Heritage Council

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Our Heritage Attracts 90% of tourists

Friday 5th June 2015: Levels of public interest in, and engagement with, our natural and built heritage have increased significantly over the past 15 years, according to research conducted on behalf of the Heritage Council. Direct community involvement in heritage issues has increased from 7% in 2000 to 19% this year, while the percentage of people interested in specific aspects of our heritage has gone up from 25% in 2000 to 36% this year. This amounts to over 1.6 million of Irish residents.

This was highlighted today (Saturday, June 6th) by the Council’s Chief Executive, Michael Starrett, in advance of  an event at its headquarters in Kilkenny to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Heritage Council; an event that attracted over 300 people from every corner in Ireland. The guest of honour was President Michael D. Higgins who, as the then Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, piloted the Heritage Act into law in 1995 to establish the Heritage Council.

Mr. Starrett also pointed out that the Council’s Community Grants Programme this year was massively oversubscribed. And the fact that the Council had a fund of just €547,000 to disburse nationally meant that only a third of the 612 applications, from community groups all over the country, could receive any assistance.

“This is the first time we have run a programme, and offered grants, where so many people have got back to us commenting on the small size of grants and the relative lack of funding. It is very frustrating for us all, as the value and potential that is offered if we had more capacity to invest in those communities is just immense”, he said.

In addition to the strong levels of public interest in heritage issues, Ireland’s natural and cultural heritage is a key driver of tourism revenue. Mr. Starrett pointed out that nearly 90% of tourists who come to this country say that heritage is an important factor influencing their decision to holiday here, and Ireland’s historic environment directly supports over 25,000 jobs and contributes in excess of €1.5 billion[1] to the economy annually”. 

The Council Chief Executive appealed to the Government, and to all our legislators, to realise what benefits the sector can offer and to start increasing the funding of the Council now that the country’s economic fortunes are on the road to recovery. 

“Another negative consequence of the cuts in funding for heritage infrastructure in recent years is reflected in the decision of the owners and trusts of wonderful heritage properties like Bantry House and Russborough House having to sell irreplaceable objects and collections to fund essential maintenance. The public good, and benefits derived from these properties for local communities and tourism, is greatly diminished as a result. Properties like these merit ongoing and targeted support”, he added.

Reflecting on the achievements of the Heritage Council in its first twenty years, Mr. Starrett cited the following:

-there are now 28 Heritage Officers, running local heritage fora, across nearly every county in the State;

-50 institutions, large and small, participate in the Museum Standards Programme, which is focused on caring for the collections and enhancing visitors’ experience;

- 96,000 primary children  are participating annually in the Heritage in Schools Programme, which features 176 heritage specialists visiting schools across Ireland  to involve children in a hands-on experience of their local heritage;

-400,000 participants attend an incredible 1,800 events across the country during National Heritage Week;

- 22 towns  in the Irish Walled Towns Network are restoring their medieval walls, hosting events and boosting local tourism in the process;

-proud owners of 322 historic farm buildings, that have been repaired,  have been up-skilled on vernacular building methods and layouts;

-the Irish Landmark Trust members host 4,000 overnight visitors annually;

-three million records on Ireland’s biodiversity are now openly accessible in the National Biodiversity Data Centre, providing vital information about water quality, agriculture, disease control, climate change, the overall management of our natural heritage, and compliance with environmental legislation;

-over 6,000 local heritage projects have received funding grant support from the Heritage Council since 1995.

Turning to the future, Mr. Starrett said: “With our very wide range of partners we have shown what is possible, and yet we know we are only scratching the surface. We cannot realise the potential of the heritage sector in boosting people’s quality of life, and further enhancing Ireland’s appeal as a tourism destination, without reasonable levels of financial support.

“Even the relatively modest allocation of an additional €2 million in 2016 for the Heritage Council would go a long way to kick-start a new beginning and encourage the heritage constituency which reaches into to every corner of Ireland.  We have very specific targets to use that funding in community-based initiatives, including new uplands partnerships, a rural towns and villages network, the expansion of the Heritage in Schools Programme, and events during heritage week”.

For further information:

Isabell Smyth, Heritage Council, 087 967 6889

Michelle Tritschler, MKC Communications, 01 7038604 / 0863846630