Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Ceisteanna (51)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

51. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if she has contact with the owners of an estate (details supplied) in relation to a public access proposal for the estate with regard to walkers and mountaineers; her plans to acquire the estate in the national interest; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1583/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Culture)

As outlined in my responses of 18th September 2018, (Parliamentary Question No. 823), 02 October 2018 (Parliamentary Question No. 69), 29th November 2018 (Dail Question No. 248) and 7th December 2018 (Parliamentary Question number 47411/18) there is no change to my Department's position. The sale of the property is a commercial matter for the vendor.

While the lands in question would represent a significant addition to the stock of publicly owned heritage properties and lands, my Department could, as stressed previously, only consider acquiring this 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. 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 hectares. These important biodiversity areas are located all around the country including a large area of County Wicklow, and the 5,000 hectares of lands in Glenasmole 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 relating to the management of the existing Parks and Reserves' lands.

Clearly, the Glenasmole purchase of 5,000 hectares sets a precedent, and although the circumstance pertaining are very dissimilar, it is certainly a market factor. As the Deputy will no doubt appreciate, it would not be appropriate of me to seek to negotiate indirectly or publicly. Suffice it to say that I am aware of the public-good value of this property, balanced across a range of demands across my Department.

With regard to the use of the area by hillwalkers, climbers and the public in general, as I have stated previously, I have no statutory function regarding the provision of access to private lands. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the Estate has allowed a permissive access to its hugely popular walking route for many decades and I would hope that this would continue under any new ownership arrangements and my Department has conveyed this desire directly to the vendors and their agent.

As outlined in my earlier replies, my Department's relationship with the Guinness Estate here, and more generally, has been positive. It is one of mutual respect and good neighbours, and indeed often working together on shared issue of interest. These include herd management and husbandry, habitat oversight, film-making, signage, visitor accommodation, trail maintenance and designation management. Indeed, for the most part, the boundary between the private estate and the National Park is invisible to the visitor and tourist, with pre-imminence being given to the idyllic shared land, lake and mountainscape.