SIPTU members are outraged at the prospect that the historic sites operated by Shannon Heritage may close on 1st January 2022, as was implied at an internal webinar for employees yesterday.
SIPTU members have campaigned since March 2020 to ensure that these important heritage sites would not be moth-balled, with the potential loss of hundreds of jobs.
SIPTU Organiser, Rachel Keane, said: “Our members welcomed and embraced an announcement in July from the Shannon Group that they would safeguard the strategic importance and cultural significance of the Shannon Heritage company. However, they are increasingly frustrated and despairing that there has been no meaningful engagement despite our repeated requests. The workers should be paramount in this process.
The announcement at a webinar yesterday that the sites could potentially close from January to June 2022 was the last straw. Closing down for six months a year will do nothing to enhance or maximise the potential of these strategic heritage sites in the region, protect jobs or sustain communities.”
SIPTU Shop Steward, Caroline O’Sullivan said: “Ireland has been applauded for its handling of the pandemic. Restrictions are being lifted. The economy and society are starting to reopen, so why are Shannon Heritage sites being closed? There are visitors taking pictures of these iconic sites outside the walls. What kind of a message is that sending to our tourists?”
The Taoiseach Micheál Martin has insisted the temporary closure of Shannon Heritage sites until their management transfers to Clare County Council would be ‘unthinkable’, Clare FM is reporting.
It’s understood a number of workers at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and King John’s Castle have been told the facilities will be closed to the public in early 2022.
The responsibility of the management of the sites will transfer to the local authority at the end of the year and Shannon Group has told Clare FM this is where their focus lies.
Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Tourism and Aviation Cathal Crowe is calling on Shannon Group to do all within its power to ensure that the best foot is put forward for Shannon Heritage over the coming months.
“I have written to the Shannon Group management, including its CEO Mary Considine, asking them to commit to keeping their heritage sites in the Midwest open until such time that the management transfer to local authorities is completed in 2022,” said Deputy Crowe.
“Many Shannon Heritage workers have been told that in the initial weeks of 2022, their sites such as Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and King John’s Castle will be closed to the public, meaning that they will again return to temporary layoff. This would be a devastating blow to the workers who were without work for a considerable portion of last year due to the pandemic.
“I strongly believe that Ireland is at a good point right now, with 92% of our adult population vaccinated and with nearly all Covid-19 restrictions lifted, with the remainder to be removed by October 22nd. The aim of government throughout Covid-19 was to support sectors to stop people from losing their employment and to ensure that businesses would come out the other end of the pandemic in a healthy state.
“I think it would be a poor commercial decision and also un-strategic to close iconic sites in the Midwest at a time when we are trying to stimulate domestic tourism and attract international visitors back to Ireland. I have heard from a number of companies in Clare that they have been unable to book corporate events at the castle around Christmas time.
“In previous years, some of the larger companies in Shannon would book out Bunratty Folk Park for a family day in the lead up to Christmas. These bookings have proven lucrative for Shannon Heritage but now I’m hearing from several companies that they’re having their bookings for this year cancelled. I am also hugely concerned to hear that a number of Shannon Heritage employees are being told that throughout the winter, Shannon Group cease availing of EWSS salary supports.
“But what happens between now and then is crucial and I am urging Shannon Group to step up to the plate and to aggressively market the sites to both domestic and international tourism over the winter, to avail of government supports to ensure that a maximum number of staff can be retained on payroll and to do everything possible to attract tour companies and commercial bookings,” Deputy Crowe added.
In July 2021, Shannon Group announced that in order to safeguard their strategic importance and cultural significance the Shannon Heritage company and all its visitor attractions in County Clare will be transferred to Clare County Council. King John’s Castle and its employees would transfer to Limerick City and County Council and discussions would commence on the future operation of Dunguaire Castle in County Galway.