Dáil Debates & Questions February 2017

Dáil Debates & Questions February 2017

(1) Architectural Heritage – Sale of Luggala – 1/2/17

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy):     I point out to Deputies Burton and Gino Kenny that as they are dividing their time I will be strict in allocating two minutes each initially. They will have a second opportunity of one minute each.

Deputy Joan Burton:     I propose that the State should move to acquire the famous Luggala estate to ensure that the public can continue to enjoy its beauty and that it can also attract tourists to the Roundwood area of County Wicklow. This is one of the Guinness family’s ancestral homes in Ireland and it has been put on the market with a suggested value of up to €28 million. The Luggala estate comprising 5,000 acres has been immortalised in poetry by Seamus Heaney. It has featured in some of the most famous Irish films on numerous occasions. It is enormously popular with Irish people and tourists to Ireland as being one of the most beautiful and iconic points in Ireland.

The estate has been the long-time home to the founder of Claddagh Records, Garech Browne, whose contribution not just to ensuring the preservation of the estate, but also to Irish culture and music has been outstanding. His stewardship of Luggala has ensured that the vast majority of the estate, other than the area immediately around the house, has become a favourite for local Irish people and foreign tourists alike. This is undoubtedly unique and is one of the most pristine estates in the country. If it is acquired for the people of Ireland, it would undoubtedly grow in popularity with tourists in a very rural and wild area of the Wicklow Mountains.

Unless the State intervenes, Luggala could be bought by a wealthy private purchaser or investor, leading to uncertainty over access to the estate. State ownership would ensure the pristine condition of the estate is maintained. This sale provides a unique opportunity to extend the Wicklow Mountains National Park and to secure access for the public forever.

Deputy Gino Kenny:     Deputy Burton has robbed all my lines.

I would be interested in the Minister of State’s view on the sale of Luggala estate. I probably go to Wicklow once a week. The backdrop with that road coming into Luggala estate is probably the most scenic and picturesque place not just in Wicklow, but in Ireland. Thousands of people use the amenity each year. There would be great value to owning the house and its 5,000 acres. It is an incredible site. I do not know if the Minister of State has been there. It is very accessible. As Deputy Burton has said, the current owner has made it accessible. We do not want it to become inaccessible. The land belongs to the people of the country and they should not be denied.

If it is sold it could become inaccessible meaning that people could not use it. I am sure that will be fought very hard. We are asking that the State should try to buy it in order to make it accessible for the people of Ireland. It has huge potential to be part of the Wicklow Mountains National Park and be an asset to the people of Ireland.

Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Michael Ring):     I thank the Deputies for raising the matter. I am aware from media reports that Luggala house and estate comprising some 5,000 acres has been offered for sale with a reported asking price of €28 million. It is situated near Roundwood and is within the area of the Wicklow Mountains National Park.

The main mechanism for protection of our built heritage is the inclusion of buildings and sites on National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, NIAH. As Minister I can make recommendations for inclusion on the record of protected structures arising from the survey to the planning authority. Luggala is recorded in the NIAH and is rated as of regional importance. Inclusion of buildings or structures on the RPS is a responsibility of the local planning authority and both the main house and a garden temple in the grounds of the house are included in the record of protected structures in Wicklow County Council.

As a Department responsible for our national heritage, my Department is fully aware of the cultural and economic importance of historic built assets nationally and of the importance of securing their future on an ongoing basis. Part IV of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, provides for the protection of architectural heritage. The Act gives primary responsibility to planning authorities to identify and protect the architectural heritage by including relevant structures on the record of protected structures. Inclusion on the record of protected structures places a duty of care on the owners and occupiers of protected structures and also gives planning authorities powers to deal with development proposals affecting them and to seek to safeguard their future.

Over recent years several important houses have been offered for sale by their respective owners and negotiations in most cases concluded with their future secured by the support of new owners. My Department has no direct role in this process as it is a commercial matter between the owners of the properties in question and the parties interested in the purchase.

As the Deputies are no doubt aware, the scope for funding for the conservation of our built heritage is currently constrained by the significant reduction in the public finances. Funding for the protection of built heritage will continue to be provided by the Department in 2017 via a number of schemes.

The Department could only consider acquiring this property if the price fell within a certain range. In this context, I would also remind the House that in late 2016 my Department negotiated the extension of Wicklow Mountains National Park by purchasing almost 4,900 acres of Dublin Uplands at Glenasmole at a cost of €800,000. The Deputies might remember that the vendor was looking for €4 million at the time.

Clearly, the Guinness name is very famous in Ireland and should a donation of the property by the family be in prospect, then I would be very happy to entertain overtures from the vendors and, in particular, as to the presentation of the house and lands as a publicly owned and accessible property.

It would, by any measure, be a significant addition to our stock of publicly owned heritage properties and lands and would add greatly to the integration of the Dublin and Wicklow national parks. It would sit on a par with the family’s far-sighted and generous donation of Iveagh House and Gardens to the State in 1939. I hope they would consider giving the property to the State. I will negotiate with them and will ensure that the State protected and looked after the property. It would be a very generous contribution to the State. The Guinness name has been well recognised in the country. The family has many businesses and I have no doubt that it might consider this.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy):     The time for the Topical Issue debate is up, but I will allow the two Deputies and the Minister of State a short response.

Deputy Joan Burton:     I thank the Minister of State for a very positive initial response. He is clearly aware of the significance of this estate to people in Ireland. It also ties in with one of the Government’s key issues, which is the development and protection of rural areas. There could be no more remote and rural area than this wonderful and beautiful estate in the Wicklow Mountains.

The Minister of State rightly referenced the Guinness family’s donation of Iveagh House and Gardens in the earlier history of the State and that building now houses the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Guinness family sold – albeit at quite a high price in Celtic tiger times – Farmleigh, which has been a magnificent addition to Dublin and also St. Anne’s Park. I draw the Minister of State’s attention to a place where I walk every year once or twice – the woods at Cong, beside Ashford Castle.

We have many examples of what can be done here. This is part of all our heritage and I thank the Minister of State for his reply.

Deputy Gino Kenny:     The Minister of State’s reply was quite positive. He said the Department could also consider acquiring the property if the price fell within a range.

[Deputy Gino Kenny   ] If the price reduced, would the State be interested in buying the house? It would be even better if it was donated to the State. Is the Minister of State saying that if the price reduced dramatically, the State would engage with the owner?

Deputy Michael Ring:     Deputy Burton is correct. I have just gone through this process with regard to Westport House, and I want to state on the record again today that I am delighted the Hughes family has bought Westport House.

Deputy Joan Burton:     Absolutely.

Deputy Michael Ring:     It was an issue of great concern. With regard to what the Deputy said earlier, I, too, was pleased with the outcome. I spent a year, as did the people of Westport, making sure that part of it was held in State hands but the rest of it by a family that is committed to Westport.

Deputy Kenny asked me a question. I will give a straight answer. The State does not have €28 million. I would ask the Guinness family, and Deputy Burton was correct when she said they have a great connection to Ireland in terms of the Guinness brand, to consider offering the house to the State. I am prepared to sit down and negotiate with them but I would hope they would hand it over to the State, as they did with Iveagh House. This house is a very important piece of infrastructure. It is of regional importance but in my opinion it is of national importance. I am prepared to negotiate with the family. The State does not have many resources but if the family are prepared to hand over the house to the State, it will be delighted to accept it and maintain and retain it.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy):     I thank the Deputies for their co-operation. I had to cut them off to some extent but I am sure they understand that I have to try to move things along.