Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine: Joint Sub-Committee on Fisheries

Aquaculture and Tourism: Discussion (Resumed) with Fáilte Ireland

2:00 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the representatives from Fáilte Ireland, Mr. Aidan Pender, director, strategic development, Mr. Paddy Mathews, Ms Ethna Murphy and Ms Mary Stack. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are also directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

The Joint Sub-Committee on Fisheries was established to focus on the communities' socio-economic situations and on promoting sustainable industries. The main industries identified by the sub-committee are aquaculture, island and coastal fisheries, inshore fisheries with specific reference to sea angling and tourism. I call Mr. Pender to begin Fáilte Ireland's presentation.

Mr. Aidan Pender:

I thank the Chairman and members of the fisheries sub-committee for providing us with this opportunity to contribute this afternoon to their deliberations and I hope we can be of some assistance in this regard. I am joined today by my colleagues, Mr. Paddy Mathews to my left, Ms Ethna Murphy to his left and on the far left, Ms Mary Stack. All of us work in our destination development unit, and have responsibilities in sustainable tourism, outdoor and adventure tourism, and the marine as an area of interest in tourism development. With the Chairman's permission I would like to read a brief statement with a view to communicating some of the work programmes and areas of emphasis that the tourism board of Fáilte Ireland is involved in.

If I may, I will do so for a few moments to convey a sense of such activity, after which we are entirely open to take any questions or observations the sub-committee may wish to present to us.

As members may be aware, Fáilte Ireland is the National Tourism Development Authority of Ireland and was established in May 2003. Its principal areas of focus are to support the development of Irish tourism, promote the growth of the tourism industry, both in terms of numbers and revenues, and to sustain Ireland as a high-quality and competitive tourism destination. We also provide a range of practical business supports to help tourism businesses better manage and market their products and services. Most of our work is on the production - or supply - side of Irish tourism. Our sister agency, Tourism Ireland, works on the demand side and promotes Ireland internationally as a premium tourism destination.

We believe that tourism businesses in Ireland are now poised, after a number of challenging years, to move from a recent period marked by concerns of survival and cautious consolidation to one marked by recovery and growth. However, this recovery and growth will be hard won and will depend in particular on developing and maintaining a clear focus on the interests of the international visitor and on strengthening the appeal of Ireland in international markets. We also will need to support small Irish tourism enterprises in developing the capacity to sell directly into international markets. As an aside at this point, it might be noted that tourism in Ireland is sometimes described as having two parts. There is a daytime tourism, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and then an evening tourism, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Ireland has considerable strengths in the latter but there certainly is room for further development in the former, in respect of the things to see and do during the day. This could represent a particular and immediate area of engagement for the marine sector.

I will now say a few words on tourism and the marine sector to explain how, within Fáilte Ireland, we understand the potential contribution the sector could make. In respect of today's discussion, it might be noted that in recent years responsibility for marine tourism has moved between various Departments with some consequent uncertainty regarding an appropriate budget allocation for the sector. On 5 April 2011, the Government made an order to transfer the marine tourism function to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who subsequently was renamed the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. In July 2012, the Government published an integrated marine plan for Ireland entitled "Harnessing Our Ocean Wealth". This document contains the principal marine tourism policy at national level. Fáilte Ireland contributed significantly to this marine tourism policy and looks forward to working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in supporting the realisation of this policy. A considerable part of Fáilte Ireland's work programme routinely involves collaborative working with other Departments and agencies, as well as with the private sector.

Our own research on Irish tourism businesses and tourist travel patterns within Ireland indicates that 70% of visitors are concentrated in areas representing 30% of the country and members may not be surprised to hear that the majority of these areas are along the coastline. Therefore in its pursuit of tourism development, Fáilte Ireland inevitably is involved in the development of marine tourism through collaboration with other agencies that exercise the primary responsibility in this area. At a very basic level of analysis, Ireland has three principal tourism assets from which to work, that is, our natural heritage - of which our marine resource clearly is an important part, our built heritage and our cultural heritage. Visitors to Ireland want a unique and authentic Irish experience, in that they want to engage fully with what Ireland has to offer, understand it and enjoy it. Increasingly, our visitor feedback surveys are telling us that visitors want a fully immersive experience in order that they leave the country feeling they have fully accessed and enjoyed a unique experience that only Ireland can offer. Accordingly, the developmental focus is shifting from product development to experience development and the marine resource can contribute to this process.

One of the means of unlocking these visitor experiences is through the delivery of a high-quality authentic adventure tourism product and the marine sector is a key part of this. At present, marine tourism in Ireland contributes significantly to the tourism economy. Like tourism in general however, it has the potential to contribute even more. The manner in which visitors access and engage with the coastline and marine environment also is significant. For the majority of visitors, access to the coastline is from the land. Therefore, a range of both sea-to-land but perhaps more importantly, land-to sea, solutions and opportunities must be provided for our visitors. This can range across water-based activities such as surfing, sailing, kayaking, wildlife watching, etc., to coastal walks, attractions and services. It is estimated that in 2011, marine tourism represented 10% of total tourism revenue or approximately €547 million. This is when we aggregate across all water-based activities, islands, coastal walks, amenities, etc. Given the correct development strategy, it is reasonable to aspire to doubling marine tourism's share of total tourism revenue by 2020. This would mean the sector could ultimately have a 20% share, thereby generating approximately €1.4 billion in revenue out of a total tourism revenue of €7 billion. The implication here of course is that the marine sector could become a bigger player within the tourism product mix.

