Monday, 22 March 2021
Covid-19 (Tourism): Statements
Fearaim fáilte roimh an Aire agus is iontach í a fheiceáil sa Teach seo arís inniu. I thank the Minister again. Since she assumed this remit, which is vast and phenomenal, she has done amazing work. At the worst time ever to be Minister with responsibility for tourism, she seems to have kept the hopes of the tourism sector alive. Coming from Clare, where there is significant employment in the tourism industry and reliance on it for jobs, the word on the street is the Minister is doing well. I appreciate that as it is good to be able to give the sector some hope for the future. While the pandemic was not the fault of the Minister, unfortunately she has to come up with solutions for the tourism sector.
I must mention the Shannon master plan of €70 million, which is a brilliant idea to attract tourism to the area in a proper regional way because we know that regional rebalancing is key to this country doing well. It is also more sustainable to have tourism spread out more evenly.
The Minister mentioned the green certificate, and I will talk a little more on sustainable tourism. Now that we are on a kind of pause, we have some time perhaps to look at how we do tourism and to look at greenwashing as opposed to genuine green tourism.It is time we drew a distinction between those two things. Too often, places look like they are green but behind the scenes they are not green at all, while others are so amazingly green and are like unsung heroes for how to do tourism well in a sustainable way.
The BurrenLIFE project has an amazing system - the sustainable indicator system - whereby farmers get rewarded the more biodiversity they have and the greener their operations are. It might be time for something like that in the tourism industry as well because outside of agriculture it is our biggest industry. If we are to take the challenges of biodiversity and climate change seriously and if we want to hold onto all the reasons people come to this country in the first place, which are our biodiversity, beauty, culture and water, we need to get this right.
I will provide an example. The Cliffs of Moher are an absolutely amazing and fantastic place, which get 1.2 million visitors every year. In the long term, the visitor centre there is hoping to increase that to 2 million. However, we want to see the villages around the cliffs thriving as well. The visitor centre had consultants in, spent a great deal of money and is going to do X, Y and Z. That is fantastic but I do not see Milltown Malbay or Kilfenora benefiting from that in any way. The same is true of anywhere in Ireland where we have a huge tourist attraction. In order for it to be sustainable, it has to be of benefit to the people around the area, not just the people right at the point of entry. The only way to do that is to bring in these indicators, such as whether attractions are using local suppliers, local bakers, local milk producers or whatever is available to them. There should not be any foreign milk or foreign meat in a huge tourist attraction. There should be local bakers.
We are so creative as a nation. We have loads of craftspeople and foodies. They are the people who should be supplying these big places that make all the money. That is important if we want to move forward with real, sustainable tourism. The word "sustainable" is thrown around as if it is cheap as chips now but we need to take it seriously if we are going to be serious about preserving Ireland as a place that people can visit in many years' time and still see the natural flora and fauna.
The Minister visited the Burren last year and saw the amazing walkway at the Cliffs of Moher. Currently, only a kilometre of the walkway on either side of the cliffs is getting any support or funding. The rest is being neglected because all the focus is on the cliffs themselves. That is wrong. If it was done properly, Liscannor, Doolin and other places would benefit as well. We have to be accountable as a Government with where we put our funding. If we give funding to big tourism projects we are accountable and we must make sure benefits come to everybody around the area. I would love to work with the Minister on sustainable indicators for the tourism sector.
Biodiversity is also a huge part of tourism. Nobody would come to the Burren if there was no biodiversity. It is not often tied in with tourism but, unknowingly, that is what people come to see in our country. They love our trees, rivers and walkways.
I thank the Minister for all the support for greenways. It is great to see tourism and transport both recognising the importance of blue ways and greenways.
The employment wage subsidy scheme has been amazing. It has been a very difficult time for the tourism sector and I hope we can get it back on its feet. The Minister is the right woman for the job and nobody could have done it better than she has done so far. She has given a lot to it. I look forward to supporting her in the future and working with her on a real, green sustainable tourism future for Ireland.