Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Heritage Sites

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

65. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position regarding the Hill of Tara and the recent online survey that was conducted. [28766/18]

The question is self-explanatory. The Minister announced a consultation relating to the Hill of Tara with local residents and interested parties last March. I ask for an update on it. When will we see the results of the survey?

My Department is leading a steering group of relevant stakeholders, including the Office of Public Works, Meath County Council, the Heritage Council and the Discovery Programme, to develop a conservation management plan for the State-owned lands at the Hill of Tara. This working group meets regularly and is currently working on a draft of the conservation management plan. The new plan will inform a list of priority conservation and site management actions and measures for the lands that are in State ownership and inform future interventions on the site, aided by the ongoing monitoring of visitor numbers by the OPW.

The online survey was available to the public between 21 March and 15 May and I am pleased to note that it received approximately 400 submissions. It was undertaken for my Department by the Heritage Council and was widely advertised online and through social media by the organisations engaged with the steering group. The survey was designed to identify what members of the public value most about the Hill of Tara, what they perceive as the issues with the site and what they suggest needs to be done to preserve it for the future. The results of the public survey will help to inform the conservation management plan and will, therefore, be a very valuable input. The results will be made available as an appendix to the plan when it is published. The survey responses show clearly that Tara means many things to many people and that the perceptions of the site vary from it being an accessible amenity and recreation area for surrounding communities, to it being a site that attracts many visitors and tourists from around the globe and a place of great heritage significance and symbolism.

When finalised, the conservation management plan will identify conservation priorities for the site and guide future investment decisions in visitor and interpretation facilities that are compatible with its international standing and significance. The plan will address on-site archaeological and natural heritage protection and outline actions to mitigate its vulnerabilities and promote its conservation for future generations.

I am glad that many people contributed to the survey, including undoubtedly many of my constituents. The priorities of my constituents are the same as my own. As the Minister mentioned, one priority is to recognise the international and Irish importance of this site. Another is to recognise that this has been a community of people since the dawn of time, one which continues today. We are not looking for a repeat of the Tara Skryne landscape conservation plan which generated so much anger in the local community without delivering any benefit for the site. Apart from the preservation of the site, which the Minister needs to provide for urgently, what people want most is for basic facilities to be provided at the Tara site. Some of these would be the responsibility of the Department and the Office of Public, while others would be the responsibility of Meath County Council. I welcome the establishment of a steering group but it cannot become a talking shop. It must deliver results for the Hill of Tara and the surrounding community, who love it and know it best.

Éist leis an gcéad fhreagra agus ansin cuir an cheist.

The conservation management plan states the significance of a site and develops the policies necessary to ensure that significance is retained in the long term. Policies arising from it will be aimed at ensuring the long-term preservation of the site balanced with its enjoyment by the public. The steering group has been gathering information about the significance of Tara. It has met six times and it will meet again on 2 October of this year. Deputy Thomas Byrne outlined some of the concerns. The main issues of concern that arise through the visitor surveys include vulnerability of the archaeology and the need to protect it, visitor footfall, car parking and traffic management, the use of the site for recreation by local groups and dog walkers, and the need for an enhanced interpretation strategy for the monuments. Some of the issues listed, namely, car parking and traffic management, are primarily the responsibility of Meath County Council while the OPW has responsibility for day-to-day management of the site and visitor facilities. The Tara conservation management plan steering group is currently translating the issues and concerns into long-term sustainable policies for the site.

I agree with the list of priorities the Minister outlined. They are what we need but we also need the action to follow the words. I will continue to press the Minister and her Department to deliver on the plan.

I have one concern relating to the Minister's reply. She mentioned that Meath County Council is responsible for parking and roads. That may well be factually the case in terms of its responsibility outside the site but I somewhat disagree about parking. I am not sure how the council is responsible for parking although it is certainly responsible for roads. What has happened on the Hill of Tara for a number of years is that we have heard one area is the responsibility of the Government through Meath County Council, something else is the responsibility of the OPW and another area again is the responsibility of the Department. A single-track approach is required. I am confident that is being led by the Minister currently, but I am concerned about an element of passing the buck that is beginning to creep into the debate. That cannot happen. The Minister's words today, which I by and large agree with, must be met with resources. This is our most important heritage site. It is beautiful and is steeped in the lore of this country. The site is so valued by people all over the world that we must do it right. The situation at Tara is shameful compared to Newgrange and many other monuments all around the country.

