Thursday, 23 June 2016
I am delighted to see the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, in this position, which I welcome very much. I hope to see him often in Killarney.
I think the Minister of State is nearly as familiar as I am with the particular property mentioned in this matter. As he knows, Killarney House is a magnificent place, beautifully restored, with huge money invested in it by the State and his Department, and maybe one other Department gave a little help. I think the Minister of State is now taking over responsibility for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, which I am delighted with. A wonderful job has been done on the gardens of Killarney House, which are now open to the public on weekends and, I think, will open to the public on a full-time basis very shortly - next month, in fact.
I look forward to hearing the Minister of State outline when Killarney House will open to the public. I expect it will happen before the year is out and I am sure it will contain suitable commemorative rooms for the previous owners, John McShain - the man who built Washington, as they say - and the Browne family, the Earls of Kenmare, who were significantly involved in the development of Killarney town since the 1600s or so. This house has the capacity, please God, to become the top tourist attraction in the south west, given that it is situated within both the town and the national park. As the Minister of State will outline, I am sure it will become the main visitor centre for Killarney National Park. It is immediately adjacent to the town centre. It is but a short walk for visitors staying at any of the hotels and for locals alike, through the golden gates, as they are known. I look forward to the Minister of State's comments today on the governance, management and operation of the house.
As it is my first occasion in the Seanad since the new Members were elected, I want to congratulate everybody who was elected. I want to congratulate Senator Coghlan on being appointed Leas-Chathaoirleach, a well-deserved honour. He has served this House well and is one of the greatest survivors not alone of this House, but also of this country, following the recent campaign for the retention of the Seanad. I also want to compliment the Senator in the Chair at the moment on her appointment as the new Chief Whip and I wish her well.
The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, is just after going out the door, but I could not let this opportunity go without congratulating the Irish team. It was brilliant to see them last night. It was a great performance and brought great spirit to the country. Deputy O'Donovan has taken over my role as Minister of State for sport, and I am glad that I had all the hard work done and all the funding put in place. That is why the Irish team were so successful.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Commencement today. As the Senator will be aware, the refurbishment of Killarney House and its grounds and gardens was announced in 2011 by a previous Minister, Jimmy Deenihan. The overall value of the project is in the region of €8 million, with Fáilte Ireland providing €5.2 million. I want to put on the record of the House that I was the Minister who announced that €5.2 million when I had responsibility as Minister of State with responsibility for tourism and sport, and I was delighted with pressure from Senators-----
-----and from the then Minister, Jimmy Deenihan. I put the pressure on Fáilte Ireland to make sure that €5.2 million was provided, with my present Department providing the remainder.
To date, my Department has spent €1.9 million, while over €4.2 million of the Fáilte Ireland provision has been drawn down. My Department has been collaborating with Fáilte Ireland in its role as the National Tourism Development Authority and as the co-funder of Killarney House and Gardens, and the Office of Public Works, which has acted as the project manager for the refurbishment.
The house will act as the visitor and interpretative centre for Killarney National Park. The interpretative exhibition will highlight the beauty and significance of the park's landscape, habitats, flora and fauna as well as telling the story of how local people have interacted with the park over the centuries.
Within that context, the exhibition will also address the history of the house and its former owners, the Brownes, and later, the McShains.Within this context, the exhibition will also address the history of the House and its former owners, the Brownes, and later, the McShains.
The location of Killarney House, in the middle of the town, means it will be a hugely valuable tourism asset. It will provide a vital link between the town centre and the park. The new landscaped gardens at Killarney House will lead into the natural areas of the park and will provide a wonderful view linking the town to the scenery of mountain, wood and water. The availability of a focal point for the park within walking distance of the town will bring wider recognition to the park which is, of course, incredibly popular. Many visitors, even short-stay visitors, wander around the town environs in the evening, especially during summer.
The refurbished Killarney House in its historic setting and functioning as a national park visitor centre will provide an added attraction to visitors and an excellent opportunity to explain the significance and importance of the park to the south-west region. The refurbishment of the house and the gardens is one of the most significant developments for the local tourism sector in years. The final phase of works to Killarney House began in early January 2014. These works, overseen by the Office of Public Works, OPW, included a new extension for the exhibition space and visitor centre, and this is substantially complete. The work on the interpretative centre, which will be installed in Killarney House, is continuing. The OPW has also overseen the completion of much of the landscaping of the grounds and ornamental gardens.
The final phase of the work on the gardens will be completed by mid-August. This phase involves the planting of the central formal garden, the provision of seating, and the installation of potted plants in a number of locations. The gardens have been open to the public at weekends since April 2016, and will be open to the public on a daily basis from 10 July this year. The gardens have proved popular, with an estimated 70,000 visitors over the past three months. I expect the House and interpretative exhibition to open to the public in early 2017.
Finally, I turn to the future governance and administration of Killarney House. My Department has, with assistance from Fáilte Ireland, commissioned an operational study to examine the future of Killarney House. My Department is examining a draft of this study which will inform our thinking on the future governance of the house and gardens.
I know the house, Muckross House and the area well and this will be a major tourist attraction for the town of Killarney. I hope I have addressed the Senator's queries.
That was a comprehensive reply. I look forward to the Minister of State visiting Killarney House before the year is over to formally open it. Perhaps he will also visit Muckross House and sign the management agreement with trustees when it is ready down the line. I thank him and I would appreciate if he would comment further on the governance, management and operation of the house because a few questions have arisen locally.
There are 18 rooms in the house and to be fair to my departmental officials and the OPW staff, they are anxious to get this right because this will be a flagship project for the south. I am delighted with it. The Senator has campaigned for many years. He regularly contacted me when I held my previous portfolio and had responsibility for Fáilte Ireland to put funding in place for this. Fáilte Ireland and my Department have examined the management structure and have produced a report. The report is being considered and we are looking at ways and means to put the structure in place because that will be the most important part of this. It is one thing to put the project in place but there has to be a management structure to run it in the years ahead. I will ask my officials to write to the Senator when a decision is made.
The Senator asked me to visit. I intend to do so in July. I would like to see what is happening with the works and I will definitely be there in August to open the gardens. Hopefully, I will be there next year to formally open this tremendous facility. I visit the area on holidays on a regular basis and the house had been left in a poor state for many years. It will be great for the town and the park itself. It is probably one of the finest amenities in the world. The Senator has been vocal about it for many years. I will see him there in July.
I am grateful to the Minister of State. There is a capable regional manager there in Mr. Pat Dawson who is from County Mayo. I look forward to it opening, hopefully, before the end of the year when everything is ready and the staff are in place. The Minister of State has the management and staff in the Department to run this, which is probably what he envisages for it. I look forward to meeting him during his visit.