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.