I now wish to speak in some detail on some specific marine-related initiatives to communicate some of the work programmes in which Fáilte Ireland is involved. Perhaps, if members wish, we could expand on them later. Fáilte Ireland has worked at a number of different levels to contribute to the continued development of marine tourism. This work has primarily involved the development of specific marine and coastal infrastructure, support services such as festivals and events, marketing and publicity, the development of local trade and community networks to deliver the experience, as well as business support services and training for local tourism businesses along our coastline. Since 2007, Fáilte Ireland has invested nearly €18 million in marine-related infrastructure projects. I will now offer comment on some specific areas of activity. First, in respect of angling and fishing, Ireland is well recognised as representing an outstanding angling destination in Europe due to the vast variety and quality of fishing available. The warm waters of the North Atlantic Drift provide the country with a relatively mild climate, delivering a good mix of cold and warm water fish species. Ireland is a destination that is particularly well known for its pike and salmon fishing. Sea angling in particular has gone from strength to strength in the past number of years. Within a six-year period, the number of anglers participating in this type of angling has increased from 12% of total anglers in 2005 to 45% of total anglers in 2011. It would appear that the level of interest in sea angling has come at the expense of coarse angling, which has declined in popularity from 47% participation in 2007 to 24% in 2011. While game angling has also decreased in popularity, its decline is not as notable as coarse angling. The European Union's axis 4 European Fisheries Fund is actively supported by Fáilte Ireland through the national implementation board and through the fisheries local action groups, FLAGS, which support the sustainable development of fisheries areas. Particular work elements in this regard include measures to promote economic diversification around tourism, food and renewable energy, as well as an improved quality of life in areas affected by a decline in fishing activities. We also have participated in the development of draft strategies that have been published or are currently being finalised by the six fisheries local action groups, each containing strong proposals to support marine tourism development.

Second, I refer to the Great Western Greenway. Over the past number of years but most recently under the current tourism capital investment programme, Fáilte Ireland has supported investment in tourism infrastructure around the country. This investment both supports existing tourism jobs and creates opportunities for new jobs on the back of the additional infrastructure development. The Great Western Greenway in County Mayo is an example of one such project. This involved the conversion of a disused railway line in County Mayo into a greenway for walking and cycling, thereby linking the coastal towns of Westport and Newport with Achill Island over a 40 km line. This greenway is one of the best examples of sustainable tourism growth in Ireland in recent times with a recent economic impact study suggesting that approximately 38 new full-time job equivalents have been created with a further 56 existing full-time equivalent jobs sustained as a result of the project. Therefore, the greenway appears to be playing a positive economic role in terms of employment not only by creating new jobs, but also, in a challenging economic environment, by protecting existing jobs that otherwise might be lost. In passing, I might note we recently received planning permission to develop an equivalent greenway project through Connemara from Clifden to Oughterard. In addition, we hope to examine the feasibility of connecting Louisburgh to Clifden as a third phase in that development.

2:05 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Someone may have a mobile telephone switched on, possibly near Mr. Pender's microphone.

Mr. Aidan Pender:

I had it in silent mode. Shall I switch it off altogether?

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Yes, it will interfere with the recording equipment.

Mr. Aidan Pender:

Excuse me, Chairman. Another area of involvement is what we call the "blueway". The success of the Great Western Greenway has in turn prompted the development of a parallel water-based or "blueway" experience, which would draw upon the marine potential of our natural heritage in a manner similar to the rail line. The concept behind the development of the blueway is to develop a scheme that encourages visitors, coming from the land, to engage with the sea in a pilot area along the west coast of counties Galway and Mayo that includes the coastline from Clifden, Inishbofin, Killary Harbour and on to Achill. The blueway will serve as a network of "free water trails" where the visitor can have a go at activities such as kayaking and snorkelling in a safe controlled environment. The consumer can decide to engage with this opportunity at a single site along the blueway or can have the experience of a continual guided water-based adventure along the west coast from south Galway to north-west Mayo. Other water sports, such as surfing and angling, are also supported through various festivals and events, media familiarisation trips and business supports at other destinations elsewhere on the coastline.

Surfing, for example, is now synonymous with Bundoran, Sligo and Clare, while sea angling is particularly popular in the south east and south west.

Our islands are an important source of traditional Irish culture and way of life, and so are particularly well placed to deliver unique and authentic Irish experiences to visitors. We believe that connecting visitors with traditional culture and values is a key part of the tourism experience Ireland can offer, and the islands have an important role in that regard. To illustrate what this entails in terms of tourism development, an Aran Islands interpretation plan has recently been drawn up with the support of Fáilte Ireland to develop an integrated approach to interpretation and orientation on the islands. Themes and stories have been identified to showcase a number of chosen themes and so bring the stories of the islands to life for visitors in an engaging and accessible manner. This will be supported through a number of hard infrastructure items, including the installation of signage and interpretative panels, as well as soft-infrastructure items such as published and digital media and self-guided interpretation. The Aran Islands have a unique story and this recent work should help ensure that the stories are told well and in a compelling fashion so as to engage international visitors.

We have also produced a dedicated islands brochure to promote and publicise the island experience that is available to the visitor in Ireland. First published in 2009 and updated in 2012, this is distributed through our tourism information office network, and overseas through our colleagues in Tourism Ireland who market Ireland internationally. More recently, we have developed a dedicated islands website as a stand-alone site within our leisure tourism site. It can be found at discoverireland.ie/islands.

In terms of coastal walking, the importance of providing land-to-sea opportunities for visitors has been noted, and probably one of the biggest opportunities for visitors to access and engage with the sea is through coastal walking. In the last number of years we have invested heavily in developing coastal walks such as Slieve League, Sheep's Head, and most recently in Clare, with the opening this coming Friday of the Clare coastal path from Doolin to Liscannor.

On cruise tourism, the number of cruise line ships coming to Ireland has grown over the last number of years. The sector is growing worldwide and international demand for the product remains strong. In 2010, Fáilte Ireland conducted a survey for industry partners in collaboration with Cruise Ireland. The survey gathered information on passenger numbers, satisfaction, and behaviour in the port destination. Industry stakeholders in Ireland were also surveyed to gather insights on potential, development needs and future trends. In-depth interviews were conducted with the big five international cruise line companies worldwide. The consensus is that Ireland is poised for growth and development, though the development of a strategic framework to help realise this potential, which would be helpful.

