Heritage Council seeks to claw back dimished budget

Body claims tourism will suffer if cuts continue

Michael Starrett said €1 million extra funding could support 250 communities.  Photograph: Eric Luke/ The Irish Times

Michael Starrett said €1 million extra funding could support 250 communities. Photograph: Eric Luke/ The Irish Times

Wed, Sep 25, 2013, 16:26

The Heritage Council is seeking to claw back some of its diminished budget and has called on the Government to increase its funding by €1million this year.

The organisation has seen its budget slide from over €22 million in 2008 to some €7 million last year. Its chief executive Michael Starrett said an increase of €1 million would provide support for local projects in 250 communities.

“From the sums that we have done, if we have €1 million extra this year we can serve 250 communities and they can have support in terms of projects that… they value, whether it’s their cultural heritage or their natural heritage,” he said this morning.

The council offers grants and other supports to local heritage projects across the country. In 2012 it offered thousands of grants for relatively small scale projects. For example, it put €6,000 into window repairs at Oranmore Castle, Co Galway and helped eradicate giant hogweed in the Sluice river and marsh in north Dublin.

Mr Starrett said the grants have a direct correlation with local tourism but warned that further cuts could lead to a decline in visitors and the continued decline of the heritage economy.

“The heritage sector in 2009, 2010 was supporting something like 17,000 jobs around the State; that is now decimated. We’re down to somewhere in the region of 7,000 to 8,000. That’s the impact of not investing.”

Mr Starrett was speaking at a briefing on the Heritage Council local community grants in Buswell’s Hotel—across the road from Leinster House. The council had prepared packs for each county in the hope that any TDs not already at the Ploughing Championships would stop by and see the work that has been done in and around their constituencies.

“I hope the message is getting through,” he said. “The blunt instrument of 6 per cent cuts right across Government… I’d like to think that those days are beginning to go. To get your budget you should be able to show from a business perspective the value that you add, we are very clearly showing the value that we add.”

The big problem, he said, “is that in 2008 we were seen as the easy target and lost straight away 65 per cent of our budget”.

Although its budget may have been seen as low hanging fruit, the Heritage Council managed to escape last year’s quango cull, with the Government deciding the body should retain its independence. “We were one of seven [quangos]that came through the review with shining colours,” Mr Starrett said.

He believes the organisation has proved its worth and now it’s time for the Government to respond by upping its funding after years of cuts.

“Over the course of the last 10 years we have worked from Cork to the Aran Islands from Dublin to Kilkenny. Unfortunately at the moment the funding isn’t being prioritised to allow us to continue that work, so we’re really trying to get that message across. We can’t starve the heritage sector of funding. It produces such great results from the country at large at so small a cost.”