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Sporting Events and Activity-based Tourism

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 14th November 2016.

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Debate resumed on motion:

That this Assembly welcomes the success that the Executive have had in attracting major sporting events in recent years and attracting visitors engaged in sports tourism; notes the high-value economic benefit that can arise from events-based and activity-based sports tourism; and calls on the Minister for the Economy, through his Department, agencies and the new tourism strategy, to promote and encourage growth in this sector. — [Mr Dunne.]

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

On a point of order, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker. This morning, the Speaker very helpfully guided the House with regard to oral statements by Ministers in the House. Having had the opportunity to peruse Standing Orders, I feel that it would be helpful if the Speaker, as well as making requests of Ministers, would point out the veracity of Standing Orders. They state that in the circumstances where a Minister is free to attend the House — when we are not on holiday or closed down and it is a standing day of the Assembly — there should be no reason for a Minister not to make an oral statement to the House. I refer to an impending statement by the Minister of Infrastructure tomorrow that will be given in writing rather than orally to the House.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

I thank the Member for his point of order. I will certainly refer the matter to the Speaker.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

I beg to move the following amendment:

Leave out all after ‘Executive’ and insert: ", tourist agencies and sporting organisations have had in attracting major sporting events in recent years and attracting visitors engaged in sports tourism; notes the high-value economic benefit that can arise from events-based and activity-based sports tourism; further notes the failure to publish a tourism strategy in the 2011-16 mandate; and calls on the Executive to agree and publish urgently a tourism strategy, which addresses the capital, resource, marketing, skills and training requirements of the sports events and tourism sector, to enable the Minister for the Economy, his Department, tourism agencies and sporting organisations to deliver real and sustainable growth in this sector.’

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate and propose the amendment in my name and those of my party colleagues. I urge all in the House to support the amendment, which reflects the needs of the sporting and tourism sectors and matches our ambitions in this region. We must recognise the achievements of our tourist agencies and sporting organisations in helping to attract major sporting events. Our successes in promoting tourist events are in part due to the Executive but are also due to the sheer determination of our tourism agencies and sporting organisations. For that, we must be grateful. I thank the signatories to the motion for giving us an opportunity to talk about our great sporting record.

As has already been mentioned, over recent years, we have hosted prestigious events such as the Irish Open in 2012 and 2015, and we will do so again next year. We will also host the Open Championship in 2019. There is a bid in to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. That is an exhilarating possibility and opportunity. The thought of having the All Blacks based in Armagh city is a mouth-watering prospect, and I am invigorated by the lasting positive impact that that could have on our young people. For all of Ireland, hosting the Rugby World Cup would leave a legacy that we could all be proud of.

We have hosted the World Police and Fire Games and the Giro d'Italia. That is not to mention regional events, which are home-grown and unique. While we do not hear about all those events, they include international fishing competitions on the River Bann and Lough Neagh; the Northern Ireland Countrysports Fair at Scarva; the ploughing at Mullahead; the Crooked Lake Triathlon; the UK Indoor Bowls Championships; point-to-points in places such as Farmacaffley; and, entirely unique to Armagh, road bowls or bullets. King of the road and all-Ireland championships are held annually in Tassagh.

In working to attract large-scale sporting events, we must look to the work already happening across the region in our local sporting organisations. It would be remiss of me not to mention the contribution of the GAA. In Armagh city alone, the Athletic Grounds attracts over 175,000 visitors a year, and, across County Armagh, over 300,000 people attend games throughout the year, yet that goes unrecognised across government. I must praise the Armagh county board on the work that it did to deliver a modern, fan-friendly stadium, not to mention the other clubs and county teams across Ulster. Only yesterday, I was at Páirc Esler in Newry for a game in which Kilcoo hosted Maghery in the Ulster Club Senior Football Championship, with upwards of 10,000 people paying for the privilege of watching amateur players in the comfort of a modern stand.

Although all those sporting occasions are a fantastic asset for our tourism offering, to date, the approach adopted in attracting global events has been too piecemeal. We have sought to attract one event at a time, without any strategic vision or direction. That is why Northern Ireland urgently needs a tourism strategy. Central and local government must work together with sporting bodies and organisations on large- and small-scale events. If we are to look at growing the market, we must be bold and ambitious in planning and in our support for such projects by way of marketing, promotion and capital requirements.

The region must host teams and games, but we need to develop our sporting, hospitality and transport infrastructure. If we are to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023, we need an hourly Enterprise between Dublin and Belfast. We must encourage new and exciting partnerships, where government and numerous sporting bodies can come together and develop facilities for training and hosting teams.

The legacy that these games can leave for our people is one of sportsmanship, social inclusion, a fitter and healthier population and one that recognises that sport unites us and brings out the best in us. All of that can be achieved with an ambitious and accurate strategy that the Executive and the tourism sector support.

It is disappointing that the only notable development that we have had in recent times regarding inward tourism is the loss of the United Airlines route between Belfast and New York city. Maximising sports and event tourism relies on convenience and ease of travel for fans. Global events such as the Open Championship can have the transformative effect on local economies only if they are accessible in as few movements as possible for international travellers.

The loss of the United route is, therefore, extremely worrying, meaning that the US fans, a lucrative market, are less likely to make the journey if they have to travel through London or Dublin. It also underscores the critical need to improve the transport infrastructure throughout this island, as Dublin becomes the primary airport for US travellers. We need a reliable, hourly Enterprise service to be incorporated as part of any tourism strategy as a minimum.

As well as this, a potential UK exit from the EU poses huge challenges for Northern Ireland. Amongst them is the impact that it could have on our tourism industry and wider economy. With the uncertainty that the referendum result has brought, now, more than ever, the tourism sector needs the Government to create a favourable environment for tourism to expand, to flourish and to contribute to our local economy. The Executive must take the earliest opportunity to promote and enhance the tourism sector, and fundamental to this is the development of a tourism strategy.

Key amongst our proposals to protect and promote the tourism sector has been a long-term call for reduction in VAT on tourism and hospitality products, putting the North's services on a level playing field with those in the South. Harmonising this rate across this island is a no-brainer. Our debates on this issue have received cross-party support both here and in the House of Commons. It is disappointing that this proposal has not yet been adopted.

In conclusion, the SDLP, for our part, will continue to press for the introduction of a fit-for-purpose tourism strategy that addresses the capital, resource, marketing, skills, training and infrastructure requirements of the sports events and tourism sector. The Executive must do more to develop and support our tourism industry as a key economic driver, and, to do this, they must prioritise a tourism strategy, the aim of which must be to deliver real and sustainable growth. That is the aim of our amendment. This is a debate that we must continue in the months ahead. Attracting sports events is one thing, but leaving a legacy for all our people is another. We can and must do more for the betterment of everyone in this place. We can build an infrastructure to be proud of, a capacity in our sporting sector that means that we are the place to go for major sporting events. I look forward to the day that the legendary All Blacks perform a ceremonial haka on the historic mall in Armagh, when we welcome them to Ireland as their host city in the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

I support the motion. I think that it goes without saying that the experience over the last number of years of the great sporting events that have come to this part of the world is that they have raised our profile very substantially and have brought enormous benefit to the community. The proposer of the motion outlined a whole series of large events, and I was very proud to see the Giro coming through Armagh and down through south Armagh. I think that the sense of a buzz in the community that that event created was one of the most exciting in the area that I have seen, certainly since my colleague and his teammates won the all-Ireland for Armagh in 2002. There was such a buzz around the community in relation to that event.