With regard to maritime activity networks, in 2009 Fáilte Ireland launched a pilot programme to support a number of adventure tourism networks across Ireland. The aim of the project was to work with local community groups that are active in areas such as walking, angling and adventure, as well as with tourism operators. The aim in this regard is to realise the full potential of the area and to raise the area's profile as an adventure and activity tourism centre. The areas chosen were identified as those that clearly offer facilities and services that cater for the needs of the activity visitor. Ten maritime activity networks were set up. These include Waterville, Cobh, and Kilmore Quay as angling networks; Achill, Westport, Clifden, Dingle, Bantry as outdoor adventure networks; and Donegal and the Burren as walking networks.

Fáilte Ireland also offers a programme of supports to help businesses to benefit from the tourism assets and infrastructure in their area. A marine and countryside guiding programme has been developed by Fáilte Ireland, which is currently being delivered at the Institute of Technology, Tralee, and at County Galway VEC in conjunction with Údarás na Gaeltachta. This programme is designed for people who provide or wish to provide a range of regional and local guiding services to visitors. The focus to date has been on the western seaboard in order to establish a network of qualified guides with emphasis on adventure tourism, knowledge of the marine resource, and interpretation of the natural heritage. Some 35 students graduated from this programme this month in time for the 2013 season. Further research is currently being conducted to explore how best to grow and develop a national network of marine and countryside guides. The findings of this research will be shared with our partners in the latter part of the year.

Each year Fáilte Ireland organises media familiarisation trips which introduce overseas journalists to Ireland as a tourism destination. Over the past number of years, approximately 100 such familiarisation trips have been organised per year, involving over 200 journalists, with a specific marine and coastal focus. Most recently a group of international media from diverse markets such as China, USA, Germany, Austria, France and Holland, participated in a familiarisation visit to Inishbofin, Inish Turk and Clare Island. These travel writers were participating in a wild Atlantic islands familiarisationtrip, organised by Fáilte Ireland, in conjunction with Tourism Ireland, to give them an understanding of the things to see and do along our western shore. This group of international print, radio, and online journalists have an overall reach of 2 million readers and listeners. In addition, some €2.5 million has been invested in recent years supporting important maritime festivals and events such as the Volvo Ocean Race, the Tall Ships event, the youth world sailing championships, and Cork Week.

If we are to realise the full potential of coastal tourism, we need to identify and develop ambitious projects of scale. The Wild Atlantic Way is a new and innovative project developed by Fáilte Ireland and designed to highlight Ireland's unique geographical position along the Atlantic Ocean, and to use this ocean theme as a vehicle to allow tourists understand how the sea shaped our coastal communities, our lifestyle and our traditions. The project has been in development since early 2012 and involves the creation of a themed and integrated driving route along the Atlantic coast of Ireland from Donegal to west Cork.

The route is designed to comprise a central spine with a series of loops and spurs off it which encourage tourists to explore all that the west coast has to offer. It will showcase the best scenery and attractions for visitors with improved on-road infrastructure such as improved viewing points or discovery points with better interpretation. The central objective of the project is to develop a driving route that is of sufficient scale and singularity to cut through and stand out internationally so that in time, the Wild Atlantic Way will achieve a recognition and prominence similar to a small group of other internationally known driving routes, such as the Great Ocean Road in Australia or the Garden Route in South Africa. The planned outcomes are greater international visitor numbers to the west of Ireland, longer dwell time in towns and villages along the coast, and increased visitor spend. The final 2,500 km route was recently decided following a comprehensive public consultation process. The route will include 159 strategically placed discovery points which are designed to allow tourists to stop and learn about the location, understand the points of geographic, historical, or cultural interest, and hopefully decide to stay a little longer in the area and explore what it has to offer.

The response to the project so far has been encouraging. Tour operators, local authorities, business people and local residents have all expressed an interest in becoming involved and in maximising the opportunity presented by this development. Last April, hundreds of overseas tour operators were given an advance preview of the route at Fáilte Ireland's annual trade fair for international buyers. Developing a route like this is an important part of ensuring Ireland is able to provide the leisure tourist with a memorable experience. Work continues on the development of this initiative, and in this regard Fáilte Ireland will continue to work closely with each of the local authorities along the west coast, as well as with the Leader companies, Údarás na Gaeltachta and the Western Development Commission. It is expected that significant further progress on the development of this project will be made by June 2014. We hope to make further announcements as we proceed.

I thank members for their time and patience this afternoon. We very much welcome this opportunity to share with the sub-committee some of our work in the tourism sector. We hope members will have found this brief presentation interesting, and that it has some resonance and relevance to the sub-committee's work programme. We will of course be very happy to answer any questions members might wish to ask.

2:15 pm

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the delegation and thank Mr. Pender for the comprehensive outline of the maritime resource tourism development work of Fáilte Ireland. I live by the coast and it is fair to say it is one of the best resources anywhere in Europe if it could be properly developed and exploited. Mr. Pender outlined in his presentation the work in which Fáilte Ireland is engaged in order to increase tourism numbers.

Mr. Pender referred to the Atlantic way. I happened to be in west Cork for two days over the weekend meeting with fishermen and fishing communities. I noticed the large volume of tourists in the fishing areas along the coast there. We find it very difficult in Donegal to attract visitors to Donegal. I spoke to people involved in businesses along the coast in Cork and in Donegal and they said the tourism season is getting shorter. There might be an explanation for that in certain coastal areas. I am teasing out the issue in order to find an explanation for the reason we are not able to get the same number of tourists into the north west as other parts of the country seem to enjoy. Is there a reason for that. Mr. Pender outlined the funding that has been made available.

