Blue Flag and Green Coast awards on the beach at Curracloe FLAG DAY

MARIA PEPPER

BEAUTIFUL Curracloe Beach proved the perfect setting when the Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan came to Wexford last week to present the national 2011 Blue Flag and Geen Coast Awards.

Who needs a function room when you have a golden strand and the ocean for a backdrop. A platform was erected on the beach with chairs for the guests and a podium for the Government representative.

A marquee in the car park improvised as the refreshments area serving smoked salmon on brown bread and strawberries and cream to the guests who came from seaside areas all over the country to collect awards.

A total of 84 Blue Flags, the highest ever since 2006, was handed over to beaches and marinas that boast excellent water quality and achieve high standards across a range of other criteria including management of the environment, safety and other services.

Wexford retained Blue Flags at Courtown, Curracloe, Morriscastle and Rosslare while Kilmore Quay was one of only two areas in Ireland that received a Blue Flag for its marina - the other was Kullinure Point Marina in County Westmeath.

The Blue Flag programme has been operating in Ireland since 1988 and has become a respected, internationally recognised eco-label of major significance to the tourism sector.

During his speech, Minister Hogan remarked that the value to the tourism industry of good quality bathing water cannot be overestimated.

He said the increase in Blue Flags from 76 in 2010 was due to the combined efforts of the local authorities and coastal communities on the ground who are playing their part in improving water quality.

The Minister also said he was delighted that the number of Green Coast awards had increased from 46 in 2010 to 58 this year. These awards are given to beaches which have high water quality but which may be less developed than the Blue Flag beaches.

The Department of the Environment has provided funding to An Taisce to support the nationwide roll-out of the awards while the authorities in Northern Ireland have provided funding there. The programme is also sponsored by Failte Ireland and Coca Cola.

This year, Wexford County Council has retained Green Coast Awards at Oldbawn, Cahore, Ballineskar and Culleton's Gap and has regained green awards for Cullenstown and Ballymoney. The Minister paid tribute to the work of Coastcare Volunteer Groups throughout the country which make an important contribution to the improvement of their communities.

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