The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has refused to comment on whether the State will attempt to purchase the deserted Ardoileán island off the coast of Connemara, but has described the €1.25 million price tag as “significant”.
Speaking in the Dáil, Minister Josepha Madigan said her Department continues to explore ways of protecting and presenting heritage sites, and that in some instances, this has included “strategic land purchases”.
However, she said it would be inappropriate to comment on whether the State intends to buy the 80-acre island, which contains the ruins of a 7th century monastic settlement – which is a protected national monument.
She added that because of difficulty in accessing the island, purchasing it “would bring little in terms of visitor access to the monuments on the site … and mean that disturbance levels are low, which is of benefit to the breeding birds”.
The Minister was responding to a question from Green Party leader, Deputy Éamon Ryan, who pointed out High Island’s heritage and important wildlife sanctuary.
He said he believed there has not been a sale, but there may have been tenders submitted to the auctioneer.
The Connacht Tribune previously reported that interest has been expressed by potential purchasers based in the United States, Britain and in Dublin.
“Will the Minister reconsider the State purchasing the island on behalf of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, to maintain it as a sanctuary?” Deputy Ryan asked.
Minister Madigan said she was aware of the national monument on the island and the fact that the property is part of a larger Special Protection Area (SPA) under the Birds’ Directive, and that recent surveys had found larger colonies of certain bird species than were know previously.
“My Department continues to explore ways to optimise the protection and presentation of heritage sites under our control in a way that is compatible with conservation objectives and that provides excellent value for money outcomes to the state. In some instances, this has included strategic land purchases. As it is in State care, the national monument on this site is fully protected under the National Monuments Acts.
“Any works at or in its vicinity may only be carried out with ministerial consent under those Acts. This will remain so, irrespective of future ownership arrangements.
“Property acquisition by my Department is the exception rather than the norm. The countryside is populated with a rich range of almost 150,000 archaeological monuments. The Department, working with OPW, is only in a position to acquire, maintain, conserve and present to the public a limited number of properties and monuments. Acquisitions are, therefore, only contemplated where there is a clear, tangible and substantial benefit to the overall quality and management of the State’s heritage portfolio.
“In this case, the national monument and other recorded monuments are already well protected. Even if the entire property were in public ownership, public access would continue to be hazardous and unsuitable for large-scale visitor exploration, which of itself also provides a significant safeguard for the bird population.
“Additionally, value for money principles must be carefully considered where any acquisition is proposed. Neither would it be appropriate or prudent for me to compromise any possible acquisition proposals by publicly disclosing interest or otherwise in any property,” said the Minister.
Deputy Ryan said the NPWS should have an interest in it because it is a “spectacularly important location” with 4,000 breeding pairs of storm petrels and an important colony of Manx shearwaters.
“Seabirds are one of the most threatened species. The seabirds on this island travel to the north Atlantic to feed. We are in a row with Scotland about Rockall. If we want to show we are serious about what is happening in the north Atlantic and preserving its ecology, it is important the NPWS takes ownership of islands like this and manages them,” he said.
Minister Madigan replied: “It does not have the potential to become a significant tourist attraction, in any event, as access is hazardous. The asking price, which I think is €1.25 million for approximately 32 hectares, is significant, and there are value for money principles which must be given careful consideration in the case of any acquisition.”
She went on to say the island is home to bird species including fulmar, barnacle goose and Arctic tern, the Manx shearwater and storm petrel.
“The site currently enjoys very low levels of human or farming disturbance, which benefits the birds. It can be difficult to secure optimal grazing levels on offshore islands but, in this case, the access difficulties may well prevent that problem.
“The Department would be a statutory consultee on any planning proposal and should, therefore, have substantial influence over any proposal to build there,” said the Minister.
Man in his 70s killed in South Galway crash
A man in his 70s has died following a crash in South Galway on Tuesday afternoon.
Gardaí are currently at the scene of the two-car crash, which occurred at around 3.35pm on the N18 at Kiltartan.