Deputy Thomas Byrne is favourably disposed towards sharing his supplementary questions with Deputy Tóibín.

Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an Teachta faoi sin. I raised this issue with the Minister last January. At the time I tried to impress upon her the importance of the Hill of Tara in historical and archaeological terms and in terms of the Irish psyche. A quarter of a million people and 1,000 buses go to the Hill of Tara every year. Last January we had the same type of conversation and the situation has not moved on in the meantime. Virtually no progress has been made on the Hill of Tara.

A survey is being carried out currently. I am told a traffic survey was carried out last weekend. However, it was done after the summer season ended so the figures will not be reflective of the amount of people who go up on the hill during the summer. I believe a local business person and private individuals are running the car parks at the site. One of the car parks was closed over the weekend, which caused chaos in the system there.

Currently the council has no real development plan for the Hill of Tara. The site is only functioning through the hard work and dedication of the local community. The situation there is currently a disaster.

I call on the Minister to respond.

The glacial pace of the Department in physically resolving any of the issues is shocking.

I do not accept the comments on the situation not progressing at all. The steering group has met six times. It is chaired by the chief archaeologist of the National Monuments Service. A draft plan has already been produced and a plan will be ready by the end of 2018. The steering group is anxious to finalise the policies by that deadline. Any delay in meeting the deadline will be necessitated by ensuring the quality of the policies and their long-term sustainability. The draft plan outlines the methodologies of the plan, its strategic objectives and the consultation process. It states the significance of Tara, which both Deputy Byrne and Deputy Tóibín pointed out. It is the symbolic capital of Ireland. We accept that and that is why the work has to be done in such a way that it balances the protection of the site as well as managing the traffic, which is primarily the responsibility of Meath County Council. However, the issue needs to be examined. The plan contains policies for the conservation of the site as well. The policies and implementation strategies have not yet been agreed but the group is currently discussing those issues with the aim of finalising the plan by the end of 2018. I will meet with the group on 2 October 2018.

Could the Minister ensure constituency Deputies meet with the group as well?

Deputy Byrne can contact my office at any stage. I am open to meeting groups if it is possible to schedule a meeting.

It is in a mess. I was there about three weeks ago.

Except for film workers.

The Hill of Tara is an iconic and unique place and is the centre of a pre-eminent kingship and one of our ancient royal sites, but it has to be protected. We must look after the people who live there as well as protect the sacredness, if one likes, of the site. That is really important. We have moved on and we are making progress.

Inland Waterways Development

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

66. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to develop a blueway in the waters of Lough Oughter, County Cavan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39799/18]

The Erne river and lake system from Belturbet to Killykeen and Killashandra, County Cavan is a considerable natural resource. The potential of the waterway is not being realised to any significant extent. As the Minister is aware, feasibility studies have been carried out into the possibility of making that stretch of water navigable. The Minister indicated to me in reply to a previous parliamentary question that Waterways Ireland would engage with Cavan County Council and local interests on the possibility of developing a blueway on that stretch of water. Could the Minister indicate to me how those plans are progressing? I have a second question on a related subject.

Waterways Ireland is responsible for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of some 1,000 km of navigable inland waterways principally for recreational purposes. Waterways Ireland manages and maintains the navigation on the River Erne in County Cavan as part of the Shannon–Erne Waterway. Waterways Ireland public jetties are provided in both Belturbet and Kilconny - Deputy Smith should forgive me if I mispronounce the name - and the navigation channel is provided with navigation markers and signage, as and where required. The upper limit of the managed navigation on the River Erne is currently just below Erne Bridge between Belturbet and Kilconny.

