Monday, 22 March 2021
Covid-19 (Tourism): Statements
I want touch on three points with regard to tourism in my native County Louth. Indeed, it is somewhere with which the Minister is familiar, not because of where she is from originally but if I am not mistaken, through a staycation there last summer in Gyles Quay.
The first point I want to make is about tourism in north Louth in the village of Carlingford. Senator McGreehan is all too well aware of the same issues I am about to raise regarding this area. Approximately 1,200 to 1,500 people are involved in the tourism sector in a village like Carlingford. In preparation for this contribution, I spoke yesterday with many people involved in the tourism and business sectors to really get a sense of the situation.
Last summer, they definitely had one of the busiest summers on record as a result of the calls for people to staycation. It really was an effective call and worked very well. The point is that in somewhere like Carlingford, we really need to ensure that sustainable tourism takes place. What do I mean by "sustainable tourism"? To me, sustainable tourism is where a village like Carlingford can be a nice place to live and to raise a family. At the same time, however, it can be a vibrant and enjoyable place for tourists to come and experience. It works well for visitors in terms of tourists and residents alike. We really need to focus on that promotion of sustainable tourism in rural villages. Westport, County Mayo, is a good example of how people have really acted well with sustainable tourism and made it work. One issue we must consider about that is the recent planning legislation, which states a person cannot rent out a residential unit for X amount of days of the year under Airbnb unless he or she has a commercial licence or has a plan for a commercial licence.Problems will arise if the legislation is enforced too strictly by local authorities. A village like Carlingford, which has three small hotels and a couple of places offering bed and breakfast accommodation, does not have much capacity anyway. Consequently, if we are going to clamp down on people who provide Airbnb accommodation throughout the year, it will have a real impact on the capacity of such small villages to take tourists and visitors.
Yesterday, I chatted to a friend of mine who has been involved in tourism in Carlingford for decades. He reminded me that in 2008 the European Destination of Excellence, EDEN, awarded Carlingford an award under the theme of intangible heritage. What is "intangible heritage"? It is not easily identifiable and is not something one can see or touch. It is the stories, folklore, legends and character that seep through the landscape of a medieval village like Carlingford.
The region is home to the Carlingford Oyster Company that was first set up in 1974. The oysters are so popular that wherever oysters are eaten in the UK or Ireland there is a great chance that they came from Carlingford Lough. A couple of weeks ago, the Carlingford Oyster Company featured in an episode of Neven Maguire's series entitled "Neven's Irish Seafood Trails" on RTÉ television.
I wish to pay tribute to Louth County Council for creating the Louth Seafood Trail. The initiative came about after members of the council's Louth economic forum sat down around a table to think of ways to promote a coastal county like Louth. They came up with the innovative concept of a seafood passport where one stops at south Louth, outside Drogheda, outside Baltray and work one's way right up the coast via 49 different restaurants, shops and coffee shops. One can visit places like The Glyde Inn, Annagassan, where Conor O'Neill has done a lot of work. One can work one's way up from there, through Dundalk, into County Louth and into Carlingford to visit the Carlingford Oyster Company and see the Border region. The seafood trail is a great initiative to attract tourists to County Louth. The members of the Louth economic forum and county council have been very innovative and came up with ideas to differentiate County Louth from other parts of the country, and they deserve a lot of credit for doing so.
I wish to comment on greenways. My vision for Ireland is to have the entire country connected by greenways and it will be brilliant. At the minute we have really positive projects. There is a greenway from Carlingford to Omeath and that has been extended across the Border so the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is extending the greenway from Newry to Victoria Lock and onwards. The overall vision for that has to be a Louth coastal greenway. It would mean people could safely follow the seafood trail, make their way right up the coast with wonderful views of the Mourne Mountains and Cooley Mountains, and around Dundalk. The Government, as a result of the Green Party's involvement, has seen more money than ever before being allocated to greenways, which is welcome. However, the planning side of things is not up to speed when it comes to greenways. For example, we cannot have a greenway linking Dundalk to Blackrock yet until we get the catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, in order, and the CFRAM study involves a two-year process for planning. Therefore, it is important that local authorities, when they analyse the short to medium term while seeking funding for greenways, do so in tandem with the plans for flooding development and CFRAM development that is being done. If that is not done in tandem, then the whole process will be delayed.
Finally, I wish to say that tourism is the lifeblood of so many small business owners in this country. There are people here who have much more experience in tourism than I do but I really think that this summer must be exactly like last summer, that people involved in the sector get a real bang for their buck and that people have staycations as much as possible.