Tourism: “The Gathering: An Irish Homecoming”
Private Members’ Business
Arlene Foster (DUP)
There could be extra figures, if that is the case, and that means that there were more Ulster people in Dublin at the weekend. The point I am making, however, is that the Scottish Government put an awful lot of money into “The Homecoming”. Indeed, it was the subject, as I understand it, of a Public Accounts Committee investigation, because they did not feel that they received the value for money that they would have liked.
However, the point I am also making is that this motion calls on me to get involved with Tourism Ireland’s plans. They are not Tourism Ireland’s plans. It then goes on to talk about me engaging with the Irish Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, which, of course, I do on an ongoing basis. It then talks about the UK City of Culture in Derry/Londonderry being included as an integral part of what is happening through “The Gathering”.
It is important to put “The Gathering” into context. It was launched at the Clinton Global Initiative in October of last year. It was launched as not just a tourism initiative but something much wider. To give you a line from the Republic of Ireland’s own Department, it saw “The Gathering”:
“being positioned as a platform for business or community to connect with networks around the world. It is seen as an opportunity to help restore the local and national economy, rebuild local and national pride and renew Ireland’s global reputation.”
“The Gathering” is not just about bringing more tourists into the Republic of Ireland or onto this island; it has a much wider remit. That is fine; that is something that the Republic of Ireland’s Government have decided they need to do in the context of the many difficulties that they have had in the past.
My focus is on the continuing success of ni2012 as we concentrate on upcoming events such as the Irish Open, the opening of the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre, the Clipper race, the Peace One Day concert, the Land of Giants festival and the fiftieth anniversary festival at Queen’s. I mention those because they are in our group of eight international-scale events, but I want to say across the House that there are many other activities happening in 2012 and 2013. I have four pages of details of what is happening in Fermanagh between now and the end of the year, and I am quite happy to share those four pages with the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone after the debate.
As I have said in the House and in answer to questions, I welcome any initiatives for 2013 that bring visitors onto the island, but my main focus in 2013 will be on the significant plans that we already have for the UK City of Culture in Londonderry and the World Police and Fire Games to be hosted in Belfast, not to mention continuing to build on the legacy that we hope will have been generated by ni2012.
The programme of events in 2013 is being developed by Northern Ireland’s Tourist Board, which is working closely with the Culture Company in Londonderry to ensure that we have an exciting programme of events, highlights of which will be released in May and the full programme in September 2012. I can confirm that the city will act as host to the Turner prize, which will be only the third time it will have been held outside the Tate Britain, its base since the prize began in 1984. That is a hugely significant event for the Maiden City.
The city will also act as host to the all-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil, again the first time that this celebration of Irish music, song and dance and culture will be held in Northern Ireland. As one of our signature projects, Londonderry has a lot to offer the tourist already visiting. It has a unique tourism offering and the potential to achieve international standout. I get rather disappointed when I hear Members trying to talk down the tourism potential of the many beautiful areas around Northern Ireland.
There has been over £10 million of capital investment in Londonderry to date, resulting in the redevelopment of the city’s historical buildings through a built heritage programme led by the Tourist Board. The programme provides a way for Londonderry to retell its many stories and reveal its shared culture and heritage to tourists, visitors and the community alike. Mrs Kelly said that she hoped we had moved away from a “them and us” agenda. If she wants to look anywhere, she should look to the city of Londonderry as an area where we are sharing our culture and heritage and putting that forward to tourists who come from all over. We hope to continue with that in the way we are investing in the city of Londonderry.
I look forward to seeing that work completed, whether it is the Guildhall, the “Wee Nun’s School” as it is known colloquially — the Aras Colmcille — or the Apprentice Boys and what they are doing in relation to their hall. We will support all of those because we want to support the tourism offering right across Northern Ireland and right across the community in Northern Ireland.
Turning to some of the points that have been made, I want to say to Mrs Kelly that we are promoting the Titanic in the rest of Northern Ireland through the work of Tourism Ireland; not just to the 70 million members of the Irish diaspora that she talked about, but to a global audience. One disappointing thing about this debate had been the quoting of statistics that have quite frankly been wrong. Mr McDonnell told us that 60% of our international tourists come through Dublin. That is wrong. Thirty per cent of our international visitors come through Dublin, and we want to see more such visitors; of course we do. The unemployment statistics that Mrs Kelly —