Marine tourism revenues are now around 10% of the overall figure, at €550 million. Is there a geographical breakdown of that figure, along with an analysis of where tourists are going along the coast so we can decide if the strategy is working? There might be other factors, such as access into regions. This committee is involved in the revitalisation of coastal areas and island communities. Unfortunately many of those communities benefited traditionally from fishing activity which is no longer available. We have met representatives from island communities to find alternative ways to generate income locally for people living in those areas so they can remain in them.

Funding to develop projects was outlined in the presentation. Product development is key; there must be a good product to attract tourists, along with value for money. In the current economic climate, people have ideas but they find it hard to raise capital to develop them. Is the system working? Is Leader funding too complex to draw down? I know of numerous projects that have hit a brick wall when it comes to conditions.

Coastal tourism can be tied up with walking tourism, a huge growth area. Is there any way to develop that further? Is there cooperation between all stakeholders, from local authorities up, or is there a need for a one-stop-shop to develop sectors like walking tourism, where farmers buy into the idea? There is always a cost associated with the development of products. In Scotland, walking tourism has developed hugely but it was done on the back of investment in conjunction with farmers, right down to paying them to keep pathways and fencing in place. Should we consider that? If that was done, what would the dividends be in five or ten years if there was a strategy to develop these coastal walking routes? A lot work has been done but a lot more could be done.

Today's discussion will be important in feeding into the documentation we will prepare after the consultations.

2:25 pm

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North-West Limerick, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Mr. Pender for the presentation. The Government's published integrated marine plan for enhancing our ocean wealth fits into the greater plan and all coastal and rural TDs will support it.

The agency working with the private sector was mentioned. Is there any buy-in from the private sector? Has it been forthcoming? The need for it is enormous.

I come from Ardfert, just alongside Banna Strand in north Kerry, and I am always struck by the stark difference between the promotion of the Ring of Kerry, in the south of the county, compared to lack of promotion of any ring in north Kerry. There are fantastic areas from Banna Strand to Beale beach, north Kerry hill right up to the mouth of the Shannon. While there might be support for this, there does not seem to be any link-up between communities, the private sector and agencies to develop something that would complement the growth of Kerry rather than just south Kerry.

The Wild Atlantic Way is a great project, covering the entire west coast from Donegal to west Cork. I am open to correction but it is my view that way should be linked with the angling and island visiting. It might be happening in some areas but I am not aware of it. If we could have a joined-up approach, people will go on a walking tour along the west coast and will enjoy the facilities to take them offshore to the islands or for sea angling. That would be hugely beneficial.

The reopening of disused railway lines for tourism purposes has been contentious in many areas. The lines are owned by the public and there is usually a wrong approach to adjoining farm owners. There must be a way around because these offer great potential for cycling and walking.

It was interesting that there is a hope to double the value of the coastal marine asset. It is encouraging because it is very beautiful and if it is marketed properly internationally, there could be benefits for everyone in the sector. It was mentioned that coastal communities have been decimated by the collapse of the inshore fishing fleet. It is of huge importance this is developed to give an income that is badly needed to those in coastal communities, addressing the huge emigration from those areas.

Never in my life has it been more important to create some way to get people to spend money, particularly in the west and south of Ireland. Is there any link with the coast of the Six Counties and then on to the east coast? There are some beautiful areas, such as County Down, County Antrim, the Giant's Causeway, right around to the west coast. What is the connection with the corresponding organisation in the Six Counties?

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome Mr. Pender and his colleagues to the committee. It is one of the more exciting things I get to do because it is one of the few areas where we can possibly contribute to the regeneration of rural areas. So much of what we do in both Houses of the Oireachtas is predicated on decisions made in Brussels and Strasbourg and this is one of the few areas where there is scope for Ireland to move forward autonomously.

The Doolin to Liscannor walkway was mentioned and I look forward to seeing the group in Liscannor on Friday morning. Doolin is on the edge of Galway Bay. Would a fish farm in the middle of the bay be a big tourist attraction? Would many people come to see one of the biggest fish farms in Europe in the middle of Galway Bay?

We heard about the importance of fisheries as a tourism resource. There is an intrinsic link between our inland and coastal fisheries in that our salmonids - trout and salmon - move between them. The ESB is probably the largest owner of fisheries in the State. Does Tourism Ireland work with the ESB or has it developed links with the company? Is work being done on the effects on coastal fisheries of ESB operations in the Shannon system?

The issue of lighthouses was raised. As our guests are probably aware, Doonbeg Lighthouse is being developed primarily by Clare County Council. This highly successful initiative is regenerating the Loop Head Peninsula, which recently won an award, sponsored by The Irish Times, as the most attractive place to holiday in Ireland. While it is wonderful that the council has done this work, there are many other lighthouses around the county. Does Fáilte Ireland have a specific strategy on lighthouses? I had the opportunity to visit a lighthouse on Inisheer over the weekend. Located on the south west corner of the island, it is a fantastic building, with its own jetty and surrounded by high walls which the organisers of festivals such as the Electric Picnic would be delighted to have. Are plans in place to develop this lighthouse, which, with the exception of the Plassey wreck, is probably the most prominent landmark on Inisheer? I heard anecdotally that fewer people are staying on the island as a result of the economic downturn, although people continue to visit on day trips. There is considerable scope to develop lighthouses, specifically Inisheer lighthouse. I ask our guests to forgive me for referring to the island but there is an umbilical connection between the Aran Islands and the coast of County Clare. I expect the islands and the Clare coast are marketed as a package given that they are interconnected.

I concur with Senator Ó Domhnaill on the importance of walking tours. Does the Government or Fáilte Ireland have a central strategy for developing walkways? Can those who are seeking to develop or promote walkways obtain advice or, more important, funding from a specific body? I refer to financial assistance to produce signage and maps or engage in promotional work? Is there a central promotion point which shows potential international visitors the walkways we have to offer?

