Concern as catering at iconic Bunratty banqueting and retail to be outsourced

Bunratty Castle in County Clare.

CONCERNS have been raised about the future of jobs at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park after Clare Council announced that retail, food, and beverage operations – including the iconic Bunratty Medieval Banquets – will be outsourced from next year.

In a statement, Clare County Council (CCC) said this week that as part of a corporate restructuring of Shannon Heritage DAC it will be appointing two specialist retail, food, and beverage operators for its newly acquired visitor attractions, including Bunratty Castle and Folks Park.

A key requirement of the operating conditions, according to CCC, will be that all future service providers “must support local suppliers and producers in Clare”.

The CCC statement said that “all 66 employees, including 31 full-time and 35 part-time workers, will be transferred to the new operators in April 2024. Staff pay and conditions are protected under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations.”

However, SIPTU, the union representing workers at the heritage sites, say their members will not support the transfer.

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The union has described these jobs as “integral” to the visitor experience.

Caroline O’Sullivan, chairperson of the SIPTU Shannon Heritage Committee, said: “All of our members were thrilled when Clare County Council finally took over these sites. We looked forward to growing tourism in the region and protecting these iconic places for future generations.”

“We did not foresee that Clare County Council was going to pick through and discard essential parts of the service without considering how interlinked they are. Many staff members currently working in food and beverage also work as animators, a role that is not under threat of outsourcing.”

Teresa Hannick, SIPTU divisional organiser, added: “We have informed management that we will not support the outsourcing of these jobs. Our members’ jobs must remain in house where they belong.”

CCC says that the restructuring follows the “tried and tested” business model at the Cliffs of Moher Experience where specialist retail and food operators are already in place.

Two tender processes for retail and the provision catering services, including banqueting, food preparation and food and beverage operations, will commence in December 2023 at the Shannon Heritage sites. It is anticipated the successful companies will be in operation by May 2024.

CCC said its “ongoing commitment to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Craggaunowen, Knappogue Castle, and the retail unit at the Cliffs of Moher Experience is reflected in a €14.7m capital investment being made in 2023 and 2024.”

“The local authority, supported by government, has already invested more than €4m in Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Craggaunowen, Knappogue Castle, and the retail unit at the Cliffs of Moher since the Shannon Heritage properties were transferred from The Shannon Airport Group in May 2023,” the CCC statement concluded.