OPW may extend season on Skellig Michael

The Office of Public Works is to consider extending the visitor season to Skellig Michael, the Unesco world heritage site in Co Kerry.

OPW may extend season on Skellig Michael

The island closed officially to the public yesterday following a charity event. A review to extend the existing May-October visitor season in 2018 has begun.

The OPW move would be a change of direction. The state agency which manages the island refused to consider the proposal in mid- August.

Demand for access has been unprecedented since filming, in recent years, of Star Wars episodes on the 6th-century monastic site on top of the Skellig.

Boatmen and politicians have been lobbying to extend the season from April to November.

They say the extension would also compensate for weather conditions, allowing the boatmen some leeway for days when they cannot undertake the 40-minute journey from the mainland.

Yesterday’s closure was marked by a fundraising event, allowing the 15 boatmen who are permit holders to operate a special landing for charities.

In August, OPW Minister Kevin Moran rejected a request from councillor Michael Cahill, on behalf of the boatmen. The junior minister advised the Fianna Fáil councillor, by letter, that the sensitive heritage site could not allow an “ever-expanding increase” and, for that reason, the OPW “will not be changing the current limits on either boat numbers and passengers and the length of the season”.

However, a spokesman yesterday said the length of the visitor season was being considered.

“The minister of state at the OPW has recently asked officials to review the length of the visitor season at Skellig Michael,” said the spokesman.

“Arrangements are being made currently to carry out the review and a decision is to be announced by the end of October or early November.”

In 2016, almost 14,700 people landed on Skellig Michael, 3,500 more than the numbers considered sustainable in the current Unesco-approved management plan for the island.

The OPW said that the 2016 figure had been “exceptional” and due to good weather during the mid-May to October visitor season.

All money raised from the passengers on Tuesday’s trips will go to Temple Street Hospital, Hugh’s House and Garden Dublin (for families of seriously ill children) and Bumbleance (children’s ambulance service).

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