Tourism: “The Gathering: An Irish Homecoming”
Private Members’ Business
Francie Molloy (Sinn Féin)
The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer will have 10 minutes in which to propose the motion and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.
I beg to move
That this Assembly calls on the Executive to support and encourage Tourism Ireland’s plans for “The Gathering: An Irish Homecoming” in 2013, which will promote Ireland as a tourism destination to 70 million people worldwide; and further calls on the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment to engage with the Irish Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to ensure that the benefit from these plans is derived on an all-island basis and that the Derry/Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013 celebrations are included as an integral attraction.
I am very pleased to move the motion on behalf of the SDLP. For a relatively small country, Ireland — North and South — has contributed much to the world through literature, poetry, music and sport. Over 70 million people worldwide claim Irish heritage, which is why “The Gathering: An Irish Homecoming” should be embraced here in the North. We should celebrate our achievements and showcase everything that we have to be proud of, be that our beautiful natural heritage found at the Giant’s Causeway, our vibrant cities of Belfast and Derry, which are in contrast to our peaceful and green townlands across the North, the shore land around Lough Neagh, and, of course, the recent commemorations and successful showcasing of the Titanic story. We have invested so much in developing the Titanic as a tourist attraction and a symbol of manufacturing to be proud of, so why not promote it to a stage of over 70 million people?
In 2011, an estimated £368 million was spent in the North by overseas visitors, with 1·5 million of them choosing to stay overnight, which, of course, has a positive impact on the hospitality industry. With 2012 proving to be a successful year so far, with the Titanic project, the return of MTV to Belfast, the forthcoming Irish Open in Portrush and the opening of the Giant’s Causeway visitors’ centre, we, as public representatives with the interests of all our constituents at the core of our duties, should do all we can to ensure that the tourism wave that the North is now riding on continues to grow and develop.
“The Gathering” and all that it entails can lead to future events, investment and tourism inflow. It is a project not to be dismissed, as some people have done, but one to recognise and seize upon. The City of Culture 2013 will be a massive boost to our economy. It and the World Police and Fire Games can be even more successful than originally anticipated if taken as part of the homecoming celebrations on an all-island basis. We can combine our efforts to endorse the North as a viable tourist haven with the determination of the South to ensure that the homecoming is successful. The Irish Government are working hard to stimulate interest in the venture, with websites such as worldirish.com attracting thousands of visitors from around the world to share stories of their homeland, which may result in them travelling home for the planned events.
Millions of people worldwide consider themselves to be Irish and have connections to not just the South but the North. Our diversity and differing traditions can be drawn together on the understanding that we are all connected by the island on which we live. Let me be clear: the homecoming does not have a nationalist agenda, which may be the understanding of some Members. Rather, the events that will be promoted include Galway’s International Oyster and Seafood Festival and the Street Performance World Championship in Cork, alongside the promotion of Irish literature, music and sports.
Last week, the Irish President, Michael D Higgins, in an address to Magee College in Derry, said that North/South co-operation needs to be broadened and deepened to improve the quality of life for all on this island. He also said that, in times of austerity, North/South co-operation made sense in terms of economies of scale. The venture is important not only for those who wish to reclaim their Irish roots; it is imperative that we seize the chance to increase our employment opportunities for local residents. At September 2011, tourism and leisure jobs accounted for 8% of all employee jobs in the North. There is a very real possibility that we can increase that figure through not only the projects that are planned for 2012 but the many ventures that can be endorsed in 2013.
Unemployment stands at 7·2%, with 61,500 people claiming unemployment benefit. In February this year, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster, stated that her Department would make every effort to generate new employment opportunities. Therefore, it is astonishing that the Minister will not grasp this chance to promote this island, the North and local employment by actively encouraging and initiating discussions with the Minister in the South.
Her comments fly in the face of the recently stated intentions of her party leader, who said that it is no longer “them and us” and talked about shared heritage and history and how the commemorations that will be celebrated over the next decade will allow different traditions to be respected and different narratives to be heard among the clamour of voices from the past.
It is a sad part of our history that many people had to leave our country to seek employment.
I do not think that you have been listening to what I have had to say. I really do not understand what you are saying. It is your party that seems to be divided on your true intentions and on whether you actually want to have a shared history and build a shared future, reconcile people and listen to the aspirations of others.
It is a sad part of the history of Ireland that many people had to leave the country to seek employment abroad. No event contributed more to the dispersal of our people than the famine. As a result, this celebratory event will encourage the many people abroad who are aware that they have Irish heritage to visit their ancestral homeland and learn more of their history. There are also people who left our country as recently as 20 or 30 years ago as a result of the Troubles. This is a prime chance to display to the world the work that has been done here to achieve and sustain peace. I am sure that those who left during the Troubles would seize the chance to visit a peacetime Ireland.
I will finish with quotations from some people who are regarded as ambassadors. The actor Liam Neeson stated:
“Being Irish and a citizen of the world, has made me truly appreciate Irish culture, music and history. Whether you’re first, second generation Irish or even with no connection to Ireland, you should visit in 2013 for a unique experience.”
The event has also been endorsed by the actor Stephen Rea, who stated:
“Ireland has contributed enormously to the world through its literature, drama, poetry and music. Our country has enriched lots of people’s lives. The Gathering 2013 is a chance to give back. And celebrate the achievements of our small island on a worldwide stage.”
