Skellig Wars: State rebuffs Unesco

The Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht has rebuffed claims from Unesco that it should have been consulted in advance over the filming of scenes for the latest Star Wars movie on Skellig Michael — a World Heritage site.

The department sent a report on the filming — which took place over three days at the end of July — to the Unesco office in Paris on September 1. In the report, the department said it was satisfied “the outstanding universal value of the property was unaffected by the film production activities undertaken at the site”.

In 15 separate categories or locations, the impact of filming was “none” in 10; with the impact described as “consistent with normal visitor numbers” in another.

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens will hit screens in December 2015 .

In a letter to Unesco with the report, the principal officer in the department’s National Monuments Service, Terry Allen, referred to an earlier email sent to the department by Unesco in which it said “any similar future projects be reported to the World Heritage Centre prior to any intervention so that the advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee can review the project and advise on adequate protection measures for the World Heritage property”.

Referring to paragraph 172 of the Unesco operational guidelines, Mr Allen wrote: “The department recognises the value and necessity of the advice available in such circumstances from the World Heritage Committee.

“However, we do not consider that the recent film production activities undertaken at Sceilig Mhichil were of such nature as to constitute ‘major restorations or new constructions which may affect the outstanding universal value of the property’ and therefore did not consider it necessary that the World Heritage Committee needed to be informed of the activity in advance.”

According to the department, Unesco has not yet formally responded though a spokesman said this was “to be expected” as it would need to be circulated to Unesco’s advisory bodies.

The impact of filming in the area from the Wailing Woman to Christ’s Saddle was “minor”, outlining how part of one fence was taken down to allow filming northwards from Christ’s Saddle and then replaced immediately, with the work carried out under archaeological supervision.

Another area had loose stones and soil removed under supervision to allow a camera track to be levelled for filming.

The report states that measures were implemented that minimised the impact of filming on bird life on Skellig, including puffins and manx shearwaters, with restrictions on helicopter journeys and approaches.

A separate letter issued to the film company by the department on July 22, ahead of filming, confirmed the use of helicopters for transport had been reduced by more than 90% from the original proposal.

The report sent to Unesco, compiled by senior archaeologist at the World Heritage Unit of the department, Edward Bourke concludes: “The department is satisfied that any potential impacts on the cultural and built heritage of Sceilig Mhichil by the film production were fully addressed and can categorically state that the activities undertaken entailed no implications for the outstanding universal value of the world heritage property.”

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