Ownership Of Bunratty Castle And Folk Park To Be Transferred From Shannon Group To Clare County Council
Ownership of Bunratty Castle and Folk Park will be transferred from Shannon Airport operator Shannon Group to Clare County Council.
As reported by The Irish Times, the move is part of a wider transfer in which the Shannon Group will transfer its tourism arm, Shannon Heritage, to local authorities.
The group will also transfer its King John's Castle asset in Limerick city to Limerick County Council.
Clare County Council already operates the Cliffs of Moher visitor attraction.
Shannon Heritage, which also operates Knappogue Castle and Craggaunowen Bronze Age park along with a retail outlet at the Cliffs of Moher, has been badly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Shannon Heritage generated €19.65 million in revenues and €1.18 million in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) in 2019.
The company's pre-COVID-19 pandemic visitor numbers amounted to 963,239 in 2019, and the Shannon Group's tourism buildings had a book value of €25 million at cost at the end of December of 2020.
Shannon Heritage Employees
The group reportedly confirmed that the employment rights of all of Shannon Heritage's employees will not change and will be fully protected in the transfer.
Shannon Group Spokesperson Statements
The Irish Times quotes a spokesperson as saying that the agreement will enable the group "to concentrate our energies on restoring passenger numbers at the airport", and, "Today's announcement will ensure that the heritage sites are being managed by local authorities where there are synergies that can be further developed in line with their well-established tourism development strategies and will provide opportunities for maximising future potential."
While an agreement in principle has been reached with Clare County Council, it will several months to conclude, and it is the intention of the parties that the transfer will be complete by the end of this year.
Clare Fianna Fáil TD Statements
The Irish Times quotes Clare Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe as saying that the proposal is "a very positive development, and it provides a much-needed adrenaline shot to the heritage sites in our region", and, "The past 15 months have been dogged by huge uncertainty and many of the 200 or so Shannon Heritage staff in our county have endured huge stress and worry levels as they faced uncertainty about their futures."
Independent Clare TD Statements
The Irish Times quotes Independent Clare TD Michael McNamara as saying, "This is a good move for the visitor attractions as Clare County Council has, unusually among local authorities, a lot of experience in managing world-class tourism sites."
McNamara also stated, "Last summer, I went to Clare County Council to propose that the local authority express its interest in taking over Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, Craggaunowen, Knappogue Castle and the retail unit at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience having discussed the matter directly with staff of Shannon Heritage and Shannon Group plc management.
"I am glad that this proposal is coming to fruition as it will give a new lease of life to these vital heritage tourism assets and to staff who have found themselves in a precarious position over the past 16 months.
"I have continuously sought commitments from Minister Eamon Ryan and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton that a review the future of Shannon Heritage's position within Shannon Group would be undertaken and consideration would be given to bringing the Clare attractions under the operational control of Clare County Council.
"This is a good move for the visitor attractions as Clare County Council has, unusually among local authorities, a lot of experience in managing world class tourism sites. This move will hopefully serve to seek to balance their control of these assets to drive a greater dispersal of revenue and visitor footfall across all of the county, particularly when combined with their plans for Holy Island (Inis Cealtra)."
Clare County Council Statement
Clare County Council stated on its website, "Further to being noted at Cabinet meeting [on June 29], Clare County Council has engaged with Shannon Group to commence a due diligence process to consider the potential transfer by Shannon Group PLC of Shannon Heritage (Clare-based visitor attractions) to Clare County Council as a subsidiary company.
"Pat Dowling, chief executive of Clare County Council, welcomes the opportunity to engage in the due diligence process on the Shannon Heritage visitor attractions in Clare without prejudice to the outcome of the research. He thanked the Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, Cllr PJ Ryan, and the Elected Members who have also supported the commencement of the due diligence process.
"Chair of the Clare Tourism Advisory Forum, Mr Sean Lally, welcomed the news as a very positive development for tourism in the county and for the strengthening of its visitor attraction portfolio. He noted that Clare County Council has considerable experience of operating existing visitor attractions with the assistance of two other subsidiary companies (the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre Limited and Kilrush Amenity Trust Ltd). Mr Lally added that the timing of this news is pertinent given the recent launch of the Clare Tourism Strategy 2030. Subject to this due diligence process, this very positively establishes the strategic direction for Clare in spreading the benefits of tourism across the communities of the county.
"Vice Chair of the Clare Tourism Advisory Forum, Mr Maurice Walsh, also welcomed the news of both parties entering into a process of due diligence, 'Given the devastating effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on tourism in the county, bringing certainty to the future operation and development of Shannon Group portfolio of visitor attractions is vital to tourism’s recovery throughout Clare. Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Craggaunowen and Knappogue Castle attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. This supports tourism and broader economic development in the county. The visitors they attract also helps to underpin direct access services through Shannon Airport. The role of these attractions in the future will be even more critical to the success of tourism in the county.'
"Chair of the board of the Cliffs of Moher Centre Ltd, Mr Bobby Kerr, welcomes the news from government this morning that Clare County Council and Shannon Group will be working together on the due diligence process to prepare for the future of the Clare visitor attractions under the auspices of Shannon Heritage. There is a lot of positive synergy between the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty, Vandeleur Walled Gardens, Knappogue, Craggaunowen, Loophead Lighthouse and Inis Cealtra. [Kerr wishes] the process and innovative thinking every success.
"Chair of the board of Kilrush Amenity Trust (Vandeleur Walled Gardens and Loophead Lighthouse), Mr Noel Kilkenny, commented that this is wonderful news as it protects the very valuable heritage sites proven to be successful attractions and great employment for the people of Clare. With the new proposed new ownership of these sites, this will allow for a period of further stability and growth."
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