People will recognise those names worldwide and be happy with their endorsements of the event known as “the Homecoming.”
It is, after all, a tourism initiative. That is all that it is — a tourism initiative. We ask the DUP to reconsider its position and to listen carefully and without prejudice to the rationale, aims and objectives of “the Homecoming”. We ask it to seize the event as an opportunity to demonstrate its credentials in moving beyond “them and us” and to make decisions that are in the best interests of all the people whom we serve and represent so that we build a better future that says to the world that we will put the interests of our people first, seize employment opportunities and create a better future for this generation and generations to come.
Stephen Moutray (DUP)
All of us in the House will agree that we cannot overestimate the importance to our economy of developing and growing our tourist industry. When I say “our economy” and “our tourist industry”, I am referring to Northern Ireland’s.
Stephen Moutray (DUP)
The motion is certainly tourist-orientated. However, it is a very green motion, and I am not surprised, given who tabled it. This is a case of the SDLP using tourism as an excuse to peddle its all-island agenda.
To my mind, next year’s “An Irish Homecoming” will be hugely sentimental and very Irish in a way that I cannot and will not really identify with. It is a sort of “Mother Ireland” concept that conjures up images of leprechauns, shillelaghs, pints of Guinness, donkeys, dancing at the crossroads and thatched cottages. In other the words, it is the sort of stuff that we see far too much of in retail outlets at our airports. A quick glance at the list of venues and events related to “the Homecoming” reveals that almost all of them are in the Republic of Ireland. The initiative is being driven by the Irish Government, and it is being geared primarily towards boosting tourism figures in the Irish Republic in an effort to strengthen the ailing economy. Indeed, that is the overwhelming impression that you get from the promotional literature and from statements by the Irish Tourism Minister and others.
I have no problem with the Irish Government developing their tourist base, and I wish them well for their homecoming initiative. Indeed, some tourists might cross the border into Northern Ireland, and we may benefit from that. There are times when it is right and proper that our tourism Minister will want to co-operate with her Irish counterpart, and if such co-operation will be to the benefit of the Northern Ireland economy or the broader UK economy, that is fine.
I am not the biggest fan of Tourism Ireland but I accept that it does some good work. I pay tribute to the role that its chief executive, Niall Gibbons, is playing in promoting Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to 12 July. However, Tourism Ireland’s goal is the promotion of the island of Ireland, and the logical outcome of that is that its main focus will be on the Republic. We must concentrate on marketing our own distinct Northern Ireland image. That has to be our priority. We have plenty of work to do and plenty of opportunities to seize.
During the long hard years of the Troubles, we fell so far behind for obvious reasons. We have so much ground to make up, but I am glad to say that we are making up that ground. This is indeed our time, our place. Tourism estimates for 2011 were published a couple of weeks ago, and they are very encouraging. Last year saw a 20% increase in the amount of money spent by overseas visitors. One and a half million overseas visitors spent at least one night in Northern Ireland, which was up 4% on 2010.
That is all very encouraging. It is only the end of April and there is already a real buzz about the Province. The Titanic visitor centre, Titanic Belfast, has attracted worldwide interest in this centenary year, and I have every confidence that it will not only prove the naysayers wrong, but it will exceed all expectations. It has been described by the travel publication ‘Fodor’s Ireland’ as being the world’s biggest tourism story in 2012. In a couple of months, the brand new visitor centre will open at the Giant’s Causeway, and we will have the Irish Open golf tournament at Royal Portrush for the first time since 1947. Plans are also well advanced for the celebration of Ulster’s Solemn League and Covenant, and, like many others, I look forward to the Orange demonstration that will be held here at the end of September. Next year, Londonderry will be the United Kingdom City of Culture, and, indeed, the motion refers to that important year in the life of our second city.
Sydney Anderson (DUP)
The Member may have referred to it already, but does he agree that what we have before us today is nothing but a one-sided green agenda and motion? Mrs Kelly said in recent comments in the local press that she was totally against the obelisk being erected in Portadown to commemorate the signing of the Ulster covenant in Portadown, and she is querying why planners gave planning permission for it. Does the Member agree that that proves that Mrs Kelly and the motion are both coming forward with a one-sided agenda?
Stephen Moutray (DUP)
I agree entirely with my colleague, but it is nothing new for Mrs Kelly to attack something that is legitimately done when she has not expressed any concerns about an IRA monument in Craigavon, which has never had planning permission.
Returning to the topic, 2013 will be a challenging and exciting time for the city, and I encourage my colleague Arlene Foster and her officials to work closely with the Culture Minister and her officials to maximise the potential not only for Londonderry but for the Province as a whole. All the key players from Londonderry need to be involved. It is vital that all traditions that form the history and fabric of the maiden city are included in the various events being planned for next year. The plans must be broadly based and inclusive if 2013 is to be a success.
Mr Principal speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in..." class="glossary">Deputy Speaker, I oppose the motion.
Phil Flanagan (Sinn Féin)
Go raibh maith agat, a Príomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht thábhachtach seo. I welcome the opportunity to participate in this important debate, but, at the outset, I must say that I am a wee bit disappointed at the tone that has been taken and the way in which it has been handled by Members from both sides of the House. However, it should be no surprise to anybody in the House that such a thing would happen.
