Star Wars' Malin Head in tourist toilet controversy

Fans flocked to Ireland's most northerly point as filming began for Star Wars Image copyright Niall Carson/PA
Image caption Fans flocked to Ireland's most northerly point as filming began for Star Wars

Residents at Ireland's most northerly point have objected to plans to build toilets at an historic tourist site.

Malin Head, in County Donegal, saw a surge in tourist activity recently, partly down to its exposure during the filming of a new Star Wars film.

The County council now want to provide toilets and extra car parking spaces for visitors.

Local Photographer Rónán McLaughlin said it would be an "absolute nightmare".

Excitement reached fever pitch in the village in May with people flocking to catch a glimpse of the cast and crew of Star Wars Episode VIII.

"In the last few years we've had the Wild Atlantic Way, Star Wars and the aurora borealis, so you're getting a lot more people," Mr McLaughlin told the BBC.

"Now we can have traffic jams on a road that was built for a horse and cart and isn't much wider than it was at the turn of the 19th century.

"It's a complete and utter disaster, our infrastructure can't hold it."

Image copyright Rónán McLaughlin
Image caption Malin Head is renowned for its rugged coastal landscape

The new toilets and parking facilities would replace existing portaloos and a small lay-by near Banba's Crown.

The plans suggest that the new amenities would be around 130m from the historic signal tower of Malin.

Rónán McLaughlin explained that he had no issue with the development of tourist facilities but wanted a more ambitious approach.

Starting with changing the name of the R242 coastal road to the R2D2.

Image copyright other
Image caption The portable toilets are located about 130m to the west of the signal tower

"There has been virtually no public consultation between tourist providers and the local community here," said Mr McLaughlin.

"I'm from Malin head and I'm 800m from where they propose to build these toilets. If we provide toilets its only going to exacerbate a problem.

"If we can get a situation where facilities are away from the tower it will ease that pressure.

"We can have tour guides, shuttle buses etc.. all things that can feed the local economy without damaging the landscape."

Image copyright Rónán McLaughlin
Image caption The area is popular spot for tourists and amateur photographers

Despite the objections, Fianna Fáil councillor Martin McDermott said most people back the plans.

"This is a fight I've been fighting for three or four years. We attract around 150,000 visitors a year and we have nothing there," he said.

"Busloads of 60 people at a time can turn up with older folk and children, and we have no proper toilets?

"We deserve this investment and I wont be stopping in the push to make Malin Head equal to similar tourist areas in Kerry and Cork," he added.

Mr McDermott agreed with some of the concerns voiced about development on the site, but said that people would have ample time to raise their objections.

Image copyright other
Image caption Portaloos are currently provided for tourists in need

Ireland's tourism body, Fáilte Ireland, who are co-funding the new facilities, said that the plans were still open for consultation.

"Fáilte Ireland have recently allocated funding towards the development of an amenity building and improved car parking facilities at Malin Head which will be complete before the start of the 2017 tourism Season," said a spokesperson.

"In addition to this, Fáilte Ireland will be working closely with Donegal County Council to devise a long-term strategic plan for maximising the tourism potential of Malin Head in 2017 which will ensure greater visitor management and deliver sustainable growth for the area for the future.

"Together with the Council, Fáilte Ireland will tender to begin this project in the coming weeks and it is envisaged that the project will involve wide stakeholder consultation."

Image copyright Rónán McLaughlin
Image caption The area is said to encapsulate 'old Ireland'

In the past few years the area has also seen a big increase in the number of amateur photographers and sky watchers.

They come chasing a view of the aurora borealis and a picture to treasure.

Image copyright Rónán McLaughlin
Image caption Mr McLaughlin believes that the local community 'were not consulted'

Mr McLaughlin said he and others remained concerned that this pastime could now be in jeopardy.

"People visit Malin for the aurora and my fear is that you're putting a public facility at the tower hill to see a dark night sky.

"What are people going to do? Say bye-bye to any night time photography?"

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