Thursday, 23 September 2021

Questions (11)

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor


11. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the progress of the Office of Public Works project at Carlow Castle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45070/21]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Public)

When I met the Minister of State on Tuesday in Kilkenny at Granagh Castle, I spoke about Carlow Castle. I visited the castle in Carlow town yesterday and was delighted to see works going on there. Can the Minister of State tell me about the progress of the Office of Public Works project at Carlow Castle?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. As she is aware, on the night of 8 and 9 February 2020, extensive damage was caused to Carlow Castle following Storm Ciara. Subsequent investigations led to the discovery that the base of the collapse was constructed on clay foundations. This had major consequences for the safe repair and reconstruction of this section of the wall. The Office of Public Works is in the final stages of rebuilding the collapsed area of the tower. Once the steelwork is down, the OPW can complete the rebuild and repair of the part of the tower that collapsed. It is expected that there is approximately three to five weeks' work remaining.

As I said to the Deputy when I met her the other day in south Kilkenny, with Deputy Phelan, I hope to be back in Carlow-Kilkenny within the next month and I hope to meet her then. There are a number of different projects in Carlow town and the surrounding areas. I hope to visit Carlow Castle, with my officials in the OPW to get an update on the works under way and the progress that is being made. This issue is of interest not only to the Deputy and other public representatives, but to Carlow County Council and the tourism community in Carlow.

I am heartened to hear the project is progressing and I am thrilled with the good news that the Minister of State will be coming to Carlow. We have many projects to show him. To give him some background, Carlow served as the administrative capital of the lordship of Ireland under King Edward III from 1361 to 1374, so it can be said with confidence that we were once the capital of this fair land. Carlow Castle had survived largely intact until an attempt to remodel it as an asylum in 1814, which demolished all but the west wall and towers. As the Minster of State said, in February 2020, masonry collapse resulted in disintegration of a large part of one the castle's turrets. The site is being discussed by Carlow County Council as part of an ambitious plan under the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF. It is very important we get these works done and I welcome that. I understand the new phase involves surveys and archaeological investigation at the base of the structure to assess its current condition. What is the timeframe for that?

As I said in a previous response to Deputy Stanton, I met yesterday with the Minister of State, Deputy Malcolm Noonan, to discuss the issue of properties for which the OPW is responsible. These are owned by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage but we have responsibility for managing their maintenance and preservation. I have opened discussions with the Minister and I hope to engage with Fáilte Ireland and the Local Government Management Agency, which are the agencies with ultimate responsibility along with what we would traditionally call the county managers. There is a local interest in these monuments that has to be brought to the fore. The Department of Rural and Community Development, through the town and village renewal fund, is a critical driver of what I would call the second and third division monuments in some of our larger and smaller towns. We want people to visit what are, possibly, the lesser-known monuments that have a wealth of stories to be told and will help to drive the tourism industry in towns like Carlow, and other provincial towns in places like Carlow-Kilkenny.

That is important. A Carlow town forum group has been set up that works in conjunction with Carlow County Council. A subgroup has particularly focused on the castle and the tourism potential of it. Gerry, Bobby, Audrey and Carmel are part of that and are excellent. Members of these groups have been working for years to promote Carlow Castle because the bigger picture here is the tourism potential of it. It will be the hub and centre of a tourist attraction for Carlow. We are trying to make Carlow similar to the medieval mile in Kilkenny. That is what we have. Carlow has so many historical buildings and sites and we need Carlow Castle as a tourist attraction. We also need the funding that goes into that. We have a castle that can give so much to Carlow. It offers so much to people and tourists who visit it. I ask for a commitment from the Minister of State that the funding will be there to make Carlow Castle a tourist attraction, which will filter throughout Carlow town. Again, it is just one excellent tourist attraction we have.

My contribution is in a very similar vein to Deputy Murnane O'Connor's. In the Clare constituency, and the Minister has been to see it, Clare Abbey, an Augustinian abbey built in the 12th century, possibly by Domnall "The Great" O'Brien, King of Munster, has been roofless since the 1600s and its inner yard is a burial ground. The graves are being desecrated, smashed with bottles and broken in half. The Minister of State very kindly visited the abbey recently along with some of his staff, Deputies and councillors. The Slattery grave there has been desecrated on three occasions. We are looking for some form of CCTV camera. We hope the Minister of State can accede to that.

I am sure Deputy Murnane O'Connor will acknowledge that we made a significant investment recently in County Carlow through the dolmen project, which I am glad has finally been finished. I hope to be able to see it when I go there within the next few weeks. Every Deputy in the House performed a tour de force recently in looking for money from my senior colleague, the Minister, Deputy McGrath. I may as well do so now on behalf of the OPW. I ask for any assistance he can give me to find money for Deputy Murnane O'Connor and every Deputy in the House that will come begging for money from me, including the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, who I am sure has a list of OPW projects in Galway. Every shilling the Minister can give me from his good colleague in the OPW, we will only be too glad to spend.

Deputy Crowe is correct that there is a particular problem at Clare Abbey. We have engaged with An Garda Síochána and Clare County Council, which is ultimately the statutory authority that has responsibility for CCTV there. If it could provide that sort of assistance to catch the people responsible for this, I am sure it would be strongly welcomed by the local community.