Throughout the past four months, we have heard quite a lot about the NI 2012 campaign. It is planned that some £7 million will be spent promoting it, and it is only right and proper that adequate funding is spent on promoting our growing tourism industry. We are in the midst of a global recession, but visitor numbers across the world are increasing. The number of people looking to come into Europe from places such as China and India is growing all the time, and it is important that the Executive are to the fore in trying to attract visitors to this part of Ireland.
It is also important that all options that are open to increase our visitor numbers and our tourism revenue are explored. The DUP has claimed that this is a green motion to try to expedite some sort of united Ireland. It is nothing of the sort, and I think that to say that it is so is a bit of a red herring. It is not a green motion, and “The Gathering” is not a green initiative. It is not a scheme that has been devised by the Dublin Government.
Does the Member agree that if nationalists on Derry City Council had taken the same attitude as Members across the Floor in the DUP, Derry would not be in the position to celebrate the UK City of Culture next year and that the people would be denied all the opportunities that will flow from that?
Phil Flanagan (Sinn Féin)
I am at a loss as to what the Member is getting at, so I will not bother responding.
“The Gathering” is an initiative that was started by the Scottish Government in 2009 to try to encourage visitors with their roots in Scotland to come back to Scotland. What is being run by the Dublin Government is basically a carbon copy of that. Across the world, people see their roots as being in Ireland, and they see their ancestors as being Irish. Most of those people left this island before partition. So the heritage of being Irish that they speak about reflects everybody, regardless of whether you perceive yourself to be a unionist or a nationalist.
I come from and represent a border constituency.
Jim Allister (Traditional Unionist Voice)
If what the Member says is correct, will he point to one item on the official website that makes mention of the Ulster-Scots heritage or anything that is not as vividly described by Mr Moutray?
Phil Flanagan (Sinn Féin)
To be honest to Mr Allister, I have not scrolled through the entire website to see the various events that are taking place. If the Member has an opportunity or an event that he wishes to bring forward, as others have done, he should bring it to Fáilte Ireland, which is running the event, and I am sure that it will happily facilitate it on the website.
I come from a border constituency and can clearly see how such an initiative, if worked out properly, would benefit the entire local community and economy. In my area, Belleek Pottery welcomes up to 200,000 visitors each year. Most of those visitors come from tour operators that are based in the South, and the people fly into Dublin Airport. Their only trip into the North is the 70 yds they take across the border to come into Fermanagh. Greater collaboration with tourism activities in the South, therefore, would provide an economic benefit to our citizens and to the businesses that we represent. We need to ensure that much more is done to attract the visitors who come to this island to come North to experience our unique product offering.
Members highlighted the different cultural aspects here that may not be so prominent in the South. It is important that those are marketed to people across the world who might be interested in seeing them.
William Humphrey (DUP)
I thank the Member for giving way. Is the Member aware of what work Fáilte Ireland has been doing to encourage the people who fly into Dublin to come to Northern Ireland? My understanding is that it remains the case that only one in eight people who fly into the Republic travel to Northern Ireland. What is Fáilte Ireland doing to rectify that?
Phil Flanagan (Sinn Féin)
Unfortunately, I cannot speak for Fáilte Ireland, and I am not au fait with what happens in Dublin Airport, but I can give the Member an example of what happens at the airport at Knock. The airport managing authorities there are working hard to try to promote the north-west of this island as a tourism destination for visitors. The Member will be aware that Tourism Ireland is responsible for marketing the North of Ireland and the island of Ireland abroad. It is doing a good job promoting this island to visitors, and we have seen increases in visitor numbers in recent years, which is very welcome. We are still not back to where we were in 2007 when things were at their peak, but we are going in the right direction. It is important that we continue that trend.
Many people come to this island to experience a wide range of activities. A recent conference in Belfast heard that promoting the North separate to the rest of the island was confusing for potential visitors, and there is some merit in that. However, the danger of promoting the North completely separately from the rest of the island does not only lie in the potential confusion of visitors. When somebody is looking at a website at home for places to visit, particularly those from places like Australia or America where there is quite a length journey, they will mostly come here for 10 days or a fortnight. Many will find it difficult to find enough activities or events to go to to justify staying here for a week or a fortnight. Therefore, there needs to be more work done there, and I urge the Minister to continue on that path.
Sandra Overend (UUP)
Tourism is fundamentally important to our economy, and it is vital that we make the best use of Northern Ireland’s potential in that area. We have debated in the House the importance of the decade of centenaries, such as the covenant and the Easter rising, as well as speaking on the Titanic, which is something that we are all rightly proud of. My party has also tabled Matters of the Day on our golfing success and the Oscar that was won by the Northern Irish film, ‘The Shore’. We should all be keenly aware of the value of tourism, combined with the Irish Open, other signature projects and the World Police and Fire Games, in promoting economic growth and in working towards the goal of a shared future for Northern Ireland over this Assembly’s mandate and, indeed, further. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) figures from earlier this month show that improvements are evident in our tourism industry, with money spent by overseas tourists increasing 20% on last year. We must work to sustain and build on that result, moving forward in order to reach and even exceed our Programme for Government targets, which were so badly missed in the 2007-2011 period.
