Mayo County Council's Economic Development and Enterprise Support Strategic Policy Committee threw their weight behind finding a solution to securing the future of Westport House. The committee held a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss the future of the attraction after NAMA placed a loan attached to the estate up for sale as part of its Project Arrow portfolio.
According to a recently launched economic impact study the estate saw 161,906 visitors attend the house and its ground in 2014, and it contributes €50.7 million to the local economy each year.
The meeting of the SPC was attended by Fine Gael councillors Tom Connolly and Neil Cruise, Independent councillor Christy Hyland, committee chair Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne, Westport Chamber representative Neill O'Neal, and director of services for Mayo County Council, Joanne Grehan.
While there are ongoing behind the scenes negotiations between a number of parties at the moment, the SPC proposed to bring forward an item for the agenda of the next Mayo County Council meeting which is due to take place on Monday. It has put forward the proposal that, in the absence of a positive update on the ongoing negotiations, Mayo County Council ask for a clause in the NAMA Act (that can allow for the State to remove properties from a NAMA portfolio and be purchased by the State due to public interest ) to be invoked which permits Westport House to be removed from Project Arrow and therefore after ask the State to purchase it.
Independent councillor Christy Hyland said at the meeting that the people of Westport would not stand for the house falling into the hands of a private investor to use it as a west of Ireland holiday home, saying: "The people of Westport would in no uncertain terms make their feelings known about that." He went on to say: "What Muckross House is to Killarney, Westport House is to Westport. As a public representative, I won't stand over Westport House being closed to the public — and it won't be.”
Putting forward the case for the council to buy the house, he said that the cost would be in the region of €10 to €12 million and the council had in the past spent the money on less important things.
Mr O'Neal said that when Westport Town Council was abolished last year there was sum of money the council had in the bank that could have been used to fund such a purchase, but that money is now gone. He added that it was a tragedy that in recent years the house has become profitable as a venture after the investments had been made by the family who own the house.
A public meeting on the issue of the future of Westport House estate is to take place in the auditorium of the Town Hall Theatre next Tuesday (October 20 ) at 7.30pm.