Of course we need to see those events happening, and we need to see the infrastructure that goes with them, but in my contribution to the debate, I want to focus on the smaller scale. Some of these events have been mentioned. I make no apology for mentioning, as the previous Member did, the Crooked Lake Triathlon in our village of Camlough. It started out as a very small community event, and, within five or six years, it was attracting 600-plus competitors from all across Ireland and right across other parts of Europe as well. It started with a local small committee in the community beginning the event, building their own capacity and organisational skills and creating an event that has become of almost international standard.

We recognise the headline events, with a big focus on the golf opens, the Giro, the Rugby World Cup and others, but we should also make sure that there is support in communities for small-scale events because those are the events that people who have moved away come home for. Those are the events for which people time their holidays to come back to Ireland. It is those events that bring communities together. As well as ensuring that councils have the necessary resource to support them, we should ensure that there are programmes, perhaps through the Department for Communities, for capacity-building in those communities to ensure that local people get the necessary skills. From that small event, we now have a water festival. The same group of people are bidding for the world ice swimming championships to be held in Newry in 2019. That will bring an international event, and it all came from a small community project. It shows you what is possible.

The Member who spoke previously also touched on the GAA. When I have visited other countries, I have been very fortunate to go to their sporting events. I have been to baseball in America. I have been to pelota in the Basque Country, where we also saw handball being played. The GAA is a unique sporting organisation. Although it is a global brand now, it is unique to this island in that it is our sport and one that has developed here. More should be woven into a tourism strategy to promote the GAA and the attraction that it provides. We can see how much more of a worldwide attraction it has become since it went onto Sky Sports. My colleague in front of me, who is a keen cyclist, instructed me that I was to mention the Rás, which is a cycling event that is unique to Ireland. It has not as yet come North of the border, and we would like to see it come up here. There is a lot of work that can be done at the local level to ensure that the small events that bind communities together receive the proper support and the proper recognition in a tourism strategy.

I have to say that I struggle to see merit in the amendment. It appears to just, in a mean-spirited way, try to dilute any credit for the Executive and pass it onto organisations. Of course, the sporting organisations and the arm's-length bodies in Executive Departments do a huge amount of work, but they do so under direction from the Minister and agreed resource from the Executive. That did not stop a former Minister in the previous Executive, who was sitting beside the Member who spoke previously but has now left, going out and firing a rugby ball about in front of the cameras when a planning decision was taken on Ravenhill and claiming the credit for that decision. I do not see the need to dilute any credit for the Executive in this regard.

On urgency, I would expect all the things that the proposer of the amendment said to be in that tourism strategy. I want to see a tourism strategy that is well done, timely and listens to the voices in today's debate and incorporates those into the tourism strategy. I want to see a proper strategy rather than an urgent one. I want to see one that gives the level of support that is required and recognises that events-based tourism is a growing force in tourism and attracting people and the well-being that that brings to host communities and communities generally in health and community cohesion. A tourism strategy must be done in a timely fashion, but it must be done properly.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker 3:45 pm, 14th November 2016

Can the Member bring his comments to a close?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

There is nothing in the DUP motion that anyone could not acknowledge. There have been huge successes that have made us all very proud. However, I am disappointed that it makes no reference to the many organisers of major sporting events in Northern Ireland and those across the entire tourism industry who do so much to make a visit here an unforgettable experience, especially when an event or sport is the magnet.

The motion calls on the Minister for the Economy to promote and encourage growth in this sector. Does that mean that those who tabled the motion feel that he is not already doing what they request? It would be interesting if the Minister, in his contribution today, would share with us what he thinks he is not already doing that this motion will fire him up to now deliver. It is also a disappointment to me, as a new Member, to be reminded that such a success as our sporting events and activity-based tourism is not embraced by a specific tourism strategy, despite that having been talked about throughout the life of the last mandate and still being talked about today. I have the sense that this type of backslapping motion, with a call for the Minister to do what I would expect him to be doing already, serves only to feed into the perception held by many members of the public that this House is only a talking shop with no outcomes. That perception can be understood, even though we who serve here know that things actually do get done in the Chamber and in Committee.

At a meeting of the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association in October 2014, a report was produced on the topics that we are discussing today. It talked about events-based and activity tourism. It then referenced a third category, called nostalgia-based sports tourism. However, it said that this type of opportunity is not prominent in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland.

Why do we not have a museum in Northern Ireland dedicated to the proud sporting achievements over many years of a population of 1·8 million people who box well above their weight on the international stage? Is there a sport organised in this country that has not produced a world champion, a record breaker or a medal winner? That success is replicated by our Paralympians. I know there is a call for a museum of achievement that embraces sport, but we have a wealth of material in the sporting world and a story to tell that would fill two sports museums. The challenge will not be what to include; it will be what to leave out. Look at the success of the Titanic centre: a sporting museum could replicate that success and appeal to visitors attending major sporting events in our country and provide added value to their experience. Using some of the interactive technology deployed in the Titanic centre, a sports museum could be made a family-friendly must-visit for our citizens.

Nothing cuts across and makes a mockery of the divides in our society like sport. Let us use it to showcase all our sporting achievements on a cross-community basis. The material is there and the story is there; let us use it. The Ulster Unionist Party will support the SDLP amendment, and we call on the Executive to embrace our idea of promoting the establishment of a sporting museum. It makes no sense to continue to miss an opportunity that is sitting in our laps. Let us not dilute the opportunity by concentrating on a museum of achievement that would include sport. That concept would not add value for visitors at either an event or on a sporting activity break.

Mr McNulty referred to sport providing a legacy. We have such pride in the sporting achievements of all our sportsmen across this country in every discipline, and a sport museum would be a legacy for those people. I call on the Executive to embrace the concept. I also call on them urgently to stop talking about a tourism strategy and get one —

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

You will have your opportunity to speak.

Get a tourism strategy on the books now.

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I support the motion and the amendment. Before I make some direct points about the motion, I will reflect on some of the things that Alan Chambers has just said. There is a rather self-congratulatory tone to the motion, which is of concern in two respects. First, although it is welcome that we are having a debate in the Assembly on the economy, it strikes me that we are using precious time to discuss an issue where the supporters of the motion wish to pass on congratulations and recognise how well we have done. We are doing that at the expense of discussing some of the more pressing issues that face us, such as what we are going to do on an economic strategy, the implications of Brexit for our market access, the future of corporation tax, what we are doing on manufacturing and what we are doing on higher education funding. There are a lot of very important issues on the economy that we need to get our heads round.

Secondly, it is simply not good enough, when looking at the specifics of where we are with sport tourism, to sit back and list what we have achieved to date and say how great that has been for our economy and how we are now on the international map. There are some very particular issues that we need to address on that subject. First, as has been referred to by a number of Members, there is the absence of a tourism strategy. That is not a recent development; it is a long-running gap in the suite of strategies that an Executive should have in place. Clearly, a tourism strategy is a fundamental cornerstone of any wider economic strategy, and that is something that we need to address as soon as possible. Such a strategy also needs to reflect the all-island dimensions and the connectivity issues on the island.

