Wednesday, 11 July 2012
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, Teachta Brian Hayes. I thank him for visiting my home town a number of weeks ago. There is no need for a commercial as he has visited the area on several occasions and knows the location of King John's Castle. I compliment the Office of Public Works on the works it has completed and ask the Minister of State to consider completing the necessary works outstanding. The aim is to include visits to the castle in the town trail of Carlingford. There are many interesting buildings, streets and townhouses, including castellated houses, and King John's castle overlooks all of them. Many visitors inquire as to why they cannot visit the castle to see what it adds to the mediaeval town. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue and also for the hospitality he afforded me and my colleagues from the OPW on our recent visit to Carlingford. I agree with him on the extraordinary and wonderful heritage infrastructure in place in Carlingford, a relatively small mediaeval town situated in the most beautiful part of County Louth. Its wonderful heritage can be seen in the Dominican Priory, the "Mint" and the great centrepiece, Carlingford Castle, as well as in sections of the town walls, the Tholsel Gate and Taaffe's Castle. I do not know a part of the country more heritage-rich than Carlingford, in addition to its having a very significant footfall or throughput of tourist numbers. It falls on my Department to work with local interests to make sure the presentation of that heritage is brought to its maximum in order that people can enjoy these wonderful national monuments when they visit County Louth.
As the Senator will recall, my officials from the National Monuments Service and I met him at Carlingford Castle on 12 June, together with the Louth heritage officer and members of the local historical society and the Carlingford Heritage Centre. I was very impressed to meet representatives of the local historical society and the Carlingford Heritage Centre because there is a critical mass of tourists coupled with a wonderful heritage infrastructure and huge interest among volunteers. It is about putting these together to gain the best benefit for Carlingford. During the visit I was very impressed by the commitment of all the local parties and their deep interest in sharing the town's heritage with interested visitors. This is something I wish to encourage and foster and, to this end, I have recently asked the OPW to enter into a new initiative to develop links with local partners throughout the country with a view to ensuring heritage sites are more fully presented to visitors and that visitor access is improved, using local volunteers as much as possible. I very much hope the model used in Carlingford will be one of the first we will use in the local partnership model I am advancing.
The group at Carlingford was shown the work which has been completed to date since the project at the castle started in 2009. The remaining works which are scheduled to be completed next year were also outlined. These works consist of safety and site presentation works and their full completion is key to the future presentation of the site. They also require ministerial consent from my colleague, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, who has a supervisory role in heritage matters. It is intended, resources permitting, that these crucial remaining works will be carried out in the course of 2013 and that public access will be restored thereafter in 2014. As the castle is essentially a works site, I am not sure full public access can be facilitated until the project has been satisfactorily completed. However, I have asked my officials to explore the possibility that limited access might be made available, perhaps even in a way which might demonstrate some of the skilled craft work in progress. We would like to make progress on this issue shortly in order that, working with the local voluntary organisations, perhaps at weekends throughout the year, the castle could be used at various points for visitors under these criteria. In the intervening period before the project is fully complete - in 2014, as I committed to the Senator - there is an opportunity to prepare for possible community participation. I invite the local groups I met on the day to engage directly with my officials in the OPW to see how they might develop a partnership approach to serving visitors along the lines of the communities initiative model to which I referred.
I thank the Minister of State most sincerely for visiting us. We enjoyed having him and look forward to the works' being completed. As he suggests, visits to restricted parts of the castle in the interim would be greatly appreciated. It will be a true partnership between the heritage trust, which has a proven track record over 25 years, and the OPW. I am pleased to hear the Minister of State say it will be one of the first such partnerships in the entire country. We look forward to it.
I thank the Senator for his kind remarks and assure him we will make progress on this issue. Carlingford is unique because there is a centre with a very large footfall, as well as wonderful historical sites within walking distance of it. There is no reason existing walking tours, which have been very successfully put together by local heritage groups, could not be extended to include the castle. While I know a visit to the exterior of the castle is excluded, the important point is that they should now include the interior, particularly those parts in which we have made progress. I gave an assurance to the Senator and the local groups concerned that it was our intention to complete the internal works by 2014. I know these things take time, but it will require an enormous effort on the part of OPW officials to make sure we will have the plan and site works in place. It is not like putting up a house in that lime-based mortar must be used and this work is weather-dependent. The historical nature of the site and the ongoing excavation work also add to the time lag. I have given a commitment that the works will be completed by 2014 and I am sticking to it.