A COUNCIL committee has given its backing to Warrenpoint Baths becoming a key part of ‘developing Carlingford Lough as a premier outdoor tourism destination’. On Monday, the Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism (ERT) Committee agreed that redeveloping the baths should be considered ‘as one of the key projects identified for future capital investment’ within a feasibility study – funded by the Irish Government’s Shared Island unit – on developing the lough’s tourist appeal. The recommendation emanated from a notice of motion tabled by Mickey Ruane (Sinn Féin, Crotlieve) that voiced regret that the town landmark ‘continues to fall into a state of disrepair, and has now become an eyesore on what is one of the most scenic views in Ireland’. It noted the effort made by council and local councillors in retaining planning permission in 2022, and expressed disappointment that a recent application to the Levelling Up Fund had been unsuccessful.
Cllr Ruane’s motion also highlighted that the construction of Narrow Water Bridge is due to commence next year, and stated that ‘an innovative project like Warrenpoint Baths’ would complement it. Concluding, it called on the local authority to ‘make the redevelopment of Warrenpoint Baths a flagship council project in the new term’, and to ‘commit to actively seeking alternative funding for the project through avenues such as the Irish Government’s Shared Island Fund’.
Speaking at Monday’s meeting, the local representative pointed out that the redevelopment of the baths had been on the agenda of the old Newry and Mourne District Council. “I think it was 1996 that the baths originally closed down, and here we are in 2023 and we are still no further forward with the dilapidated state of the baths,” he said. “Just recently, this summer, we finished the first part of our environmental improvement scheme, which has dramatically improved the front shore along where the baths are. “Unfortunately, the baths sit as an eyesore on the seafront.” Cllr Ruane added the motion had been a call for council to “redouble their efforts”. “I think we really need to get to a stage where we can bring to a conclusion the redevelopment of the baths,” he stated. Michael Savage (SDLP, Newry) gave his party’s backing for what he described as “a potentially strong project that would have transformed the whole seafront”. “The bottom line is, in three years’ time, it will be 30 years since the baths closed, and it is showing every sign of that,” he said. “Maybe what we could be looking at, as an interim measure when the environmental improvement schemes are completed, is that at least the place is painted and tidied up a bit, so it doesn’t look as big an eyesore as it possibly could be against that backdrop.”
Economy, Growth and Tourism assistant director Andrew Patterson confirmed that council officers are working with Louth County Council on the feasibility study “looking at opportunities for Carlingford Lough as a destination”. “We very much see, as central to that, the baths being a key proposition and a key capital project for development and funding for development in the next few years, hopefully,” he said. Mr Patterson acknowledged that planning permission is in place, though added that “we are mindful too that time is ticking on”.
Glyn Hanna (DUP, Mournes) stated that his party would “neither be supporting this nor objecting against it, so we will be abstaining”. Declan McAteer (SDLP, Crotlieve) said that, as a councillor for the DEA, he very much welcomed “a very good motion brought forward on the back of what’s happening within the Shared Island Fund”. Cllr Ruane proposed that the recommendation – contained in a committee report – to make the baths a key project in the study be adopted, and this was seconded by his party colleague Willie Clarke (Mournes). Nine councillors voted in favour and none voted against, whilst Cllr Hanna and his DUP colleague Callum Bowsie (Rowallane) abstained. This will now go before full council in November for ratification. In a statement released after the meeting, Cllr Ruane said that “redeveloping Warrenpoint Baths is a top priority for Sinn Féin, and I believe that it should be one of Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s top priorities too.” “What is required now is a laser focus from local council to make good on the planning permission that exists for the redevelopment of Warrenpoint Baths,” he added. “Sinn Féin is committed to seeing the development of a viable and innovative project for Warrenpoint Baths. “I’m delighted my motion has been approved, which puts the redevelopment of Warrenpoint Baths firmly on the council agenda, and ensures council works to seek the necessary funding to bring the baths back to life.” The extant planning permission is for the ‘redevelopment of Warrenpoint Baths, including refurbishment and extension of existing adventure centre, community function room, seaweed baths/spa, coffee shop and external venue space, public toilets, and all associated site works’.