Seanad debates

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

7:00 pm

Kathleen O'Meara (Labour)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to raise this important matter and I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I am sure the Minister of State has been to Nenagh at some point——

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am on my way.

Kathleen O'Meara (Labour)
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When he comes one of the first things he will see is the fine castle. This is a fine example of a circular keep, is in good order and is a symbol of the town. It is located in the town near the church, the courthouse, the jail and other buildings of significance and heritage. It has been the dream of many people in Nenagh that the castle and its environs would be developed as a tourism project. It is urgent that this happens because Nenagh does not have any natural tourist draw and this project could be that draw. Many people have worked hard for this and Shannon Development — when it was allowed to develop regional tourism — was very supportive as well. The political forces in the town have supported this project, including Nenagh Town Council. The council put its money where its mouth was and purchased two buildings on Pearse Street in order to allow an access on to the street. The permission was not granted for the demolition of the two buildings so we are now in a different scenario.

In recent times, I and other public representatives were asked by Nenagh Town Council to contact the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding this issue. The council would like to obtain legal control of the property around the castle so that it can carry out works. At the moment, there is also some anti-social activity in the area and it is gathering litter. If the town council had legal control over it, the area could be developed into a public park and a nice amenity. The town council asked for a meeting with the Minister but did not receive a reply until recently. In November, I received a reply from the Minister on this issue. In it, he requested me to ask the OPW to carry out yet another report on the project. Rather than proceeding as the OPW proposed, the Minister has now asked the OPW to go back to square one. This means that more time will elapse before anything happens. In his letter, the Minister states that he has requested the OPW to carry out a further study in accordance with details outlined in the letter. This would result in a scaled down project. It is my concern that the Minister is planning to scale down the project and do less than the community wants to do.

Effectively, the clock could go backwards on this project, which is very important to the town. The Minister may know that representatives from his own party gave many commitments on this issue in the past. It is vital for the tourism potential of Nenagh, which is simply not being realised. However, if the castle project could be developed, much more would follow, such as a heritage centre in the jail. The OPW is currently finishing what looks like a magnificent job on the courthouse, just across the road from the castle. There is the potential for the development of a number of fine buildings, most of them heritage buildings. I appeal to the Minister to speed up this project and to communicate with Nenagh Town Council. There will be no solid progress on this issue without that level of communication and drive from the Department.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to update the House on the Nenagh castle project and I thank the Senator for bringing it to the attention of the Seanad. The Nenagh Tourism and Development Committee purchased 35-36 Pearse Street, Nenagh, including outbuildings, with the intention of demolishing them to open up a vista to Nenagh Castle from the Dublin Road approach to the castle. It was intended that opening up the vista would give the castle more visual prominence in the town and bring it back to being a focal point of the town.

However, permission to demolish the two properties on Pearse Street was refused on appeal in 1997. Following this, consultant architects were appointed in 2000 to examine the options for the properties and the castle, in advance of public consultation regarding the future plans. They proposed an extensive scheme including visitor facilities with an estimated cost in 2002 of €1.3 million. Running costs were estimated at €130,000 to €150,000 per annum. The intention was that the facility would be run by the OPW. The castle is in State ownership and the Pearse Street properties were also transferred to State ownership in 2004. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government must ensure the best value use of the resources available for our built heritage. In the present case, it is important that all stakeholders — the Nenagh community, Nenagh Town Council and the State authorities — be involved in advancing an attainable project for the castle. For example, the county manager has said that there are advanced plans to develop tourist trails both in Nenagh itself and in the north Tipperary area and that Nenagh Castle would be integral to these plans.

Therefore, having regard to all the circumstances, it was considered the best solution was to ask the OPW to make recommendations for a suitable development at this site, less ambitious than that identified in the consultant architects' report, and having regard to the other issues, which have emerged concerning the castle and castle field. This has been done. I look forward to seeing the outcome of this review at an early date and I believe that the opportune time to meet with Nenagh Town Council will be when there has been an opportunity to study that review. The Minister would be open to a meeting at that stage because there would be great merit in such a meeting when we have the outcome of the review.

Kathleen O'Meara (Labour)
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Can the Minister of State indicate the timeframe?

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I cannot indicate a timeframe, but I understand we are expediting the result of the review. I will communicate further with the Senator on the exact timeframe we expect is involved.