Causeway belongs to everyone
Published 03/11/2007 | 11:08
Now that the hysterical outbursts have quietened somewhat it is time for a calmer look at the real issue raised by the recent Giant's Causeway debacle.
Northern Ireland, for its size, has a diversity of landscapes unmatched probably in Europe in terms of the story they tell of the dramatic history of our planet.
The most dramatic and scientifically important of these is the Antrim coast, with the jewel in the crown, scenically and in terms of its geological significance, the causeway itself.
This is a treasure, not just because of its value as a tourist magnet, but because of its unique significance for the earth sciences.
Its global status has been recognised by the rare and coveted designation as a World Heritage Site.
And it is a treasure that belongs to all of us. Through our taxes we should all be the investors in any project to enhance its enjoyment for visitors and its economic potential. Any profits should be ring-fenced to boost the funds available for the development of other visitor attractions throughout the Antrim coast and Glens area, or indeed, any other of the wonderful landscapes we are blessed with.
At the end of the day few potential tourists are likely to converge on Northern Ireland from around the world just to spend time in a visitor centre, no matter how well its toilets or tea rooms are marketed. They will come, as they have been doing for decades, to see the unique drama of the causeway and its setting.
It should be noted that the inadequacy of the existing facilities has not stopped visitor numbers from increasing year by year. It's the causeway they come to see; the visitors' centre is, and should be, just a sideshow. No causeway - no visitors.
The private sector take-over bid is an opportunistic attempt to milk the international attractions of one of Europe's most important and iconic landscape wonders for the private profit of a small group of investors, with the causeway itself being reduced to just the means to an end.
Those in Government with responsibility for our natural heritage, led by the EHS and the planners, have an over-riding duty to maximise the potential benefits of such assets for the good of the community, while using their powers to protect their physical and cultural integrity. To throw the causeway to the wolves because the public sector has been slow in getting its act together would be a grave dereliction of this duty.
However, if that determination requires some banging of heads by the Minister, then that is the proper and responsible route to be followed.
Belfast Geologists' Society