My Department's principal objectives as regards our shared national heritage are to:
promote the role which Ireland's heritage has to play in making Ireland an attractive destination for sustainable tourism and inward investment, and
provide for the protection, conservation and development of our built and natural heritage in accordance with best practice and legal requirements both nationally and internationally.
My Department, in delivering the continued protection, conservation and enhancement of our shared national heritage, does so within a multi-stranded framework and set of mechanisms based on various legislative provisions. Central to this task is the continued engagement by my Department, relevant agencies and local authorities with communities and the active assistance of the owners of our national heritage assets. This is a core activity of the Heritage Council in particular.
My Department provides some limited funding under a number of headings for investment in the built and natural heritage, and also supports the Heritage Council and the Irish Heritage Trust in their work in the heritage area. My Department is focused on working creatively across Government and with partner bodies, such as the Heritage Council, the Irish Heritage Trust, Fáilte Ireland, the EU-funded Rural Development Programme (formerly LEADER) and other heritage interests, in seeking to ensure that resources are directed towards the heritage sector.
As Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I am seeking to develop a number of initiatives which can contribute to the protection and appropriate re-use of our built heritage and the on-going challenges facing our architectural heritage, such as the adaptive re-use for historic properties and a forward plan-led approach to cultural heritage and urban design in our towns and cities.
In this regard, my Department is currently engaged in developing a specific heritage-led Historic Towns Initiative in collaboration with Fáilte Ireland and the Heritage Council. My primary objective with this initiative is to ensure that the participating towns have access to and an understanding of appropriate guidance to assist them in best conserving their heritage assets and, in so doing, underpin the sustainability of their community and local economy. It is my hope that meeting these goals will also, by extension, significantly enhance the visitor experience, thus helping to maximise the potential positive contribution of tourism to each of these towns and their respective hinterlands. I expect that the initiative, once fully developed by the end of 2012, will be piloted in at least three towns in 2013. The initiative is informed by the experience of related interventions in other Member States for example under the EU INHERIT (2005-2007) and HerO (2008-2011) programmes.
Ireland, represented by my Department and the Heritage Council, is also an active participant in the EU Joint Programming Initiative on Cultural Heritage and Global Change (JPICH) — specifically through the vehicle of the Joint Heritage European Programme (JHEP). Funding from this programme is partly used to provide a full-time project manager at the Heritage Council, dealing directly with the heritage organisations of 25 EU Member States and other JPI Associated Countries. Thus, Ireland is directly involved in shaping the priorities and agenda for heritage-related research in Europe, contributing to the formation of a Strategic Research Agenda for Cultural Heritage in all participating States. Participation in the JPICH is an important step in establishing Ireland as a key player in European-level collaborative projects relating to Cultural Heritage and in establishing an effective network of European heritage partners.
Finally, my Department regularly engages in the EU LIFE+ programme, in association with other Departments, agencies and NGOs, for the purpose of protecting and restoring our natural heritage, in particular habitats and species. LIFE funding requires that projects have a substantial awareness raising component. Current projects in which my Department is involved as funder and/or participant include removal of invasive non-native plant species from Lough Corrib and the canals; and restoration and improvement works on the Mulkear River.