites. In response to this, in May of this year, my Department established an inter-departmental working group to consider the funding options. The group included the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the OPW, and the Department of Tourism Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media”.

This working group has met three times, the Minister confirmed and has “identified a number of ways to support a transfer. My Department has also met with Clare County Council and Shannon Airport Group and has asked both to continue their engagement and consider the package of measures identified by the inter-departmental working group, with a view to reaching agreement on a transfer. Once the remaining issues around the transfer are resolved, Shannon Airport Group will be in a position to seek the formal consent of the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to execute the transfer of the Shannon Heritage business and the relevant heritage sites and this will be done with the agreement of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage”.

Assurances were offered to Deputy McNamara that the Government “recognises the importance of these heritage sites to the Mid-West region”. Minister Ryan committed “to support Shannon Airport Group to ensure that the transfer of the Shannon Heritage business and heritage sites will proceed as planned with a view to ensuring the long-term viability and success of the business”.

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