Office of Public Works seeks private facilities for heritage sites

Kilkenny Castle

The cash-strapped Office of Public Works is to open concessions, such as restaurants and playgrounds, at 17 of the country’s most popular heritage sites in order to generate funds to pay for all the heritage locations it operates across the country.

Advertisements in yesterday’s newspapers invited proposals from “qualified firms and service providers” wishing to offer “enhanced visitor/recreational facilities and services” at heritage sites, including Dublin and Kilkenny castles, Phoenix Park and Derrynane House. It said the concessions could include, but were not confined to, play facilities, catering concessions, and “activity-based services”.

Brian Hayes, junior minister with special responsibility for the OPW, said his department was “very tight on cash” and said there was no reason why the OPW and the private sector could not enter an arrangement to build up capacity on sites where there was significant footfall.

“Six years ago the total capital budget for the Office of Public Works was €400m. This year it is €80m,” he said. “There has been a dramatic reduction in funding as has been the case right across the public sector. We have got to find new ways of attracting investment onto our sites.”

Mr Hayes said figures for 2012 showed the OPW welcomed over 3.8m visitors to its guided sites, an increase of 7.6% on 2011. He said figures for 2013 were showing a similar increase.

“There is no reason why private operators cannot operate, create jobs and generate profits in sites under the control of the OPW,” he said.

Mr Hayes was asked on RTÉ radio how he would ensure the facilities did not end up looking “tacky”.

“No one is talking about putting a casino on Skellig Michael, or anything like that,” he said. “I am talking here facilities that are in keeping with the heritage and with the recreational nature of some of our sites. We are not talking about casinos or hotels or anything like that. I don’t know how successful it’s going to be, I want to be frank, but I was determined to do this. It’s not just about the top 10 sites that everyone knows, Kilmainham Jail, Kilkenny Castle, the Rock of Cashel. It’s also about encouraging investment into other second tier sites that are not as well known, which may not be on the tourist map, and making sure people can get into those sites.”

His department said applicants would be requested to outline “how their proposals will raise the profile of heritage sites, generate increased footfall and generally be in keeping with the presentation of the site in question”.

Visitors 2012

- Botanic Gardens: 544,685.
- Farmleigh: 375,064.
- Kilmainham Gaol: 310,910.
- Rock of Cashel: 240,406.
- Kilkenny Castle: 238,244.
- Dublin Castle: 157,253.
- Phoenix Park: 147,539.
- Clonmacnoise: 138,481.
- Brú na Boinne/ Newgrange: 132,649.
- Dún Aonghasa (Aran Mór): 108,116.


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