On a similar issue, Deputy Ferris referred to disused railway lines, of which there are many, and the considerable scope available to develop them for walking and cycling routes. Buildings have been erected on a number of these lines, including in my constituency and that of Deputy Ferris. Various local authorities have commissioned reports over the years to identify what can be done in this regard. Is there a central point of contact for local authorities and others for obtaining advice on this matter, especially legal advice on public rights of way over disused railway lines or what action can be taken where an old railway line is blocked or those in possession of the lands are objecting to public access?

2:35 pm

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome Mr. Pender and his colleagues and thank them for the presentation. I will first refer to a few issues in a strategic manner, rather than discussing specific projects. We need to explore the potential of tourism and how best to arrive at an integrated approach to developing it. It would be worthwhile commissioning an independent study on developing rural recreation and marine leisure, two areas where there is not a heap of difference. If, for example, one is descending a cliff, is one engaged in marine leisure or rural recreation? If one falls into the sea, one is definitely engaged in a marine leisure activity. From the perspective of Fáilte Ireland, is angling on Lough Corrib much different in tourism terms from sea angling? Similarly, does it make a difference to Fáilte Ireland if one is engaged in an activity on an island as opposed to in the sea off the island? In my view, rural recreation and marine leisure are two sides of the same coin.

It would be interesting to list all the possible activities and then try to calculate how many additional jobs we could create sustainably if we were to take a strategic decision to realise 80% of this potential. For example, I believe the number of rural walkers increased by approximately 800,000 in the period from 2000 to 2009 and I presume the figure has increased further in the meantime. I believe the target at the time was to have 1 million visitors who considered walking an important part of their holiday. It could be clearly demonstrated that tourism, which is spread throughout the country, has the potential to create as many new jobs as foreign direct investment.

We also need a framework plan on how to realise the potential of tourism. This should include an investment plan identifying the private and public sources of potential investment in the sector. We must be careful to allow initiative and enable people to work within a framework because so much of tourism is based on personality, rather than being in the best place. While some areas may not be optimal in terms of geographical location, provided the right person does the job properly, he or she may make a success of it. On the other hand, persons operating in perfect conditions may not succeed. For this reason we need a co-ordinated framework that will provide integrated products and encourage people to develop.

I remember making a list of outdoor activities to which Ireland lends itself. If we were to compile such a list, we would fill up more sheets of paper than the presentation before us. To focus first on the sea, we have especially clear waters where one can engage in snorkelling, diving, swimming and surfing. With wet suits, some of these activities are no longer as unattractive as they used to be; surfing, for example, is a major growth industry. In my role in a previous Government, I used to attend the boat show every year to meet my counterpart from Northern Ireland as part of our responsibility for Waterways Ireland. While I am not interested in yachts, my jaw used to drop at the show which featured everything from small dinghies, kayaks and canoes to the largest ocean-going yacht. I and my Northern colleague used to have our photograph taken in front of the latter in order that we could tell our respective Ministers that we wanted to buy it. We were codding and joking.

In Galway, we have Lough Atalia, from which one must sail under a bridge at Claregalway to access the open sea, Galway Bay and the open Atlantic. We have waters that suit every type of vessel, from ocean-going yachts to smaller vessels that one would not take far from shore. We also have cliff climbing, wake boarding, sea angling and so forth. One could list the various sea activities all afternoon, before starting on activities which take place both at sea and on land. One then has land-based activities such as archaeology. I do not believe we have a comprehensive plan to develop such activities. For a long time, I tried to have marine leisure and rural recreation dealt with by one body.

Because of a historical difficulty, this only happened shortly after I changed ministry and became Minister for Social Protection. A great deal of time was spent trying to resolve a particular issue, which I do not propose to go into, with the Department of Finance. The proposal was that while this issue straddles many Departments one Department should lead on rural recreation and marine leisure and that we should have a comhairle na mara and comhairle na tuaithe, the remit of both being responsibility for rural recreation and marine leisure. I believe this would result in the creation of 6,000 sustainable jobs.

Issues have been raised about disused and abandoned railway lines, which we should avoid going into detail on. My attitude is that if there is problem in one area one should move on to the next. One will always find someone to do the job. The reason the work was carried out first on the Mayo rather than Galway line was because Mayo County Council responded quicker. I regularly referred in the past to the railway line to Cahirciveen, which is spectacular, and to the railway lines to Barnsmore Pass, Achill, west Clare, including the Rathkeale line on which work was done-----

2:45 pm

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

It is disused now.

Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

-----and the Clifden railway line. The only reason work on the Mayo line was commenced first was because Mayo County Council grabbed the bait and ran with it. If a community does not want something one should move on to the next community that does want it. I am interested in hearing Mr. Pender's response on the structure issue. I do not always favour changes to structure but in this case there is logic in having rural recreation and marine leisure dealt with by one body. I do not care which Department takes responsibility for it. We should also have a comhairle na tuaithe and a comhairle na mara, both of which would develop the sector and bring all players around the table. When we previously did this in respect of rural recreation we achieved significant results in terms of access to walkways, mountains and so on. If the policy we had been pursuing had been continued some 80% of our mountains would now be mapped and opened up to people.

I am interested in hearing the delegates view on whether we should take a structural approach to this; if this should be recognised as a major growth industry and if we should have in place a comprehensive plan similar to that proposed in regard to marine development along the coast? I understand that in terms of marine leisure a necklace of areas is required as people want to keep moving on. In this regard, there is a need for a planned approach countrywide. I understand that had a planned approach been taken to this it could have been funded by the market, leaving State funding to areas further up the west coast and so on.

