Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Gullion heritage group reeling from “devastating” loss of funding

The Assembly’s Environment Committee is to hold an emergency meeting today (Monday) to examine the implications of last week’s announcement of sweeping cuts in government funding for dozens of environmental heritage, conservation and tourism groups.

Faced with a huge reduction in the overall budget of his Executive department, Environment Minister Mark Durkan has informed affected groups that their funding will be dramatically reduced or, as in some cases, cut entirely, from July of this year.

The Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is one such group, which will see its entire funding – amounting to £45,000 per annum – disappear despite having been previously told this money would be made available until 2017.

Darren Rice, the Ring of Gullion Landscape Partnership Manager, says the loss of this budget funding will decimate the area’s development and have “a negative impact far beyond the lifetime of these cuts”.

He is spearheading an e-petition calling on Minister Durkan to revoke his decision and is urging anyone with a vested interest, particularly those who live in, work or visit the area, to sign the petition.

The e-petition can be found via the Ring of Gullion AONB facebook page or at the following link –

Already hundreds of people have signed, many praising the excellent progress already made in the development of the Ring of Gullion area and its importance in terms of heritage and tourism.

In an open letter to the Minister, Mr Rice outlined how the cuts will impact on the environmental management of the Ring of Gullion AONB, and particularly on his group’s capability to obtain funding from other agencies.

Describing the news as “devastating”, he said: “The Ring of Gullion management already runs on a shoe string budget but makes a huge impact in the area by applying to other funders for project costs; for example from Rural Development, SEUPB, Heritage Lottery, the Challenge Fund and many smaller funders. For every £1 the NIEA [Northern Ireland Environment Agency] has funded us, we have levered in an additional £5. The AONB management runs on a budget of about £45,000 per annum from NIEA, and this has been reduced to £0.

“When the cuts are imposed on the 1st of July it will result in no management of the AONB and the loss of a key driver of the recent tourism, environment and rural development work happening in south Armagh. Furthermore without the staff in post we lose both the capacity to manage our current external funding and our ability to attract future development funds to the area. We fear that this will set the development of the Ring of Gullion area back at a crucial time, when so much momentum has been built over the past five years.

“This short-term approach to rural environmental development will have a negative impact far beyond the life time of these cuts,” he added and appealed to Minister Durkan to “take a more strategic view on the management of our most valuable landscapes”.

Sinn Fein MLA Mickey Brady says his party will do “everything in its power” to have the decision to terminate funding overturned.

“Over the past number of years there has been incredible work done in the Ring of Gullion area to attract people to it and that has really been beginning to show dividends but this will completely take the momentum out of all that and set the entire region back,” Mr Brady said.

“Even setting tourism aside; historically, culturally and aesthetically the Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is nothing short of a national treasure and must be protected.”