Thursday, 3 October 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Wild Atlantic Way Project
I welcome the Minister of State. I was going to table a Commencement matter to ask the Minister to inform me of all of the successful sports capital grant applications in west Cork, but I am sure he would shy away from informing me about them. Instead, I am seeking an update on the review of the Wild Atlantic Way and the potential inclusion in it of Union Hall.
In July 2017 I had the privilege and pleasure of taking the Minister of State to Courtmacsherry and Union Hall, two beautiful, scenic areas in west Cork. Courtmacsherry has been included in the Wild Atlantic Way, which I welcome. The inclusion of Seven Heads Peninsula is still going through a process and I hope that part of Courtmacsherry will be included in time.
I bring to the attention of the Minister of State the plight of Union Hall, a beautiful village that has so much to offer tourists, including walking and cycle routes and wonderful restaurant, as part of the Wild Atlantic Way experience. We need a timeline for when the review of the Wild Atlantic Way will be completed. This community that is so active in promoting what it has to offer needs some movement on the question of when and how we can actually have Union Hall included in the Wild Atlantic Way. It is located only a few kilometres off the N71. It is a place of unique beauty that would add in many ways to the experience of the Wild Atlantic Way. I hope we can have a process put in place to tie in the village and what it can add. I hope the Wild Atlantic Way can be extended to include these small villages because it has been one of the major successes of the Government. It has been a unique success in what it has brought to the west and south. We need to build on that success by including these small and wonderful communities. If that can be done, we will increase our figures and, in turn, villages such as Union Hall will develop their tourism potential. That is the key to and the strength of the Wild Atlantic Way project.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. As soon as we know how much money will be allocated to west Cork in sports capital grants, he will be the first to know. We were going to give a lot more only for the Cork footballers improving so much this summer that they do not need as much any more.
It is very cheeky for a Kerryman to come out with such a statement. I recall clearly the day in the summer of 2017 when we visited that beautiful part of west Cork to see exactly what local communities were proposing and how the Wild Atlantic Way could benefit them even more into the future. I also holidayed in west Cork with my wife and children this summer and spent a really lovely day in Union Hall and Glandore. I was there during a period of some really fine weather and the place looked outstanding. All of the way to Ballydehob, Schull, Baltimore, Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Crookhaven and the Mizen was looking fantastic. It is an amazing part of the world and we are very lucky to be living so close to it.
Tthere is a review under way. To be clear, whereas both the Minister, Deputy Ross, and I are responsible for bringing forward policy on tourism, its actual implementation, promotional activities and the management of tourism affairs on the ground are the responsibility of the agencies, Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland. In this case, Fáilte Ireland is responsible for the management of the Wild Atlantic Way. It has undertaken a route review which I understand is due to be sent to the local authorities in the coming week. There will then be further discussion and a collaborative approach with local authorities in agreeing to changes that may come. There will be an opportunity at local level for each community along the Wild Atlantic Way to have its voice heard through its local authority in collaboration with Fáilte Ireland.
When I was there during the summer, I was looking at the logistics and various factors at play in changing the official route. I see all sides of the argument and certainly think there is scope for some changes. There are people who are far better qualified, particularly in the engineering field, who would have to be consulted in that regard. The key point to remember is that even though in most cases the specific route can only pass through one place along the coast, although there are spurs, the level of activity in proximity to the route is key. Visitors are encouraged not to stick to one linear route but to enjoy the experience in the general area. That is where the opportunity arises in west Cork and where I am from in County Kerry. Even if an area is not on the route, if it is in close proximity to it, it is in line to benefit from the Wild Atlantic Way experience and its marketing around the world. The approach taken by Fáilte Ireland is the correct one in collaborating with the local authorities and ensuring local voices are heard. Ultimately, when there is more than one voice in looking for different things, decisions have to be made. My understanding from discussing the issue with Fáilte Ireland is that decisions will be made in as collaborative a way as possible. I will be keeping in close contact with Fáilte Ireland.
At local level, there will be an opportunity, through Cork County Council, for local communities to engage further. I look forward to the outcome of the review, but it is critical to emphasise that, regardless of what the specific route will be or what changes may or may not be made, there is a great opportunity for all communities to benefit from the Wild Atlantic Way. Whether the route runs one way or another is secondary. The primary opportunity is to enhance local offerings, the experience of these beautiful parts of County Cork and for communities to build a sustainable tourism sector.
I thank the Minister of State for his kind comments, particularly about Cork football. The draft being given to the local authorities is a great step forward. I was hoping to hear the draft was going to be given to the local authorities in County Cork and that there would be consultation with local communities and councillors, in particular. That is the step we require. We will just have to see how the consultation process will go with local communities and the local authorities. If there are pinch points in the provision of infrastructure, I will hope they can be addressed by the local authorities. I will wait to see the results of the review and if further work is required on the possible inclusion of Union Hall and other villages.
I thank the Senator. On the back of the review, a visitor experience development plan will be developed for the Haven Coast area in west Cork. This is a great opportunity for local communities to become involved in considering how that very special part of County Cork can put its best foot forward, how we can set out its unique selling points as a holiday destination and how we can improve seasonality, which is critical. Bringing in more visitors in the shoulder and off-peak seasons is one of the Government's key policy objectives. It is seeking to bring more people into the regions in the off-peak season in the spring, autumn and winter. There is a great opportunity through the visitor experience development plan process for local communities to become involved and collaborate with Fáilte Ireland. In terms of the route specifically, the local authority will be consultation with Fáilte Ireland. The consultation is important because it means that local communities can get in touch with their local authority about that.