Dáil debates

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

9:00 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am glad to raise one of the real good news stories in respect of sport and economics to have taken place in the past 12 months and which I believe has not received sufficient recognition of its success. Many people perceive sailing to be a minority sport that may be exclusive to those who are lucky enough to be able to afford to buy a boat. The Volvo Ocean Race stopover or visit to Galway, which took place last summer over a two-week period from the end of May to the beginning of June, blew that entire concept out of the water. There was a net benefit to the economy of Galway and the western region in general of just under €60 million over those two weeks. A total of 600,000 visits were made to the race camp in Galway and to Salthill. Almost 90,000 people came from outside Galway and from abroad to visit the city of Galway and Galway Bay as a venue for sailing and for recreation. Moreover, we were blessed with fantastic weather at the time, as well as a large group of both volunteers and professionals, who made it all work well. The experiences during those two weeks of everyone to whom I have spoken have been highly positive.

We struck gold with the Galway stopover for the Volvo Ocean Race. This race has cumulative television and radio audiences of 1.3 billion and approximately 235 million, respectively, and has been recognised by Bord Fáilte and other bodies as the biggest sporting tourism event since the Ryder Cup in 2006. If one considers the recognition afforded to the success of the Ryder Cup in Ireland, one begins to realise the potential of such an event, which no one outside sporting or sailing circles had expected. Although 90% of those who visited during this period knew nothing whatsoever about sailing, this constitutes a great example of how a relatively small Government sponsorship of €8 million could produce a return of approximately €60 million, as well as being a huge promotional event for Galway and the west of Ireland.

The race starts again in 2011 and we must ensure that Galway as a destination again is factored into the organisers' thinking for the next race. As the decision will be made by mid-March this year, the Government must campaign actively to ensure this happens because there is a lot of competition for Galway this time around. However, Galway was recognised by the organisers as being the most successful stopover of the last race and we must ensure this happens again the next time around.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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I thank my colleague, Deputy Coveney, Fine Gael spokesperson on the marine, for his support for the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Galway. The Galway committee, headed by John Killeen, already has lodged its bid and its submissions to the Volvo Ocean Race organisers to have Galway selected as a stopover venue for the 2012 ocean race. The committee has received notice that it has a deadline of 29 January to have in place a pledge from the Government to the effect that the necessary grant of approximately €6 million would be forthcoming for 2011 or 2012 and such a pledge is necessary to have the committee's bid even considered. However, were such a pledge or letter of comfort to be supplied by the Minister, Galway, which is on a short list of three sites, would have a great chance of being selected as a stopover stage for the 2012 race.

This pledge of financial support from the Government would be repaid to the Exchequer one hundred fold if Galway and Ireland again secured the stopover. Nationally and internationally it is recognised that Galway was one of the outstanding stopovers and was a huge success last year both from the point of view of the Volvo Ocean Race and the benefit to Galway and surrounding areas, which is estimated to have generated up to 200,000 bed nights in May and June last year. Fáilte Ireland is strongly supporting the Galway bid and an independent report by Ernst & Young established that last year's event generated €60 million in expenditure by people outside a 40 km radius of Galway. The investment, if forthcoming from the Government, would be a gilt edge investment. Last year, the Galway committee headed by John Killeen, John Concannon, Fáilte Ireland and Enda O'Cuinnin had the vision, courage and tenacity to pursue this dream which culminated in the outstanding success of the Galway stopover and which surpassed the wildest dreams and expectations of everyone. I acknowledge the support of the Galway Harbour Board, Galway City Council, Galway County Council and the hundreds of volunteers who worked on this.

I appeal to the Minister and the Government for the necessary financial commitment which will enable Galway and Ireland to again secure a stopover for the race in 2012. The benefits to Ireland of the international publicity that this would attract is immeasurable.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputies for raising the issue. As both of them stated, the matter of applying to the organisers of the Volvo Ocean Race to host a stopover of the event is primarily the responsibility of the host port, which is comparable, for example, to the manner in which a golf venue bids with the PGA European Tour to host the Irish Open. The promoters who initiated the process that led to the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Galway during 2009 are again seeking Government support to bring the race back to Galway in 2012.

The 2009 stopover was strongly supported by the Government, with funding being provided through the international sports tourism initiative operated by Fáilte Ireland. A sum of €5 million was provided in 2008 and a further €3 million in 2009 as part of a special and dedicated Government funding commitment to secure the Irish stopover. The total funding of €8 million provided by Ireland comprised a port rights fee of €5 million, seed funding to activate the Irish team and secure branding on the boat of €2 million and €1 million towards the building of a number of infrastructure items such as pontoons, which have remained in place as a legacy of the event.

As both Deputies said, the 2009 stopover was generally considered to be a success. An economic impact study of the race stopover in Galway, carried out by Deloitte, found significant favourable impact to the State and to the west, in particular. The study found the overall impact of the race on Ireland was almost €56 million - almost double the expected impact. The higher than forecasted economic impact was due mainly to a greater number of overseas visitors than was originally foreseen. Within the overall expenditure, more than €24 million was earned in "invisible exports", that is, through spending by international visitors and participants. More than 200,000 accommodation bed nights were associated with the event, which attracted 40,500 overseas visitors to Galway.

In late 2009, Let's Do It Global, the Irish corporate promoters of the event, approached the Government seeking financial support for a bid for Galway to host a stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012. Since then the proposal has been considered by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and representatives of other relevant Departments and State agencies. Despite general support across Departments and agencies for the proposal, funding of the magnitude required from outside the existing budget lines is not available for the project in current financial circumstances. Should specific funding become available, the Department and Fáilte Ireland have indicated that they are broadly sympathetic to Ireland hosting the event again and they acknowledge the possibility of again leveraging significant economic and promotional benefits across different sectors and interests.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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The deadline will have passed and the route will have been chosen by then.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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The deadline is 29 January.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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The current overall Exchequer position is not favourable towards the provision of funding for such large-scale sports tourism events. There are pressures on the tourism services budget of the Department and that position is unlikely to change in the next few years. The current commercial funding environment is difficult and I fully understand why the Irish promoters wish to first secure a commitment to public funds to provide a more attractive and persuasive proposition to potential commercial sponsors.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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That is the whole point.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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The confirmation of one or several private sector sponsors at this stage would be essential to strengthen the promoters' case for State support. However, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism and his Department has continued to engage with the promoters with a view to considering and assessing the case for support and will revert to them in due course. I will bring the Deputies' concerns about the impending deadline to his attention tomorrow.

Photo of Pádraic McCormackPádraic McCormack (Galway West, Fine Gael)
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If they have not made a submission before 29 January, their case will not be heard.