Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht): Statements
Michael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
The other matter I wish to raise concerns UNESCO-designated sites, of which there are several in Ireland. There is a proposal concerning a site that is close to me, not only physically but also because I care a great deal about it. Five early monastic sites, the better known being Durrow, Inis Cealtra and Clonmacnoise, were included in a proposal submitted to UNESCO by the Fianna Fáil-led Government that was in power with other parties until 2011. Very little happened afterwards. I asked numerous questions in the House of one of the Minister's predecessors but got very few answers. I know the Minister may not have an answer to this question right now and I am not expecting her to be aware of matters such as this.
As I had received very few answers, I went to the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The staff I met there stated that they have heard nothing from Ireland for many years on this issue.
Although I could be wrong, I understand that one of the problems is that these five early monastic sites are in different local authority areas. A UNESCO designation would be very welcome because it would protect the sites, but it would also have planning implications for the area around the sites. One no more expects to see a shopping mall alongside the famous ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey than one expects to see a Clonmacnoise shopping experience. It is to be hoped that that will not come about any time soon. Some local authorities are reluctant to co-operate as much as one might expect due to the planning implications. If that is the case with some of these sites, is there a case to be made for splitting them up? If one or two of the local authorities do not wish to take part in this process and departmental officials or the Minister are not in a position to persuade it or them that the greater good would be to take part, perhaps we could proceed with the other sites. I ask the Minister to consider that proposal.
There are many advantages that derive from UNESCO designation, such as the protection of the site. Obviously, Skellig Michael has been protected as a result of the efforts of the Minister's Department as well as its UNESCO designation. Such a designation puts it on the international tourist map. I would like that to happen with Inis Cealtra, colloquially known as Holy Island, which is a beautiful monastic island on Lough Derg. There is a lot of scope to move forward on the matter. If the Minister does not have the answers before her now, I ask that she provide them to me in writing.