PLANS TO build a visitor centre at Doolin Cave in north Clare have run into opposition from An Taisce, the Pol an Ionáin Action Group and the operators of the rival cave attraction, Ailwee Caves.
Doolin couple John and Helen Browne opened the cave on the western edge of the Burren to the public three years ago. The highlight of the cave is the 8.3m-tall Pol an Ionáin stalactite. The Brownes say the cave is not viable as a tourism venture without on-site facilities – visitors are brought by bus from Doolin.
In response to an application lodged with Clare County Council, the director of Ailwee Caves, Adam Johnson, has urged the council to refuse planning permission for the rival venture.
Mr Johnson states that recently, “ . . . visitor numbers to the region have dwindled and there can be no doubt that the further development of Doolin cave in such close proximity to Ailwee Cave will result in an overall loss of business in both consequent job losses and decreased spin-off for other local businesses.
“In this current economic climate, more job losses is something that both private enterprise and public bodies have got to work side by side in avoiding at all costs. Refusing this application will go some way in helping to make sure that this does not happen.”
In a separate objection, Gabriel Casey of the Pol an Ionáin Action Group states: “Proposed benefits to the local economy are unfounded. The most likely scenario is that the proposed visitor centre facility would result in less visitors stopping off at the local village and less money being spent in shops and restaurants.”
“The proposed development would have a severe impact on duplicate and other businesses in the north Clare area. We ask that this very unspoilt part of the Burren remain as it is. It is our opinion that present planning regulation and planning precedent afford it the protection it needs.”
An Taisce submits that the development “contravenes the entire basis on which An Bord Pleanála granted permission for the opening of Pol an Ionáin cave as a show cave.”
In its objection, the organisation representing caving enthusiasts, Speleological Union of Ireland (SUI) said that it “is not opposed to show cave development and indeed welcome the education of the public about caves.
“However, we consider Pol an Ionáin is not suitable for development of one unique, irreplaceable feature and raises too many unnecessary threats to it.” A decision is due on the application next month.