We should also bear it in mind that tourism, as a sector in our economy, remains significantly underdeveloped relative to comparative jurisdictions elsewhere in these islands and internationally. There is significant room for growth, and obviously that should be a priority sector for the Executive and the Department. That demand is reflected by many across the sector, and it will have cross-cutting benefits in a range of areas.

It is also important that we look specifically at sports tourism. We talk about the high-profile events, but we must recognise that they tend to be variable. We will bid for those. In some, we will be successful; in others, less so. They will come to us very irregularly. If we are looking for sustainability we cannot build a strategy solely around those events. We need to ensure that there are proper spin-offs from the events that we manage to attract and ensure that we invest in a balance of reasons for people to come to Northern Ireland.

If we are looking at the specific issue of sustainability in terms of sports and events-related tourism, one of the key issues is the level of repeat visits by those who come for the initial sporting event and the recommendations that they make to their friends, colleagues and family members to come to Northern Ireland. In that regard, customer care will be very important. I encourage the Minister to look again at WorldHost training to ensure that we do as much as we can to maximise its uptake across the cities, towns and villages of Northern Ireland. We have seen some good examples in that regard. During my term of office, Derry city was the first jurisdiction in the entire UK to achieve the status of a WorldHost city. That was good. There are other issues around training. We need to see how we can support the sector in its desire to engage in work around apprenticeships and youth training. Clearly, it sees potential opportunities in that regard.

Gordon Dunne talked about the investment that has been made in stadia and hotels. We note and take into account what was said in that regard, but I need to stress that we missed an opportunity in Northern Ireland in relation to the development of a shared sports facility across the three leading spectator sports; instead, we went for three separate stadia. I do not wish to reopen old ground — that has now passed — but a single stadium would have brought us together in terms of sharing, but, more importantly, it would have brought us greater economies of scale in infrastructure and in the quality of that infrastructure. It is still a concern that Casement Park remains an outstanding issue. That would be the largest of the three stadia available to us.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

If we are to seek to attract a certain type of event, including the Rugby World Cup, developing Casement, albeit a GAA stadium, is of crucial importance.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. The great sporting activities that we have in Northern Ireland have been mentioned by various Members who spoke, so I do not intend to go into that except to say that we are proud or should be proud of the sporting professionals we have in Northern Ireland who represent it on a global basis.

I welcome the success that the Executive have had in recent years in bringing some fine international events to the shores of Northern Ireland. By hosting those successful events, we have seen knock-on effects that have reverberated across the length and breadth of Northern Ireland in the growth of our economy. Some people might want to turn a blind eye to that, but it is the reality of the situation and is what happens through sporting tourism.

This year saw the opening of the newly refurbished and extended Waterfront Hall in Belfast and, of course, this is a foretaste of the growth that is happening in Belfast as a place for business tourism. Expansion and room for growth were necessary to facilitate the boom in business tourism in our capital city, and, already, Belfast is tipped to be a leading destination for business tourism. That in itself will maximise our potential for visitors to come with their families and come back again. Of course, that is what we need to do: we need not only to have visitors coming in but to have sufficient interest for them to come back and join us in Northern Ireland. Business tourism may prove to be one of the catalysts for boosting the wider tourism potential that Northern Ireland has to offer the world.

By the same token, as the vision for business tourism becomes a reality in Belfast, we need to merge government, businesses, local authorities and all organisations involved in tourism to get them to think on a much wider basis and facilitate the growth of the sporting tourism industry. While major steps have been taken to attract global sporting events to Northern Ireland for which the Executive must be congratulated, we have to recognise the potential for the future in this rapidly growing tourism market and tap into that on a broader scale.

Just last week, my colleague Mr Hamilton attended the draw for the Women's Rugby World Cup 2017. That event alone, which will last for nine days, will generate almost £2 million for the local economy, not to mention the priceless publicity for Northern Ireland around the world after visitors attend the event and spread the word about our attractions and hospitality.

If we look at the North West 200 and the huge numbers of people that it attracts every year from across the world, surely we have to say that events like that are valuable assets to the local economy and provide valuable boosts to local industry. The domino effect of bringing large-scale events to the Province must not be underestimated. The power of seeing an event broadcast around the world against a backdrop of stunning scenery is priceless.

As part of a tourism strategy, we need to move with the times. We need to set the bar higher and lead the way in establishing events. We need to be more creative. We have marathons in Belfast, but I could not mention Belfast and the north-west without mentioning Fermanagh or south Tyrone and west Tyrone. There is no reason why an international marathon could not be run in west Tyrone or in Fermanagh or south Tyrone, where you have the beauty of the Sperrins and the lakes of Fermanagh. That would attract visitors, and attract them back again. Maybe that is something for the Minister to consider.

As part of a tourism strategy, we need to work alongside advertising and marketing companies, tourism agencies and hoteliers to come up with strategies to attract more people to Northern Ireland more regularly. It is imperative that we are open to capitalise on trends and have the flexibility to work alongside ever-changing trends to implement ideas that are collated from a wide range of bodies that know the industry, having worked in it for many years.

Northern Ireland is an emerald in the crown of natural rugged beauty, and when we recognise the value of the product —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker 4:00 pm, 14th November 2016

Can the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

— that we have to sell to the world, we can truly grasp what a unique destination we have.

The year 2016 has been one of dramatic change on the political stage of the world. We should embrace these challenges —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

— and look for the opportunities —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

I call Carál Ní Chuilín.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

— that will present themselves as a result —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Iarraim ar Carál Ní Chuilín.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

— and push ahead for Northern Ireland to become —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member's time is up.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

— a leading global destination for sport.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

I call Carál Ní Chuilín.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

That was a marathon speech, Tom. Fair play to you. I also support the motion, and, just for clarification, when my colleague Conor Murphy was talking about his colleague in front of him being an avid racer, it was not me; it was Philip McGuigan.

I welcome the motion. It is a good debate that is looking at all the aspects that enhance our tourism product. Someone said that, at times, we are tabling motions that have no point. Lots of people could take that view about lots of things. People take the time to table a motion and there is then a debate, and it is always worthwhile. Even if we do not agree with it, it is still a worthwhile process.

I am heartened to hear, certainly with Justin McNulty's contribution, that the SDLP is now supporting the redevelopment of Casement Park, which I welcome. I found it completely ironic that some Members were complaining about a lack of investment in west Belfast — rightly so — yet one of the Members representing the SDLP — Mr Attwood — was one of the two Attwoods who stood outside Casement Park against the redevelopment. For me, that was a complete —

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for giving way. I am sure that the Member would recognise the right — indeed, the duty — of any of us as MLAs to make representation on behalf of constituents with concerns.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Tá nóiméad breise ag an Chomhalta. The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Carál Ní Chuilín Carál Ní Chuilín Sinn Féin

Absolutely. To be fair, any of us could be in that situation. My difficulty was when the line was crossed in making representations, as he or anybody else is entitled to do. I found it disturbing that some were proactively arguing against such an investment. I welcomed the Member's intervention and his leadership on the issue, and I also now welcome his party's position.

