Thursday, 23 September 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
I understand from the Commissioners of Public Works that works are continuing on the external walls of Barryscourt Castle. The conservation nature of this project requires the use of heritage products and traditional lime mortar, which requires painstaking attention to detail and expert craftsmanship. The OPW is on target to complete its programme for 2021, which will leave 50% of the south wall and 50% of the east wall completed. It is expected that the regrouting of the south wall and east wall will be completed in 2022. Progress has also been made on the specification for the mechanical and electrical works which will follow the grouting programme.
Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 have seriously impacted progress on the project and, unfortunately, continue to do so. Notwithstanding that, the Office of Public Works hopes to have the works completed and the castle reopened in 2023. As the Deputy knows, I visited the castle when I had the opportunity to do so with the local councillor, Mr. Anthony Barry, and I pay tribute to the outdoor workers and the craftspeople of the OPW who are based in east Cork. This is a very difficult and constrained project for us, but the OPW is committed to it.
I met the local community as well as Deputy Stanton and other public representatives and I visited a number of the OPW facilities in the Fota, Cobh and Great Island areas. I know the contribution Barryscourt Castle has the potential to make to that particular part of east Cork. I understand the frustrations, but this is the nature of conservation work and the nature of the work at hand. The progress is incredibly slow. I can provide additional supplementary material to the Deputy and we can meet him on-site as well. We are prepared to engage with the Deputy to see if there is additional material that can be beneficial to him on this matter.
Frustration is an understatement. It is seven years since this project was started.
The Minister of State has said it will not be open until 2023. I have a letter here from his predecessor, Deputy Canney, stating that it would be open in 2019. It is very disappointing that it has taken so long. I understand it is painstaking and difficult. Does the Minister of State have any plans for developing the castle and the grounds when it finally reopens? Has he had any contact with the Barryscourt trust which I understand controls a substantial amount of the property?
The answer is "Yes". We had a meeting with the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Noonan, to discuss the broader issue yesterday. We are engaged with Fáilte Ireland on the whole issue of how we look at our estate and at the responsibilities we have. As the Deputy will know, during the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to support I received from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, I initiated a programme across the entire OPW estate, offering free admission last year, which was a success with people staycationing. It was an attempt to get people to come into OPW-operated facilities to experience places like Barryscourt and lesser known and lesser visited sites. When Barryscourt is finished it will obviously have a bigger role to play in the wider tourism product of east Cork, including the Great Island, Cobh and Fota. We will be linking with Cork County Council, Fáilte Ireland and the local stakeholders including the local community to do exactly what the Deputy has requested.
I am pleased the Minister of State has plans to do that but I am disappointed it will take until 2023 for this to happen. It has now been seven years and it does not make any sense to add another two years to that. I ask the Minister of State to expedite this because it is frustrating for people in the region. It is a very important project. It is a magnificent castle just off the N25 with great potential. The grounds are also spectacular. I am not sure if any of my colleagues have seen it, but it is worth visiting even though it is not possible to go on the grounds at the moment. I ask the Minister of State to talk to his colleagues in the OPW to see if this can be expedited given that it is now seven years and counting.
Due to the nature of the work the OPW does, social distancing and public health issues have meant that we have been put offsite twice, which has been desperately frustrating. I know the Deputy and other public representatives in the east Cork area would like this to be put on the record of the House. Last year OPW outdoor staff in Barryscourt came to the rescue when a group of local nuns in the St. Benedict's Priory in Cobh needed apples. At that time Barryscourt came to the attention of many people in the east Cork area and beyond. I pay tribute to and thank the outdoor staff of the OPW who came to the rescue of the nuns at St. Benedict's Priory who make jams and chutneys. The OPW has a significant orchard down there. I want to put on the record of the House my gratitude to the OPW outdoor staff for their generous gesture in coming to the assistance of the St. Benedict Order in Cobh.