Public should be able to access cafe without paying Belvedere entry fee - cllrs

The public should soon be able to visit the café at Belvedere House and Gardens again without having to pay the admission fee, councillors were informed at the September meeting of Mullingar Kinnegad Municipal District.

Responding to a motion by Cllr Aoife Davitt, MKMD revealed that Belvedere is working with a conservation architect to reorientate the visitor centre that will enable members of the public to visit the cafe without having to fork out the entrance fee, which for adults currently stands at €8.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Davitt welcomed the news that work was being done, but said that the change should be “reverted immediately”.

She brought up the issue, she said, because she had received “numerous representations” about it since it was introduce early this year.

“I feel there is a tarriff now placed on people who would just like to go and enjoy a cup of tea in Belvedere or a spot of lunch. If you want to gain access to the coffee shop we are currently asking people to pay the admission fee.

“I know in the past we allowed people to access the coffee shop for free. This has changed recently and I feel it is impacting only locals really.

“With the high season over now most people attending Belvedere will be locals...”

While acknowledging the improvements that have been made in Belvedere in recent years, Cllr Davitt expressed the view that “most people in Mullingar would feel that Belvedere is slightly underutilised”.

Cllr Davitt added that during a recent visit she saw people leave when they were asked to pay the admission fee to access the coffee shop. She also knows other people who paid it, but said they would not do so again.

“It is a council owned property. It should be an amenity for the people. It should be a place where people can go and we are not turning them away,” she said.

One of three councillors on the management committee for Belvedere, Cllr Davitt said that there are “so many things” that need to be upgraded in Belvedere, including the playgrounds.

“I know we do need the funds but I do not think this is the right way to get them,” she said.

Cllr Emily Wallace voiced her support for Cllr Davitt saying that she raised the same issue a few months ago after it was brought to her attention.

“We are penalising potential visitors to our jewel. We are penalising people who would be bringing family members out for future events. It is a bad way to brand and advertise one of our best amenities.

“It puts a bad taste in their mouths, pardon the pun, when they go out for a coffee that they are being charged the admission fee for that. I don't know where it came from. It never happened up until I think the last seven months. There was never a charge to go for a coffee.”

Cllr Denis Leonard said that if people access the grounds or Belvedere House they should pay, but should be able to access the coffee shop for free.

“We are talking about two completely separate things,” he said.

Cllr Ken Glynn said that the local authority was “fooling itself if we think that people will pay for the privilege of having a coffee”.

“It's a ludicrous situation,” he said.

Director of services David Jones said that while plans are ongoing at Belvedere regarding the reorientation of the visitors centre, the local authority will discuss with Belvedere management if a short term solution can be found.