I think the role of Casement Park in the Rugby World Cup for 2023 is absolutely critical. I look forward to the whole Assembly giving support to its redevelopment. Will it enhance tourism? It absolutely will. Will it add to the sports activity and potential events not just in west Belfast but in Belfast? Yes, it will. Will that improve good relations? In my opinion, it will. I grew up never putting a foot in Windsor Park, but now I do. I do not do it because I was a Minister; I do it now even though I am not. I do not go to soccer matches but to other events. When I was growing up, there were areas you just did not go to. I think that, if we are all honest, that was the case for many of us. Investment from our Executive in big infrastructure projects will help by not only creating awareness but attracting people to places and events that, in the past, they may not have considered.

The investment in the ladies' rugby has been mentioned. Next year, we will see the UEFA Women's Under-19 Championship, and, hopefully, the Assembly will give those women our support. They need it. I have witnessed world-class fishing competitions come to these shores, even to the waterworks in my constituency, which is a small lake. It was brilliant. It was a cross-community event. People from right across the island and from Wales and everywhere travelled for these events. Things like the Transplant Games and the recent world-class Irish dancing competitions in the Waterfront Hall are examples. There are many other things, even in rural communities, such as bike trails that have had investment from DARD and others, and there are water and marine activities. I think we have a lot here to enhance our tourist product. Can we all do more? Certainly. That is a given.

When I spoke to other Ministers, some of them would have given their eye teeth for the infrastructure and investment we have put into some of our areas to enhance tourist product. I also welcome the fact that, across the island, both institutions are working to look at events we can host in both parts of the island. That has continued and is a good thing. I believe that Tourism NI, Sport NI, the Executive and councils have a massive role to play. Local government has a massive role to play. I think that when we have joined-up approaches — I am seeing more of that — you will get more world-class events.

I will go back to a point that Conor Murphy raised. Do not lose sight of the small events. World-class events like the Olympic and Paralympic Games have inspired children and young people to get involved in sport. Some of the smaller events will do the same. We need to make sure that the infrastructure is invested in and maintained and that we create the opportunities not only for people to come to our shores but for our residents and citizens to make sure they, too, participate in some of these events. I, too, support the motion.

Photo of George Robinson George Robinson DUP

My East Londonderry constituency hosts the North West 200, the Northern Ireland Milk Cup and the air show. It has top-quality golf courses, has been used as part of the Giro d'Italia route and is blessed with excellent salmon and trout fishing rivers as well as a stunning coastline that attracts sea angling. This is why I am particularly interested in speaking on this motion.

As my colleague Gordon Dunne said, we must also remember the recent magnificent achievements of our Northern Ireland football team in reaching the last 16 at the finals of the Euros. To add to that, we have had some great past sporting legends, such as George Best, Joey Dunlop, Alex Higgins and others, along with present sporting ambassadors like Rory McIlroy etc, who have put Northern Ireland on the sporting map.

As I have already demonstrated, much has been delivered and many events supported by the Executive. I congratulate them on their successes. I also point to the future and the 2019 Open golf tournament, which is coming to Royal Portrush. That is more delivery for our tourist industry. Again, my congratulations to the Executive. No one can say that the Executive are not successful in supporting our sporting events. The result is employment and economic development, the cornerstones of future development.

With a more peaceful Northern Ireland, the potential for developing the tourist sector is immense and, as stated previously, much has already been achieved. I want to see all sectors developed because this is one of the cornerstones of Northern Ireland's economic development. In every constituency, there are sporting events and activity-based tourism: climbing the Mournes, surfing on our coasts, caving in Fermanagh, sea and river fishing or boating on our lakes, waterways and coasts. We have a huge sports activity tourist product to sell to the world. This is a base for our tourism economic growth.

I am confident that, with this Executive and Minister at the helm, Northern Ireland can be assured of the commitment to developing our tourism sector in all aspects and to utilising our sporting and activity-based tourism to the utmost. I support the motion and ask the House to follow suit.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

I support the motion and the amendment and add our support to Tourism Northern Ireland and to other bodies as we seek to grow Northern Ireland as one of the key niche sporting and cultural tourism destinations in the world.

Whether it is large, medium or small sporting events or cultural events, helping to promote those events or benefiting from the wider positive image these activities sell of Northern Ireland plc as a great place to visit, to invest and to live in, our brand is something that we must build up, cherish and guard from being undermined by other competitors, either here on this island or further afield. We have much to be proud of: our strong sporting links to golfing, motorcycling, cycling, equestrianism, rugby, football, GAA, sailing, swimming, athletics and hockey. It would be remiss of me not to mention the great Mossley, Parkgate and Randalstown hockey teams of my constituency of South Antrim. Then there is the sporting prowess exemplified by our international sports stars, Olympians and Paralympians. This does not just imply the promotion and support of sports in schools and our communities but having the facilities for our sports, whether through our planners ensuring that globally significant road races such as the Ulster Grand Prix are not penalised by unwelcome graveyard developments or having suitable venues to attract major sporting events.

In mentioning the Ulster Grand Prix and as a proud Ballyclarian, I would also like to put on record again my delight in Jonathan Rea's being crowned World Superbike champion. I too would be delighted if the Assembly formally recognised his fantastic success.

We also have to ensure that our cultural landscape is supportive and attracts major visitor numbers. I particularly note events such as the Belfast Tattoo, Ulster-Scots events in Glenarm, arts festivals, literary events and the great work that has gone on in Londonderry, as well as the new visitor centre celebrating Seamus Heaney in Bellaghy. We need to effectively promote all our sports and cultural events and tourism, so let us make sure that we appropriately invest in the promotion of brand Northern Ireland. It is noteworthy that the Irish tourism authorities spend many multiples of Tourism Northern Ireland's budget; indeed, the budget for the Wild Atlantic Way alone is much more than what we do to promote Northern Ireland tourism. If Northern Ireland tourism is —

Photo of Oliver McMullan Oliver McMullan Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for giving way. The Member made a good point when he mentioned the Wild Atlantic Way. I ask the Minister to look at that. We need to bring it up here. The Atlantic does not stop at the border; the Wild Atlantic Way should not stop at the border either.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Steve Aiken Steve Aiken UUP

Thank you very much indeed. As we all know, the Atlantic stretches all the way to Ballycastle and Torr Head. That is what we should be doing; we should promote the extension of the Wild Atlantic Way along that way.

We should commend Tourism Northern Ireland's desire to increase the market to £1 billion per annum. If we are to do that and support that growing investment, we need to help Tourism Northern Ireland. As part of the strategy, we need to resource it adequately.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 4:15 pm, 14th November 2016

Like my colleagues, I support the motion. As I understand it, the Member who spoke previously said that the Ulster Unionist Party will also support the motion, albeit along with the amendment. I am not sure whether that means that, if the amendment falls, the party will support the motion. I hope that it will. As my colleagues, particularly Conor Murphy, have already said, in our support for the motion, we will not support the amendment, because it appears to us to be part of the now standard trend from the SDLP to be, in a way, mean-spirited, not wanting to recognise that the Executive have done anything right or of substance. Even though that party had Ministers in office in the previous mandates and was quite prepared to share in, and rightly so, some of the very good work that was done, it would never take responsibility for some of the work that was not done. Nevertheless, I recognise that Justin McNulty in his remarks did acknowledge that the Executive did do some good work. To that extent, I am quite pleased to hear that, because, ultimately, whatever way the amendment is voted on, I do not think that any of us can really find any substantive fault with the motion.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister, because, as Conor Murphy said already, we expect to hear that we will have substantial and substantive support for the tourism industry, not least the sporting tourism sector, in any upcoming tourism strategy and, in fact, right through to the heart of the economic strategy eventually. All Members have testified in the House this afternoon that it is a very important sector for a variety of reasons. It certainly helps the local economy. There is no question or doubt about that. It brings more people here and increases the spend locally in the broader community, including the hospitality sector.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I thank the Member for giving way. He mentions the hospitality sector. One of the big issues around hospitality is the review of licensing laws, which, at the moment, the Committee and the Minister are looking at. Will he agree with me that a more radical approach to that particular issue would be very helpful in supporting the economy and economic growth?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

The Member has an extra minute. Tá nóiméad breise ag an Chomhalta.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Phríomh-LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Member for that intervention. There is no doubt of that. In the previous mandate, I was very clearly on record as saying that we need an overhaul of licensing legislation. I look forward to that happening in the time ahead. There is no doubt that it will also be of benefit if it is improved in the right and appropriate manner.

