Belfast Telegraph

Coast storms hit Blue Flag results

Storms that ravaged Ireland's coast at the start of the year have lost several beaches their coveted Blue Flag award.

Some 80 bathing spots were gifted the prize status - six more than last year, when a statistical glitch was blamed for a number being stripped of the accolade.

However, Environment Minister Phil Hogan said this year's roll of honour would have been lengthier had our shores not been battered by the harsh weather after Christmas.

"Results might even have been better except for the devastation of the storms last winter which caused significant damage in some areas," he said.

An Taisce, Ireland national trust, also awarded 54 of the lesser Green Coast awards to beaches - up nine from last year.

These bathing spots are recognised for their great water quality, environment and scenery, but usually do not have the facilities needed to clinch the more prestigious international-recognised Blue Flag.

Among those to regain the Blue Flag, after controversially being stripped of the status last year, were Portmarnock, Portrane, Donabate and Skerries South Beach in north Dublin.

Morriscastle in Wexford and Ballybunion North in Kerry also took back their flag, as did Councellors Strand and Dunmore Strand in Waterford.

At the time, Mr Hogan attacked an an anomaly in the new grading system for the loss of the awards, and vowed to raise the issue in Europe.

Ongoing works to repair extensive storm damage at Bertra and Mulranny in Mayo, Rossbeigh in Kerry and Miltown Malbay and Spanish Point in Clare were blamed for their failure to achieve the distinction.

Dog's Bay in Galway also lost its Green Coast Award after suffering infrastructural damage from the severe winds and tides.

But Tra gCaorach in Inis Oirr, off the Galway coast, and Kilfrassey in Waterford both scooped the award for the first time.

Patricia Oliver, director of environmental education at An Taisce, heaped praise on thousands of volunteers across Ireland who keep coastlines clean

"Clean Coasts groups contribute significantly to the protection of Ireland's coast," she said.

"In 2013, over 700 beach cleans took place and these groups removed over 500,000 items of marine litter from the marine environment."

Ms Oliver also paid tribute to local authorities, marine operators and communities for their work in achieving Blue Flag and Green Coast awards.

Tourism chiefs claimed that ongoing work on beaches which lost their Blue Flags would help restore them to the top of the bathing spots league.

Shuan Quinn, chief executive of Failte Ireland, said the awards were very important in attracting visitors to the country.

"Our own research indicates that almost 70% of our visitors holiday along our coastline and the quality of our beaches is central to the tourism experience and integral to the work of Failte Ireland," he said.

"Our landmark project, the Wild Atlantic Way which runs from Kinsale all the way along the western seaboard up to Donegal, is already proving a big draw overseas and this week we launched our new 'Blueway' initiative to promote the great variety of sea-based activities on offer in Ireland.

"The increase in quality recorded by An Taisce is certainly a boost for tourism."

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