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Heritage Funding

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 18 July 2012

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Questions (5)

Sandra McLellan


5Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Arts; Heritage and the Gaeltacht his plans to invest in heritage infrastructure in order to maintain productive jobs in the public and private sector; his plans to revitalise investment with key partners in local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35832/12]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht)

My Department is currently promoting the role that Ireland's heritage has to play in making our country an attractive destination for sustainable tourism and inward investment, both in terms of the operation of our national parks and nature reserves and in the context of our unique built heritage. Culture and heritage are important elements of Ireland's tourism product, and heritage properties, including those in State care, are prominent tourism sites.

My Department provides some limited funding under a number of headings for investment in the built and natural heritage. It also supports the Heritage Council and the Irish Heritage Trust in their work in this area. However, the scope to provide additional funding for the protection, conservation and development of the State's built heritage is constrained by the current significant reduction in the public finances. My Department, therefore, is focusing on working creatively across the Government and with partner bodies such as the Heritage Council, the Irish Heritage Trust, Fáilte Ireland and the rural development programme in seeking to ensure that resources are directed towards the heritage sector.

The recently published Heritage Council report, The Economic Value of Ireland's Historic Environment, provides comprehensive and evidence-based data which supports and enhances our understanding of the importance of our built heritage. The report in question indicates that capital investment in built heritage conservation provides significant employment in the construction industry and is of major benefit to the national economy. Such investment also assists in developing and maintaining specialised skills among conservation professionals and craftspeople.

My Department continues to work on developing initiatives that contribute to the protection and appropriate reuse of our built heritage and the ongoing challenges facing our architectural heritage, such as adaptive reuse for historic properties and a forward-planning-led approach to cultural heritage and urban design in our towns and cities. A key initiative in this regard is the development of a specific heritage-led historic towns initiative in collaboration with Fáilte Ireland and the Heritage Council. I expect that the initiative, which will be fully developed by the end of this year, will be piloted in 2013. I am aware that Deputy McLellan has a particular interest in this matter because the town in which she lives, Youghal, is one of those involved.

That is correct.

As regards our natural heritage assets, Ireland's six national parks and 78 nature reserves attract a large number of visitors every year. This adds significantly to the tourism product and brings economic benefits to rural areas, while also playing an important role in the conservation of Ireland's rich biodiversity and increasing awareness of our natural heritage. A specific programme of capital works is undertaken, within available resources, at these properties each year. Such works involve, for example, the provision of improved information or interpretation and the development of walks and, where possible, new visitor facilities. Essential to these various initiatives is the involvement and collaboration of the relevant local authorities.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Ireland lags behind its European partners when it comes to intergovernmental strategies that position culture, heritage and the creative industries as the foundation of a new creative economy. Between now and the end of 2013 the European Commission will be investing €70 billion in developing the creative economy across Europe. When one considers the position in Ireland, it is abundantly clear that there is an almost total lack of joined-up thinking on how to develop the sector and tap into its full potential in terms of revenue and employment. Ireland lacks the sophistication of other member states which support intergovernmental strategies that position culture, heritage and the creative industries as the foundation of the new economy. Derry, which is due to become the UK's first city of culture, is an excellent example in this regard. That the latter is even possible is due in part to the flexible and smart decisions made by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland, which is investing £5 million in innovative initiatives in this area.

Does the Minister agree that I have provided an accurate description of the current state of affairs in respect of this matter? Does he plan to reconsider the position in the context of investing along with local authorities in, for example, the historic towns initiative to which he referred, and which I welcome?

The European Commission's plans to invest €70 billion in this area are the subject of a later question. In the context of the funding that is available to us, we are investing a significant amount in promoting heritage and culture in this country. In this regard one need only consider Kildare Street, on which two cultural institutions - the National Library and the National Museum - are located. These institutions are visited by large numbers of tourists on an hourly basis. If one goes onto the streets, one will see them. They have free access to both institutions. Last year the National Museum of Ireland attracted over 1 million tourists. Cultural tourism is one of the reasons many people come to Ireland. When Bord Fáilte and Fáilte Ireland carry out surveys, they ask people to outline the reasons they decide to come to Ireland. Cultural and heritage tourism is generally found to be the main reason. Although we are really using our cultural heritage, I accept we could do more in this regard and I will try to do so while I am in this job. According to a report published by the Heritage Council last month, our historic environment supports approximately 35,000 jobs and contributes approximately €1.5 billion to the economy. Cultural tourism which involves the built heritage, our natural heritage and cultural heritage is a central part of the tourism industry and the economy. As long as I am in this job, I will continue to emphasise as much as possible the promotion of cultural tourism.

I accept that the Minister's Department is facing budgetary constraints. I look forward to the pilot scheme of the heritage-led historic towns initiative which involves my home town of Youghal. I hope to see many more projects of this nature in the future.

It is important for local communities to avail fully of the pilot project which involves Westport, Youghal and Listowel. The people of Youghal have a great opportunity to develop tourism in the town even further. Youghal is interesting because of its connections with people such as Cromwell and its location at the mouth of the River Blackwater. It has a great deal going for it. I hope the three towns in question will enjoy a major spin-off from the initiative which I am sure the Deputy supports wholeheartedly.