As I said, the community here is accruing very important economic benefits through sporting tourism events. Beyond that, they continue to increase the involvement of people here in sports. Although the motion refers to the Executive achieving good things in the past, all those other organisations, be they tourism bodies or sporting bodies, not to mention all the participants, activists, sportsmen and sportswomen, have inspired many of us here and people around the world. The continuing success of the sports tourism industry and sector will add to the number of people who are involved in sport. That has an overall benefit to society here, because sport increases people's participation, addresses social exclusion and is far better for people's health, well-being and all the rest. It is a no-brainer, really: if we can, we should increase support for the sector.

One of the things that has come through in the debate is that, although everybody acknowledges all the very many major sporting events, and rightly so — we are very thankful for them and for the prowess of our sportspeople and all those who support them, such as their coaches, trainers and families — all Members have testified to the fact that there are many much smaller sporting events that really go unsung. I will mention just one. On Friday past, I had the benefit of meeting those involved. It is a small event that involves two amateur boxing clubs: St Paul's in west Belfast and Scorpion in Ballymoney. The two clubs have come together and developed a partnership with Detroit. They hope to bring over a party from Detroit that will include Thomas Hearns, a very famous world champion of our generation.

There is no doubt that the relatively small party that they will bring over here will increase the tourism spend not only in Belfast. A very good programme of events has already been arranged around that one small programme. It is only one. There was a previous similar initiative called Beltway, which married people from Washington and, mainly but not exclusively, Belfast — originally, it was an Ardoyne club.

These smaller sporting events are very important not only for the local economy but for the well-being of people here because more and more people are becoming involved in sport. Of course, when people come here to take part in those sporting events, they avail themselves of other parts of our tourism industry. That is all the better for everybody concerned.

I commend the Executive for all the work that has been done over the last number of years. I particularly commend all the people who have been involved in the sporting achievements, the tourism and other sporting bodies —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close?

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

— that have helped. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about other substantive support that will be given to these events in the future.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I support the motion. I acknowledge the work that has been done to date. I invite Mr Chambers to visit North Antrim, where he can attend Ballymoney town hall and learn all about the history of road racing in Northern Ireland. On his way home, he could call into the Ballymena Showgrounds, where he will see our hall of fame, which has represented in it Willie John McBride, Eamonn Loughran, Michael O'Neill, Maeve and Sean Kyle and Nigel Worthington. There are a lot of museums that acknowledge and support the work of all sports in all guises and through all individuals. I disagree with him: if we focus on a museum, we could lose sight of the future potential. We need funding and support to make sure that we assist the athletes of the future rather than spending money on a museum that shows us what happened in the past.

I acknowledge the work of the organisers of the North West 200, which is very close to my constituency; it benefits greatly from that event. What a massive event it is, and it is free. Where else would you get that in the world? The Milk Cup — the Super Cup as it is called now — does tremendous work with young people from around the world. We also have our golfers. Look at what has been achieved at the very highest levels by Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and, of course, Michael Hoey, who, I think, is now a six-time winner on the European Tour.

Michael Hoey has done a lot of work with Galgorm Castle Golf Club. He is an ambassador for the Northern Ireland Open, which is Northern Ireland's annual professional golf tournament. Whilst it is good that Northern Ireland can attract the Irish Open and, of course, the Open in 2019, we should look at the potential of the Northern Ireland Open. At the minute, it is a Challenge Tour tournament, which is the second division in European golf terms. It has been going only since 2013, when it had over 22,000 spectators. In 2014, it had 34,000 spectators. In 2015 and 2016, it had 39,000 spectators, and the grand total for 2016 was 39,721 spectators. It was won by Ryan Fox from New Zealand. That is the potential that the Northern Ireland Open has. It broke the Challenge Tour attendance records in the last two years. That tells me that the Northern Ireland Open has outgrown that division of European golf. To go up higher, you are talking about the same professional tour as the Irish Open, the Scottish Open, the French Open, the Spanish Open and all the rest. How good would it be if Northern Ireland were to get a slot in that diary? It would be at the very peak of European golf. We can do it. I pay tribute to the owner of Galgorm Castle, Christopher Brooke, on the work that he has done on that ground and the investment that he has made. I also pay tribute to his managing director, Gary Henry, who is also the main organiser of the Northern Ireland Open. These people can put Northern Ireland on the map.

We can compete right up there with the Irish Open. It is good to have the Irish Open in Portrush, at the Royal County Down in Newcastle and, now, in Portstewart. We can do this every year; we can have a tournament of that calibre every year through the Northern Ireland Open. Why should we not strive to get there and to have this as an annual event? We have the infrastructure around Ballymena, and we have the golf course. I know that the Minister has played it; I have seen him in action.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

Was he any good?

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Well, I think he should get a tour invitation. You never know. I will take half of his prize money. This is a tremendous opportunity for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Open.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

I ask the Member to bring his comments to a close.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I hope the Minister will look at that and see how we can grow the Northern Ireland Open.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I was a little thrown there by Mr Frew's final comments. It would be a very kind invitation to join the tour. He was offering his services as an agent or something —

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

A caddy, perhaps — looking to take half of my winnings. Half of zero, of course, is still zero.

I thank all of the Members who have contributed to the debate and particularly thank Mr Storey, Mr Buchanan, Mr Dunne and Mr Lyons for tabling the motion. At times during the debate, as debates of this nature can tend to do, it sounded a bit like a Tourism NI brochure for each constituency in Northern Ireland. Well done to the Members who availed themselves of the opportunity to promote the attractions of their area.

The motion states that Northern Ireland has been very successful in bidding for and hosting a range of high-profile sporting events in the last few years, and that is undoubtedly the case. I do not think that anybody denied that in their contribution. From the Titanic centenary in 2012, when the world spotlight shone on Belfast for all of the right reasons, to the hosting of events such as the MTV European Music Awards, the Irish Open in Portrush and a range of other high-profile ni2012 celebrations, major public events have become extremely important to the Northern Ireland tourism industry, to the further promotion of the tourism product and to the wider economy.

