As I have indicated to the Deputy in a recent Parliamentary Reply, the Office of Public Works are open to the idea that the St. Laurence's Gate Monument in Drogheda would in future be available to visitors and would play a part in the tourism attractions within the town. Indeed, access to the public is already available on special occasions such as Heritage Week, Fleadh Ceol etc and this will continue to be the case. However, opening the site on a more permanent basis is challenging because of a number of factors and as I explained in my recent reply, is dependent on the successful resolution of two major issues in particular which must be addressed in sequence:
- the structural condition of the building, which is poor currently
- the need to develop a sustainable and efficient visitor presentation model
In regards to the necessary works, I think it has been well understood in PQ responses by my predecessor that there are multiple serious structural issues with the building and I believe former Minister Moran widely shared the relevant Structural report with local public representatives. Currently the OPW are working on a range of project solutions for this work. I cannot at this stage promise the Deputy when that will come to fruition as there are many challenges currently at various National Monument sites throughout the North East and many demands on the OPW team in that area. However, I can assure the Deputy that we will make every effort to progress the project as quickly as is feasible.
The visitor management issue is, in fact, potentially much more challenging and I would suggest will require the participation of a number of actors outside the OPW to resolve it. The Gate building is very confined and has a very limited access so it can only admit a small number of people at any one time. It is unlikely therefore to ever be a high visitor volume proposition and will in all likelihood remain as a local visitor site rather than a national attraction. Ideally, in OPW's view, it should be managed locally and, to this end, OPW have had a number of discussions with Louth Co. Council to try and see if this can be achieved. No firm outcomes have emerged to date from this but I would like perhaps to take this opportunity to seek the Deputy's own advice and assistance in making progress on this. It may be that there is a local group, such as a business development organisation or a historical society who might be willing to work in partnership with the OPW on this issue, perhaps sponsoring a TÚS trainees or a volunteer group. Is there perhaps a possibility that a local keyholder might be available to manage the access on the ground on request, as happens in many other locations managed by the OPW around the country?
There has been good progress on working with local organisations on these kinds of initiatives in a number of places - including most recently Carlingford Castle which I visited a few weeks ago - where strong partnerships have emerged to work collaboratively on issues such as these and perhaps that should be the focus in Drogheda also. I would therefore encourage the Deputy if he has any ideas on this front to bring them to me and I will certainly have them considered by my officials.