Today’s motion tabled by the SDLP calls on the Executive:
I have looked closely at “the Irish Homecoming” and, undoubtedly, it will play a key role in attempts to restore the troubled Irish economy, and we all wish them well as they seek to do so. It is estimated that in the similar celebration that was held in Scotland throughout 2009, £53·7 million of additional tourism revenue was generated: 95,000 visitors were influenced to travel to Scotland as a result, and £154 million of positive global media was generated by the PR campaign.
It is clear that the potential for the Republic of Ireland is huge. However, one simply has to look at the schedule of events planned to realise that “the Homecoming” is an initiative from the Irish Government for the benefit of the Republic of Ireland. The SDLP’s motion attempts to bring the UK City of Culture into the equation. However, I felt that Mrs Kelly’s contribution did not focus primarily on that part of the motion. The reality is that Londonderry is not part of “the Irish Homecoming” of 2013. Some Members in the House fail to recognise that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are in competition: we are in competition for foreign direct investment; we compete to attract jobs; and our tourism industries are competitors.
Rather than debate linking our tourism plan to an Irish Government initiative that lasts for one year, would it not be much more relevant to discuss the fact that Northern Ireland does not have a strategy that is dedicated solely to the fundamentally important sector of tourism? A draft strategy was produced in 2010. It was an industry-led document, drawn up by the industry and given to Arlene Foster to bring to the Executive. The Minister indicated recently that the draft strategy has been delayed, given that we are now in changed economic times. However, we are two years on from the publication of the draft, and the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee has yet to see a finalised document.
Tourism is a key driver of the economy, and the economy is the number-one priority of the Executive. It follows, therefore, that an ambitious strategy in that area should be a prerequisite as we seek to rebalance and rebuild the Northern Ireland economy. The missed opportunity is made worse by the fact that Northern Ireland’s tourism sector has so much potential, as I outlined earlier. Of course we need to capitalise on the increased number of tourists visiting the Republic of Ireland in 2013, and I believe that we are well placed to do so, given the many high-profile attractions that we have. Despite what a Sinn Féin colleague said, I believe that Northern Ireland could certainly welcome people for a week or a fortnight, and they would have plenty of things to do.
The Ulster Unionist Party has confidence in our tourism potential. As I am sure the Minister will outline, we will continue to work with the Irish Government in matters of mutual interest. However, in conclusion, I say that what is more important than encouraging Tourism Ireland’s plans for the Republic of Ireland is to encourage its plans for Northern Ireland, and for the Minister to bring forward the tourism strategy that is sadly lacking.
Trevor Lunn (Alliance)
I support the motion. I see this as a real opportunity to join in a unique tourist initiative. I hope that the Minister, even at this late stage, and the Tourist Board will recognise the potential of “The Gathering” and capitalise on it.
The Republic of Ireland Government are, I believe, putting a total of about €16 million into this venture. It is a very serious and well planned initiative to attract anything up to 300,000 visitors and emigrants back to Ireland during the year 2013. It is targeted at 12 specific events. However, there are actually 42 events in total on the complete list. We have specific events here that could and should be linked in. People have referenced Londonderry/Derry as the City of Culture, but there are pipe band championships, the Highland Games and the whole Ulster-Scots connection. If the Ulster-Scots agencies are not looking at this in a favourable way, I wonder what they are about. If you want to promote Ulster-Scots culture and heritage —
Does the Member agree that the DUP and the UUP have displayed an astounding myopia around this festival and that it is indeed an excellent vehicle for the promotion of tourism here and one that we should piggyback onto to ensure that tourist numbers are increased beyond that envisaged already?
Trevor Lunn (Alliance)
Mr Allister mentioned the Ulster-Scots connection and the lack of reference to it on the Fáilte Ireland website. Why should it mention it? It is up to the Ulster-Scots connection to promote themselves. If that means co-operating with authorities in the South, on an all-Ireland basis, why should they not —
Trevor Lunn (Alliance)
I have given way enough.
There are 70 million people worldwide who either claim Irish ancestry or are first- or second-generation emigrants from these shores. That includes a huge number who come from Northern Ireland. There is no reason why we should distance ourselves from this. I think it was Mr Humphrey, or maybe his colleague next to him, Mr Anderson, who suggested that our Tourist Board is some kind of stand-alone operation. It just cannot be —
Trevor Lunn (Alliance)
It really cannot be that way. This island is too small. This event should be promoted jointly; of course it should.
Look at the Northern Ireland connections in the USA and Australia for evidence. Look at the musical connections — the Appalachian and bluegrass connections — that people from Lisburn are so keen to develop. Look at Alister McReynolds, and so on, and the various initiatives in Atlanta. That is to be applauded. Why not try to develop that through this initiative in the Republic?
The Minister, in her comments so far in answers to questions, has not really demonstrated a level of enthusiasm commensurate with a major tourism opportunity. On 23 November, she confirmed that there are no plans to mark “The Gathering”. On 9 January, she said:
“We will capitalise on all the tourism initiatives running in 2013 to maximize visitor numbers”.
On 31 January, she said:
“Any increase in tourism numbers to the island is to be welcomed and Northern Ireland is well placed to benefit as the initiative fits well with our plans for 2013 when Londonderry is the UK City of Culture”.