While there is no specific legal obligation on Waterways Ireland to deliver a navigation plan for the Lough Oughter complex, the preparation of a draft navigation plan was initiated in line with the organisation's overall recreational remit in 2008. Waterways Ireland initiated a strategic environmental assessment, SEA, of this draft plan to establish a new navigation on Lough Oughter from Belturbet to Killashandra.

The SEA process indicated that considerable environmental and hydrological assessment would be required to complete any proposed Lough Oughter navigation plan. The expenditure necessary to carry out this work is estimated to be in the region of €300,000 and the result is likely to confirm the initial assessment that significant environmental impact will occur to the designated Lough Oughter habitat and a works project would not be permitted under current environmental regulations.

There may however be potential in the waters of the Lough Oughter area being promoted as a distinct blueway. While I understand from Waterways Ireland that it has no plans to develop a blueway in Lough Oughter, Blueways Ireland, a group that includes the National Trails Office, Canoeing Ireland and a range of other State bodies which is involved in, or with an interest in the development of blueways is currently considering the establishment of blueways beyond the Waterways Ireland network of inland waterways.

To that end Waterways Ireland has met with the chief executive of Cavan County Council, council officials and elected representatives concerning blueways developed successfully on the Waterways Ireland network to advise on possible ways forward. Waterways Ireland is happy to support Cavan County Council with advice should it decide to develop a blueway on the River Erne from Belturbet to Killykeen and Killashandra.

I thank the Minister for her reply. She pronounced "Kilconny" accurately and almost with a Cavan accent.

I thank the Deputy.

Will the Minister instruct Waterways Ireland to reconsider the feasibility of extending the Erne navigation? I was told in the late 1980s that it was not feasible from an engineering point of view to restore the then Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal, which became the Shannon-Erne waterway and has been phenomenally successful, as the Minister is aware. The studies should be revisited on the basis that, given the progress of engineering technology, it may be possible for that stretch of water to be made a navigable continuation of the Shannon-Erne waterway. I appeal to the Minister to ask Waterways Ireland to revisit the issue.

Another issue related to the development of blueways is that Waterways Ireland only has jurisdiction over navigable waterways. The stretch we are discussing is not currently navigable. Therefore, Waterways Ireland would not be responsible for developing the blueway. It would be preferable for it to be the project promoter of a blueway in view of the fact that it is hoped the waterway will be made navigable. I ask the Minister to go back to Waterways Ireland to ask it about the possibility of having the studies revisited and the position in the development of blueways.

I will speak to Waterways Ireland about this issue. Studies were carried out in 2008 and 2009 when the strategic environmental assessment was completed. It became clear in the initial gathering of information that the changes in water levels necessary to create navigation would be unacceptable in the proposed area in view of its level of international conservation designations. The lough has several international conservation designations, including being a candidate for a special area of conservation, a special protection area, a proposed natural heritage area, a Ramsar site and a Natura 2000 site. There are several national and local monuments and sites of historical and archaeological interest in the Lough Oughter area. The initial work also identified the costs associated with completing the studies to which I alluded in my original statement and which would be required for the strategic environmental assessment to be carried out. No further studies have been carried out, which has raised such a level of concern for the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

Coming from the immediate vicinity of the former Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal, now the Shannon-Erne Waterway, I recall that when the studies of making the waterway navigable began, we were told that doing so would flood the countryside and cause awful damage. However, the restoration of the canal has been of benefit to drainage in the area. We were told that the opposite would be the case before the work was carried out. The project was given the go-ahead in 1989, at a time when North-South and east-west relations were very difficult. We may think we have difficult relations with Britain, but that was an entirely different era. The Minister is aware from her visits to County Monaghan and other parts of the country of the success of the Shannon-Erne waterway. The Ulster Canal will now join the network. The addition of the stretch to which I have referred will be a significant complementary asset in the inland waterways system. I appeal to the Minister to go back to Waterways Ireland to ask it to have further studies carried out and to bear in mind that the same concerns were raised in 1989 about the then Ballyconnell-Ballinamore Canal. I have no doubt that, in the light of the progress of engineering technology, the project could be made a reality.

