Two Ardboe men are to become the driving force behind Northern Ireland’s only aquarium when it reopens after a £1.5m refurbishment this summer.
Moving from prisoners to fish - Kieran Quinn and Phelim Devlin, who are also directors at Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol, have secured the contract to run Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry.
The decision to appoint them was reached at a special meeting of Ards and North Down Borough Council on February 11.
The pair, who have enjoyed outstanding success with Crumlin Road Gaol, have said they are very excited about the opportunity.
Mr Quinn, managing director at the Gaol, said: “It’s going to be an exciting opportunity working with Ards and North Down Borough Council and other stakeholders in Portaferry to create a first class visitor attraction.”
Already working in partnership with Dingle Oceanworld, he said this will be a valuable boost to the project.
“With the expertise of Kevin Flannery and his colleagues from Dingle Oceanworld, we will have the right team in place to ensure the aquarium becomes one of the best in Europe,” he added.
“We anticipate this project will be a catalyst for regeneration in Portaferry and the surrounding area and we aim to create 35 jobs at the facility.”
Welcoming the announcement, Mayor of Ards and North Down, Alan Graham said: “Ards and North Down Borough Council could not be more delighted to make this announcement and confirm details for the reopening of Exploris this summer.
“We are very pleased to have appointed such an innovative company as Crumlin Road Goal Ltd to operate the Aquarium and Seal Sanctuary for us.
“Their proposals are robust and promise to deliver a first class visitor attraction that will contribute to public understanding of marine life and make a very strong contribution to the regeneration and economic life of Portaferry, as well as the wider Ards and North Down area.
“We are very grateful for the financial support provided by the Department of the Environment for the refurbishment works.”
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has welcomed the planned re-opening of Exploris, promising £914,000 from his department’s coffers to help make it happen.
He said: “This is a tremendous boost for the residents and businesses in Portaferry. I salute them and the Friends of Exploris Group for their successful campaign to keep the aquarium in their town afloat. They undoubtedly faced uncertain times and I was pleased to secure funding of over £900,000 which together with Council funding, now means work on the new aquarium can begin after Easter.”