That is fair enough, but it is hardly an enthusiastic or ringing endorsement, nor is it any commitment to co-operate or work with the Irish Government on this initiative. I encourage those who deal with these matters to invest in the project or to co-operate with Tourism Ireland or Fáilte Ireland to make sure that the benefits to the North are maximised. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say today. Hopefully, she will be a bit more progressive than her party’s Members have been so far.
How can we claim to be serious about tourism and our heritage if we pass on an opportunity to become engaged in an all-Ireland project of this magnitude? I notice the experience of “the Homecoming Scotland 2009”. It is fair to say that conclusions about the economic benefit were mixed, but there is no doubt about the number of people involved: 95,000 people came to Scotland, in some measure, because of the publicity around “the Homecoming”. That is very revealing. I firmly believe that the Irish event will exceed that figure by several multiples. The figure of 300,000 is suggested, but there could be a lot more than that because the Irish diaspora — as we call it — is far more pronounced around the world than the Scottish one. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about that. I particularly look forward to nailing down the Ulster Unionist Party’s view. My party will be supporting the motion; it is an opportunity too good to miss.
Gordon Dunne (DUP)
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. Although there will be benefits for Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland’s latest tourism initiative, it is important that we keep focused on promoting Northern Ireland as a premier tourist attraction across the world.
This year to date has been very exciting for Northern Ireland, not least with the 2012: Our time, Our place campaign. I commend the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster for leading on this very positive and, to date, successful project. We look forward to many more events that are planned across the country this year and beyond. Also, 2013 will be a very special year, particularly with Londonderry celebrating its year as the UK City of Culture. It is important that we maximise the benefit locally for Northern Ireland throughout those key events and celebrations. I understand that the Apprentice Boys will be walking on 10 August in 2013, during the Fleadh Cheoil. My pronunciation of those words may not be correct: it is not my strongest point. There could be a clash of cultures, but we hope that we will all be singing from the same hymn sheet, or perhaps walking to the same tune.
The launch of the Titanic signature project, the recent Circuit of Ireland Rally with its worldwide television coverage and the up-and-coming Irish Open golf championship are just some examples of events and projects that have and will showcase Northern Ireland across the world. All those positive developments have helped to bring a great boost to the local economy. I certainly welcome recent confirmation of a 4% increase in overseas visitor spend in Northern Ireland in 2011. I look forward to seeing that figure grow in the near future. For too long, we did not sell Northern Ireland to the world; now we are beginning to change that, and this is something in which we can all share.
We need to ensure that we continue actively to promote and encourage greater tourism and economic activity, and I welcome the creation of the Northern Ireland Air Access initiative, which is a practical measure designed to improve and promote access to Northern Ireland and, indeed, the Republic of Ireland. Great potential exists, and I look forward to further developments.
I also commend the delegation led by the First Minister, the deputy First Minister and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment to the Middle East and India recently. I hope that we will see progress in getting a direct flight link established with the Middle East. That could be a key opening for significant links to be established with that important world market, and all those measures and developments prove that Northern Ireland is open for business.
Any initiative by the Republic of Ireland that will bring visitors directly or indirectly to Northern Ireland is to be welcomed. We need to continue to build on the excellent work of the Executive, DETI, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland. I am slightly concerned that this motion has more to do with politics than with the promotion of Northern Ireland or the Republic. That is why I oppose it.
Daithí McKay (Sinn Féin)
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. I support the motion and thank the Members who tabled it for bringing it to the House. The tourism outlook is good, as many stakeholders have already outlined, and it could be better. Last year, the North had a growth figure of 4%; the rest of Ireland had a figure of 7%. The rest of the island is ahead of us in tourism, so we need to take advantage of the more developed tourism product on the rest of the island.
I think that that is a common sense approach and that it makes economic sense. “The Gathering” is a good tourism initiative and is quite similar to the event that was held in Scotland, which attracted 95,000 people, as Trevor Lunn, a Member from the Alliance Party, pointed out.
The previous Member to speak said that any initiative that takes tourists to the North is to be welcomed. That is exactly what this initiative will do. Regardless of their politics, and given the present economic situation, I think that we have to look at things more and more through an economic prism as opposed to with political blinkers on. Unfortunately, that has been the approach from the other side of the House so far. So, we need to exploit this event for economic benefits.
There seems to be some focus on Derry in the motion and no mention of the north coast, so I take exception to that. On the north coast, of course, you have Bushmills, the Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede, Ballycastle, Rathlin and the glens. I will support the motion today, but I warn the Members that they should maybe include a reference to north Antrim the next time. [Laughter.]
With regard to a lack of a joined-up approach, the events that are outlined for “The Gathering” say to me that the Department has not engaged effectively enough with Departments in the rest of the island to try to ensure that we are included. Events in north Antrim, Derry, Craigavon and Belfast should be included, because thousands upon thousands of people will be going through the brochures. They will read the information and will see no mention of the events that are taking place in those places and others such as Belfast. That is an opportunity missed, it makes no economic sense to me, and it will reduce the number of tourists coming North, which is to be regretted.
Obviously, tourism is one of the green shoots of the economy, and the economic possibilities that will arise from it should not be underestimated. Ulster-Scots and Scots-Irish heritage was mentioned. The diaspora that exists in Australia, the US and across Europe includes those of Ulster-Scots and Scots-Irish heritage. Being part of this initiative will bring those people back to this country, so I do not understand why that is not being thrown into the mix, because it is quite obvious that they will be attracted back through this initiative.
