Dáil Éireann - Volume 451 - 30 March, 1995
Adjournment Debate. - Mullaghmore (Clare) Project.
 Miss de Valera: I hope the Minister is aware that his decision on the Mullaghmore project in County Clare has devastated the people of that area. Why did the Minister not wait for the planning process to be completed? This process was fully endorsed by both sides of the argument, why the pre-emptive strike? There were court cases to ensure that the planning process would be adhered to. Is it that, given the Minister's personal views on the matter, he could not resist moving on this matter now, although in the Dáil on 15 March 1995, he stated that, because of the complexities of the proposed heritage centres, it would not be wise to rush into any decision, and stressed the need for Government to give careful consideration to the issues involved? The Minister also stated on the same day, Official Report, columns 1670 and 1671: “It has always been my aim to try to heal these divisions and to work towards consensus”. He also assured the House: “I do not have any personal difficulty with any of the three sites, my only concern is to bring about a resolution that hopefully will bring together communities which were previously divided”. Is the Minister so politically naïve to believe that his precipitous action will do anything other than deepen and create further division within the small community of north Clare, or was what the Minister said on 15 March in the Dáil on the question of healing wounds purely platitudes?
The Minister's pre-emptive strike which was both insensitive and authoritarian has caused great hurt, anger and further division within the community of north Clare. All major players should have been involved in the decision after the completion of the planning process. This has been the view of the heritage council.
Where do Fine Gael and the Taoiseach stand? There must be a great feeling of embarrassment among Fine Gael representatives in County Clare who  supported the proposal for Mullaghmore. The Taoiseach has obviously failed to have the view supported at Cabinet. The first hint of this failure by the Taoiseach was his agreement to allow a Cabinet decision on this matter in the Programme for Government between Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left without being able to follow it through. Is this a Fine Gael concession to Labour on a matter on which Fine Gael does not feel strongly? Does Fine Gael see this decision as one which will keep the Minister, Deputy M. Higgins, happy? Many view the action of the Minister and the Cabinet as an attempt to further weaken the Office of Public Works, which has always given great service to the State. Is the Minister aware that a motion proposed by Deputy Doherty, seconded by Deputy Bat O'Keeffe and supported by Deputies Ellis and Ned O'Keeffe, was tabled at the Committee of Public Accounts this morning? This motion seeks to ensure that no demolition work will be undertaken at the Mullaghmore site until the financial implications of the Government decision are discussed at the committee. The Fianna Fáil members of the committee view this as a grave matter to be treated with urgency. It is not good enough to spend millions of pounds on the site at Mullaghmore and now decide to abandon the project. It is crazy that the buildings at Mullaghmore will be dismantled and nothing but a car park left. I was aghast at the suggestion by the Minister for Tourism and Trade, Deputy Enda Kenny, that the car park could be used for picnics. What would a car park picnic site, with no supervision, do to the Mullaghmore area environmentally? This would be the worst of all worlds.
I am told that the group in favour of the Mullaghmore centre is seeking legal advice on the matter and wish the Minister to hold off from withdrawing the application. Will he review his decision which has caused a great deal of hurt, anxiety and further division in a very small community in County Clare in part of the constituency in which he was  born? He should have a particular interest and a certain sensitivity with regard to areas of heritage and culture and an appreciation of what the people of that area have done, through tourism etc., to effectively promote heritage and culture. He is not prepared to enter consultations but has made a pre-emptive strike before the planning process has been completed. Even at this late stage I appeal to him to review the matter carefully in the hope that he will be in a position to reverse this unfortunate Cabinet decision.
Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins) Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins)
Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins): Tá áthas orm an deis seo a ghlacadh chun míniú a thabhairt ar chinneadh an Rialtais in ndáil leis an ionad cuairteoirí ag an Mullach Mhóir agus chun soiléiriú a thabhairt ar cad atá beartaithe don todhchaí.
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter on the Adjournment this afternoon. I hope my contribution will allay some, if not all, of the fears of those in the Burren area who were in favour of the proposal to develop the visitor centre at Mullaghmore. I am particularly glad to have the opportunity of setting out exactly what the Government has decided, which is as follows:
The planning application at present before Clare County Council for the retention of the existing structures and for the completion of the Visitor Centre as planned at Mullaghmore is to be withdrawn. A management plan for the Burren National Park is to be prepared and presented for consideration by the public and interested parties. In the meantime, the partially constructed buildings are to be dismantled but the completed bus and car parks will be retained pending further consideration in the light of the management plan referred to above.
