Impact on bird of prey puts Hellfire Club development on hold

by Padraig Conlon

A rarely seen bird of prey is obstructing a controversial development at the Hellfire Club.

South Dublin County Council wants to build a visitor centre at the iconic site which would include a panoramic cafe, exhibition space, a ramblers lounge, toilets, changing facilities, a shop and education centre.

Their application to An Bord Pleanála (APB) was met with furious opposition from many local residents, conservationists and politicians during the oral hearing in November.

Now all plans to build have been put back for at least another year after APB wrote to the council informing them that their bird survey was inadequate because data on the Merlin, a species of falcon, was limited to the summer months of 2018.

The council have until February 2020 to submit information covering all seasons.

The Merlin, which is Ireland’s smallest raptor, nests on the ground on moorland, mountain and blanket bog.

It is a rare breeding bird in this country and is mostly found in the west with small numbers to be found across the midlands and the Wicklow Mountains.

The Irish Raptor Study Group, which carries out surveys, monitoring and research on birds of prey and owls (raptors) in the Republic of Ireland say however the Merlin is being used as a pawn to stop the visitor centre being built.

In a statement released on their Facebook page they said:

“A very depressing example of how An Bord Pleanala and our planning system is broken.

“A huge wind farm can be built on one of the most important breeding or roosting sites for Hen Harrier in the State and the Bord have no problem approving it however, a new visitor centre and car park in a conifer plantation is refused for its “potential effects” on Merlin.

“The double standards here (and lack thereof) is something that should concern our TDs, Developers, Consultants and public alike.

“In the case of the Dublin Mountains Visitor Centre, local dogwalkers don’t want to share their space with more visitors.

“Classic NIMBYism. Unfortunately, and without foundation, the Merlin has been used as a focus for objection and it has stuck.

“The unnecessary negative stigma this attaches to Birds of Prey does not serve eNGOs & conservation based objections to planning at all well.”

The decision by ABP has been welcomed though by Dublin Mid West People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny, who made a submission to the oral hearing last November.

“From the beginning opposition to the proposed Dublin Mountains Visitor Centre has been resolute,” he said.

“Local campaigners and People Before Profit have raised concerns regarding the impact of such a large scale project on the fragile environment of Massys Wood.

“We have also questioned the suitability of locating an information centre on this scale in this specific area.

“We are delighted that ABP obviously share those concerns.”

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