€40m tourism plan in doubt as cash cu

Fáilte Ireland’s decision to pull millions in funding from a tourism project could jeopardise a €40m masterplan to transform an island in Cork harbour into a national park capable of attracting up to 200,000 visitors annually.

It has refused to provide €4m in funding to Cork County Council to kick- start the first phase of a project aimed at attracting tourists to Spike Island.

County manager Martin Riordan told the Irish Examiner he was very disappointed by the decision. He said he has written to the chairman and chief executive of Fáilte Ireland seeking an urgent meeting, in the hope of convincing the board to change its mind.

Councillors have already ring-fenced €1m of local authority money to create an interpretive centre in the island’s Fort Mitchell complex. The so-called Fortress Experience would include an interpretive centre examining the island’s history, including its early monastic settlement, its role as a centre for transporting convicts to Australia, and as a military garrison and prison.

It was to be the first phase of a €40m masterplan prepared by the council’s consultants, Scott Tallon, aimed at also turning the island into a 100-acre national park capable of attracting up to 200,000 tourists a year.

The council had hoped Fáilte Ireland would provide the additional €4m required for the first phase, but Mr Riordan said he had been informed that the tourist authority had decided not to fund it for three reasons:

- It is understood Fáilte Ireland was not convinced the project would draw in sufficient foreign visitors to warrant it investing €4m;

- It was concerned over access to the island, which could impede it attracting large tourist numbers;

- Fáilte Ireland wanted to see an overall strategic perspective in the development of the whole of Cork harbour for tourism.

Mr Riordan said the council had considered what problems it might encounter getting tourists on and off the island and had planning permission to build a pontoon for ferry passengers.

“We could manage the first phase by using ferries. In the future there would be a need for a bridge onto the island from Haulbowline. If the project was successful you’d find a solution,” said Mr Riordan.

“I’m absolutely convinced that Spike Island is a unique asset and that we will secure funding for the project over time. However, this is a setback to the momentum of the project.”

Cobh-based county councillor John Mulvihill was “bitterly disappointed” by the Fáilte Ireland decision.

“The council has put a lot of effort into this project. Cobh has lost all its heavy industry over the years and tourism is the only thing we have left. This is a sorry day for Cobh and I appeal to Fáilte Ireland to rethink,” he said.

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