The follow-up from that tipping point, as it were, in 2012 has been extremely good. Londonderry’s year as the first ever UK City of Culture in 2013 was a resounding success. We then had a series of further major events, such as the World Police and Fire Games, the Giro d’Italia Big Start and the 2015 Tall Ships Festival. Aside from their individual and economic successes, collectively, all of those events have not just served to greatly improve Northern Ireland’s profile as a place where major events can take place but have increased the likelihood and potential for Northern Ireland to host bigger events — sporting and otherwise — in the future. I am delighted, for instance, that World Rugby has chosen to award the hosting rights for the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 to the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU). This prestigious tournament will be held in Belfast and Dublin in August next year, and Northern Ireland will undoubtedly benefit from the global coverage that goes with such an important event. The Northern Ireland Executive are also very supportive of the bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. I am delighted that Ireland is through to the second phase of the bid process. I know that a lot of work will go into this next phase to secure a winning bid. Northern Ireland will also host the 2017 UEFA European Women’s Under-19 Championship. Securing that football tournament is particularly exciting, considering the recent success of our men’s senior team, who did so well in the summer’s European Championship in France.

The Gran Fondo of the Giro d’Italia will return next year as part of the successful legacy event. Some Members talked about the legacy of big events that we attract in Northern Ireland. In 2015-16, the event attracted 3,066 participants, 21% of whom were from outside Northern Ireland. The 2016-17 event attracted 4,399 participants, 14% of whom came from outside the Province. The impact of events of this type is instant, with riders, their friends and families filling up hotels, enjoying our local food and drink and attractions, experiencing our unique cycling trails, increasing international visitors and generating revenue for local businesses.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

I thank the Minister for giving way. He makes a compelling case in the assessment he does of the economic out-turn of the issues that are supported by the Executive. However, sporting events take place day and daily. There are, for example, 10 world champions in kick-boxing in my constituency. They bring people from Japan, the US and across Europe here, and they have a multiplicity of championships there. That is not work supported by the Executive.

Does the Minister do any assessment of its value to the economy, as well as to participation in sport?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP 4:30 pm, 14th November 2016

It is a topic that was mentioned by many Members in their contributions about celebrating — I am sure that the Member agrees — the large events, both home-grown and international, that we have established or attracted over the years. There is an importance for local events, and I have heard it loud and clear. There is a range of events at local level that have been supported; not always through the Executive, admittedly, but mostly through local government. That is the principal way in which it should be done to reflect the needs of the local community.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

Hold on a second. I know that the Member likes to talk, but just let me finish my point.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

International events, Minister.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

Look, if the Member has any particular cases that she wants to raise with me, I am very happy to look at them —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

I ask that all Members make their comments through the Chair.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

— to assess their impact on any particular events that the Member raises. I know that the councils that principally fund those events at a very local level will do their impact assessments on what the impact has been on the local economy so that they can justify the expenditure that they have made on them.

Whether it is very localised events, events that attract people from elsewhere in the British Isles or, indeed, from further afield, it is vital that we focus at an Executive level on the bigger events and that there are smaller events at a local level that allow people to participate. They can be inspired perhaps by the bigger events, but they can certainly be encouraged to participate at a local level in local events.

I am happy to give way to the Member if she has another point to make.

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

Thank you. The point that I am making to the Minister is not that these are local events, but that they are international events; they are world championships. They are not supported by any government funding, but they take place in Northern Ireland on a regular basis. They are not just local events.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The Member will appreciate that, as successful as we have been over the last number of years in attracting some major sporting events — some of which I have mentioned already; some of which I am sure I will mention throughout the remainder of my contribution — we do so on the basis of what will bring in a return for the wider economy and improve our tourism product. That is not to say that other events held at a local level, which are international in nature, are seen in any way as inferior. The Member will appreciate that there is a limited budget to support events available to me and my Department through its agencies, so we cannot support every event. To do so would dilute the pot and give far less of a return on our investment than supporting the bigger events that I have already mentioned.

I am also delighted that the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open will return to Northern Ireland next July with Portstewart Golf Club being the host venue. Tourism NI and my Department are working with partners in the European Tour, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Tourism Ireland and the wider tourism industry to deliver another great Irish Open, the third to be held in Northern Ireland in the last five years. The Irish Open has, of course, been one of the key factors in attracting the Open Championship to Royal Portrush, and next year’s Irish Open will provide the perfect stepping stone to the excitement and drama of the biggest tournament in world golf, which will take place here in 2019. The Open’s return to Northern Ireland is a hugely significant step forward. Securing this tournament has been a key part of Tourism NI’s events strategy, and, unquestionably, it will further consolidate Northern Ireland’s reputation as the home of outstanding events and boost efforts to grow domestic and overnight visitor numbers and spend.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews retains global research company Repucom to conduct an annual branded content analysis of the Open Championship. It estimates that the combined tourism promotion and economic development will be up to £70 million, with 200,000 spectators expected at Royal Portrush over the competition days.

The hosting of major golf events, including our own — as mentioned by Mr Frew — Northern Ireland Open, as with all major sporting events that we manage to attract, continues to play a key role in realising our ambitious plans to grow tourism here to a £1 billion industry by 2020. Whether it is world-class home-grown motor sports events like the North West 200, the Circuit of Ireland and the Ulster Grand Prix, or major one-off internationals, they all have the capacity to showcase our people and places on a global stage.

Events drive visitor numbers, generate increased spend and provide platforms for the visitor to interact with the local culture, local people and explore our scenic landscapes and cities. In activity tourism, and I have to say that, when I am on holiday, I am anything other than —

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for giving way and note what the leader of the Alliance Party has said. The British Open is going to be the game changer of all game changers for tourism and sports tourism in Northern Ireland. Given that we are within touching distance of 2019 for marketing and promotion, will you have a bespoke budget line for the British Open 2019 to deal with infrastructure, marketing, promotion, training, skills and anything else that will make that event as big as possible given its scale? Is there going to be a bespoke strategy, bespoke money, bespoke efforts and bespoke ambitions because that is the measure of whether you are putting meat on the bones of a tourism strategy?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I thank the Member for his contribution and it is not unexpected around golfing. The Member is a far better golfer that I am and he is a great supporter of golf, particularly when the Irish Open first came to Royal Portrush and the regeneration of that area. My ministerial colleague Paul Givan is actively working on that front to ensure that the benefits of the Open are felt.

The Member is right, this is at an entirely different level. Members will want to promote events in their particular areas, but this is a truly international global event the like of which we have not seen in Northern Ireland, perhaps ever. Even when it was hosted here in the 1950s, it was nowhere near the level it is now. The Member is absolutely right; we need to capitalise on this, and I am adamant that we will not miss this opportunity. Yes, the intention is that the Open will come back on a regular basis, but we will not miss this opportunity in 2019 to make sure there are other benefits such as regeneration, improving skills and infrastructure in the surrounding area and across Northern Ireland.

The motion also mentions activity tourism, and this is one of the key themes for unlocking the potential of Northern Ireland as a tourist destination. The beauty and variety of our ever-changing landscape, and the compact distances that we have, make Northern Ireland a wonderful place to undertake all types of outdoor activity. Activity tourism is estimated to be worth about £100 million to the Northern Ireland economy annually and is well placed to grow further due to the diversity of activities available. Activity tourism marketing is delivered through a service level agreement with Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, which is responsible for industry engagement and the development of activity-specific websites. The activity tourism sector here is young and vibrant, representing a confident Northern Ireland and, in that context, Tourism NI’s activity product priorities are focused on five areas: adventure, walking, mountain biking, cycling and canoeing.

