Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 11 Jun 2014

Vol. 232 No. 2

Johnstown Castle Agricultural College (Amendment) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the Minister to the House. I am very happy to support the Bill that he has brought before us. Johnstown Castle is an amenity in our area and as the Minister pointed out the community has enjoyed this amenity for many decades. It also has been an amenity in the Wexford area as far back as the invasion of the Normans in 1169. It also has a connection with history during the Cromwellian years up to Independence. The demesne spans a period of time.

We should acknowledge the benevolence of the people who held many of the fine houses and parkland that are now public parks and gifted them to the State. This was one such demesne that was gifted to the State in 1945. I remember in my courting days, which is not today or yesterday, going with the lady who is now my wife to Johnstown Castle. I was surprised when the Minister mentioned 1969, as I would have thought it was before that. We are glad to have such an amenity in our locality. I would like to recognise, as I am sure my colleague, Senator Michael D'Arcy, would as well, the agricultural museum, which was started by Dr. Austin O'Sullivan, who was inspired to do this in the 1970s. He has preserved the materials and machinery that were used in the past and has built on it in the past decades, highlighting what rural life was like in Ireland in bygone days. The museum was opened in 1979 by President Hillery and now occupies in excess of 1,600 sq. m. I also agree with the proposal to make available to the Murrintown parish the 2.8 acres for a burial ground. It has been seeking that for some time. It started back in the time we were in government.

I hope the commitment from the State will remain strong and it will not relieve itself of the burden of the cost of upkeep of €300,000 to maintain both the house and the estate. The lands are extensive and the gardens, which include a lake, have been in public use by the people of Wexford and its hinterland. It is important that would remain so. The house has only been available on special occasions, when there were receptions. It is a very fine house. I would certainly welcome the development of the house as a visitor attraction to add to a number of other visitor attractions in the area.

I had thought of raising the issue of leasing the property. The promotion and marketing of the estate will be essential.

We also have the JFK Arboretum in County Wexford. It is adjacent to where I live. The arboretum's extensive grounds are used by many local people for walking and for bringing their children to the playground. There has been great criticism over many decades that this facility has suffered from a kind of marketing deficit. We have been unable to get any joy in this regard. The arboretum and memorial park could be an amenity for the local people who are aware of them and they could act as an additional attraction for tourists coming to the area. I refer to those visiting the area for short-term day trips and also to those spending a longer period in the locality. It could become a much greater contributor to the economic foundations of our particular area. I would hate to think we might leave Johnstown Castle with a similar marketing deficit.

I would like to suggest to the Minister that he could usefully look at utilising Wexford County Council in this context. I do not know whether this has been considered. The council has been to the fore in supporting, both from a human resources and a financial perspective, a number of projects that have emerged in County Wexford. The county has built up an attractive base of good tourist attractions in recent decades, particularly in the last decade or two. The Irish National Heritage Park, for example, attracts between 60,000 and 70,000 visitors each year. It is being successfully operated by a company that is run under Wexford County Council, which initiated and developed the park on land that was vacated as a consequence of road development in the area. I think the land in question, which is on the banks of the River Slaney, has been put to very good use. The council has also developed Duncannon Fort, which is operated by another company established by the council. A similar arrangement is in place at Fethard Castle. This package of very good projects could usefully be combined with Johnstown Castle. I suggest that should be considered.

I have a query about the development and operation of the castle and gardens "for heritage, tourism, amenity or recreational purposes", as provided for in this legislation. Perhaps the Minister can clarify the matter in his reply. I note that there will be no direct cost to the Exchequer on enactment of the Bill. This concerns me because I am wondering who will pay for the development of the castle. Given that we will be competing with other such projects in the south east and elsewhere, I suspect there will be a requirement to spend a certain amount of money - on the capital side, in the first instance - to ensure the castle is as attractive an amenity as possible. A little innovative thinking needs to be done before a decision is made on what the contents of the castle will be. People will be eager to visit the castle. It will be something of a jewel in the crown of local tourist attractions. The Minister spoke about leasing the castle. Has there been any fleshing out of the type of body that might be considered in that regard? Maybe it is too early for that. I suggest that consideration be given to a body like Wexford County Council, which has good experience in this area. I would like to think that Teagasc would make some contribution towards the marketing budget, just as the OPW should be contributing to the promotion of John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, which is really not being promoted at all.

Debate adjourned.