Wednesday, 14 June 2006
Question 48: To ask the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will provide details of the plan that was launched to promote tourism on the islands; his views on whether the amount pledged by his Department is sufficient for a sustained tourism drive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22747/06]
In 2005, officials of my Department met with Ireland West Tourism with a view to examining ways of promoting the tourism industry of the islands. An inter-agency working group was subsequently established comprising representatives from Ireland West Tourism; Gaelsaoire, the Údarás na Gaeltachta subsidiary which promotes tourism in Gaeltacht areas; Fáilte Ireland; and Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, the Irish Islands Federation, with the aim of drawing up a comprehensive plan to market all our islands as a niche product.
Earlier this year, following on from the work of this group, Ireland West Tourism sought and was approved funding of €171,500 over three years from my Department to match a similar amount which had been committed by Fáilte Ireland for the implementation of a tourism plan for the islands. The main aim of the plan is to market the islands effectively to increase the number of tourists visiting them. Its main features are branding of the islands as a niche product; creation of an attractive, comprehensive website; a high quality publicity campaign; and lengthening of the tourism season by targeting specific groups.
This strategy is in line with one of the main aims of my Department regarding the islands, that is, the maintenance of viable island communities through the provision of viable economic opportunities for them. This funding will form the basis for a sustained tourism marketing drive for the islands over the period concerned and will deliver tangible, worthwhile benefits.
I very much support this concept. Is it intended as part of this investment plan that efforts will be made to extend this type of niche tourism to some of the other islands as well as developing it where there already is substantial activity?
One must view this as a two-pronged process, involving both the promotion and development of the tourism product. This investment plan is concerned with the marketing component because the product already exists and is quite pervasive. At the annual general meeting of Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, a seminar took place at which representatives of the different islands, including Hare Island, Rathlin Island, Inis Mór, Inishbofin, Aranmore in Scotland and many more, spoke about island tourism. The plan involves promoting all the existing tourism products available on the islands, including islands as small as Hare Island in Cork, as a single product.
Running parallel to this will be the development of the product and there are several ways of doing this. One element of this is the CLÁR programme, under which all the islands are covered. Údarás na Gaeltachta has invested heavily in developing the tourism product for the Gaeltacht islands. In addition, we have a new scheme of incentives for the development of businesses, including tourism products, that are launched on the non-Gaeltacht islands. This means money is now available through the county enterprise boards to develop the tourism product on those islands.
My intention is that this process will be implemented on an annual basis and that we continue to market and develop the product simultaneously. As the product is developed, it must be marketed. Marketing without product is of no use and vice versa — we must develop both together.
I am grateful for the opportunity to ask a brief supplementary question. In the case of Achill Island, for example, it is difficult for local communities to develop any proper tourism product. Notwithstanding his particular interest in the west, I am not sure whether the Minister is aware of the difficulties in this regard. Some wonderful projects have been lost to Achill Island because of the difficulty encountered by local communities because they cannot, for example, compete with private sector interests to purchase land.
In most other EU states, local authorities have a far greater input into these types of projects. Under EU rules, a certain portion of funding must be secured from the local community but many communities simply cannot bear that load. In some cases, however, the local authority has come in and resolved the difficulty. Will the Minister examine how local authorities might be encouraged to assist local communities in developing worthwhile tourism projects? Otherwise they will not happen.
Deputy Cowley is correct in that the problem to which he refers relates to State aids in that the State can provide only a specific percentage of funding. However, because local authority money is exempt from this threshold, it is possible to get around the problem. I encourage local authorities to make this type of investment because it is they who will reap the benefits in the future in terms of rates collected and so on.
An issue that is currently of major interest to me, and in which we are investing considerable time, effort and money, is the development of the new rural development programme for 2007-13. This will involve a review of the de minimus provision regarding the level of grant aid that can be provided under the Leader programme. Achill does come under the island marketing scheme. Areas such as this are also covered under the rural social scheme in combination, for example, with the capital money I have put aside. I am particularly focused on the development of walkways and ancillary facilities through the Leader companies. We will see the results of many months of work coming to fruition in the near future.