Tuesday, 14 December 2010
Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs
As the Deputy will be aware, my Department operates a range of programmes and schemes to assist and support community, local and rural development. This includes programmes and activities supportive of rural tourism and the rural recreation agenda.
In particular, the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 (RDP), which my Department administers, represents a substantial investment in rural areas and indeed will play a significant role in terms of sustaining and developing rural tourism over the coming period. Under the programme, an amount of €45.4m is available for the Encouragement of Tourism Activities measure, which aims to encourage rural tourism built on the sustainable development of Ireland's natural resources, cultural and natural heritage. The objective of this measure is to maximise the sustainable, regionally balanced, tourism potential of all rural areas through the provision of necessary infrastructure and the development of the countryside as a recreational resource for all. The measure currently has registered project activity of €11 million, with almost €8 million at an advanced stage of development. This activity has the potential to leverage in excess of €9 million in private matched funding.
My Department also co-ordinates the work of Comhairle na Tuaithe, which oversees the implementation of the National Countryside Recreation Strategy. The investments in this area also contribute significantly to the rural tourism product, especially activity tourism.
The implementation of my Department's Walks Scheme, as the first managed maintenance scheme for our walking trails, has seen a great improvement in the facilities and standards in this area. There are now nearly 40 trails covered by the Scheme. It should be noted that my Department has also contributed to a number of other rural recreation initiatives such as the development of certain disused railway lines as cycle/walkways, the Mayo Greenway being a recent such example.
My Department also supports the Irish Summer Colleges, which provide Irish courses in the Gaeltacht each year and are central to the promotion of rural cultural tourism in those areas. In 2010, over 24,000 students attended courses in the Gaeltacht and were accommodated in over 600 households throughout the region. Activities associated with the colleges, as well as various local events centred around them, and visiting parents, relatives, etc, provide a tremendous boost to the local Gaeltacht economy each year, as well as assisting in strengthening the Irish language in the Gaeltacht, the most important natural resource of the area. Údarás na Gaeltachta, which comes under the remit of my Department, has also made a significant contribution to rural tourism and the rural economy in the Gaeltact regions.
I should add that Waterways Ireland, a North/South Implementation Body, which is co-sponsored by my Department, is also engaged in the promotion and development of rural tourism within the context of its particular mandate in relation to the development of our inland waterways, which are a valuable and precious tourism resource. Waterways Ireland is currently formulating a new Marketing Strategy for the inland waterways, which will build on the many successes of previous marketing activities and will strengthen the relationships built up over the last decade with tourism agencies, local authorities, product providers and the private sector.
My Department will continue to contribute to rural recreation and tourism and will work with the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport and other key agencies, such as Fáilte Ireland, in this regard over the coming period. In this regard, I anticipate that the significantly increased funding available for tourism development under the RDP will be a considerable support to the development of rural tourism over the coming years.