The Shannon Group is to transfer the ownership of its Bunratty Castle and Folk Park asset to Clare County Council.
The proposed move is part of a wider move where the airport operator is to transfer its tourism arm, Shannon Heritage to the local authority. As part of these changes, the ownership of King John's Castle in Limerick will also tranfer to Limerick County Council.
The Shannon Heritage business, which also operates Knappogue Castle, Craggaunowen – Bronze Age Park along with a retail outlet at the Cliffs of Moher, has been decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, pre-Covid in 2019, Shannon Heritage recorded revenues of €19.65 million and earnings before tax, interest depreciation and amortisation of €1.18 million. The company’s pre-Covid visitor numbers totalled 963,239 in 2019.
Already, Clare County Council operates the country’s most popular natural tourist attraction at the Cliffs of Moher.
The Shannon Group’s tourism buildings had a book value of €25 million at cost at the end of December last.
The Shannon Group today confirmed that the employment rights of all of Shannon Heritage’s 200 employees will not change and will be fully protected in the proposed transfer.
A spokeswoman for the Shannon Group stated that the agreement will enable the group “to concentrate our energies on restoring passenger numbers at the airport".
She stated: “Today’s announcement will ensure that the heritage sites are being managed by local authorities where there are synergies that can be further developed in line with their well-established tourism development strategies and will provide opportunities for maximising future potential.”
While an agreement in principle has been reached with Clare County Council, it will take some months to conclude and is subject to due diligence and formal consent of the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Public Expenditure and agreement with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
It is the intention of the parties that the transfer will be completed by the end of 2021.
Shannon Heritage currently manages a number of day visitor attractions in Dublin on behalf of Fingal County Council and An Post.
The Shannon Group spokeswoman said that it is the Group’s intention to conclude these operating contracts and the group will work closely with both parties to ensure the smooth transition of the operations.
Chair of the Board of the Cliffs of Moher Centre Ltd, Mr Bobby Kerr welcomed the initiative, saying: "There is a lot of positive synergy between the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty, Vandeleur Walled Gardens, Knappogue, Craggaunowen, Loophead Lighthouse and Inis Cealtra. I wish the process and innovative thinking every success.”
Clare Fianna Fáil TD, Cathal Crowe described the proposal as “a very positive development, and it provides a much-needed adrenaline shot to the heritage sites in our region,”
He said: “The past 15 months have been dogged by huge uncertainty and many of the 200 or so Shannon Heritage staff in our county have endured huge stress and worry levels as they faced uncertainty about their futures.”
Independent Clare TD, Michael McNamara stated: "This is a good move for the visitor attractions as Clare County Council has, unusually among local authorities, a lot of experience in managing world-class tourism sites.”