More beaches awarded Blue Flags despite storm damage

Hogan praises local authority response and volunteers from coastal communities

 Blue Flag awards are in recognition of high water quality, safety provision and infrastructure across 5,000km of Irish coastline. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Blue Flag awards are in recognition of high water quality, safety provision and infrastructure across 5,000km of Irish coastline. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

 

Eighty Blue Flags have been awarded by An Taisce to beaches and marinas across the State - six more than last year.

The awards are in recognition of high water quality, safety provision and infrastructure across 5,000km of Irish coastline.

Another 10 Blue Flags have been announced in Northern Ireland, an increase of two on last year.

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said the awards were welcome, given the damage caused by the series of storms last winter, particularly on Atlantic coasts.

“This is testament to the sterling efforts of communities, local authorities and An Taisce,” he said. “Results might have been better except for the devastation of the storms last winter which caused significant damage in some areas.”

Three beaches lost their Blue Flag status because of ongoing repair works following storms during the spring. These were Bertra and Mulranny beaches in Co Mayo, and Rossbeigh beach in Co Kerry.

Elsewhere, Miltown Malbay and Spanish Point beaches in Co Clare missed out on awards for the same reason.

However, there was good news for the eight recipients who regained their status, having lost out last year. The Fingal County Council area in particular regained flags for four coastal hotspots: Portmarnock, Portrane, Donabate and Skerries South Beach.

In Co Wexford, Morriscastle beach regained its status, as did Ballybunion in north Co Kerry, both of which had lost out last year due having failed to comply with water quality standards.

Co Waterford also welcomed two beaches back into the fold: Councellors Strand and Dunmore Strand.

Mr Hogan said he anticipated storm damage repairs would quickly lead to withdrawn flags being returned.

He said the awards would be reflected in the “huge interest in our tourist product”.

“Bigger efforts are being made by local authorities to ensure they have the proper infrastructure,” he said.

Eoin McDonnell, projects officer with Fáilte Ireland, said: “It’s been a wonderful achievement, to see so many recoveries from all the physical damage from the storms. It’s down to community,” he said. “Rather than a top-down approach, it’s a bottom-up approach. It’s the involvement of all of the volunteers who have given so much time into these things.”

He further commended local councils “who have assigned a budget in difficult times” to make repairs.

An Taisce has been criticised for withholding the Blue Flag from Rossbeigh in Co Kerry, where repairs are scheduled to finish later this summer.

“The only reason for losing the Blue Flag is due to the repairs, with all other criteria, including water quality and infrastructure, passing with flying colours,” said acting chief executive of Kerry County Council, Michael McMahon.

“We are disappointed that the judging body felt they couldn’t award the Blue Flag to Rossbeigh, particularly given the amount of investment and work we had put into repairs, but we look forward to the Blue Flag flying over Rossbeigh next year.”

The havoc wreaked in Co Clare by the winter storms has been described by the outgoing mayor as “a post-atomic bomb situation”.

Joe Arkins said: “That’s what it was like. We had damage that you couldn’t imagine. Fair play to our staff on the ground – they did as much as they could to clean up after that and to get them [beaches] ready.”

He estimated the first winter storm caused damage costing “at least €3 million”.

“We’ve actually got an estimate of damage in total of over €15 million for this year.”

Programmes to rebuild infrastructure and repair storm damage to beaches are ready to go to tender, he said. But some projects would require planning permission and this adds to the time taken to make full repairs.

He expressed disappointment at the loss of some Blue Flags including those at Miltown Malbay and Spanish Point. But he added these would be brought back up to standard, and expressed hope that completion of the Wild Atlantic Way along the west coast would boost visitor numbers.