Sunday 21 December 2014

National Park staff warned their jobs may be lost in new privatisation move

Greg Harkin

Published 14/04/2014 | 02:30

Tourism and the Gaeltacht minister Jimmy Deenihan; the upper lake in Killarney National Park.
The Burren
Glenveagh National Park
Glendalough tour guide George McClafferty talks to Michelle Obama and her daughters Sasha, left, and Malia. Frank McGrath
Jimmy Deenihan

STAFF at Ireland's national parks have been told their jobs could be under threat as part of privatisation plans, the Irish Independent has learned.

Tourism Minister Jimmy Deenihan has ordered a wide-ranging review which could see visitor services at the country's six national parks change.

A whistleblower inside the National Parks & Wildlife Service said Mr Deenihan's plans could lead to job losses and claimed the organisation was in 'crisis' over its alleged lack of a tourism strategy.

The source said he feared that all jobs in the service – run by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – could eventually be outsourced.

Catering services have already been privatised.

The parks include two of Ireland's biggest tourist attractions – Killarney, Co Kerry and Glenveagh, Co Donegal.

At the latter, bus drivers who take visitors to its famous castle are among those who could lose their jobs or be forced to switch to private operators. Guides positions at all the sites will also be outsourced if the plans go ahead.

More than 250,000 people visited Muckross House in the Killarney Park last year.

CONSERVATION

"The focus of the parks is entirely on conservation and the environment and really there is no focus on tourism at all and breaking up who runs what at the national parks will only make that worse," said the insider.

"If these proposals go ahead, how long will it be before the conservation side of what we do is also put out to tender?

"There is a real fear among staff that each of our national parks will eventually be run by three or four different private companies whose sole interests will be profits."

The insider said he was speaking out because "at this rate it is only a matter of time before we start charging people to go into the parks."

The country's other national parks are the Ballycrory National Park in north-west Mayo, the Connemara National Park in Galway, the Burren National Park and the Wicklow Mountains National Park.

Entrance to all six parks is free, although there are various cover charges to see inside some of its buildings like Glenveagh Castle.

Donegal TD Pearse Doherty said staff were worried.

"This is the piece-by-piece sale of our national parks," he said.

"The Government is starting to privatise services, one piece at a time, and people will ask how long it is before entire parks are outsourced to private companies to generate a profit."

A spokesman for Mr Deenihan admitted that services are under review.

"A key priority for the department is to keep National Parks and Nature Reserves open to the public, to provide quality visitor information and to maintain appropriate health and safety standards at these sites," he said.

"As such, the Department is exploring the potential of alternative models to augment its visitor services and nature education services nationally."

Irish Independent

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