The case has been made that, by withdrawing the planning application for the Mullaghmore centre, we have somehow delayed developments in the Burren by  many years. This seems to be based on the theory that by allowing the planning process to proceed in the expectation that the application would ultimately be successful, the Government would have no option but to proceed with the project. This is an extension of the fallacious argument applied to this case from the beginning, that is, that once the project is started it will be impossible to stop it. As I said in Seanad Éireann yesterday during the debate on the Heritage Bill:
A historic shift in culture is required. There was a time in Irish culture when people imagined that if one presented people with nearly finished items, they would accept them. However, we are now at a point in our cultural history where people want to see things in the shapes that are to come before their consent is presumed. We must operate in that manner.
It rings hollow to hear people speak of pre-emptive strikes. If there had not been indecent haste and pre-emptive strikes by others who had responsibility in this area we would not have had the divisions in County Clare to which the Deputy referred.
Miss de Valera Miss de Valera
Miss de Valera: What about the planning process?
Mr. M. Higgins Mr. M. Higgins
Mr. M. Higgins: Mr. Justice Costello made the decision that the Office of Public Works, like every other State agency, should proceed by way of the planning process. Deputy Dempsey asked who was informed that we were applying for planning permission. We were obeying the court. Was approval ever sought for that for which planning permission should be sought? That is the kind of arrogance that prevailed.
Miss De Valera Miss De Valera
Miss De Valera: What objection does the Minister have to the planning process?
Mr. M. Higgins Mr. M. Higgins
 Mr. M. Higgins: My approach is based on consensus and I am pleased my colleagues in Government will support it. The decision as to where and how interpretation of the Burren National Park should be provided is the first step and the seeking of planning approval in relation to proposed developments comes next. This is the process I am setting in train and I am doing so now in order to have it resolved as quickly as possible rather than wait the rest of the year while the planning process is taking its course before commencing work on the management plan. This plan will form the blueprint for the management of the park in the medium to long term. The plan will identify the important features of the park, including, inter alia, the physical, ecological and environmental aspects which make the Burren such a precious area. The plan will address issues such as visitor facilities and other infrastructural matters and I hope, will identify strategies to enable local communities to benefit in the fullest possible manner from their location adjacent to the Burren National Park.
It is important to stress that a key feature of the process of preparing a management plan for the Burren National Park is that the public and interested parties, including the local authority, will have an opportunity to have an input into the preparation of this plan. Such consultations as will take place as part of this process will be meaningful and the genuine concerns of all interested parties will be listened to and incorporated in the plan in so far as possible.
As regards the Mullaghmore site itself, the partially constructed buildings are to be dismantled but the completed bus and car parks will be retained pending further consideration in the light of the management plan. This is prudent as it may be that the management plan will recommend that the car and bus parks be retained as part of the facilities for the National Park and, if so, planning permission will be sought for their retention.
Much has been said over the last few days about the Government's decision  in regard to the Burren National Park Visitor Centre. The Government has behaved in an honest and open manner. The policy agreement, A Government for Renewal, made it clear that the incoming Government would make a decision in regard to the three controversial centres and, after a detailed examination of all aspects of the matter, it has now made that decision.
I appreciate the strong feelings expressed at local level in north Clare regarding the Government's decision but I stress the positive aspect of the Government decision. The plan will address important issues such as how best the local communities can benefit. Local consultation will be an integral part of the formulation of the management plan.
I express the hope that everyone will accept the wisdom of proceeding first with a management plan. It is time now to look to the future. We should endeavour to see to it that disputes such as that which arose over Mullaghmore never arise again. The key for the future is to manage the interaction of our heritage, community development and tourism in ways which will be ecologically responsible while at the same time respecting individual rights and the needs of local communities.
Deputies have a right to raise this matter with the Committee of Public Accounts. Members of the committee may well want to ask questions about who had responsibility when sums of money were spent and committed without entering into any meaningful consultation process with everyone involved. I do not want to rake over the past; we should set our minds on the future and achieve consensus through an orderly consultative process.
Miss de Valera Miss de Valera
Miss de Valera: Will the Minister await the decision of the Committee of Public Accounts?
Dáil Éireann 451 Adjournment Debate. Mullaghmore (Clare) Project.