Phil Flanagan, a Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, referred to a recent conference. Some media outlets picked up that the marketing can be confusing, because a number of people from places such as the United States who want to come to Ireland go through Dublin. Comments were made about Dublin Airport, and so forth, and I think that we, the Minister and the Department need to think more on an all-island basis, especially as the market comes to this island mainly through that airport.
There are also difficulties with the NIO’s approach in that we cannot put in place a tourist waiver scheme to ensure that the same tourists from Asia who are going from North to South can go from South to North. A lot of issues arise from a lack of an all-island approach, which has resulted in fewer tourists coming to the North and is doing us economic damage.
We have a huge tourism market throughout this island, particularly in the rest of the island. Not to take advantage of that is absolutely barmy. Trevor Lunn referred to the Minister saying that there were no plans to mark “The Gathering”. I think that that is an opportunity missed. Tourists will be lost, which will harm economic growth. Anybody, particularly the public, can see that as well. I urge the Minister not to follow in the footsteps of her political colleagues who have spoken so far, to take the political blinkers off and to not miss this opportunity.
Paul Frew (DUP)
Again, I find myself debating a motion that, having read it, I do not think really deserves to be in this Assembly. To me, it is a nothing motion. Of course, how could I ever support a motion on tourism that does not even mention the Giant’s Causeway or north Antrim, as my colleague across the way said? It really is a shame of a motion on tourism, and I tut-tut when I see something on tourism that does not reflect the true meaning of Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway and north Antrim. That is a plug for my constituency.
I want to stay in this mindset, because there is so much self-defeatism from the Benches before me. Mr Flanagan represents Fermanagh and South Tyrone; a beautiful section of our Province, and somewhere you could certainly spend 10 days without any problem. Here he is, representing that area, and struggling to stay in Northern Ireland for 10 days. I find that a shame.
Other Members across the way say that we have to be involved with the Republic and stay under its wing; that this is how we will enhance things and make them better. Let me tell you this, folks: you are not representing your people very well when you talk in that way. You have your own constituencies, and you should be bringing them up and advertising them for what they are — jewels in the crown of Northern Ireland and this Province.
Let us not have any more self-defeatism; let us promote Northern Ireland for what it is. Let us promote Fermanagh as the holiday destination that it is — a place where you could spend 10 days without any problem whatsoever.
Paul Frew (DUP)
I thank you, Principal speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in..." class="glossary">Deputy Speaker, for that extra minute. I might just spend all of it speaking of North Antrim, if the Member wishes. He knows all too well how much we promote North Antrim, how much we work and how much the DUP has worked of late to encourage business and to get a successful planning application for a golf course on the north coast. He will know that only too well.
The motion is flawed. It mentions Tourism Ireland’s plans for “The Gathering”, when it is Fáilte Ireland that is promoting, working at and managing this at the behest of the Republic’s Government. It is fine for Fáilte Ireland to do that, but remember that this initiative was born to assist business and the economy of the Republic of Ireland.
Paul Frew (DUP)
I thank the Member for his intervention. Yes, but I do not see how a factory opening up in Cork or Limerick will help South Belfast one bit. That is why we have to make sure that we glean as much benefit from this as possible without getting involved. Why would we get involved, spend money and promote this when we are going to benefit from it anyway? It is clear and it is a given that there is a certain amount of cross-border footfall from the Republic. We accept that and will gladly take it, but we should not get involved in a scheme that will initially help business and tourism in the Republic, that will have no direct benefit to us and that will make us lose our focus on the events that we will be hosting in 2013. That is —
Phil Flanagan (Sinn Féin)
Does the Member agree that there would be merit in the Minister or NITB approaching Fáilte Ireland to see whether it could include on its website a list of events or activities that are on in the North? It may not actually cost the Tourist Board or the Department any money. I think that approach should be made.
Paul Frew (DUP)
I thank the Member for his intervention, but, again, that is not what this motion is about. It is self-defeating to think that our Ministers, including this Minister, are not engaged across the table with Ministers in the Republic on issues such as this and on issues that purely promote Northern Ireland. When we send Ministers down to the Republic, we expect them to represent their people — Northern Irish people — to try to make sure that we promote Northern Ireland and get the best benefit for Northern Ireland in any situation. Why would we want to promote Galway, Limerick, Dublin and everywhere else, in either business or tourism, if we do not get a direct input into it?
My time is nearly up, and I have not got through even half of what I wanted to say or half of what I wanted to say about North Antrim. However, you can be assured that we in Northern Ireland will retain the focus on what will be Londonderry UK City of Culture, a year-long celebration for Northern Ireland. We also have the World Police and Fire Games, which will be vital to the world of sport and tourism in this Province.
I have no problem with our gaining benefit from either the Republic’s footfall or its tourism strategies. However, let us not plough into the middle of this and lose focus from what should be Northern Ireland’s tourism industry.
Robin Swann (UUP)
I warn the House that I feel another advertisement for north Antrim coming on. I cannot start my contribution without following on from what the Alliance Party Members said. They were very keen to see where we were standing. It is obvious from Trevor’s intervention: we should be piggybacking — I think that I am quoting there — on what the Republic of Ireland is doing. If all that this place has achieved in the promotion of tourism for Northern Ireland is the ability to piggyback on the Government of the Republic of Ireland, it has sadly failed in yet another escapade. Co-operate maybe, but “piggyback” was the word that you used.
