My position has not changed since the Deputy asked the question in July.
Ireland's 6 National Parks are managed as Category II National Parks under the criteria set out by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Accordingly, all National Parks in Ireland are fully owned and managed by the State.
In 2017 the partnership between the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department and Fáilte Ireland was created to achieve the shared goal of further developing quality experiences at our National Parks and Nature Reserves. One major output from the Department's Strategic Partnership with Fáilte Ireland, was a Masterplan for the six National Parks and Nature Reserves. This provides a high level and integrated blueprint for the NPWS to invest in and better manage the Parks for conservation, biodiversity and visitor alike. In effect, it enables the aligning of conservation objectives of the Parks with increasing visitor appeal and numbers. The Masterplan guides the phased development of these enhanced visitor facilities and improved visitor experiences based on research into international best practice. The Department intends to produce visitor and management plans for its National Parks on an on-going basis, the availability of resources permitting.
As part of my Department’s continuing commitment and contribution to protecting our heritage and recreation product, it has been exploring ways to optimise the sustainable potential of heritage sites under our control in a way that is compatible with conservation objectives. In this context, it should be noted that my Department negotiated the extension of Wicklow Mountains National Park by purchasing almost 4,900 acres of Dublin Uplands at Glenasmole in 2016 at a cost of €800,000. In 2017 the entire Wild Nephin area was consolidated into the ownership of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This creates a State – owned re-wilding project of over 11,000 hectares and aims to provide increased nature conservation benefits and biodiversity as well as enhanced recreational and social benefits through the ‘re-wilding’ of the forest which adjoins the National Park.
In 2019 over €5m from the Rural Regeneration fund was announced for the Parks and Reserves providing infrastructure that allows sustainable access to them. Most of these projects have been initiated and some of those recently concluded include the purchase of Electric Buses for visitors of Glenveagh National Park, improved trail networks in the Sliabh Blooms and enhanced trails in Dromore and Derrycrag Nature Reserves. In the last 5 years to date over €16.3m in current funding and nearly €7.8m in capital funding has been spent in our National Parks and Reserves, in areas including invasive species control and infrastructure improvement.
Given the resources available for investment within our National Parks and Nature Reserves, I am of course mindful of the need to focus on the core responsibilities relating to the management of the existing Parks and Reserves lands; the Department focuses on conservation objectives for Natura 2000 sites. Ireland's 3rd National Biodiversity Plan runs from 2017 to 2021 and captures the objectives, targets and actions for biodiversity to be undertaken by a wide range of stakeholders in government, civil society and private sectors to achieve Ireland’s Vision for Biodiversity not just in our own National Parks but countrywide.