Deputy Brendan Smith has agreed to allow his colleague Deputy Niamh Smyth to ask a short supplementary question.

I thank my colleague and support him in his call for the development of the blueway. Cumann Seanchais Bhreifne is a local historical group in the area which spends much of its time imparting knowledge of the rich heritage of Lough Oughter. Last summer it brought 50 or 60 people on a tour of the area. Speaking as a person from County Cavan, I learned a great deal on the tour. The lough has huge tourism potential for the county and its rich heritage must be maintained and developed. It is of great importance for the Minister to do whatever she can in support of my colleague's request.

I thank the Deputies. I will pass on their observations to Waterways Ireland which will be updated on the matter. It was clear when the studies were carried out that the project could not proceed as the environmental damage to the conserved area would be unacceptable and that spending further resources on further studies would be fruitless. There does not currently appear to be a viable option. However, we can re-examine the issue and I will pass on the request to Waterways Ireland. As the Deputies have pointed out, blueways confer benefits in terms of recreational activity. As I stated, Waterways Ireland is responsible for 1,000 km of navigable inland waterways, principally for recreational purposes. Waterways Ireland is continuing work in the Deputies' constituency with Monaghan County Council, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and many other councils in the area to maximise what we can do in terms of blueways and greenways. It is also progressing a project which received Government approval in 2015, namely, to open a navigation on a 2.5 km stretch of the River Finn from the Erne navigation to the international scout centre at Castle Saunderson in County Cavan.

Creative Ireland Programme

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

67. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the way in which each of the specific commitments under pillar 2 of the Creative Ireland programme enabling creativity in every community has been met; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39812/18]

I ask the Minister to specify which of the commitments under pillar 2 of the Creative Ireland programme have been met; and to make a statement on the matter.

Pillar 2 of the Creative Ireland programme has been and continues to be a real driver of creativity at local level. The programme is led by local authorities, each of which has established a cross-sectoral culture team led by a Creative Ireland co-ordinator. In that regard, this year my Department allocated €2 million, while the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government allocated €1 million to the 31 local authorities. That has allowed us to allocate approximately €96,000 to each local authority which has enabled them to support an extensive programme of activities, initiatives and events in each county.

So far in 2018, over 400 initiatives around Ireland have been funded under pillar 2 of the programme, a significant increase on the figure for 2017. The initiatives include a range of multi-disciplinary projects, grant schemes, concerts, conferences, exhibitions, festivals, outreach projects, publications, research programmes, workshops and other activities. They cover a wide range of topics such as archaeology, architecture, biodiversity, crafts, heritage, dance, film, history, literature, music, photography, poetry, storytelling, theatre and the visual arts. In Deputy Niamh Smyth's area, very exciting and innovative projects are being pursued such as song writing workshops in Breifne College in Cavan town and innovative theatre projects which bring work onto the streets of Cavan to get as many people involved in culture and creativity as possible. County Monaghan also has an exciting programme of events, with some great initiatives for children and young people such as the Creative Enterprise showcase for primary schools. Such activities form part of each local authority's five-year culture and creative strategies which were launched by me, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, on 12 September. The strategies highlight the critical role local authorities play as providers and enablers of cultural and creative experiences in communities across Ireland, with all of the vitally important social and economic consequences that follow.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

With collaboration and shared purpose at the heart of the Creative Ireland programme, each strategy provides meaningful opportunities for people and their communities, together with the local authority, to build and nurture a creative society. The strategies are available online and my colleague the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and I look forward to supporting their continued implementation.

Many hours have been spent in the House discussing the proportion of Creative Ireland's budget which was spent on advertising. That said, I am very interested in what has been achieved in practical terms. The Minister mentioned conferences, courses, festivals, grants and so on, but I ask her to address the specifics of the commitments given in the programme.

Pillar 2 of the Creative Ireland programme is entitled Enabling Every Community. There are six specific commitments under that pillar, one of which is Cruinniú na Cásca. As the Minister will be aware, Cruinniú na Cásca was very successful in its first term and I understood it was intended to be rolled out every year. However, it was scrapped and in its place Cruinniú na nÓg, an event to celebrate creativity for children, was introduced. Will the Minister set out the roadmap for the way these events, projects, concerts and conferences are being measured in terms of what they are achieving? What measuring tool is the Minister using to determine if they are achieving the criteria and objectives set out by Creative Ireland in the first place?

