The Kilkenny-based Heritage Council received a timely boost last week with almost €1million in additional funding secured for it by Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcom Noonan.
Just weeks into his new role at the recently reconfigured Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the local TD managed to secure an additional 14% in annual funding for the Heritage Division, which includes the Heritage Council, National Parks and Wildlife Service, National Monuments Service, Waterways Ireland and several other key bodies. A total of €8.5 million has been invested for heritage under the July Jobs Stimulus package, which was revealed last week.
The July Jobs Stimulus 2020, part of the Programme for Government agreed last month, aims to offset some of the effects of Covid-19 by revitalising the economy, providing protection for small businesses and getting people back to work. The total fund amounts to more than €5 billion.
Minister Noonan said the pandemic put an unprecedented focus on natural and built heritage.
“When the pandemic landed on these shores, our world became smaller. It was only then did we discover that our natural heritage in particular was to become a lifeline for our wellbeing. This funding recognises that we have a shared responsibility towards our built, cultural and natural heritage and that investment in the care of such heritage will continue to enrich all of our lives as we emerge from this crisis.”
The Kilkenny Green Party TD, and former County Councillor of 16 years, was especially happy to see a substantial increase in funding for the Heritage division, which will be spread across multiple areas creating much-needed jobs as well as helping to protect and restore natural heritage. He was keen to point to the boost for the Heritage Council.
“I have secured €900,000 for the Heritage Council for it to deliver a series of supports to heritage businesses and community heritage organisations to help them to respond and adapt to the Covid crisis. They have been doing tremendous work all year, every year, but since the Covid pandemic hit, they have been going the extra mile, so it was imperative to secure them extra funding. Overall, I am delighted to welcome this investment, which increases the funding available for heritage this year by 14%," he said.
Investment which will be supported under the package includes:
€3.2m towards an accelerated programme of upgrades and enhancement of recreational and visitor facilities at National Parks, Heritage sites and Nature Reserves to balance the upsurge in visitor numbers and the increased demand for outdoor recreational and wellness activities. This includes funding to enable a Covid-proofing of facilities at state owned sites, carrying out urgent trail, boating and road maintenance and resurfacing works, habitat and invasive species management, equipment, public safety and security upgrades and to make improvements to public reception and visitor centres. This investment will support between 100 and 120 jobs.
€900,000 for the Heritage Council to deliver a series of supports to heritage businesses and community heritage organisations to help them to respond and adapt to the Covid crisis.
€1m to reboot and enhance the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme to encourage results-based biodiversity and species management on farms and to resource a dedicated Farm Planning Unit in NPWS. This investment will create over 18,000 hours employment in addition to on-farm employment which may be contracted out.
€850,000 for peatland conservation and restoration, protecting and restoring one of Europe’s oldest near natural ecosystems and benefitting biodiversity, climate and water. This investment will support approximately 25 jobs.
€1m to expand existing built heritage funding schemes in response to significant demand from communities, to progress actions under Climate Change Action Plan in relation to the built heritage estate and to ensure completion of projects interrupted by the Covid lockdown. Approximately 5,600 days’ employment will be created for skilled built heritage contractors.
€150,000 for Waterways Ireland towards works on the Ulster Canal and the first phase of the Barrow Blueway. €1.4m for the National Monuments Service towards the care of our archaeological heritage, generating an estimated 2,240 days’ employment. It includes funding for landowners and communities in the care, maintenance, protection and promotion of local monuments and historic sites and provision for the Covid-proofing, upgrade and enhancement of recreational visitor facilities and conservation at National Monuments in state care.
Minister Noonan added: "This additional funding is designed to protect key elements of the heritage ecosystem, to support businesses, generate employment and address recreational infrastructure and visitor reception deficits at national parks, nature reserves and heritage sites, as well as addressing conservation and access opportunities at structures and local monuments in private ownership.
"The economic impact of Covid-19 on the heritage sector has been staggering. A key plank of Ireland’s tourism offering, the centres for our heritage estate, lost all their ticket revenue during what would otherwise have been their busy season and guide jobs and other heritage services were also decimated. Yet, during the lockdown, our nearby parks and reserves, monuments and historic gardens played a vital role in the nation’s wellbeing, providing diversion, access to fresh air and nature as well as safe space to exercise.
"Our heritage sites will play an even more important role as people follow the Government’s advice to spend their holidays at home this year. Our full estate of national monuments, national parks and heritage properties are a platform for a revitalisation of communities and home-grown tourism, places of exercise and contemplation for our citizens and visitors, providing employment and supporting local enterprise and jobs.
"The additional grant assistance to landowners and communities in the maintenance, protection and promotion of local monuments and historic sites in private ownership will help the heritage sector and provide opportunities for heritage enhancement across the country.”