Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Battle of the Boyne Site
I will outline briefly the need for this playground project, which got the go-ahead under the Minister of State's predecessor, Dr. Martin Mansergh. East Meath is devoid of community facilities, although they are starting to come on stream. The Battle of the Boyne site, which is a major tourism attraction, provides the perfect opportunity to construct a playground for the benefit of east Meath, including Duleek, Donore, Slane, Tullyallen in County Louth, which is just across the river, and the wider catchment area including Drogheda and Navan. In that way, local inhabitants could enjoy the benefits of a public playground. It would be a win-win situation for the OPW and the Government as it would attract people to the Battle of the Boyne site from the locality who may not otherwise be attracted there. Similar schemes are in operation at Argillan Park in Balbriggan and at Newbridge House in Donabate. I hope the Government will proceed with the project based on those models, having received planning permission. I look forward to seeing progress being made with it as I know people are awaiting its completion.
I am grateful for the opportunity to address this matter which has been brought to the attention of the House by Senator Byrne. Oldbridge Estate comprises 500 acres of land, with an 18th century manor house, stable and farm buildings. The property was the core site of the historic Battle of the Boyne between King James II and King William III in 1690. The site is dear to the traditions of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland and played a pivotal role in the recent peace process. The Office of Public Works has developed the site as a heritage and tourism presentation. Senator Thomas Byrne has taken a great interest in this and lives quite close to the site. Following in-depth historical and archaeological research, a programme of works was implemented. The manor house was restored and adapted as the main visitor focus with several exhibitions and services. These included models, graphics, artefacts, multimedia projections, an audio-visual show, displays of replica artillery, maps and literature. The house also has a reference library and adjacent tea rooms. It is staffed by OPW guides and is open all year round. A car and bus park has been provided, together with toilets and signage. Extensive signposted walks are laid out throughout the grounds. Further improvements are planned including the completion of the large walled gardens restoration project.
A variety of events and animations are held in the main tourist season, including living history displays of cavalry and musketry, theatrical presentations, athletic competitions and community events. The site has been an outstanding success on many levels and attracts large numbers of visitors. More than 40,000 visitors annually are received in the formal presentations in the house. However, experience over the past few years has shown a strong pattern of use of the grounds and walkways by local and regional leisure, sports and recreational visitors from the Meath and Louth hinterland. Families, in particular, come in large numbers to avail of the open parkland and services such as the tearooms and gardens. In this context it was suggested that a children's playground would enhance the overall attraction of the park and provide much needed facilities for regular users from the local and regional community. It is widely recognised that playing activity enhances the overall educational well-being of children and stimulates appreciation of their environment.
The OPW agreed in principle with these objectives, developed a design scheme for a playground and obtained planning permission from Meath County Council on 26 September 2011. Final design details are currently being completed and it is intended to invite tenders for the project shortly. In these times of major economic challenge, it is difficult for the OPW to prioritise the allocation of scarce financial resources for such projects and the matter will be reviewed again when tenders have been received. Given the benefits of such a facility to the local community and the remit of local authorities in this context, Meath County Council has also been asked to make a contribution to the cost of the provision of the playground and its subsequent maintenance. It is felt that such an approach would further the objectives of both organisations and result in the successful provision of an additional popular facility in the county. The net issue is that I want to see it happen. We have planning permission and we are seeking a contribution from Meath County Council. On Sunday, I will make my third visit to Oldbridge, which is a fantastic facility. I agree that we need to build a playground because it will enhance the excellent facilities. We are getting the tenders back and I hope we can give it the green light so that the playground is in place in 2012, the sooner the better.
That is mixed news. I am slightly concerned that the decision will be reviewed when the tenders come in but I am heartened by the commitment shown by the Minister of State. A contribution by Meath County Council is reasonable. The council has had major difficulty in securing sites for the provision of playgrounds, particularly in the village of Donore, the nearest village to the site. It was not able to agree on a site for a playground so this will be the perfect place for a playground for the village of Donore. I understand the council has some funds for it. I initiated a discussion with the county council a year and a half ago and I put the suggestion to it on behalf of the former Minister of State, Martin Mansergh. Formal contact took place after that and I urge the Minister of State to maintain contact with the county manager. It will be a win-win situation, with the community and the OPW benefiting. This will attract families to come to the place. I have three young children and I bring them to it. They will look forward to a lovely playground. I do not know whether the Minister of State has looked into funding from the east Border region or Drogheda Borough Council or Louth County Council. This would be of great benefit to the town of Drogheda. I will press the Minister of State on this and wish him well in his deliberations. There will be a net revenue benefit to the OPW if this is built.