Pillar 2 of Creative Ireland is very important, and it is important that each local authority uses, in a robust and imaginative way, the moneys it receives. These are the programmes for Cavan and Monaghan, and both the cathaoirleach of Cavan County Council, Councillor Madeleine Argue, and the cathaoirleach of Monaghan County Council, Councillor Cathy Bennett, set out their ambitious targets for their culture plans, which we launched recently.

We spent €1,25 million on Cruinniú na Cásca in 2017. This year, we had Cruinniú na nÓg on 23 June. Additional funding of €650,000 was given to the local authorities. The local authorities must account for how they spend the moneys we give to them, which is growing every year. It involves all of the community and many moving parts to encourage children, the elderly and everybody to be creative and explore their imagination and innovation in terms of culture.

Is the Minister satisfied that what Creative Ireland is doing through its local authorities does not undermine in any way the Arts Council role in all of this? I spoke to many artists and there is a concern, which I mentioned previously to the Minster, that Creative Ireland might not have the arm's length approach that is respected and understood to be happening within the Arts Council. To return to the question, the most important aspect of any funding streams is delivery but also to analyse the projects being delivered to determine if they are meeting the aims and criteria in terms of what they were set up to do. What is the Minister's measuring tool to ensure that Creative Ireland and the programme pillars are achieving what they set out to do?

It is very clear in this particular Department. The legacy programme of Creative Ireland has been a success in terms of the five pillars to enable every child to have access to tuition in music, drama, art and coding. That is the first pillar. The Deputy delineated a question specifically on enabling creativity in every community. Each local authority produced a culture and creativity plan last year. We have the breakdown of the spend on Cruinniú na Cásca, which, as I said, was €1.25 million. The local authority partnership last year was €1 million, and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government gave €1 million, so they got €64,000 each. We will increase that.

The spend on the citizen engagement was €900,000. We have a breakdown of that. The figure for the events, festivals and partnerships was €490,000. The spend on digital content was €400,000, online-international was €200,000, and administrative was €500,000, making a grand total of €5 million for last year.

It is an all-of-Government initiative, primarily delivered through existing structures. The Arts Council has its role. There is no competing in that regard. The Arts Council is at arm's length. It is up to it how it spends its money. There is also the film board, the relevant Departments and the local authorities. The objectives are delivered. The Arts Council gets funding every year to deliver its objectives, one of which is Making Great Art Work.

Approval has been given to Deputy Heydon to take Deputy Deering's question.

National Heritage Plan

Pat Deering

Ceist:

68. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the timeline for the publication of Heritage Ireland 2030. [39363/18]

I ask about the timeline for the publication of the Heritage Ireland 2030 plan, which has been subject to some delay. The Minister might outline the reasons and how close we are to progress on that plan, which is very important for our built and cultural heritage.

Heritage Ireland 2030 is a new national heritage plan for Ireland which is being developed by my Department. It will provide a coherent national heritage policy, recognising its importance to local communities and global visitors alike. Community engagement will lie at the heart of Heritage Ireland 2030, reflecting the values, visions and concerns of our citizens, communities, farmers, tourists and businesses. It will provide the opportunity for stakeholders to engage with our heritage, building on the priorities and key investment targets set out in Investing in our Culture, Heritage and Language.

A steering group headed up by my Department has been engaged in consultation with key stakeholders throughout the year to gauge and inform thinking on the broad pillars of the Heritage Ireland 2030 plan and to help to frame the public consultation process.

It is a revitalised national heritage plan. It will provide the overarching framework for Ireland’s heritage policy, reflecting and recognising its importance to local communities and global visitors alike. Ultimately, community engagement will lie at the core of Heritage Ireland 2030, reflecting the values, visions and concerns of our citizens, communities, farmers, tourists and businesses.

