King John’s Castle and Bunratty Castle to be taken over by local authorities

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VISITOR attractions such as King John’s Castle and the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park complex are in line to be handed over to local authorities as the Shannon Group concentrates on getting international travel up and running again at Shannon Airport.

The Group has confirmed that it is in discussions with local authorities in Limerick and Clare on the transfer of the Shannon Heritage company and all its visitor attractions.

Along with King John’s Castle and Bunratty, these include the Craggaunowen visitor centre, Knappogue and Dunguaire Castles as well as the retail unit at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience.

It is envisaged that the transfers could be completed by the end of the year.

Sources at the Shannon Group have confirmed there is no threat to jobs in the Mid West but the company is zoning in on traffic at the airport and driving tourism back into the Mid West via Shannon.

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Currently, while the visitor attractions are open,  the iconic Bunratty banquets are on hold as the mainstay of the business is from international and particularly transatlantic traffic.

It’s understood that the transfer of these heritage sites aligns with the Limerick and Clare local authorities’ tourism development strategies and will provide opportunities for enhancing synergies and maximising the potential of these heritage sites in the region.

The central role which local authorities are playing in tourism product development and sustainable tourism development make them a natural fit for Shannon Heritage.

A spokesperson said that State agencies in the region are committed to recovery from the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on the airport and on overseas visitors to the Mid-West.

The arrangements will assist Shannon Group to focus on the recovery of the airport, building back international passengers as soon as possible, while continuing to develop its aviation cluster and associated property activities.

Describing it as a very positive step, Limerick Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan said it will allow the Shannon Group to focus almost exclusively on the task of ensuring that Shannon can remain a viable International airport.

“Covid-19 and the slow government response to the crisis at the airport have exacerbated the challenges that Shannon Airport faces. The pandemic has grounded many passenger flights, staff have been forced to avail of government subsidies, there have been job losses and a threat to the important connection flights, especially those to London Heathrow and the US.

“These are daunting challenges that need the full focus of the Shannon Group and this decision goes some way towards ensuring that the necessary resources can be directed at this daunting task,” Deputy Quinlivan declared.

“I welcome the commitment to ensuring that the employment rights and terms and conditions of employment will be unaffected. This should give confidence to the employees at these sites that the transfer will not adversely impact their pay and conditions. It is important that the Shannon Group now engages with employees and their representatives to ensure that the transition process is as smooth as possible.”

“Shannon Airport remains the golden goose of the mid-west economy. It is important that the crisis at the airport is averted so that it and the wider mid-west economy can be protected.”

Meelick Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe, who is the party’s spokesman on Tourism and Aviation said that the past 15 months have been dogged by huge uncertainty and Shannon Heritage staff had endured huge stress because of that uncertainty.

“I will be insisting that staff currently employed by Shannon Heritage will retain their current pay and condition as the transition takes place. and that the transfer should not affect anybody’s employment”.

Independent TD Michael McNamara said that he had approached Clare County Council last summer with a proposal that it express its interest in taking over the Shannon Heritage sites in Clare after discussing the matter directly with Shannon Heritage staff and management of the Shannon Group.

“I have continuously sought commitments from Minister Eamon Ryan and Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton that a review would be undertaken into the future of Shannon Heritage’s position within Shannon Group.

“I am glad that this proposal is coming to fruition as it will give a new lease of life to these vital heritage tourism assets and to staff who have found themselves in a precarious position,” he added.