We all have a duty to our constituents. A particular aspect of tourism, in respect of which we already have open and closed facilities and which I understand can be quite lucrative, is flying club tourism. I understand there are a number of flying clubs on our neighbouring island which require somewhere to fly into. I recall being told by my local parish priest, who had bought a plane which he piloted between the islands, that the market for flying clubs on the west coast of Ireland, in terms of overnight stays, etc. was huge. If one supplied those involved with enough booze they could be kept there forever. This is not an activity that comes easily to mind. We have two completed and marked airstrips in Cleggan and Inishbofin which are far superior to those on the Aran Islands, which are owned by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and are not opened even for private flights despite that no air terminals, fire engines and so on are required. This to me appears to be a waste of resources. This is just another of the hidden gems we have from archaeology to trails, railways lines, mills, lighthouses and so on that are a huge fascination to tourists and make up for the lack of sunshine here. I am interested in hearing if the delegates believe this to be another potential source of tourism.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Four areas, in terms of increasing the potential of rural coastal communities and islands to develop sustainable economies, have been identified. Mr. Pender referred extensively in his submission to sea angling. Deputy McNamara asked about the impact of aquaculture on tourism. We are trying to develop a template that would assist development of coastal and island communities and to identify the proper mix in this regard, including if there are initiatives outside of tourism that could be taken but would compromise tourism.

Deputy Ó Cuív referred to structural alterations. Could a better structural system be put in place to deal specifically with these communities? There are a huge range of initiatives out there. The 159 destinations on the Wild Atlantic Way should in theory touch on many of the communities which we are trying to develop. That is by way of background from someone from the uplands of the east. The walkways referenced are along the coast. As everybody else has been parochial, the cliff walk from Bray to Greystones is very good, although it probably already has sufficient users and the communities concerned are not in the same situation. That is my observations on the contributions today from Mr. Pender and members.

I invite Mr. Pender and his colleagues to respond at this point to the questions raised.

Mr. Aidan Pender:

I will first respond to some of the general points made, which will allow me to provide some context on our thinking process. If members wish to come in again later and to contribute to or influence that thinking process, we would welcome their thoughts.

A number of specific points and questions have been made. My colleagues may be better positioned to respond to some of the specific questions. I will respond first to the general issues of principle and will then invite my colleagues to respond to the questions relevant to them. If we have overlooked any point made, the Chairman can let us know and we will come back to it.

In terms of local communities, including coastal communities, one of the things we have been particularly concerned to do in the past number of years is give consideration to who captures the economic gains of tourism. Our tourism industry currently generates approximately €5.6 billion. Concern is often expressed about tourism being more concentrated in one place than another. The spatial distribution issue in terms of how the economic gains of the tourism industry are spatially distributed is also often raised. Tourism is an industry of every parish. It is unique in that it is not like a financial services centre which exists in only one place.

It is distributed around the country and, therefore, the potential for capturing gains rests in those parishes and, most particularly, in the high density tourism destinations and areas to which members referred. We want to find a counterpart to the fast food movement, out of which arose the idea of slow food as an alternative way of preparing and consuming food. We are trying to promote the idea of slow tourism. To the extent that tourists visit this country, if they all remain in one city or location or simply drive through other parts of the country without stopping and spending money, the economic gains from tourism are under-represented around the country. We are trying to present a form of tourism which involves slowing down to walk or cycle around an area to explore and find out about it. That drives much of our thinking and it also fits in with the idea of tourism experiences. We know that visitors to Ireland do not come for the sun or the skiing. They are looking for an authentic experience.

On whether our strategies are joined up in terms of people in the private sector talking to State agencies or communities, the tourism prize will only be captured if all those involved in local areas are joined up. Apart from being an industry that is represented in every parish, the average tourism business employs nine people. These businesses are not even SMEs; they are micro-enterprises typically rooted in their communities. The tourism sector as a whole employs 185,000 people but if one takes away some of the bigger players, such as our 900 hotels, the typical tourism business employs eight or nine people with an owner-manager who is often very busy with day-to-day tasks, let alone finding the time to think about tomorrow or next month. The future of tourism depends on us joining together to package what each of us does, such as packaging a fishing lodge with the bed and breakfast, the small local bar or restaurant, a tour guide and the mini-bus driver within a five-mile radius. The experience those businesses could offer to the visitor is much richer than simply staying in an individual bed and breakfast.

My colleagues have done significant work in promoting this approach in recent years. We see it as the only way forward because, if we can get it right, we will offer the visitor unique access into a range of Irish people, businesses and communities, while giving them the Irish experience they want. It is easy to think of tourism solely in terms of hotels, restaurants and the hospitality dimension. These activities are enormously important and we are good at them in Ireland but there is a cart and horse concept in that very few people come to Ireland to sleep in a bed. Irrespective of what vocabulary we use and whether our vocabulary is of experiences or of someone who just wants to go hill walking or diving, people come to Ireland to see sights and get involved in activities. The primary driver in attracting people to Ireland is what they can do, see, get involved in and experience. If we get that right, we will backfill on hotels, beds, bars and restaurants because people have to sleep, eat and drink somewhere. We need to sharpen up on the experience which joined-up communities and small businesses can offer, with guidance and support where possible from Leader.

Reference was made to the ESB. As we noted in our paper, much of the work we do is with and through other agencies. As the tourism board, we do not have any particular authority or licence to put a sign in the ground or punch holes in walls. We work particularly closely with local authorities, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Office of Public Works and Bord na Móna, as well as landowners such as the ESB. The land owned by public utilities is often where visitors will go to encounter experiences. We are sensitive to the importance of remaining close to landowners as a gateway into giving tourists the experiences we want them to have. Obviously at certain periods we will be closer to some agencies than others, such as when we are implementing particular projects, but we are mindful of that and it would be a barrier to us if we were not observant of our relationships.