Many Members talked about local events, particularly in their areas and constituencies. In 2014, Tourism NI introduced a three-year letter of offer fund for international events and administration of the national fund as a sponsorship scheme. However, that events programme is the subject of a review being conducted by my Department, which is likely to take a number of months to conclude. In the interim, Tourism NI has put in place a one-year programme to support events whilst the review and strategy are completed.

A new tourism strategy for Northern Ireland to 2025 is being developed by my Department, and part of that new tourism events strategy will emerge to support the delivery of the overarching tourism strategy targets. There is a new appreciation of the potential for tourism to contribute to the growth of the Northern Ireland economy and to deliver jobs and investment. We have worked very hard in Northern Ireland to improve visitor perception and to build on our reputation as the home of great events. We must continue this hard work with a focus on further improving our reputation internationally and our attractiveness as a destination. When we play host, we all join in and go the extra mile.

Our new tourism strategy will have a global focus that will set Northern Ireland as an internationally competitive and inspiring destination. The new tourism strategy will have the sole aim of transforming Northern Ireland into the world-class tourism destination that we know that it can be, and we are pursuing that aim on strong foundations. The annual tourism statistics show that, in 2015, we had 4·5 million overnight trips, with an associated expenditure of £764 million; a 3% increase. We had 2·3 million external visitors, which is the highest number on record and a 6% year-on-year increase.

Hotel room occupancy was 67%, which was up 2%. Northern Ireland also welcomed nearly 70 cruise ships with 123,000 passengers. More recently, NISRA occupancy statistics for January to September this year reveal record room occupancy levels over the summer, with August hotel occupancy reaching 88%, the highest on record for any month. Factors that may bode well over the rest of the year include recent favourable currency movements. That will potentially be supported by improvements in air connectivity over the winter, with 10 new routes from Spain, Poland, Germany, Italy and Brussels.

World-renowned events such as those that we have been speaking of today will continue to play a vital role in attracting external visitors, helping to enhance our international reputation as a destination of choice and providing world-class experiences for all. Northern Ireland has already had significant success in bidding for and hosting a range of major global events.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Will the Minister bring his comments to a close?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

We are in a strong position to continue the success and to attract sporting events and tourists who wish to engage in a range of outdoor activities.

Photo of Sinéad Bradley Sinéad Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the opportunity to make the winding-up speech on the amendment. I start with comments made by my party colleague Justin McNulty, who rightly referred to events such as the Irish Open and could barely contain himself, being the sporting man that he is, when he referred to the bid for the Rugby World Cup and something about a haka on the Mall in Armagh. Reference was also made — rightly so — to embracing the GAA. The scale of support across the world for the GAA is largely unmeasured, but the Executive must embrace it, considering the fact that we are the homeland of Gaelic games. Justin McNulty also rightly raised the point that there is one-event thinking going on at the moment — successfully at times, when events are captured and brought here — but we must extend beyond that way of thinking.

Alan Chambers expressed his concern that the Minister's party had once again tabled a motion for debate that really calls for nothing more than what we should already consider to be agreed. He also made calls for a sporting museum, which, he thinks, would be a precious addition to any strategy.

Stephen Farry rightly highlighted what we will discuss further: the self-congratulatory tone of the motion. He went on to mention and discuss all-island connectivity, the methods of getting repeat visits, customer care and, rightly, the training that would be required to make a visitor's experience one that they would wish to return to and share again.

We then had a contribution from Steve Aiken, who referred to the Wild Atlantic Way, which we look at with envy, and there are lessons to be learned there. He acknowledged the good work of many organisations and individuals who have contributed to the sector and the success of sporting tourism to date.

What we must ask ourselves is this: why would tourists come here? What events would attract them? How do they get here? There is the uncomfortable truth of the United Airlines story, which should not be repeated in the House. There are also issues with the Enterprise service, which is barely functioning right now. Some tourists might even like to approach my constituency of South Down via a bridge at Narrow Water. The infrastructure and the means of getting here should be there.

How do they get here? Where do they stay? I am very conscious that hotel plans are sitting with the Planning Service and not getting through the system. There must be out-of-silo thinking and a joined-up approach to where people will stay and what their experience will be. What activities and pursuits will they engage in while they are here? At the same time, we are talking about the possible threat of closure of outdoor education centres. Opportunities do not exist in other constituencies to partake in sports that people would not otherwise have an opportunity to engage in. What opinion will those tourists leave with when they have had the Northern Ireland hospitality experience? Again, that goes back to Stephen Farry's comments about training and being not just open for business but successfully open for good business and giving our tourists an experience to remember.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for giving way. While she is lamenting the fact that, for example, the Narrow Water bridge has not yet been developed, does she not accept that many of her party colleagues supported all those parties in the last Southern mandate that withdrew the money the Irish Government had committed to the project?

Photo of Sinéad Bradley Sinéad Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

No, I do not accept that; in fact, if I remember correctly, it was your party colleague who was in office when the money was not brought forward for the bridge.

Speaking directly to the amendment, Conor Murphy on behalf of Sinn Féin gave first light about why his party did not believe it could support the amendment. He said that he believes that the SDLP, at any cost, will come in here and take merit from the Executive. I assure you that that is not the case. If the Member does not want to listen to me, he could take time to read the amendment. He will see that it goes further than the motion. It adds a sense of urgency and asks the Executive to address the need for:

"capital, resource, marketing, skills and training".

If the Member is serious in saying his party does not accept those as additional factors to be considered in the amendment, I find that quite disingenuous. In fact, I would go further. When I listened to the debate — this will perhaps be the routine — I felt that, regardless of what amendment is tabled, parties will simply look through it to find a get-out. I do not see the get-out here, and Sinn Féin should really reflect before it decides how it will vote on this. While it is comfortable going for the softer language, I ask this: is there a fear of accountability? Rather than vote for the promotion and encouragement of economic growth, why not call for real and substantial growth? I put it to the House that, increasingly —

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Will the Member bring her remarks to a close?

Photo of Sinéad Bradley Sinéad Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party

I will. Increasingly, I suspect this Executive will become known as the Executive who like to share the blame but never the credit.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I am pleased to be able to make the winding-up speech on the debate. I thank Members for their contributions.

There is a reason why we brought the motion before the House. It is the same as the other motions we have brought as members of the Economy Committee on the economic strategy, exports, SMEs and now on activity- and sports-based tourism. That is because we want to set out our stall and show the priorities we have and what we would like to see in the various strategies that the Minister will bring forward.

I know this is hard for some members of the Opposition to take in, but the Executive have had some success on those issues. I know you would prefer it if we did not, but we are going to talk about the successes we have had. I know you are trying to get a narrative together that everything is bad and terrible and that we are awful people. We have had successes, and I am afraid you will have to listen to some of them.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

If the Member has something useful to say, I will give way.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for giving way. Will he say whether all those successes have taken place in the past five months?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

No, they happened before that as well. We have certainly had successes, and I am sure that, by the end of this Assembly term, we will have had even more that we will be able to speak about. We want to talk about the successes. We will continue to have them, and we hope that, through the new tourism strategy, we will be able to address some of the issues.