We have to learn to stand alone. That is what this place is about: the promotion of Northern Ireland and its tourism. I have to come back to this point, which I know has already been mentioned. Mr Phil Flanagan said that he could not spend 10 or 14 days in Northern Ireland. Given that you are a public representative for Fermanagh, which is a fantastic area for tourism, I think that you, sir, should get back and look at your own tourism brochures. Your colleague is from up there in north Antrim, so if you want to come up to our end of the country, we will show you how to participate in tourism for a fortnight.
Robin Swann (UUP)
Given the amount of funding given to and the emphasis placed on tourism by the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive must be at the top of their game when promoting our tourism in our own country. I use the word “our” quite happily: this is our country and our tourism. When we talked about the decade of centenaries, I know that Members in this place tried to remove the word “our” and replace it with the word “the”. They wanted us to talk about “the history”, “the culture” and “the tourism of this country”. That is wrong. We are all here to represent our own constituencies and our areas, which have fantastic tourism potential.
We look forward to the decade of centenaries, which has already started. We have already celebrated the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Titanic, which generated positive media and increased visitor numbers to Northern Ireland. We will soon have the Irish Open and the World Police and Fire Games. We also have signature projects such as the Causeway Coast and the glens. The new Causeway visitors’ centre, which I visited recently along with our MEP, Jim Nicholson, is opening soon and will be a fantastic tourist attraction for the whole of north Antrim. We have asked for something to be done in Bushmills and the surrounding area. The SDLP has put forward a motion calling for funding to promote “The Gathering” on an all-Ireland basis. However, perhaps it could look at getting a wee bit of funding to regenerate Bushmills town, given the number of people who will be travelling from the visitors’ centre to the Causeway distillery. I have already asked the Minister about whether he would be willing to look at that.
Daithí McKay (Sinn Féin)
The Member outlined some of the great tourist attractions that we have in north Antrim. However, there is no point in having such great tourist attractions if people are not going to come and see them. One of the issues that people along the north coast, such as B&B owners, etc, have raised with me is that tourists are coming to the likes of the Giant’s Causeway and Ballycastle, etc, for only one day. The fact is that, when you go on to Google and search for websites about Ireland, references to the Giant’s Causeway, and so forth, do not come up, and that is where we are losing out on tourists. We need to market this on an all-island basis, because that is what tourists are looking for.
Paul Frew (DUP)
I thank the Member for giving way. Is it not a failing of Tourism Ireland, which is there to promote all-island tourism in Northern Ireland and the Republic, if it cannot promote the Causeway and north Antrim in the way that it should?
Robin Swann (UUP)
I agree fully. I could honestly talk about north Antrim all day, but I want to get back to the motion. An awful lot of the Members who spoke veered away from the motion, and I think that we should get back to it. The most significant element of the motion for us in the Ulster Unionist Party is the reference to the UK City of Culture celebrations, which should be promoted as a Northern Ireland tourist event.
The Executive have already put an extra £12·36 million into the UK City of Culture of Londonderry, which should include enough marketing material to promote that city. The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment can back me up on that figure when she speaks later.
Mr Frew said that it is a year-long celebration. The UK City of Culture has one of the most fantastic tourism legacies of events that are promoted as UK events. Liverpool is still maximising its status as UK City of Culture, which took place as far back as 2008. There is potential there if we invest the money correctly in Northern Irish tourism potential. There is a lot more to get out of that.
One thing that we are missing out on is the Scots-Irish connection, which has fantastic tourism potential if we look towards America. We should develop something specific. A Northern Ireland Tourist Board paper titled ‘Genealogy and Roots Tourism’ is available. Our tourism Minister should look at developing the link and promoting Northern Ireland so that people can come from America and Canada to look for their roots and genealogy in Northern Ireland and not have to concentrate on somewhere in another jurisdiction.
Oliver McMullan (Sinn Féin)
Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. “The Gathering: An Irish Homecoming” is set to be a unique tourist event in the Irish calendar in 2013. It is all about attracting here anyone who has a connection with Ireland, be it through family, sport, music or just a love of the country. It will be similar to the homecoming in Scotland in 2009. What makes this event unique is that it will involve the entire country, from the top in business, music, sport, media, advertising, and so on, right down to the festivals and events in towns and villages across the Twenty-six Counties.
Some of the events are already household names. Some Members have said that the calendar of events has been deliberately put out to play to an all-Ireland agenda. Let me remind them of just some of the 50-odd flagship events, some of which have been around for years, perhaps for longer than some Members have been alive. They include the Rose of Tralee, the All-Ireland hurling and Gaelic football finals, Kinsale Arts Week and the Galway Races. The organisers are saying that, no matter what your interest, it can and will be catered for some time, some place in the year’s calendar of events.
A project board has been set up already, and it has come up with a unique and cost-effective way of promoting the events to a worldwide audience through a voluntary council of champions. It is made up of individuals who are recognised worldwide and have the contacts and networks to get support and help with fundraising. All of that is totally voluntary.
Ireland in 2013 will be the place to be. We already have the Titanic project, and we are going to open the Causeway centre this year. New events will include the City of Culture in Derry, the All-Ireland Fleadh, the Irish Open, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and the World Police and Fire Games. That is a great calendar of events to look forward to. It could generate up to £140 million for the economy and provide much-needed income and business for the hospitality sector across the whole island.