Deputy Ferris asked about the six Northern counties and our connection with them. The majority of members will be aware of the structures created around us as the National Tourism Development Authority for the Twenty-six Counties. We have a sister agency, Tourism Ireland, which operates under the North-South Ministerial Council governance structures with the remit of promoting and selling the island of Ireland internationally. This work involves extensive collaboration between the various players in the tourism industry. As an agency, we work closely with Tourism Ireland because while that agency is tasked with promoting Ireland internationally, it is our job to ensure its promises are delivered when the visitor arrives. At a more basic level, such as along the Wild Atlantic Way, we are in conversation with our counterparts in the North of Ireland regarding the Antrim coast and the Giant's Causeway to develop an onward connection to Northern Ireland. Mr. Paddy Mathews may have more to say about that.

Our thinking is also guided by other issues of principle but our focus is on slow tourism, spatial distribution and ensuring the economic gain from the €5 billion of tourism spending is distributed to cash registers around the country. One way of doing that is by promoting big ideas when we can. The Wild Atlantic Way is an example of our recognition of another point of principle. We are trying to attract international visitors because they bring new money to expand the Irish economy. However, international visitors do not know Ireland as well as we do. While we are sensitive to distinctions between Donegal, Cork and Clare, the international message is the west of Ireland and the Wild Atlantic Way. That is the big idea and if we can get people to switch on to it, we will get them. They may not come back next year but they may come back in subsequent years to tour other parts of Ireland. With fast motorway access out of Dublin, people can hire a car in Dublin and reach the driving route of the Wild Atlantic Way in two or three hours. We like to believe it will be an instrument through which people in Donegal, west Cork, Galway and Clare can be well-positioned and supported in telling the stories of their local communities and businesses and to bundle these stories together in a way that gives visitors a reason to stay four or five nights.

2:55 pm

Mr. Paddy Mathews:

I have only a couple of points to make. In regard to the Wild Atlantic Way, we have secured an agreement with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to establish a formal link with the causeway coastal route. Reciprocal signage will be put in place so that, for example, drivers coming to the end of the wild Atlantic way will be encouraged to continue to the causeway coastal route, and vice versa. Tourism Ireland is very happy with this initiative because it offers something to promote on a greater scale in overseas markets.

The key objective of the way is to provide something of scale and singularity in order to raise visibility in overseas markets and highlight areas of the west coast that traditionally have not attracted large numbers of tourists, such as north Kerry, north Mayo and Donegal, by packaging them in a single overarching brand. However, it is important that the marketing done by us domestically and Tourism Ireland internationally also accentuates the distinctive characteristics of areas along the way and to avoid the impression that it is homogeneous. There are key differentiating factors and character areas along the route.

Hopefully, these will have the same effect as the Camino de Santiago walkway in northern Spain. People return to Spain repeatedly in order to complete different stretches of the Camino route, which is 2,442 km in length. We are taking a liberty in referring to a figure of 2,500 km but this shows how indented and large our coastline is. It is highly unlikely that visitors would walk along the entire coastline during one holiday. As a result, this gives us the opportunity to encourage people to return here for two or three subsequent holidays. In European terms, Ireland is probably not great with regard to repeat visits. People might come here once and be of the view that they have seen everything. However, the Wild Atlantic Way is a device that would provide us with an opportunity to encourage people to return here and complete different sections of it.

Reference was made to the fish farm in Galway Bay. This is a matter about which we have expressed some concern. As a prescribed body, we engaged with the planning process last December and made a formal submission. We are not scientists and, as such, we are not in a position to examine the environmental impact statement, EIS, in a forensic way. We are concerned that the two agencies involved, namely, Inland Fisheries Ireland and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, do not see eye to eye on this issue. We are concerned with regard to safeguarding the fish populations which migrate from the rivers that flow into Galway Bay out into the sea and then return to those rivers to spawn. We have highlighted the lack of clarity which current exists in respect of the science relating to this matter and the impact involved. There appears to be disagreement between the two agencies to which I refer on that. We can only accurately project the likely impacts on tourism when there is clarity in the context of the science involved. In the meantime we must adopt the cautionary principle which would dictate that until such clarity is forthcoming, we must be even more concerned about the impact on tourism which could possibly arise as a result of the development in question. That is the basis of the formal statement we made last December.

3:05 pm

Ms Ethna Murphy:

I will pick up on a number of the points raised by members before making a number of points myself in respect of walking and angling. I may also comment on the potential which lighthouses offer and on the lighthouse stock to which Deputy McNamara referred. I will highlight some examples of extensive buy-in on the part of the private sector. I can inform Deputy Martin Ferris that when good-quality infrastructure is built by the State and its agencies, on many occasions those in the private sector - particularly, small businesses - are very forthcoming in using and sweating that asset very well.

It was stated that walking has become more popular and that there has been a great increase in the number of visitors who come to this country on walking holidays. There were 740,000 such holidaymakers last year. It is interesting to note that the figure for those who come here on walking holidays has grown year on year. This growth has been supported by the investment plan initiated in 2007 or 2008. If ever there was an example of how investment has delivered a return, then this is it. The trick now is to examine the position with regard to this investment, to consider the situation with regard to the existing infrastructure and to identify, in a very strategic manner, the areas where we would like to deploy assets or energy during the coming years. We must also examine the possibility of developing more plans and increase our efforts in respect of interpreting existing walks. We must recount the history of the culture and the communities which are responsible for those walks.