The driver and sole occupant of one of the vehicles, a man in his 70s, was pronounced dead at the scene. His body was taken to University Hospital Galway where a post-mortem examination will be conducted at a later date.
The driver and sole occupant of the other vehicle involved, a man in his 30s, was taken to University Hospital Galway for treatment of his injuries which are believed to be non-life threatening.
The road is currently closed and will be closed overnight awaiting an examination by Garda Forensic Collision Investigators have been requested.
Gardaí have appealed for any witnesses or road users with dash cam footage to contact them.
Schools and colleges in Galway advised to close for Storm Barra
Schools in Galway have begun informing parents that they will not open tomorrow, following advice from the Department of Education.
The Dept said this evening that schools, colleges and universities in areas where a Status Orange or Red warning apply for Storm Barra should not open.
A spokesperson said: “Met Éireann has advised that there is a strong possibility that the status of parts of these counties currently in Status Orange are likely to change and escalate to Status Red.
“Due to the significant nature of Storm Barra, as forecast by Met Éireann and to give sufficient notice to institutions of further and higher education, the department is advising that all universities, colleges and further education facilities covered by the Red Alert and Orange warning from Met Éireann should not open tomorrow, 7 December.
“All schools and third level institutions should keep up-to-date with the current weather warnings which are carried on all national and local news bulletins and in particular any change in the status warning for their area.”
Galway Gardaí: ‘Stay at home during Storm Barra’
Gardaí in Galway have warned people to stay home tomorrow (Tuesday) as Met Éireann forecasted a ‘risk to life’ ahead of Storm Barra’s expected landfall tomorrow morning.
At a meeting of the City Joint Policing Committee (JPC), Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath said the City Council was preparing for the ‘high probability’ of coastal flooding.
A combination of tomorrow’s high tides with the forecast high winds and heavy rainfall would likely lead to a flooding event, he said.
Chief Superintendent Tom Curley said the best advice available was to stay at home but refused to comment on school closures – advising that was a matter for the Department of Education.
Mr McGrath said a number of meetings between local and national agencies had already taken place, with more set to run throughout the day as preparations got underway for this winter’s first severe weather event.
“High tide is at 6.45am tomorrow morning and at 7.20pm tomorrow evening. There is currently a Red Marine Warning in place for the sea area that includes Galway and an Orange Storm Warning for Storm Barra for 6am Tuesday morning to 6am on Wednesday morning,” said Mr McGrath, adding that it was possible this storm warning could be raised to Red later today.
With high tide at 5.45 metres and a forecast storm surge of 1.05m, the risk of flooding was significant. In addition, winds were currently forecast to be South-West to West, said Mr McGrath, conducive to a flooding event in the city.
“It is potentially problematic . . . the hope would be that the storm surge doesn’t happen at the same time as high tide,” he added.
The flood protection barrier had been installed at Spanish Arch over the weekend and storm gullies had been cleaned. Sandbags were to be distributed throughout the day, said Mr McGrath.
Council staff would be on duty throughout the weather event and Gardaí would be operating rolling road closures from early morning. Carparks in Salthill were closed today, while tow trucks were on standby to remove any vehicles not moved by their owners before the high-risk period.
Chief Supt Curley said it was imperative people stayed home where possible.
The best way to say safe was to “leave the bicycle or the car in the driveway” from early tomorrow morning, and to stay indoors until the worst of the storm had passed.
Met Éireann has warned of potential for flooding in the West, with Storm Barra bringing “severe or damaging gusts” of up to 130km/h.
A Status Orange wind warning has been issued for Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kerry and Cork from 6am Tuesday to 6am Wednesday, with southerly winds, later becoming northwesterly, with mean speeds of 65 to 80km/h and gusts of up to 130km/h possibly higher in coastal areas.
“High waves, high tides, heavy rain and storm surge will lead to wave overtopping and a significant possibility of coastal flooding. Disruption to power and travel are likely,” Met Éireann said.