On-site ecologists will have the power to stop filming of the next Star Wars film on Skellig Michael next week, as Arts Minister Heather Humphreys sought to allay fears of damage to the Unesco World Heritage Site.
Ms Humphreys confirmed that she had given permission to Disney/Lucasfilm to carry out a new round of filming on the Kerry island.
The shoot, due to start next week, is longer in duration than the shoot of summer 2014. Heritage campaigners and wildlife protection groups have voiced their dismay at the second round of filming on the island.
Ms Humphreys said the right balance had been struck and the appearance of Skellig in the Star Wars films would prove a great showcase for the country.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, she said on-site ecologists and staff from the National Parks and Wildlife Service would be present and had authority to step in if there are concerns over shooting. “They have absolute authority to do that, they can say stop,” she said.
She said there was “no legal requirement to consult publicly before granting this type of consent” and said “filmmaking can happen in harmony with environmental protection”.
She said filming would be limited to certain areas of Skellig, just eight return helicopter flights were permitted — the same as last year — and stringent rules were also in place to ensure no rats came ashore on Skellig.
The Irish Film Board welcomed the decision to grant the shoot and said 20% of all tourists to Ireland have said that their decision to visit was influenced by film.
Footage shot on Skellig Michael last year is expected to feature in The Force Awakens, which opens in cinemas this December.
However, An Taisce said the assurances were “meaningless” and raised queries over how the consent to film was given. An Taisce spokesman Charles Stanley-Smith said: “We can have no confidence in her, or her administration on this matter.”
An Taisce demanded the immediate disclosure of documents linked to the granting of permission for the film shoot.
Birdwatch Ireland said permission had been granted for filming without proper consultation. It said Skellig was home to two vulnerable seabird species, the Manx Shearwater and the European Storm Petrel, which are both “highly sensitive to disturbance”.
“We are alarmed that there was no opportunity for proper consultation with experts and conservation NGOs, as well as with other relevant stakeholders, before this decision was made,” the organisation said.
“We will be submitting our concerns to the minister and to the National Parks and Wildlife Service relating to potential disturbance both to the seabirds and to the site.”
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