Significant progress has been made in the consultations with key stakeholders, and this critical phase is now nearing completion. The steering group has facilitated inputs by many partners by extending the original closing date for submissions. The resulting engagement has identified additional needs and opportunities across the broad built and natural heritage space, building on the priorities and key investment targets previously set out in Investing in our Culture, Heritage and Language launched earlier this year. To gather the views of the wider community, a public consultation document informed by the stakeholder engagement is being drafted by the steering group.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The development of Heritage Ireland 2030 is a unique opportunity to rethink how we care for our habitats, landscapes, wildlife, historic buildings and monuments so they can be celebrated and enjoyed long into the future. It is my intention to start the public consultation phase in November 2018 with the aim that it will conclude in spring 2019 and that finalisation of the plan will be achieved in the period following.

Our heritage is recognised as a vital contributor to national health, well-being, enjoyment and sustainable economic growth. There is also ever-increasing public awareness of the immense inherent value of Ireland's heritage and more and more stakeholder buy-in to its protection. Heritage Ireland 2030 will therefore provide an important policy framework within which we can protect, develop and share our national heritage.

I thank the Minister for her response. Funding will be a key element of any plan. As we provide more money under Project Ireland 2040, good schemes such as the built heritage investment scheme will require increased investment as we emerge from the lost decade. These are very good schemes but they have not been able to do what we would like them to do due to the lack of funding. Resources for schemes are crucial, as is investment in the key staff who deliver them. Most local authorities have one heritage officer and one conservation officer, who do great work. They are very busy and are critical in terms of the community engagement piece. They are well placed on the ground to work with community groups. In my experience of dealing with graveyard committees and other small voluntary groups, the community-led groups do much of that work, but the heritage professionals in the council tend to be that link. They are very busy and consideration will have to be given to giving them extra resources and staff to make sure they can do the great work they do in working with the community groups who do the work on the ground.

I thank the Deputy for observing the time.

I do not disagree with the Deputy on that. Resources are critical in terms of implementing our objectives for any plan, particularly an ambitious plan like Heritage 2030.

For the Deputy's information, in his constituency in Kildare, in 2017, funding of €71,680 was given towards the built heritage investment scheme, and the figure for the structure at risk fund was €53,000. In 2018, funding for the built heritage investment scheme was €50,000, and €66,000 for the structure at risk fund. Overall, we have provided funding of €3.3 million for 431 projects throughout the country in 2018. Some of those have been completed but the majority are on site. There are sites bustling with activity across every local authority in the country where we can see specialist heritage trades and crafts being put to good use in saving and restoring our historic buildings. These two schemes have funded 920 projects since the start of 2017 across every local authority in the country, 767 under the built heritage investment scheme and 153 under the structure at risk fund.

The historic towns initiative was also rolled out nationwide for the first time in 2018. Six towns have shared in €1 million in funding via the Heritage Council.

I acknowledge the role the structure at risk fund in particular has played in villages and towns such as Castledermot, Kilcullen and Kildare town in addressing significant deficits. The heritage officers work closely with the local community groups, and the scheme has been very successful, which shows the value of putting in money and investment.

On the Department engaging with heritage professionals in every county, they are key stakeholders and if they have not been consulted, they should be part of the public consultation process or a consultation process of their own. The small built heritage and cultural heritage projects are great, but it will be hard in 2030 to identify how successful the plan will have been because of all the small schemes. It is really important that consideration be given to undertaking some large-scale flagship projects. An example I can think of in County Kildare is the Curragh Plains, a 5,000 acre expanse of land that covers everything in the built heritage and the cultural heritage. It is an outwash where St. Brigid threw her cloak and, from the Race of the Black Pig to Donnelly's Hollow to the Little Curragh, there are so many stories. It is an area of which we are extremely proud in County Kildare and many Kildare people use it for recreational purposes. It is a huge tourist attraction, but it is not well managed. We need an active conservation and management plan. It is of key importance to incorporate such a flagship project in Heritage Ireland 2030.

