Fianna Fáil election candidate Michael Loftus has expressed disappointment at Fáilte Ireland’s difficulty with granting funding to Killala Bay’s artificial reef project, but states that this is “certainly not the end of the line” for the ambitious attraction.
The national tourism development authority has said the Ships 2 Reef project does not meet all the eligibility criteria under the Tourism Investment Programme – and even cited it was not expensive enough.
Mr Loftus, one of the project’s main backers, explained: “I accept the authority has to have certain guidelines and under those criteria, the project has to have a minimum spend of €5 million. Fáilte Ireland states that this can go up to a maximum qualifying ceiling of €12 million. We estimate the artificial reef project will cost in the region of €4 million so it’s not pricey enough.”
The Fianna Fáil candidate expanded on other issues the authority has with granting funding. “Fáilte Ireland has also said that the visitor projections are not in line with expectations and that the ability to achieve direct revenue source and control visitor access is limited. Whatever about the project spend, I would certainly take issue with these points. Since the project’s conception, we have processed comprehensive data on both these issues and it is at odds with the authority’s claims,” he said.
The authority said that in addition to factors relating to criteria, it also took into account the current economic climate, the reduced budget available to the NDP Tourism Capital Investment Programme and the number of competing projects, in making its final decision.
But candidate Michael Loftus, who is also chair of the Grainne Uaile Sub Aqua Club, said the news will not stop plans to launch the initiative. “This project has received a lot of support locally and from both Mayo and Sligo county councils. This is the first of its kind in Ireland and is the single largest community project undertaken in Mayo or Sligo in recent years so I won’t give up easily. For an investment of just over €3 million, the return over 50 years is expected to be €150 million. I am going to look further a field and have already made a number of enquiries regarding the North West European opportunities programme, Interreg, which is part of the EU’s Cohesion Policy. This will make a big difference to our county in terms of tourism, revenue and employment and I want to make it a reality,” he said.