Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has approved a 99-year lease of Necarne Estate with Gardrum Holdings Ltd but has claimed that “no detailed designs or costs have been commissioned” with respect to the future of Necarne Castle, which the Council are still “obliged” to maintain following the lease of the Estate to Gardrum Holdings Ltd.

However, the Impartial Reporter can reveal that former Chief Executive of the Council, Brendan Hegarty, told a meeting of councillors exactly one year ago today, that a report provided to the Council indicated costs of almost £1 million pounds to “stabilise the structures” and “put a roof on it (the castle)”.

This newspaper, last week, asked the Council to clarify its position regarding any reports that it may have received on possible costs to rate payers for the future maintenance of the castle but it had refused to do so at the time of going to press.

The lease states that the tenant, Gardrum Holdings Ltd, must maintain and upkeep the estate, “excluding the castle” and one Councillor, Donal O’Cofaigh, fears that “this scandalous decision leaves ratepayers to pick up potentially millions in costs associated with preventing the castle from collapsing”.

The discussion on the lease of the Necarne Estate was held under confidential matters at a full council meeting last Thursday, February 6, and as such members of the public and the press were prohibited from being in attendance.

Councillor O’Cofaigh, an Independent labour Councillor, attempted to get the matter heard in public and asked that the Council consider carrying out some more costings concerning the future maintenance of the castle. However, he received no backing from his fellow Councillors and the matter was taken into confidential matters where the Impartial Reporter understands there was overwhelming support for the granting of the lease.

The potential cost to ratepayer of future maintenance of the castle is unknown but exactly one year ago, February 13, 2019, at a meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee former Chief Executive of the Council, Brendan Hegarty stated that the Council would have to “spend somewhere between £350,000 and £400,000 just to stabilise the structures” of the castle. At the same meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee, held on February 13 2019, Mr Hegarty also told Councillors that “from memory, and I stand to be corrected, there was also a cost of about £500,000 to put a roof on it (the Castle).”

However, last week, in response to a question from this newspaper regarding the future works and upkeep of the castle, the council stated: “In relation to Castle redevelopment, whilst there have been some discussions with the Historic Environment Division (Buildings) they have not concluded a view as to what period of listing is preferable in terms of restoration and hence no detailed designs or costs have been commissioned on this. Necarne Castle incorporates aspects of gothic and renaissance architecture and has had a number of uses at different times in history and any restoration project needs to be approached sympathetically and informed by appropriate expert advice.”

The Council was also asked why discussions on the lease were held confidentially to which it replied: “The lease has been prepared by the Council’s legal team and they advise that at this stage it is subject to legal privilege.

“It is quite unusual for the Council to review complex legal documentation in this manner, but this reflects the unique and sensitive nature of Necarne and Council must be guided by legal advisers. Any lease documentation executed will become a matter of public record.”

The proposal from Gardrum Holdings Ltd is to create a multi-purpose tourism and leisure destination to include a holiday retreat with a range of accommodation; outdoor activities; enhanced walkways and cycle paths; an equestrian trail; events space and reinstatement of Necarne lake.

Councillor Diana Armstrong who represents the area and is also the Vice Chair of the Council welcomed the approval of the lease by stating: “I believe that investment by Gardrum will bring significant long term benefits to Irvinestown and Erne North.

“I sought and received assurances that the public access will remain as it is. It is time to embrace a new chapter in the history of Necarne which will bring the Estate alive - this is a good news story for Irvinestown, for Fermanagh and its tourism industry.”