The Heritage Council will support about 70 full-time jobs in 2016 through its range of heritage programmes around the country, and it also plans to run a €500,000 community grants programme to support local community groups involved in protecting and enhancing a wide variety of heritage locations and structures.
Maintaining the community grants initiative has been made possible by the provision of a supplementary estimate of €500,000 by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Ms. Heather Humphreys in December last, and it has been welcomed by the Chief Executive of the Heritage Council, Michael Starrett.
“Of course, we are delighted to be able to support local heritage groups, and their endeavours, and I’m very grateful to Minister Humphreys for this additional allocation. However, it does mean there will remain a substantial unmet need which is underlined by the fact that we were able to provide a community grants fund of €4.6 million in 2011, and last year’s grants programme of €547,000 was massively oversubscribed”, he said.
The 70 full-time jobs that will be sustained through an overall programme expenditure of about €3.5 million by the Council are in areas that include traditional skills and specialist conservation work, as well as the ongoing work by the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford, the Heritage Officer Network in 28 counties, and a number of conservation internships in partnership with other cultural institutions.
“The benefits to communities the length and breadth of the country in terms of economic activity and enhancing the quality of local places cannot be over emphasised. This is work that improves the quality of where we all live, and is also critical to maintaining and enhancing the attractiveness of Ireland to overseas tourists and reaches into every corner of Ireland as a result”.
Other vital programmes operated by the Heritage Council which will continue this year include the Irish Walled Towns Network, the Museum Standards Programme, the Discovery Programme, the Bere Island Project, the Irish Landmark Trust, the Wicklow Uplands Council, Burren Beo and the Woodlands of Ireland.
In overall terms, 75% of the Council’s annual budget is allocated to creating and supporting employment in the heritage sector, and research commissioned by the Council shows that Ireland’s historic environment directly supports over 25,000 jobs and contributes over €1.5 billion to the economy annually. And for every €1 spent by the Heritage Council, the Irish tourism industry generates €4.40 through increased tourism revenues.
This year also, over 100,000 primary school children will enjoy their natural and cultural heritage in a much more direct way though the Council’s Heritage in Schools Programme, and an even bigger and better programme is expected for National Heritage Week in August, which last year had over 1,700 events and some 400,000 participants.
While relieved to be able to maintain the core programmes and activities of The Heritage Council at similar levels to last year, Mr. Starrett stressed that restoring the Council’s funding to more realistic levels (it suffered a two-thirds reduction in its budget between 2008 and 2014) remains paramount. The restricted funding for 2016 meansv that proposals to create a Rural Towns and Villages Network, and to establish ten upland partnerships, based on the success of the Wicklow Uplands Council, cannot now be started.