We have had successes in tourism. You have only to look at some of the figures. We have the highest number of external visitors, hotel occupancy is up and we have the highest number of overnight stays. We have also made huge progress in developing our tourism potential and product here in Northern Ireland. In just the last number of years, we have seen the opening of Titanic Belfast and the visitors centre at the Giant's Causeway, and next year will see the opening, for good, of the Gobbins path in East Antrim. In the meantime, do not worry: if you want to visit East Antrim, there are many other attractions you can see. We look forward to that happening as soon as possible.

It is also right that we look at areas in which we can see room for improvement. One of the reasons why we brought the motion to the House was that a significant portion of our tourist offering is in larger sports events or activity-based tourism.

What we are saying to the Minister today is, when that tourism strategy is being put together, let us not forget about that and about how important they can be. That is the basis of our motion today.

I will address briefly some of the criticisms that have been made of the motion. This was not meant to be a motion that would divide the House or cause any problems in the House. We think that it is fairly straightforward and simple and something that everyone can buy into. That was the way in which the motion was drafted, but we have complaints that it does not include all the sporting organisations that have been involved in the success. Absolutely, we need to acknowledge the work of sporting and other organisations that has led to the success, but, as an Assembly, we are here to call on the Executive to do things and take action. That is why we are pointing out some of the steps that could be taken.

To move on to what other Members have said, briefly, first of all I thank Gordon Dunne for opening the debate and highlighting the importance of activity and sports events for our tourism sector, and all the benefits that can come from that. He only mentioned North Down twice, which, I suppose, is some kind of record for him, but no doubt he will continue to mention it in the future. Of course he had to mention motor sport as well, and the opportunities that can come from that.

Justin McNulty is no longer here, but he mentioned the reason for the amendment, and I have to say that I think it was just for no other reason than to have a pop at the Executive. I do not see any real reason for putting that amendment in. It took him almost six minutes, but he was able to mention Brexit and talk about the uncertainty that that is causing for the tourism sector. I do not know what figures he has been looking at because, regardless of your view on Brexit, surely people can see the benefits that are coming from the changes that have occurred in the pound and how beneficial that has been.

Conor Murphy mentioned some constituency issues and mentioned the keen cyclist who was in front of him, which, as Carál Ní Chuilín has pointed out, was not her. Maybe Sammy Douglas can encourage her to take that up, but he was absolutely right in what he said: any tourism strategy must be well done, not half-baked, and timely, and we look forward to the publication of that.

Alan Chambers talked about the sports museum that he wants to see. He did not give away where he wanted that to be — probably in North Down. If he wants it in North Down, he will have the support of Gordon Dunne, so he has two votes in favour of that already. It is a shame that he did not give way, because I would have liked to have heard a little bit of the debate between him and Paul Frew on that.

Stephen Farry mentioned the importance of not just having high-profile events. That is not what the motion is calling for. We want to see those high-profile, major international events and not just one-offs. In its entirety, it is about activity-based sports events and the tourism that comes from that.

Photo of Jennifer Palmer Jennifer Palmer UUP

Thank you very much for giving way. There has been a lot of talk in this debate around massive sporting events. Do you agree with me that more needs to be given to the Women's Rugby World Cup next year and the European Women's Under-19 Football Championships next year? Women are certainly at —

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

The point first of all is that both are being supported and are getting funding. That is exactly the point of the motion: it is about making sure that we are getting the support for these. So I challenge Stephen Farry on that. Stephen Farry was also very interesting because he complained about how the motion was all about self-congratulations. The Alliance Members would know all about self-congratulations; they do it often enough themselves. Maybe I will take a lecture from him on that, but, as I said, we are not going to shy away from our accomplishments as much as he would prefer it if we did.

Tom Buchanan rightly talked about the pride that we should have in our sporting heroes in Northern Ireland, and other Members mentioned that during the debate. It is important that we do that, because that has been the catalyst for so much of the success that we have had. He also made a very important point about ensuring that we have the infrastructure necessary in Northern Ireland. He also floated a novel idea of a marathon through west Tyrone and Fermanagh and south Tyrone. Maybe he can continue to be a cheerleader for that.

I mentioned already that Carál Ní Chuilín made very clear that she is not the cyclist whom Conor Murphy was referring to, but she did mention the role of local government. It is important that we ensure that all levels of government are involved where possible. George Robinson extolled the virtues of his constituency and the fantastic tourist product that we have on the north coast. I also welcome the fact that he elaborated somewhat on the activity-based aspect. It is not just about the big international sporting events but about the other things that we have here on the activity side of things, which we should be proud of and where there is room for growth and investment.

Steve Aiken mentioned Jonathan Rea, whom, I am sure, the whole House will want to congratulate. He went off topic slightly, not that that has stopped him in the past, and talked about the cultural, literary and Ulster-Scots side of things. That is not what the motion is addressing, but it is absolutely right to mention it, because we have a product there that is worth selling, and we want to make sure that that is realised.

Alex Maskey nailed it when he referred to the SDLP reasons for putting forward the amendment. He also made a very important point on the importance of health and well-being for our people. Paul Frew highlighted our sporting heroes, in particular those from north Antrim. He told us something of his golf knowledge and perhaps some of his ambitions for the future.

Finally, I thank the Minister for his comments. It is good to hear that the tourism strategy is being developed and will include the issues that we have been discussing. He mentioned the activity-based side of tourism, which maybe we could have mentioned a little bit more during the debate. The targets that he set out are all very welcome.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

Can the Member bring his comments to a close?

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I thank the Members who took part in the debate. We have put forward our position, and I ask Members to support it. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Deputy Speaker

I have to say that I am very disappointed that tennis did not get mentioned in the entire debate. That will happen in the next one.

Question put, That the amendment be made. The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 38; Noes 56


Mr Agnew, Mr Aiken, Mr Allen, Mr Allister, Ms Armstrong, Mr Attwood, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Chambers, Mr Dickson, Mrs Dobson, Mr Durkan, Dr Farry, Mr Ford, Ms Hanna, Mr Kennedy, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGlone, Mr McGrath, Mr McKee, Mr McNulty, Mr McPhillips, Ms Mallon, Mr Mullan, Mr Nesbitt, Mrs Overend, Mrs Palmer, Mr Smith, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr McNulty, Mr Mullan


Mr Anderson, Ms Archibald, Mr Bell, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Ms Dillon, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Ms Gildernew, Mr Girvan, Mr Givan, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hazzard, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kearney, Mr Kelly, Mrs Little Pengelly, Ms Lockhart, Mr Logan, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyons, Mr McAleer, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCartney, Mr McCausland, Mr McElduff, Mr McGuigan, Mr McMullan, Mr McQuillan, Mr Maskey, Mr Middleton, Mr Milne, Lord Morrow, Mr Murphy, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr Ó Muilleoir, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr Robinson, Mr Ross, Ms Seeley, Mr Sheehan, Mr Stalford, Ms Sugden, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr McQuillan, Mr Robinson

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly welcomes the success that the Executive have had in attracting major sporting events in recent years and attracting visitors engaged in sports tourism; notes the high-value economic benefit that can arise from events-based and activity-based sports tourism; and calls on the Minister for the Economy, through his Department, agencies and the new tourism strategy, to promote and encourage growth in this sector.

Adjourned at 5.14 pm.