A good example of something that is emerging is in Donegal where we are working with the community to develop, perhaps, a leg of the International Appalachian Trail. We are doing this because the geology fits and because we were approached by the International Appalachian Association in the US in the context of developing a leg of the trail from Donegal to Northern Ireland. This is a matter on which we are working with a number of partners. In the context of tourism, having that type of brand recognition in a big market such as the US would hopefully result in more visitors from that market coming to the north west. It is important to state that none of this would have come about if there had not been a strong partnership approach. Comhairle na Tuaithe was instrumental in facilitating access to the relevant land. A number of schemes that were part and parcel of this approach were also extremely important. We are currently working with the national trails office and we will be conducting a review of the trails throughout the country. From our point of view, we would like to prioritise the areas on which we should spend more money and in respect of which we should expend more energy in developing interpretation and animation of trails. Good work has been done in respect of infrastructure but there is a need to bring it to the next level.

Mr. Pender alluded to the increase in the number of visitors coming to Ireland for angling, particularly sea angling. We would probably need to carry out further research on the overall picture but in the context of sea angling, there is huge interest within our European markets. Our largest market for angling is the UK. We are finding evidence of increasing numbers of UK anglers coming to Ireland to participate in shore angling, particularly in respect of bass. The latter is the only species which is managed for recreational angling purposes. The fact that there has been a ban in place here in respect of the commercial fishing of bass for some time has led to massive recognition of and kudos for our efforts within the UK angling community in particular. We are building a reputation for offering the best quality bass angling experience in Europe. This is certainly a matter which we, in conjunction with the various agencies and partners, would be keen to explore further.

Deputy McNamara's comment on lighthouses is correct. This is a resource on which we would be extremely interested in working. We have had a number of meetings with the Commissioners of Irish Lights and collectively we are putting together a plan which will hopefully result in the development of a lighthouse trail along our coastline. More importantly, however, we must consider how this asset will fit with existing developments such as the Wild Atlantic Way and add major value to people's holiday experience. Evidence of such added value can be seen in the south east in the context of Hook Head lighthouse, etc. We are actively engaged in developing this project at present.

In the context of partnerships and input from the private sector, Mr. Pender referred to the greenway. There are, however, other examples of where we have invested in infrastructure and of where the private sector has come on board. The economic impact study carried out approximately one year after the greenway was completed highlighted the number of new businesses which had developed additional services on the back of the investment in this regard. We are hopeful that the "blueway" infrastructure will realise a great deal of marine activities such as kayaking, angling, snorkelling, diving, etc.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

We are under pressure to conclude the meeting by 3.30 p.m., so I ask Ms Stack to be brief.

Ms Mary Stack:

In such circumstances, perhaps I will focus on one point. I refer to the issue of sailing and the necklace of marinas to which Deputy Ó Cuív referred. We have just completed a review of marine and berthing facilities throughout Ireland. This review was undertaken on our behalf by some marine consultants and it is just about to be published. The purpose of the review is to try to unlock some of the debate that is taking place in respect of marine tourism.

At the time we felt the issue of marinas had skewed the entire debate and we wanted to crack this nut. We undertook research with a view to seeing what exactly is on the ground and, most importantly, what the visitor seeks. We wanted to establish from where the demand and presumed demand is coming. We were aware of the proposal for the necklace of marinas.

The survey indicated approximately 5,200 berthing facilities exist around the country in approximately 50 marinas. This does not cover swing moorings. Approximately 15% of these berthing facilities are available for visitors. After identifying what was available, we tried to identify from where the perceived demand was coming, which has never been identified by policymakers. The report found that perhaps the idea of a necklace of marinas is a little premature until demand has been identified. One must come from the presumption that the consumer requires it and that there is a demand for it before such expensive infrastructure is developed. In the past, people probably had the idea that a marina must be big, but the report found that a marina does not have to have 250 berths. There are a number of different ways to develop this type of infrastructure, such as pontoons and swing moorings, depending on what the consumer is looking for, which should be what leads it.

International best practice was examined and the report concluded that perhaps we need to expand our view of who the sailing visitor is and could be. The view that it is somebody who sails a boat to Ireland and moors here will never unlock significant potential for Ireland. Following a model successfully used in Scotland, the report identified three types of visitors, namely, those who berth here on an annual basis and fly in from overseas, those who charter a boat on arrival in Ireland - an area which the report considers to have significant potential but which has not yet been identified, and those who sail to Ireland and cruise in certain areas - an area where the least amount of potential lies for Ireland. An examination of these three types of consumers must consider not only project and infrastructure investment but also clustering. Clustering is where businesses in the areas surrounding marinas and berthing facilities come together to offer the experience we referred to earlier. People want things to see and do when they get off their boats. They must feel part of a destination. Work must also be done on developing infrastructure, as I mentioned, and on marketing. An integrated marketing solution is required which targets a much wider audience than sailors and sells Ireland as an experience and somewhere one can sail to or around. Without these there will be little impact. The key issue is to unlock where demand comes from and what the target markets are, which is something that has not been done. We are conducting research on a number of activities, including sailing, and we hope to have results which will lead the debate.

3:15 pm

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Will committee members be able to speak to the witnesses after the meeting?

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source


Photo of Éamon Ó CuívÉamon Ó Cuív (Galway West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

When I dealt with the sector, an issue which came to the fore was that places such as Hook Lighthouse and Dunbrody are not economical on their own and they were funded through the community services programme. If more lighthouses and other loss leaders are to be opened up, more social economy will be required whereby unemployed people will be brought in and paid a little extra. These places will provide basic focal points for people to visit. How important is this in developing the product?

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Ms Murphy stated buy-in is required. I must conclude this meeting as another was due to begin at 3.15 p.m. I thank Mr. Pender and his colleagues. It is quite apparent they have a comprehensive grasp of the areas on which we are concentrating. The meeting has been very helpful for us. Sea angling overlaps the commercial and tourism sectors and these were covered in great detail for us today. We want to come up with a template which allows coastal and rural communities develop and which allows us to focus on them. The committee should recommend to the Government the establishment of such a template. The committee members have been very engaged with the witnesses and I thank them for attending. We will furnish the witnesses with our report when it is published.

The sub-committee adjourned at 3.35 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 25 June 2013.