Tourism

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Sydney Anderson Sydney Anderson DUP 3:00 pm, 24th January 2017

3. Mr Anderson asked the Minister for the Economy what action is being taken to promote the tourism potential of Northern Ireland's centenary in 2021. (AQO 976/16-21)

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

Northern Ireland's centenary in 2021 will be a momentous occasion. Marking the first 100 years of Northern Ireland will be a landmark event and something we will be proud to celebrate. In recent years, we have demonstrated our prowess in showcasing Northern Ireland on the world stage, with events such as the Giro d'Italia, the MTV Music Awards, the World Police and Fire Games and the G8 summit. We have become known around the world for our great ambassadors, whether they be sporting personalities, such as Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke, musicians like Van Morrison and Phil Coulter, or our football team and its fans, who did so much to promote Northern Ireland's reputation during the 2016 European Championships. The Year of Food and Drink 2016 was also a great success, highlighting how far our restaurants and, indeed, our chefs have come over recent years.

As we move closer to Northern Ireland's centenary, we do so against a backdrop of increasing tourism industry growth. That growth has seen record visitor levels to Northern Ireland over the last number of years. The most recent statistics indicate further growth in Northern Ireland's tourism industry. As well as local significance, the centenary will have an international significance for the many people living overseas who retain a strong connection with Northern Ireland. The centenary will provide a further opportunity to reflect on Northern Ireland's success.

My Department will play a key role in celebrating the centenary, and Tourism NI and Tourism Ireland will have their part to play in ensuring that the event is promoted to the fullest extent.

Photo of Sydney Anderson Sydney Anderson DUP

I thank the Minister for that response. Northern Ireland has a great industrial history. How can the success of its industry be promoted as part of the centenary celebrations?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I am not sure whether this is the Member's last contribution in the Chamber, but it is certainly one of his last. Of course, he announced last week that he will not be standing for election on 2 March. I beg your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, to put on record my appreciation for the service that Sydney has put in down through the years.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

I have known Sydney for a long time. My father worked with him for a time. I think that they were employed in the same place. I knew Sydney way back to the days when both of us were agitating in the Ulster Unionist Party

Photo of Gordon Dunne Gordon Dunne DUP

Shame on you.

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

— before we saw the light.

[Laughter.]

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy Deputy Speaker

I can well remember those days, too.

[Laughter.]

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

The Member is absolutely right that any celebration of Northern Ireland's 100th birthday should reflect on its great strengths and on what makes Northern Ireland a great place to live, work, visit and invest in. That is part of our industrial history as well. Sometimes we forget this, but we have a wonderful, rich and vibrant industrial heritage in this part of the world.

We should be immensely proud, if we are not already, particularly of the engineering prowess of people from this part of the world, and the entrepreneurial spirit that is very much evident in the Member's Upper Bann constituency.

We have to look to the future as well. I want to see us reflect on not only our past glories but the potential of the Northern Ireland economy and Northern Ireland industry. One thing that I will be instructing officials to take forward as part of our celebrations of 2021 borrows from a theme that was there in 1971 for our 50th anniversary — the Member might remember those celebrations — which was an expo in Belfast. There is a great opportunity to do something like that not just to celebrate our rich industrial heritage but to look to the potential of business, the economy and industry in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Harold McKee Harold McKee UUP

Will the Minister agree that the tourism potential of Northern Ireland's centenary in 2021 will be easier to realise if we have a proper cross-community Government that will work for the common good of all the people of Northern Ireland? Does he realise that that is not possible under a DUP/Sinn Féin Executive Office?

Photo of Simon Hamilton Simon Hamilton DUP

Well done to the Member on reading out his election material for the next month. I will not descend to the Member's level, although I take the point around having a Government. That is critically important.

Never mind 2021 and Northern Ireland's centenary, as important as that is. If Northern Ireland is to move forward, it needs a strong and stable Government here at Stormont. We find ourselves in difficult circumstances, but I know in my job, perhaps better than most Ministers, the importance of having an Administration here at Stormont to attract investment, and, as the Member highlights, to attract tourists to come here, who also want to see stability.

I hope that we can get through our present difficulties and form a Government not too far on the other side of the election of 2 March and that we continue to build on the progress. Substantial progress has been made over the past 10 years. Whether the Member and his party like it or not, huge progress has been made. Northern Ireland is an infinitely better place today than it was 10, 20 and 30 years ago. We need to continue to build on that progress and keep Northern Ireland moving in the right direction.