Deenihan defends using 77pc of parks fund in own county
A GOVERNMENT minister has defended policies that have seen 77pc of capital funding at one of his agencies spent in his native county, despite recommendations that the practice cease.
Jimmy Deenihan, whose Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Department runs the country's six national parks, poured €2.6m into Killarney National Park over the past three years.
The high spend in Killarney left just €1m to be shared among the other five parks around the country.
There was anger last week among staff in visitor services of the National Park & Wildlife Service (NPWS) – including guides and bus drivers – who have been told their positions may be outsourced to private companies as part of a rolling privatisation plan for our national parks.
The minister ruled out actually selling off the parks or privatising their overall management.
However, he is facing internal criticism in the NPWS, with projects at three of the parks – Connemara, Ballycroy in Mayo and Glenveagh in Donegal – all shelved, while €2.175m cash is pumped into the restoration of Killarney House and its gardens.
Mr Deenihan's cabinet colleague Leo Varadkar is also pouring €5.2m into that project.
However, the Irish Independent has seen a report commissioned from Grant Thornton three years ago, which advised the Government that the NPWS should cease management of historical buildings altogether.
The report recommends that handling of these sites should be passed over to the Office of Public Works.
Mr Deenihan insisted the Killarney House project was of "national importance" to the national park, which already pulls in 1.2 million visitors every year.
But publican Charlie McClafferty, who runs a bar in the village of Churchill, beside Glenveagh National Park in Co Donegal, said: "Donegal has some of the worst unemployment, depopulation and emigration figures in the Republic of Ireland."
"This imbalance, in favouring Killarney National Park, has been evident since the relevant minister, from Kerry, took over in 2011," Mr McClafferty added.
Figures released by the minister show more than 70pc of all funding over the past three years was spent in Kerry.
Out of a total of €3,693,000 spent on the parks since 2011, €2,601,000 went to Killarney National Park.
Mr Deenihan's spokesman defended the spending in Kerry.
"It incorporates a large number of buildings and roads; it has a higher-than-average requirement for species clearance; and necessary building works under way at present result in an increase in capital spending in the park."
He said the Killarney House project, which would include a visitors' centre, would be completed for the 2015 season.
However, one NPWS source told the Irish Independent that the very reasons given by the minister for the massive spend of cash in Co Kerry should actually work in favour of the other five national parks.
The other parks are Ballycroy National Park in north west Mayo, the Connemara National Park in Galway, the Burren National Park, Glenveagh in Donegal and the Wicklow Mountains National Park.
"He is pouring a fortune into Killarney National Park, which was already saturated with 825,000 overseas visitors last year as well as 400,000 Irish visitors," said the source.
"The minister should be spending the money to increase the number of visitors to the west and north west.
"He's getting to eat all the pie whilst the rest of the parks starve."