Thursday 23 November 2017

Healy-Rae says Kerry not feeling force of Star Wars link

Of the island's role in Star Wars, Michael Healy-Rae added:
Of the island's role in Star Wars, Michael Healy-Rae added: "You can't buy that type of publicity."
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The tourist season at Skellig Michael should be longer - as businesses haven't yet 'reaped the rewards' of its role in the Star Wars films, Michael Healy-Rae has said.

The Office of Public Works (OPW) is currently reviewing the length of the season.

Interest in the remote Co Kerry island has spiralled after it appeared in blockbuster movie 'The Force Awakens'.

Doubling as the planet Ahch-To, the Skelligs are expected to play an even more prominent part in the sequel, 'The Last Jedi', which is out in December.

A trailer released this week shows scenes from the island where Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, is training an aspiring Jedi, Daisy Ridley's character Rey.

The local puffin population also inspired a character in the latest installation of the sci-fi saga, with the appearance of the loveable Porg creatures.

Last year - the first tourism season since Skellig featured in Star Wars - saw almost 14,700 people visiting the island between May and the start of October. That's around 3,500 more than the average number of visitors to the island and its ancient monastery, a Unesco World Heritage Site, prior to 2008.

The OPW review comes on the back of a commitment given by Junior Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran in response to local tourism interests "seeking to maximise the dividend from a heightened visitor focus on Skellig Michael".

The case for extending the season is being weighed up with issues such as safety, maintenance and the conservation of the monument. Mr Healy-Rae has raised the issue, and Mr Moran told him the review is set to be finished within weeks.

The Kerry Independent TD told the Irish Independent: "We're all obviously aware of the fact that it's a World Heritage Site and that it has to be protected.

"At the same time we want the local businesses - the boatmen, the shops, hotels, restaurants and guest houses to benefit as well. The only way we can make this happen is by extending the season."

Of the island's role in Star Wars, he added: "You can't buy that type of publicity."

He said there's "definitely more interest" from tourists in the Skelligs. But he argued businesses "haven't started to reap the rewards at all yet".

"I want the OPW to work proactively with the businesses… to try to ensure we're able to cater for the demand that is and will be there, and that we'll be able to do so in the interest of the businesses and the protection of Skellig Michael," said Mr Healy-Rae.

Irish Independent

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