Naughten calls for N4/N6 to be developed as Ireland’s first interurban cycle/walk way

In South Roscommon, Tourism by Denis Naughten

Denis Naughten called on the Minister for Tourism to develop the old Dublin-Galway road as Ireland’s first interurban cycle/walk way.

“Activity holidays are growing in demand and so is the number of people who are getting active and this novel interurban cycle/walk way would be an ideal way to capitalise on this demand and bring much needed tourism to the midland counties,” stated Denis Naughten who questioned the Minister on the matter in the Dail.

“Last year over 700,000 tourists participated in hiking and cross country walking, with many more cycling on Ireland’s road network.

“We also see the way Mayo’s Great Western Greenway cycle route has developed and the old Dublin-Galway route would be an ideal pilot project to bring new life to communities throughout the centre of the country.

“I know that in many counties other cycle/walking routes have already been developed which could tie in with this interurban greenway. In County Roscommon we have the Green Heartlands Cycle Route and the Suck Valley Way that tie in directly with the N6 and could be used to bring tourists to other parts of County Roscommon.

“Tourism during the boom years ignored inland counties and novel projects like this. With the vast majority of the infrastructure already in place projects like this have the potential to stimulate tourism in the less developed areas.

“I have no doubt that local LEADER companies and community groups would be prepared to work with the Department of Tourism to make such an initiative a reality” concluded Denis Naughten.

Letter issued to Minister Varadkar on 9th May 2012

Dear Minister Varadkar,

Further to your comment to me today in the house concerning walking/cycling routes – “There has been a lot happening on the development of activity tourism, in particular cycling and walking tourism, through the development of green ways and if we can afford it, the development of cycle and walking routes across Ireland which is a good way to bring people off the beaten track and encourage them to stay overnight in places they would not otherwise consider.”

Could I suggest the establishment of a cycling/walking route along the old N4/N6 from Dublin to Galway? While there may be a small bit of work required at the Dublin and Galway end, the vast majority of the route has a hard shoulder that could act as an interurban corridor.

It should be possible to fill in the grass verge on the vast majority of small sections of the route that presently do not have a hard shoulder, and this may be supported by local community initiatives.

I hope that you can look favourably upon this proposal.

Denis Naughten

Dáil Éireann Wednesday, 9 May 2012

10. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the steps he is taking to support tourism in the regions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22788/12]

239. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport his plans to better support tourism initiatives in rural areas; and the percentage of the overall budget allocated to developing rural tourism. [23392/12]

Deputy Leo Varadkar: I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 239 together. The Government recognises that tourism is important to all regions, employing an estimated 180,000 people, many in rural areas. The jobs initiative introduced last year and the Government’s action plan for jobs 2012 recognise the vital contribution of tourism to employment, economic activity and foreign revenue earnings. The VAT reduction on a range of labour-intensive tourism services from 13.5% to 9%, enhances the competitiveness of our tourism product. The visa waiver scheme is encouraging visitors from emerging markets to include a visit to Ireland when visiting the UK. The Government has also significantly reduced the cost of employing people by halving employers’ PRSI for employees on modest wages.

In addition, the necessary structures to deliver The Gathering Ireland 2013, a major tourism development to attract overseas visitors to all parts of Ireland, have been put in place with the target of bringing an extra 325,000 visitors here in 2013. The initiative will be launched domestically this Friday, following successful international and trade launches in recent weeks.

The year 2011 saw a welcome recovery in overseas visitor numbers with year-on-year growth of 6%. While there was a marginal decrease in overseas visits in the first three months of this year, I understand that industry partners are positive about prospects for the year, with reports of advance bookings and inquiries being up on this time last year. Industry representative groups are hopeful we can achieve our target of a 4.5% increase in visitor numbers for the year.

The Government is providing over €143 million to support tourism in 2012 across a range of activities including overseas and domestic marketing, investment in tourism product and vital business supports to develop tourism across Ireland, in both rural and urban areas. I am satisfied tourism agencies are taking the necessary steps to support the sector at national and regional level.

Deputy Denis Naughten: I thank the Minister for his reply. I also welcome the confirmation by the Minister that the 9% VAT rate will remain until the end of 2013 as this is a positive development.

I wish to raise the issue of the Cinderella regions of the country as regards tourism promotion and the midlands is one of those areas which has fallen well short when compared to other parts of the country. I am sure the Aire Stáit’s county of Tipperary has the same problem. Is it planned to reconfigure the tourism regions? For example, there is the ludicrous situation where the River Shannon is a boundary for tourism regions rather than being used as an asset or for the development of tourism with a specific focus on the river itself. Has consideration been given to encouraging international visitors to stop off even for one night in some of the less developed regions? If tourists visiting the west were to spend even one night in the midlands out of their average stay in the country of seven days, this would increase bed nights by 1.3 million annually.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: There are currently no proposals to reconfigure the regions as this has been a recent reorganisation. I am not sure to what extent tourists even recognise the existence of regions in any case. People tend to visit destinations rather than a region created by a tourism body. People have been travelling to traditional tourism hot spots to which visitors have travelled for centuries and these destinations tend to do very well, such as Killarney, Galway and Dublin. It is a challenge to get people to go to other areas which are less visited and should be visited much more, the midlands being a case in point.

Dublin Tourism is being reintegrated into Fáilte Ireland and it will be used to disperse tourists who stay in Dublin by encouraging them to visit other parts of the country such as the areas around Dublin and beyond and ideally, for them to spend a night in these areas. One of the factors mitigating against overnight stays by tourists is the great improvement in the road network. It is now very common for visitors to take day trips to Clare and the Cliffs of Moher, for example or to other parts of the country whereas in the past they would have stayed the night. It would be desirable to have events at night to persuade them to stay later in a region and perhaps overnight.

Deputy Denis Naughten: I take the Minister’s point but it is also important to develop packages so tourists visit more locations other than Clonmacnoise, on whichever side of the Shannon. The difficulty arises when different regions are in place. I acknowledge that Tourism Ireland is focusing on Athlone and developing tourism packages in that area. Hopefully this should bring about a positive development.

I ask the Minister to spearhead a proposal to bring together the Office of Public Works, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the tourism agencies and even the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to develop the types of tourism for the midlands such as heritage tourism. Issues about access can be dealt with by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the upgrading of facilities can be arranged by the OPW and the National Parks and Wildlife Services. I refer as an example to Lough Ree which has an abundance of heritage assets. A total of 2.5 million tourists visited those type of facilities last year in various parts of the country. I refer also to activity and walking tourism with a total of 750,000 tourists last year. The midlands has plenty of capacity to develop this sector of tourism.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: I am not sure I can spearhead such an initiative but if the Deputy has specific proposals I would be happy to have a meeting with him to see what can be done in this regard and involving those agencies. The most visited OPW site is the Rock of Cashel which is not situated in a traditional tourism hot spot, in the core of Ireland. It is crucial to develop a cluster of attractions because people are more likely to stay. There has been a lot happening on the development of activity tourism, in particular cycling and walking tourism, through the development of green ways and if we can afford it, the development of cycle and walking routes across Ireland which is a good way to bring people off the beaten track and encourage them to stay overnight in places they would not otherwise consider.