Clare tourist attractions deal halted over State aid row

County council warns attractions including Bunratty Castle need €15m investment

Bunratty Castle and other landmark tourist attractions need “significant” spending to halt their deterioration, Clare County Council claims.

The council on Friday refused to take over Bunratty, Knappogue Castle, Craggaunowen Bronze Age Park and a Cliffs of Moher gift shop from State company Shannon Group without “real and meaningful” Government support.

The move follows talks on the planned transfer, that began in early 2021, stalling over the council’s 600-page due diligence report, which calculates that the high-profile tourist attractions need €15 million to be invested in them over three years.

Clare County Council is taking ownership of the high-profile tourist attractions from Shannon Group, to allow the company to focus on its airport and commercial property business, but says funding and legal issues must first be resolved.


“In the comprehensive independent due diligence report submitted to Government, Clare County Council detailed significant neglect of the sites, the urgent need to halt the deterioration of the assets and the investment required to achieve this,” said the local authority on Friday.

Its statement added that without the Government committing funds or a resolution to outstanding terms of a legal agreement between the council and Shannon Group, including indemnities at Bunratty, the local authority “is unable to proceed with the proposed takeover”.

Finance fears

“To do so would have a significant impact on services and commercial businesses in Clare,” it said.

Without Government aid, the council fears it will have to borrow the cash needed to invest in the properties, and then pass on the cost to local businesses through rate increases.

Shannon Group said it was surprised at the statement, but did not comment on the detail.

It is understood that the talks between Shannon Group and Clare County Council include discussions on an arrangement with the Office of Public Works covering the properties’ maintenance.

Sean Lally, owner of the Woodstock Hotel in Ennis and chair of the Clare Tourism Advisory Forum, argued that €15 million over three years was not a significant sum in light of Government spending on big capital projects.

“I am baffled how they ended up in this situation in the first place,” he said. Mr Lally added that the council, Shannon Development and Government Ministers had consistently assured local tourist businesses that the attractions’ transfer was under way.

He stressed that the dispute should be settled quickly, as tourist businesses were planning now for next summer.

Left in limbo

Meanwhile, Mr Lally pointed out, staff at Bunratty and the other centres are working while the dispute leaves them in limbo.

Workers protested for a second time on Friday at a decision to cut Bunratty’s opening hours back to four days a week from seven in January and at the Government’s failure to provide cash to aid the ownership change.

Rachel Keane, an organiser with trade union Siptu, warned that workers’ fears that the attraction would be mothballed for three months were being realised.

“If the sites had transferred to Clare County Council, as promised, we are confident that this site would be open seven days a week during these months as it did pre-Covid,” she said.

Councillor Tony O’Brien, Mayor of Clare, insisted late on Friday that the door remained open on the ownership transfer.

The Departments of Transport and Housing, Local Government and Heritage said talks were ongoing on the amount of cash that the State could make available next year to support the properties’ transfer to Clare County Council.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas