Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Question 114: To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of projects in relation to preservation of national monuments that will be undertaken in 2012; the associated costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20291/12]
The Office of Public Works is responsible for the conservation, care and maintenance of approximately 780 national monuments, which are in State ownership or guardianship. The conservation and presentation of these monuments involves a mixture of activities including major and minor conservation projects, works to facilitate or improve the presentation and interpretation of sites and ongoing maintenance.
Twenty-one major projects, each one estimated to cost in excess of €100,000, involving conservation works in regard to the preservation of national monuments, will be undertaken in 2012. Examples of these projects include work at Ennis Friary, Nenagh Castle, Askeaton Castle and Ormonde Castle. A full list of major projects, including the programmed expenditure, can be provided to the Deputy.
OPW-managed sites attract 3.5 million visitors per annum. In order to enhance the visitor experience, a range of services are provided including interpretative centres, parking facilities, improved universal access, flood-lighting and interpretive panels. Minor works and ongoing routine maintenance will continue during 2012. These are part and parcel of the ongoing annual programme. The budget allocation for the maintenance of national monuments in 2012 is €14.73 million. The visitor services budget, which covers the cost of providing guide services at 69 individual national monuments, is approximately €7.4 million this year.
I thank the Minister of State for the information provided to date. I would welcome the full list he stated could be provided. He noted there were guides at 69 sites throughout the country. At how many of these do people have to pay to enter? The Minister of State might give the House that information. I agree with him there is great tourism value and that is why I highlighted this issue. I encourage him to continue in this area with whatever expenditure is possible. I draw his attention specifically to the Rock of Dunamaise in County Laois. I saw in my local paper that the Minister of State may have visited this site last year. He might speak about the structures-at-risk fund which concerns protected structures that may not be national monuments. I am not sure which Department disburses that fund, the Minister of State's Department or the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. There are also grants through the Heritage Council. Between what the Minister of State is spending, the structures-at-risk fund that is given out through local authorities from whichever of the two Departments, and the Heritage Council grant, can the Minister of State return with a figure for the global spend? He may not have that information today. There are sums going here and there and it would be very useful to ensure there is full rationalisation.
I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the famous cross of Durrow, a fantastic artefact in his constituency, will again be on full public view from next Monday. It has been transferred from the graveyard into the wonderful church in Durrow. That is an example of the ongoing conservation work carried out by the Office of Public Works. At 50 of the 69 sites, we pay in. One of the initiatives I launched is the first free Wednesday every month. It has been an enormous success and has increased the number of people attending these sites all over the country by 50% on the Wednesdays in question. We will look at how we can extend the initiative this year.
Grants to the Heritage Council and others are provided by other Departments. Our responsibility is for the 7,500 monuments, of which 69 are guided, and all historic properties, such as Kilmainham, Farmleigh and Dublin Castle. In a tight budgetary environment, we are attempting to maximise our spend. Later this month and over the summer we will launch an important voluntary participation programme, whereby we encourage new partnerships between local communities and the Office of Public Works to help us run and present these fantastic sites. It will be similar to the model used by English Heritage. There is great potential in asking local volunteers to help us in the preservation of these sites.