Sunday 9 December 2018

Heritage funding fears in Buttevant

Bill Browne

Any move by the Heritage Council to restructure the Irish Walled Town Network (IWTN) could have huge financial ramifications for the town of Buttevant. 

That's the view of local county councillor John Paul O'Shea (Ind), who has requested the local authority write to both the Heritage Council and Heritage and Culture Minister Josepha Madigan seeking clarification on the issue. 

In a motion placed before the February meeting of the Kanturk/Mallow district committee, Cllr O'Shea said there were "real fears" in Buttevant, which is a member of the network, that a restructuring process could see the town lose out on vital funding streams. 

Speaking to The Corkman, Cllr O'Shea said that he and other councillors had been contacted by the Buttevant Heritage Group seeking their support for a call for the current system to remain in place. 

"They are concerned that any changes to the system could result in severe funding cuts, particularly in education and training, and hamper the network's ability to offer grants to walled towns such as Buttevant," said Cllr O'Shea. 

These fears were articulated in a letter send by Tom Blake, the chairman of the Buttevant Heritage Group to the CEO of the Heritage Council, Michael Starrett.  He wrote that many of the initiatives the group has undertaken in recent years were only possible as a result of the "financial support and professional leadership" of the ITWN. 

These have included the restoration of town wall defences, the staging of a tourism conference, the commissioning of several reports on Buttevant's medieval and cultural heritage, the planned development of a riverside heritage walk and a number of other projects.

Mr Blake wrote that the support of the network had also been integral to the "recent and substantial" funding the group had received from Cork County Council and under the Rural Economic Development Zone (REDZ) initiative. 

"However, our success has been incremental and while we haven't yet benefited as other IWTN towns have, with each success we are preparing to make significant leaps," he wrote. 

"If the IWTN were downgraded in any way all our work will be compromised and the money spent, along with the unpaid work and commitment of many voluntary members, will go for nought. This cannot happen," he said. 

He wrote that, without the support of the network, Buttevant's progress would have been "minimal" and the fear was that any changes to the system would result in it grinding to a standstill. 

"We ask that the Heritage Council allow the IWTN to continue in its current format, to lead the efforts of all towns in the network to make our collective heritage attractive to locals and visitors and to preserve this heritage for future generations," the letter concluded. 

The committee backed Cllr O'Shea's motion and will now write to the Heritage Council and the Minister seeking clarification on the issue.