Friday 13 February 2009

State pays €2m for majority landholding on Great Blasket

THE STATE has purchased the majority landholding on the Great Blasket Island, off the coast of Co Kerry, ending years of protracted and often fractious negotiations to acquire the island.

However, Peig Sayers’s house and some tourist amenities will remain in private ownership.

The purchase of most of the landholdings of An Blascaod Mór Teo will bring most of the island into public ownership, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government John Gormley said.

This would pave the way towards establishing the island as a national historic park and developing sustainable tourism, Mr Gormley said in a joint statement with Minister of State Dr Martin Mansergh, who has special responsibility for Arts and the Office of Public Works.

Worries have been increasingly voiced about the dire condition of the island’s old village, and the need to protect its rare wildlife and manage visitor numbers on the island, which has no proper pier, public toilet or facilities for the hundreds who are ferried to it daily in the summer.

The deal with An Blascaod Mór Teo, which owns 17 of the 25 landholdings on the 1,100-acre Great Blasket, was finalised this week, with €2 million provided by Mr Gormley’s department.

The money includes ferry rights.

The Minister described the purchase as “a major advancement of the objective to preserve an important component of our national cultural, historic and linguistic heritage”.

The island is associated with major Irish literary figures such as Sayers, Tomás Ó Criomhthain and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin.

Mr Gormley said it represented good value for money, given the potential of the asset for tourism in the region. Dr Mansergh said the Great Blasket was “a very special addition to the wide portfolio of heritage properties managed by OPW”.

An Blascaod Mór Teo will retain a number of properties, including Peig Sayers’s house. A small number of other properties will remain in individual private ownership also. Last year An Bord Pleanála granted the company, spearheaded by Dingle solicitor Peter Callery, permission for a cafe and services building.

For more than 20 years, the State has tried to acquire the property from An Blascaod Mór Teo. The 1989 Blasket Island Act introduced by then taoiseach Charles Haughey, who owned one of the Blaskets, would have seen compulsory purchase of the island, but it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1999, after a challenge by the private company.

There have been disputes over ferry rights, with bouncers placed on the island to prevent other private operators landing.

An ambitious forum begun by then Kerry county manager Martin Nolan brought the various parties together, including descendants of islanders now living in the US, and hammered out a common vision for the island.

The ultimate aim of that vision is to see the Great Blasket as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Irish Times

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