I did not know that about St. Brigid's cloak and the Curragh Plains. I note the Deputy's comments on integrating the Curragh Plains into the overall strategy for Heritage Ireland 2030. The consultation process is a critical part of the development of the document and a key stakeholder input has been gathered in the form of written submissions and face to face meetings with organisations such as the Heritage Council, the input of which is crucial in informing the plan. I am very grateful to the organisations and bodies that have contributed so extensively. The process is almost complete. I understand there were bodies still engaged as late as last week and I am sure everyone here will agree that it is very important that they be allowed the time they need to make their contribution. The open public consultation process will begin in November and include an invitation to make written submissions, social media engagement and a series of regional public workshops which will culminate in a national discussion day, I hope in February 2019. Publication of the final plan will take place before the end of 2019 and reflect the outcome of all of the consultations.

National Parks

This question is not linked with any other, is it?

I do not believe so.

It is the same as Question No. 107.

It should have been linked with it, but it is not. Perhaps, with the approval of the Minister, we can include a supplementary question from Deputy Joan Burton.

I would appreciate it if we could keep it tight because I have another question after this one.

I think it is up to the Deputy. It does not make any difference to me.

The Minister is taking the question. Therefore, with her approval, we will take a supplementary question from Deputy Joan Burton.

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

69. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht further to Parliamentary Question No. 823 of 18 September 2018, if her Department has considered buying the 4,500 acres of the estate that do not include the house in view of the good value price her Department paid for a similar piece of land at Glenasmole in 2016; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39845/18]

The Minister is well aware that there is a huge campaign and great public concern about the Luggala estate in the Wicklow mountains, a unique piece of our cultural heritage which is up for sale. Under its previous owners, the de Brún family, public access to Lough Dan and the surrounding area was guaranteed. With its sale, there are real fears that any new owner could cut off access to Lough Dan and the surrounding area and that access to this precious piece of our cultural heritage could be lost. People are appealing to the Minister to step in and purchase the Luggala estate to secure it for public use into the future.

I thank the Deputy for his question which we have previously discussed in the House. As outlined in my response to Parliamentary Question No. 823 of 18 September, there is no change in my Department's position. The sale and any apportionment of the property into lots are commercial matters for the vendor.

Through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, my Department manages a property portfolio in respect of national parks and reserves of approximately 87,000 ha. These important biodiversity areas are located all around the country and include a large area of County Wicklow and the 5,000 acres of lands in Glenasmole and the Featherbeds purchased in recent years. Given the limited resources available for capital investment within the national parks and nature reserves, I recognise the need to focus on the core responsibilities in the management of the existing national parks and reserve lands. While the lands in question would represent a significant addition to the stock of publicly owned heritage properties and lands, my Department could only consider acquiring the property if the price fell to within a certain range, or in the context of a donation or bequest. This is known to the vendors. Clearly, the Glenasmole purchase of 5,000 acres of land sets a precedent and, although the circumstances pertaining to it are very dissimilar, it is certainly a market factor. As the Deputy will no doubt appreciate, it would not be appropriate for me to seek to negotiate indirectly or publicly. Suffice it to say I am absolutely aware of the public good value of the property.

My Department's relationship with the Guinness estate here and more generally has been positive. It is one of mutual respect and being good neighbours and often of working together on shared issues of interest. They include herd management and husbandry, habitat oversight, film-making, signage, visitor accommodation, trail maintenance and designation management. For the most part, the boundary between the private estate and the national park is invisible to the visitor and tourist, with pre-eminence being given to the idyllic shared land, lake and mountain-scape. My officials remain in constructive contact with the agents for the vendors in this matter.

We need more of an assurance than that. There are big petitions ongoing and the matter has been raised a number of times in the House. It would be completely unacceptable if the area was to be fenced off as private property and become inaccessible. There would be uproar. Any restriction of access to the vista at Lough Dan would be totally unacceptable. We need an assurance that the Minister is going to do something about the matter. If the house is a problem, can the Minister give security about the surrounding lands, guaranteeing access to Lough Dan, the walks and viewing points? Will she at least guarantee that they will be taken into public ownership in order that public access to this unique and beautiful piece of our heritage will not be restricted? If that is allowed to happen, it will be beyond shame.

