Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Wild Atlantic Way Project
5. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the rationale for omitting Waterford’s Atlantic coastline from the Wild Atlantic Way initiative; the reason Waterford did not meet the route selection criteria; the number of the 366 feedback submissions that were opposed to Waterford’s inclusion; if he will consider recommending an amendment to the Wild Atlantic Way to incorporate Waterford’s coastline; his views on whether the new initiative Ireland's Ancient East completely disregards Waterford’s coastline, which for many years has been a key tourist attraction in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16853/15]
Could the Minister of State please explain the rationale behind omitting Waterford's Atlantic coastline from the Wild Atlantic Way initiative and why Waterford did not meet the route selection criteria? How many of the 366 feedback submissions opposed Waterford's inclusion? Will the Minister of State consider amending the route of the Wild Atlantic Way to incorporate Waterford's coastline?
I thank the Deputy for raising this. The role of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding tourism lies primarily in the area of national policy. The development of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East are operational matters for the board and management of Fáilte Ireland. The Department is not directly involved in their development.
The Wild Atlantic Way arose out of the need to address the dramatic decline in international visitors to the west over the last decade. Its main objective is to motivate overseas visitors to visit the west coast and give them reasons to linger longer. It was never intended to be defined by Ireland's entire Atlantic coast but to broadly follow the coastline of the western seaboard counties that share a common unifying tourism proposition. There was an extensive evaluation of various route options, and a comprehensive process of stakeholder, community and public consultation.
A similar tourism proposition for the south and east has since been developed. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and I recently launched Ireland's Ancient East, which is built on the abundance of cultural and heritage assets in the south, east and midlands. I am confident the initiative will impact positively on Waterford, including the Waterford coast, which has such highlights as the historic round tower at Ardmore, the Ring Gaeltacht and its rich heritage, and the unique mining story of the Copper Coast Geopark. I certainly believe Waterford, including its coastline, has far greater potential to develop overseas tourism as part of Ireland's Ancient East than by artificially extending the Wild Atlantic Way. I hope that the communities become fully involved and make the most of the initiative as have communities up and down the Wild Atlantic Way.
With regard to the Deputy's specific questions about the route selection process, I have asked Fáilte Ireland to reply to the Deputy directly. He should contact my private office if he does not hear from them within ten working days.
I am astounded and taken aback because it appears the decision was not made by the Department at all, or that it had no input into the decision, although there are three Government Deputies operating in the constituency. The decision was made by Bord Fáilte. The Minister of State said himself that the Wild Atlantic Way was born out of the need to address the dramatic decline in international visitors to Ireland, particularly the west. Bord Fáilte's figures show a drop in visitor numbers to the south-east region from 1,100,000 in 2000 to fewer than 685,000 in 2010. This is one of the most dramatic drops in all regions of the State. The exclusion of Waterford's 147 km coastline and 50 beaches beggars the belief of businesspeople and those working in the tourism industry. Is the Minister of State saying to me today he cannot influence Bord Fáilte to change the decision that has been made by it? Is he suggesting the decision was not made in any way by the Department but by Bord Fáilte, which informed the Department when it was made?
I hope the Deputy is aware of how State agencies work because they have independence. Policy is decided and determined at Government level. The Government determines the funding for the State agencies but it does not actually run them on a day-to-day basis. That is why we pay a chief executive officer and staff and why we have Fáilte Ireland in place.
With regard to Government policy, we decided we wanted a proposition for Dublin because we wanted visitor numbers in the city to increase, and we got a proposition. Then we found there was a major problem with attracting tourists to the west. That is why we asked Fáilte Ireland to make a proposal and it proposed the Wild Atlantic Way. It is for the same reason that we established Ireland's Ancient East. We asked Fáilte Ireland to concentrate on the ancient east, particularly Waterford, to give this region the same opportunity. I hope the Deputy, his colleagues, the tourism interests in Waterford and communities will support this initiative and take it on board exactly as the Wild Atlantic Way initiative was taken on board.
Let me give the Deputy another figure, a very simple one.
We are supporting it all right. It is the Government that is not doing so, considering what it has done. On several occasions, the possibility of facilitating a presentation by Waterford council and tourism personnel on the merits of expanding the Wild Atlantic Way was discussed with the Minister of State.
Can the Minister of State confirm even now that he did not have that meeting before the decision was even made? Has this presentation taken place without my knowledge? Perhaps it has. I do not know. Does the Government plan to do it? The point remains that the Government has excluded 140 km of coastline and 50 beaches with huge tourism potential based on Fáilte Ireland's first initiative. The reason Fáilte Ireland designated part of the Wild Atlantic Way was the drop in tourism. The greatest drop in tourism was in the south east. It does not make sense.
Deputy Deasy raised this matter with me last week and I gave him a commitment that I would give Waterford County Council an opportunity to make a presentation to Fáilte Ireland. This meeting will take place next week. At the end of the day, the reason why the Government came up with the Wild Atlantic Way and Ancient East initiatives was to get visitors to visit the south east, which is Deputy Halligan's county, so he cannot fault us for not coming up with initiatives.
A total of €10 million was put into the Wild Atlantic Way. A total of €10.5 million was put into the Waterford Viking Triangle, which is a great project.
Well that is fine. I will not do the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's job. We have a very good product. We have one for the south east, the west, Dublin and the rest of the country. Buyers who visit this country want new products every year. Yesterday, we saw there was a 14.5% increase in visitor numbers for the first quarter. This will be the best year for visitors and Deputy Halligan needs to promote his county and talk it up rather than talking it down all the time.