The Skellig Michael World Heritage Site Management Plan 2008-2018 was finalised and submitted by the State Party in July 2008. The 126 pages document offers a comprehensive appreciation of the built and natural heritage of the property, and can be found at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/757/documents
A Progress Report on the implementation of the November 2007 advisory mission recommendations and the implementation of the management plan was submitted on 26 January 2010. This report covers relevant actions within the Management Plan and the progress with regard to their implementation.
Since 2005, conservation works on the property raised concern amongst a variety of stakeholders. There were also complaints about visitor access arrangements that had been put in place following the inscription. A review undertaken in September 2007 indicated that the official views, and those of critics, appeared irreconcilable. Accordingly, the Irish authorities requested an advisory mission, which was carried out in November 2007 and was reported to the Committee at its 32nd session in 2008.
a) Advisory Committee
The State Party reports that the Advisory Committee has been appointed and has met twice. It also reports that the results of all excavations carried out in the Monastery and on the South Peak will be fully written up and available on the website of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s World Heritage by the end of 2010. There is, however, no report on when a full academic publication of the conservation work will begin apart from that it will be undertaken during the life-time of the plan, nor of when the necessary resources for a fully costed programme will be put in place.
The Plan further states that a research framework will be established that would invite the involvement of universities and interested parties in research programmes. This will, in turn, inform a formal research strategy, which will be formulated for the island as a whole.
b) Boatmen (boatpeople)
The mission recommended annual minuted meetings should be held with the boatmen who ferry passengers to the island and that criteria for the granting of new landing permits should be identified in order to resolve disputes between the boatmen and the authorities. The State Party reports that a first meeting with the boatmen to consider these matters will take place in February 2010.
c) Site Manager
The mission recommended the appointment of a Site Manager who could fulfill an essential coordinating role between the various official and stakeholder interests and be responsible for driving forward the actions proposed in the Management Plan.
The State Party reports that a Site Management Team has been set up of four people – mostly senior professionals, some based in Dublin – rather than an individual site manager.
d) Visitor study
The mission considered that this was needed to identify needs and perceptions of visitors and vitally to confirm the carrying capacity of this small island with its precipitous cliffs and little flat walking space. The State Party reports that a survey is planned for the 2011 season.
e) Visitor facilities
The mission recommended that a detailed study should be commissioned to identify an environmentally acceptable solution to the lack of toilet facilitieson the island. The State Party states that a report has been commissioned and a draft produced but no details are provided.
f) Health and Safety
This matter was brought sharply into focus by the tragic deaths of two visitors to the island in 2009, brought about by falls. The State Party reports that the safety of visitors is a priority and the Office of Public Works has commissioned a wide-ranging safety review that will be forwarded to the World Heritage Committee as soon as it is completed.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies are concerned about the lack of progress in implementing the recommendations of the 2007 Advisory Mission. The recommendations were pertinent in terms of addressing the key issues: approaches to conservation of the site and disputes with local boatmen. For the conservation approaches to be properly understood it is essential that sufficient information is provided to the public about the state of conservation of the site before restoration and the approaches that were developed with their rationale. Although the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies are aware that there is a commitment to publication within the time span of the Management Plan (2008-2018), they consider that this should be implemented as a high priority action. Similarly, it considers that formalising arrangements with the boatmen who consider themselves to be guardians of the property should also be a high priority.
The tragic deaths of two tourists has highlighted the urgent need for a risk assessment for the property and the need for a survey of the carrying capacity of the island that was requested by the mission and which is only scheduled for 2011. The State Party has chosen not to appoint a Site Manager as recommended by the mission. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies do however consider that a Site Manager could be the catalyst that is needed to make progress with the mission recommendations and with the different actions addressed in the Management Plan.