I thank Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett. Question No. 10 in my name is about the same matter. This is part of the heritage of every Irish person. It is a place with which people are very familiar. I am certainly very familiar with it since I was first brought there as a small child. What I am really upset about is that "private property" signs, as I am sure the Minister is aware, have begun to appear on the road above the lake. Mountaineering Ireland has written to the Minister specifically about the Luggala estate. Will she agree to meet its representatives who really look after the mountains? We also know of a gate beside the estate that is being closed, it appears, at 5.30 p.m. We know that the owners of the Guinness Trust are resident in the Channel Islands and, I think, Guernsey. The Luggala estate is a precious piece of our heritage which was magnificently looked after and utilised not just for estate purposes but also for films and music by Garech de Brún whose death, sadly, took place recently. We must not allow a trust in the Channel Islands to decide that the Irish people - men, women and children - should lose what has been part of their heritage practically forever. The Minister needs to address this issue as a matter of urgency.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions. Notwithstanding petitions - there can, unfortunately, be petitions on many matters - the sale is ultimately a commercial matter between the owners of the property in question and the parties interested in purchasing. The estate is located near Roundwood and within the vicinity of the Wicklow Mountains National Park. The lands fall within objective 8 of the management plan for Wicklow Mountains National Park and are adjacent to the 1,600 acres of land the State purchased from the estate in 2006.

As such they are within the target area where acquisition by the State could be considered. However, while the estate falls within the core of the park's target area and encompasses some of the most iconic views of Wicklow - it is beautiful, as both the Deputies have described - it would not have the same strategic significance to the National Parks and Wildlife Service as the 2006 lands which linked two unconnected pieces of the national park. The 2006 purchase, in effect, provided the National Parks and Wildlife Service with a continuous tract of land stretching from the Dublin border to just north of Lugnaquilla Mountain.

Given the scarce resources for capital investment available in our national parks and mindful of the need to focus on core responsibilities relating to the management of existing parks, the Department could only consider acquiring this property if the price fell within a certain range.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is entitled to a second supplementary question.

May I move on to the next question?

We only have a minute left.

We have three minutes, do we not?

Is it three minutes? One minute left.

Therefore we cannot move on to the next question.

No. There is only one minute left.

The Deputy may ask a short supplementary question.

To refer to commercial considerations when we are discussing this piece of our national heritage is not good enough. Some things are too important to simply allow the highest bidder to come along and take them. As has been mentioned, "private property" signs are appearing on the road with views over Luggala. That is a very ominous sign of what could come down the line if the State does not step in to secure this site. It provides value in terms of tourism, walking and access to Lough Dan, and is irreplaceable. The Government needs to give firm assurances that it will not let this land go to the highest bidder with so much heritage and access for the public going a begging. That would be a shame on the State.

I call the Minister for a final response.

Will the Minister-----

-----meet representatives of Mountaineering Ireland who, on behalf of all of us, have been custodians of this area? Is anybody willing to meet them?

The questions should have been linked but that is not a matter for the Chair. We should be more vigilant in future because two Deputies asked exactly the same question.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

If the Deputies want to contact my Department, we can go through the normal routes. I will not answer questions, such as the question asked by Deputy Burton, on the floor of the House. Suffice to say that my office is available for people to contact and to make appointments at any stage.

I remind the House that in 2016 my Department negotiated the extension of Wicklow Mountains National Park by purchasing almost 4,900 acres of Dublin uplands at Glenasmole at a cost of €800,000.

This specific house is recorded in the national inventory of architectural heritage and is rated as being of regional importance. My Department has also entered into a strategic partnership with Fáilte Ireland to finalise a tourism interpretive master plan.

This is a beautiful place, as both Deputies mentioned, but that does not mean the Department is in a position to purchase it. I would purchase every beautiful estate in the country if I could, but I am not in a position to do so. The vendors are aware of that. We have discussed this previously on the floor of the House. If the price falls within a certain range and my Department is in a position to purchase it, we will certainly consider doing so.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.