Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

7:00 pm

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I wish the Minister of State well for the new year, as I have not met him since we came back. I presume he is taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Given that, will the Minister of State outline the Government's range of commitments, including financial support, which the Department will know is €6 million, to enable Galway to win back the Volvo Ocean Race for 2012? This was an extremely successful experience for Galway and for Ireland in 2009. To touch on some of the highlights which have come from both economic and media evaluation of the race, €55.8 million was the total economic impact on Galway and Ireland. This was measured outside of a 40-mile radius of Galway city, which does not even take into account how Galway city benefited. Some €36.5 million was spent by race spectators who came from outside the local region.

There were 269 media representatives from all over the world. Having visited the Volvo base quite a number of times myself, it was fascinating to go into the media room where there were 200 journalists at desks. It was crawling with them. It was wonderful to see the world interest in the Volvo Ocean Race. It had a print readership and radio listenership of 234 million and a 1.327 billion global television audience. Some 99% of the people surveyed from outside the region said they would recommend Galway as a potential holiday destination.

We are looking for €6 million from the Government to bring the stopover of this event back to Galway and Ireland. In 2009 the hosting of this event generated €55 million. Given the investment in it, that is a ratio of 9:1. For every euro invested in it, the economy got €9 and within the same year. What investment can the Minister of State think of today that would yield that return? We are forming a world-known iconic brand in Galway and maritime activity with a stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The amount of smart thinking behind this is typified by Tourism Ireland. It uses the opportunity to host marketing promotions in a series of ports where there were stopovers in the Volvo Ocean Race such as Alicante, Cape Town and Boston. Other Irish organisations such as Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland used Ireland's involvement in the Volvo Ocean Race as a networking opportunity. The total attendance at the race village and Salthill during the in-port and departure weekends was 650,000. Some 87,000 non-locals visited Galway, 68,000 of whom stayed in the region. The average local person visited the Volvo Ocean Race stopover 4.2 times. I was unaware of this statistic, but I probably went there five times during the course of the two weeks. It is significant that 90% of the visitors to the locality had no active interest in sailing. That is an interesting finding because it brought more people into an understanding of the maritime sector, our coastline and that wonderful resource.

The chairman of Fáilte Ireland said that the Galway stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race attracted the biggest audience for Irish tourism ever, a bigger audience than the Ryder Cup in 2006. It showcased Ireland as a high quality destination and he believes that the Volvo festival has further increased Ireland's chances of hosting future world class events. Little did we know that the opportunity would land in our lap again to do the same thing. The Minister for Art, Sports and Tourism, Deputy Cullen, said the same thing. We look to him to provide the €6 million funding needed.

This brings me to the important points. We are one of the three final bidders. The decision is being made this week. We are up against Lorient in France and Lisbon in Portugal. In both cases, their governments are backing their bids. Serious competition exists, yet we in Galway know that we are the front runner and the Volvo Ocean Race organisers want to come back here. However, it will not come back unless the Government is willing to fund the hosting fee. If were to attract Formula One to Ireland, there would be a hosting fee. The question has arisen as to whether private funding is available. Yes, there is but that private funding will not jump the fence until they know there is a commitment by the Government to bring it back. What better income generators could the Government get now for the Exchequer in terms of taxes and VAT than an event such as this?

The hosting fee is all that is needed. The private owners of the boat are willing to put up the boat again at a cost of €4 million and they are also willing to run the boat. When I spoke to John Killeen today, who was the vision for this event and one of the key people behind this bid and the Let's do it Galway campaign and the Volvo Ocean Race, he said that they are willing to enter into a matching funding relationship. In other words, for the €6 million the Government would put up, they would ensure equal funding was provided through the provision of the boat, the cost of running of it and that side of it. There is a great deal to be gained from doing this.

I look forward to the Minister of State giving me good news. We are looking a gift horse in the mouth. It is a no-brainer. I do not know how we will ever come to terms with this if the answer is "No" from the Government. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's response.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Cullen. I thank Senator Healy Eames for raising this issue, as I welcome this opportunity to advise the House on recent developments on the possibility of Galway again hosting a stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012.

The 2009 stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race in Galway was a very successful event, as the Senator outlined. An economic impact study of the stopover, carried out by Deloitte, found it had a significant favourable impact for the State and the western region in particular. The study found that the overall impact of the Volvo Ocean Race on Ireland was €56 million, almost double the expected impact. I understand the study concluded that the higher than forecasted economic impact was mainly due to the higher than expected number of overseas visitors.

The 2009 Galway stopover was strongly supported by the Government, with funding being provided through the Fáilte Ireland international sports tourism initiative. Some €5 million was provided in 2008 and a further €3 million in 2009 as part of the total Government funding commitment to secure the stopover. The total funding of €8 million provided by Ireland comprised a port rights fee of €5 million, seed funding of €2million to activate the Irish team and secure branding on the boat, and €1 million towards the building of a number of infrastructure items such as pontoons which have remained in place as a legacy after the event. The matter of applying to the organisers of the Volvo Ocean Race to host a stopover of the event is the responsibility of the host port rather than the Government.

In late 2009, Let's Do It Global, the Irish corporate promoters of the event, approached the Government seeking very substantial financial support of €9 million for a bid for Galway to host a stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012. Since then, that proposal and a more recent revised proposal for €6 million have been considered by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and representatives of other relevant Departments and State agencies. There is general support across Departments and agencies for a stopover. However, funding of the level required from outside the existing budget allocations is not readily available for the project. As Senators will appreciate, the current overall Exchequer position is not favourable towards the provision of funding for 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.

I am also aware that the current commercial funding environment is difficult and I fully understand why the promoters wish to first secure a commitment to public funds to provide a more attractive and persuasive proposition to potential commercial sponsors. That said, the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism believes that the confirmation of one or several private sector sponsors at this stage would be essential to strengthen the promoters' case for State support. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and Fáilte Ireland have always acknowledged that a stopover presents the possibility to again leverage significant economic and promotional benefits across sectors and interests.

I understand that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism wrote to the promoters today putting forward certain views and seeking certain information and assurances in order for the proposal to be properly examined. I gather that a reply was received later this afternoon which, I am informed, is being considered. I will bring to the Minister's attention the points made by the Senator in this debate.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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We are in great agreement except I do not have the money yet. I note the Minister of State said:

There is general support across the Departments and agencies for a stopover. However, funding of the level required from outside the existing budget allocations is not readily available for the project.

What are the existing budget allocations that are readily available?

Photo of Geraldine FeeneyGeraldine Feeney (Fianna Fail)
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Does the Minister of State have that information?

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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No, I do not have that information, nor do I have the information-----

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Could I stop the Minister of State? That question is more suitable for Question Time, but it is not Question Time. I indicated the Senator could come in briefly with a comment to the Minister, rather than putting questions to him.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Generally, Senators are allowed to ask a supplementary question.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Perhaps the Senator should have submitted her query in a question-like form when she was tabling the matter.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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The discussion on the Adjournment is very general and encompasses quite a lot.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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All right.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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It is helpful.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I will allow the Minister of State to continue.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I do not have that information to hand. In fact, I do not have details of the communication that occurred today-----

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Yes, I see that.

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Minister of State, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
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-----which I presume would enlighten us further. However, I will endeavour to provide the information to the Senator through the Minister's office.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I would appreciate that. What I really wanted to know was when a final decision would be made.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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That information will be passed on.