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Exploris will find out tonight if it can keep its head above water

By Rebecca Black

Published 11/02/2016

A rescued seal at Exploris in Portaferry
A rescued seal at Exploris in Portaferry

The fate of Northern Ireland's only aquarium will be decided by a council vote tonight.

Exploris has been beset by problems and threats of closure for the past three years.

It has been shut for the past year while Ards and North Down Borough Council has attempted to draw down funding made available by Stormont to refurbish the facility in Portaferry.

The council lost £214,000 in funding from the Department of the Environment last year after failing to appoint a contractor to undertake the work within the stipulated time.

A special meeting of the council has been called for this evening about Exploris, and it is understood it will vote to appoint a management operator for the aquairium.

DUP Ards and North Down mayor Alan Graham confirmed that the council will meet to decide upon its future.

However, he would not be drawn on what management models the council was considering operating or how he intended to vote.

Alliance councillor Kellie Armstrong posted on her Facebook page that she believed Exploris will reopen in July and that refurbishment work will start soon, but refused to make any further comment to the Belfast Telegraph.

Update

Exploris saved: Northern Ireland's only aquarium to reopen in summer after £1.5m investment  

The axe started swinging above Exploris in September 2013 when the previous Ards Borough Council voted to give it two months to find funding or face being sold off.

A number of councillors argued that at £600,000 a year to run, the aquarium was too expensive for ratepayers to retain.

This sparked an outcry among supporters of Exploris, who staged protests outside council meetings and gathered petitions aimed at keeping it open.

Earlier that year private firm Livingstone Leisure submitted a bid to take over the aquarium, but it subsequently fell through.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan (below) stepped in pledging first support for the seal sanctuary attached to Exploris, then later for the aquarium itself.

In August 2014 Ards Council voted to accept an offer of money from the Executive of £914,000 capital funding and up to £120,000 revenue funding in principle, but to continue its equality impact assessment consultation on closing the facility.

The new Ards and North Down Council inherited the ongoing situation when it took over last April.

The aquarium has been council-run since it opened in 1987.

The seal sanctuary attached to Exploris has continued to help and rescue the animals throughout the aquarium's closure.

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