Thursday, 21 May 2020
Covid-19 (Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht): Statements
Thomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
I realised as I was listening to the contributions that one of the matters I intended to raise probably falls under the Office of Public Works, OPW, rather than the Minister's Department. That might indicate the problem with heritage in Ireland: much of it is the responsibility of the OPW while other areas are the responsibility of the Department and so on. I will come to that in a few minutes.
Deputy Paul Murphy raised the issue of the National Famine Commemoration Day. It is vitally important and should be considered. The Famine should, perhaps, hold a more important place in the national psyche. It has had far-reaching impacts and still impacts on us today because of the decline in population.
The population never reached a level which would allow us to develop businesses that could grow to a certain size and then move to markets outside, as most other European countries were able to do over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Famine had an enormous impact, and it continues to have an impact to this day. In that context, it is something we should look at. We must also remember the psychological impact on our people and our heritage too.
I want to speak briefly about the wildfires that occurred right across the country in recent weeks. North-west Donegal was particularly badly hit and somebody was arrested on suspicion of starting a wildfire. How many wildfires are started deliberately and how many are natural occurrences? In some countries, particularly the US, a lot of wildfires happen naturally as part of the life cycle of forests. How much of that happens in Ireland? Do we have any figures on that? Is it something that is considered by the OPW? A register of fires, as mentioned by Deputy Whitmore, might go some way towards helping us collate that information.
Finally, I wanted to ask about the reopening of heritage sites and then realised that many of those I thought of as heritage sites in Donegal are actually OPW sites, which is part of the problem. These sites need to reopen because they are an integral part of rural Ireland's tourism product, not to mention their use by local people. They need to be carefully managed and reopened as a matter of priority. I am thinking of places like Donegal Castle which is used by the local community and is also the location for a Famine commemoration every year, which illustrates the importance of heritage from both a tourism and local community perspective.