Wednesday, 31 May 2017
I welcome the Minister of State. It is great to hear some very positive suggestions here today about the all-island approach to tourism. Coming from Waterford, I was delighted to be at the opening of the 3D king of the Vikings virtual reality experience in Waterford which is part of Ireland's Ancient East. I commend the local authorities for that initiative and especially Eamonn McEneaney who has been so involved in the development of the Viking triangle in Waterford. It is a huge tourism offering in the south east. As a brand, Ireland's Ancient East is working in some areas but not in others. From our perspective in Waterford, it extends as far as the beautiful new Waterford Greenway, which traverses the county, but we are losing the blueways or the sea ways. We have the beautiful coastal environment in and around Waterford, but also through the south east and the 7,500 km of coastline on the island of Ireland. What is the Minister doing with regard to blue tourism? We are an island nation. I am so proud to live on this island, having lived abroad for 20 years. It is a gem. I heard the word "treasure" used to describe it today. We recognise that we have something special and unique. We are out there in the Atlantic. As they say, between Ireland and America are the Azores. We are a great island frontier. The Wild Atlantic Way is a super brand. It does what it says on the tin, so to speak. Ireland's Ancient East is not as explicit. It is developing, and I hope the Minister will fund it fully to put it on a par, if possible, with the Wild Atlantic Way.
As the spokesperson for tourism and the marine for the Green Party, I want to focus on the waterways and look at the potential in terms of our lakes and rivers. The rivers of Ireland are like the arteries of the country; they are like the blood flow. We need to make sure that we maintain them, and our coastal environment, in pristine condition so that we can take full advantage of the full potential of the blueways around the island of Ireland.
Tourism and sport is part of the Minister's portfolio. That area covers kayaking, surfing, running along the coast and so on. I ask that we would invest more in tourism, sport and well-being. We need to join the dots because we have a great offering in that regard. The Minister might speak about his vision in that area since it traverses his portfolio.
We need to protect our environment. In addition to the arteries of the country, the rivers, we also have a system of hedgerows, which are linear corridors of woodlands. This morning in the Dáil, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, had a short five minutes to talk about the Heritage Bill. I lived out of Ireland for almost two decades and have been living here for three decades - I am giving away my age - but I know that the hedgerow systems are old and unique to the island of Ireland. Many of them were set in the late 1700s. They add something special to the uniqueness of Ireland. They are part of the tourism offering. In addition to the ecological services, it is also a beautiful system in terms of tourism and that uniqueness that I believe foreigners enjoy. The Netherlands has that mono-culture. One does not see the hedgerows. One does not see them in other countries in mainland Europe such as France, but the hedgerow system in Ireland is beautiful and we need to maintain and preserve them in terms of tourism.
An area that drew huge attention last week was Bantry Bay where a licence has been granted to harvest approximately 1,800 acres of marine kelp, which is big seaweed. Seaweed supports huge biodiversity. That is the reason there was a large turnout in Bantry this week at a community meeting organised by Coastwatch Ireland. There were Bantry Bay locals, tourism operators, surfers, divers and many more in attendance who were very concerned about the issuing of this licence because the harvesting of the kelp will impact on the tourism offering in that area. There will be an impact in terms of the divers and fishing, in addition to the impact on the biodiversity. People come to Ireland because they love our biodiversity. They might like us as quirky people also, but our diversity is what we have on offer and what we use to encourage people to come here. Issuing a licence to cut the kelp is interfering with the community and tourism. It is a mistake, and I hope something can be done about it.
As I have indicated, we have a great offering. We have eco-tourism and something special. I ask the Minister about his sense of vision in terms of all of these natural tourism offerings and the assets we have available. How does he see that working out with regard to the marine, rivers and lakes and protecting our environment to make sure that the offering is sustainable and that we are not cutting off our nose to spite our face? I would like a sense of the Minister's vision over the coming years in that regard.