Monday, 11 September 2017

Questions (250)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

250. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans to extend permits to land on Skellig island (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37565/17]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

The visitor season at Skellig Michael runs from approx. mid May until the end September/start of October, depending on weather and sea conditions.

As has been stated many times previously, it has not been possible to open the visitor season earlier in the year because a significant amount of essential work has to be done in the period immediately prior to the official opening. During this period, the site needs to be made ready to receive visitors and have significant Health and Safety preparations for the season carried out. In particular, the site needs to be fully assessed after the winter, any hazards cleared from public areas and any necessary repairs carried out. These essential preparatory works are absolutely necessary in advance of opening the island to the public. The Deputy will be well aware I am sure that there are regular rockfalls on the island and considerable time and attention is required to deal with them.

The island has gained somewhat of a greater profile in recent times and it is quite clear that there is a buoyant tourist interest in the area which already enjoys a good deal of visitor traffic associated with the Wild Atlantic Way/Ring of Kerry. However, it must be appreciated that the island itself has an extremely limited capacity to deal with large numbers of visitors, dictated not just by the weather and the availability of boats, but also by the fragility of the island and the impact large volumes of visitors can have on the sensitive historic structures there. As a result, it is clear that visitor numbers will continue to be directly controlled and it is likely as a result that not all who wish to visit will be able to make the trip.

Understanding that Skellig Michael is often unavailable to visitors even during the period that the island is officially open because of bad weather and recognising that there will be a number of tourists who are not able to visit, the OPW has, together with Fáílte Ireland and local Tourism interests, been developing alternative cultural tourism options in the immediate area which are not so weather dependant and which can be enjoyed by visitors without the need for an expensive and sometimes uncomfortable boat trip. This measure, as well as taking some visitor pressure off the island, will also have the benefit of spreading the economic benefit of these tourists to other locations and prolonging visitor dwelltime in the area. I have asked my officials in the OPW to keep the arrangements for the annual opening of the Skellig Michael site under review and, in the context of the 2018 season, to analyse the position fully again.