In Southern Ireland, the tourist and hospitality sector is a €5 billion industry that employs in the region of 180,000 people. It is now down to the two Governments to show leadership and show the world that the island of Ireland is open for business. Here, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment welcomed the new £2 million Northern Ireland air access initiative, which will offer competitive fares and ease of access. Another welcome part of the scheme is the inclusion of the ferry companies, which will increase visitor numbers. The Irish Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has confirmed that the special 9% VAT rate for tourism and leisure activities will continue into next year. I believe that both Ministers have, in their own way, shown support for the incoming historic year.
It will not be the Ministers who will sell this tourist initiative; rather, it will be the quantity and quality of events and the visitor numbers that will make 2012 and 2013 a success. The City of Culture has already been made an integral attraction. It is a global event, thanks to everyone involved in it.
If anyone looking to go on holidays were in here listening to some of the things that are being said, they would pack their bags and go home. As for some of the Members talking about the South of Ireland’s programme for tourist events —
Oliver McMullan (Sinn Féin)
No, I will not. I am still talking, so sit you down. [Laughter.]
Some Members said that the programme of events in the South of Ireland is just for its own agenda. Unless you have been in cloud cuckoo land or sitting up a tree for years, what do you expect that country to do? It is the same here; we are promoting our own tourism. However, as the Minister said, if The Homecoming is there, we must see where we can connect with it and see what we can get from the overspill from it.
Oliver McMullan (Sinn Féin)
I do not doubt that I would be very welcome, but, equally, I could spend 10 days in Ballymena, and that is something else. If you could spend 10 days in Ballymena, you could spend it anywhere. We have to stop being parochial and making it an issue of us and them. If there is an event in the South of Ireland that will overspill here, we will get the benefits and vice versa. We talk about the Irish Open golf tournament, but where has it been for years? This is the first time that it has been here. As far as putting this country up as a place for donkeys and leprechauns is concerned, do you realise how many millions of pounds tourism brings into this country? You are the silly one for even trying to turn that around.
By this stage, I am nearly sorry that I set out to speak, because this is a very sad situation where people are turning a serious issue into a bit of codology; it has been turned into little better than a schoolyard squabble. This is what happens when you have people who do not know much about how tourism works or how it could work: tourism is about persuading people from other places to spend time, and perhaps a bit of money, here and enjoy it at the same time; it is not about caging people somewhere of our choice for a week or 10 days or whatever we might decide. However, that seems to be the attitude of some. I despair when I hear some of the attitudes that have resonated around the Chamber. Generally, when we discuss tourism, I despair because, frankly, we do not have a clue. I humbly suggest that we are a liability when it comes to creating tourism in the North. Tourists have a choice about where they spend their money.
Chair, I find it difficult with the chittering in the background from a sedentary position. Is it possible to deal with it?
I am happy to give way if any of them has anything constructive to say. Does anyone have anything constructive to say, Mr speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in..." class="glossary">Deputy Speaker?
Tourists have a choice of where they spend their money, where they go, how much they spend and what they spend it on; we should not view them, as has been happening in today’s debate, as a flock of stupid sheep that can be herded wherever we want them to go. I am sure that Mr Frew in all his wisdom has not spent 10 days in Fermanagh; if he wants to go to Fermanagh for 10 days, I am happy to contribute to his costs. [Laughter.] Members should not make outrageous proposals in the Chamber. Fermanagh is a good place to visit; however, 60% of our real tourists — those not visiting friends and family — enter Northern Ireland, Ulster or whatever we want to call it, via Dublin airport. We have to remember that. If Members want rid of those 60%, that is fine, but I do not.
Somebody made the point that a business coming into Cork was not of any consequence to us here. Not so many days ago, I happened to listen to Mark Henderson who runs Mash Direct, and he said that the biggest market for his product, which is Comber potatoes and vegetables, is in Cork. People need to get to the stage where they realise that the world has gone global and that tourists are global and have global choices. If people do not recognise that, economically, we are stuck with each other whether we like each other or not, and that prosperity in Cork can, in turn, bring prosperity here and vice versa, we are wasting our time.
There is no nationalist tourism or unionist tourism. Tourists who come here do not give a damn what our politics are. They have a wide range of choices and many markets throughout the world they could go to. Let us take Ulster tourism, if we want to call it that. There are Ulster Scots — or the Scots Irish as they prefer to call themselves — in Tennessee or wherever they are. Let us take that sector in the US and use “The Gathering” to mine it and follow it through, and let us mine the Ulster roots of many in Canada, because it is waiting there for somebody to do something about it. Let us look to Australia, where there is a vast market and substantial Ulster roots. Last but not least, let us look to the UK. Let us look to the whole swathe of young people there who either graduated from Queen’s or the University of Ulster or left school here to go to another university.
Peter Weir (DUP)
On a point of order, Mr Principal speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in..." class="glossary">Deputy Speaker. I did not want to interrupt the Member in full flow, but he said that tourists “do not give a damn”. For future reference, could we have a ruling on whether or not that is parliamentary language?
Francie Molloy (Sinn Féin)
We will discuss it.
The debate stood suspended.
(Mr speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in..." class="glossary">Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)