Waterpark dream could be ratepayers’ nightmare

NOT A CHANCE... The proposed wet weather facility has been dismissed as pie in the sky by a tourism expert

NOT A CHANCE… The proposed wet weather facility has been dismissed as pie in the sky by a tourism expert

‘Catch yourself on’ was the blunt message from the chief executive of Tralee Waterworld PLC when asked for his thoughts about a mooted waterpark plan for Enniskillen.

Kieran Ruttledge in charge of the group that runs the Aquadome in Tralee dismissed the business case for the facility calling it ‘financially unviable’ and stated his belief that Fermanagh did not have the population nor the tourist numbers for the project to succeed. And he warned that ratepayers could end up footing the bill when it comes to operating costs.


Kieran has plenty of experience in these matters having been involved with the Aquadome since it opened in 1994 at the cost of £4.5m.

Speaking to the Herald, Mr Ruttledge explained much has changed in 19 years and water parks no longer have the same draw.

“I would say in 1994 Aquadome was way ahead of its time. It was the first in Ireland, it had a huge interest. People were travelling from all over the country to come here. But it wasn’t to last.

“1994 to 2000 was boom time for Tralee, but subsequently more and more of these facilities have opened up in other towns and followed a similar path.

“People are also now spreading their wings and holidaying abroad through the advent of cheap flights with Ryanair and they’re enjoying huge water parks in Europe where they don’t have the heating costs of an indoor facility.
“When they come back the Aquadome no longer has the wow factor.”

While the Aquadome remains the major tourist attraction of Tralee, rising costs make it more and more difficult to make profit.

“We have to contend with €300,000 to €400,000 operating costs per year. We just about break even. It is  getting more and more difficult though, we have had to make cutbacks on staff and increase entrance fees. It is not easy, we are paying €60,000 a year in rates and if we operate on a loss, the banks will come and close us down .”


“When we first opened we had 200,000 visitors a year, now that is down to 110,000, that’s a big drop.

“In general though other water facilities do not operate at a profit, the National Aquatic Centre operates at a €1.2m a year loss. Most of the smaller waterworlds like Bundoran only operate during the main summer months.”

In referring to the proposed Fermanagh G8 legacy project Kieran believes building a waterpark would be ‘very difficult’.

“If you have to carry the whole capital costs you would have no chance of making it pay. How are you going to repay that £10m or so it would likely cost? The answer is you are not.”

Even if central government do allocate a significant amount of the money to the project, high operating costs could lead to the ratepayers being asked to foot the bill according to Kieran.

“I don’t think you have the population or the tourism numbers. Kerry is the biggest tourism county in Ireland, but the Aquadome is only profitable in June, July and August. We are operating at a loss the other nine months.

“They don’t make money. Anyone who thinks they can make money, you’re going to lose.”

“If you want to build it for the local population and tourists fair enough, but be prepared to cover the costs, someone will have to pick up the tab and that will probably be the rate payers and the council.

“In my opinion once you put a roof on it and have to pay for heating costs, forget it.”

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