NI Tourism Minister: “I recently had discussions with the chief executive of Tourism Ireland and expressed my disappointment about how the promotion of the Wild Atlantic Way stops at the border.”

Without wishing to undermine historian Hiram Morgan’s call for Irish Government action to preserve the cultural heritage in the seas off the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s worth noting the stated objective of that tourism initiative…

The overall aim of the project is to develop a route that will achieve greater visibility for the west coast of Ireland in overseas tourist markets.

Also worth pointing out that one of the armada wrecks he mentioned, La Girona, isn’t on the Wild Atlantic Way, having been sunk off the County Antrim coast – and that Way ends at the border.

As an aside, one of the wrecks that is on the list of 10 Historic Shipwrecks of the Wild Atlantic Way, the SS Gairsoppa, was discovered and its silver bullion recovered by US company Odyssey Marine Exploration under contract with the UK Department for Transport in July 2012.

When the €10million Fáilte Ireland tourism project was launched in February last year, there were envious noises heard in the Northern Ireland Assembly from representatives from the Causeway Coast – complete with Unesco World Heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway [Worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see! – Ed].

Fáilte Ireland is, of course, the Irish Government’s National Tourism Development Authority.  In Northern Ireland,  “Tourism NI is responsible for the development of tourism and the marketing of Northern Ireland as a tourist destination to domestic tourists, from within Northern Ireland, and to visitors from the Republic of Ireland”.

And, since 1998, “the marketing of the island of Ireland overseas” is the responsibility of Tourism Ireland.

Tourism Ireland was established under the framework of the Belfast Agreement of Good Friday 1998. We are jointly funded by the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive on a two to one ratio, and operate under the auspices of the North/South Ministerial Council through the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in the South.

On 18 February 2014, the NI Tourism Minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, made a statement to the NI Assembly following a meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) in tourism sectoral format at which the NI Executive was represented by Minister Foster and the NI Culture Minister, Sinn Féin’s Carál Ní Chuilín.  The DUP MLA, Paul Frew, raised the question of the Wild Atlantic Way…

Mr Frew: My question relates to the Wild Atlantic Way, which is being heavily promoted in the Republic of Ireland, and rightly so because it is a beautiful part of the Republic.  What can be done to ensure that tourists who travel the Wild Atlantic Way travel on across the border to the gorgeous Causeway coast, the most beautiful part of Europe and maybe even the world? [Laughter.] 

Mrs Foster: Never known to understate his case, Mr Frew brings it forward again.  We have, of course, spoken to Tourism Ireland about this issue.  The Wild Atlantic Way seems to be the key element of the Republic of Ireland’s tourism message to the world over the next 12 months or so.  We are keen that people who take the Wild Atlantic Way to Donegal move over into Londonderry and across into Antrim and Down to appreciate what we have to offer here in Northern Ireland.  So, yes, we have discussed that issue, and Tourism Ireland is very much aware of it. [added emphasis]

It was raised again more recently, on 10 November 2014, by Sinn Fein’s Cathal Ó hOisín, MLA for East Londonderry, during NI Assembly questions to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment [scroll down]

1. Mr Ó hOisín asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for her assessment of the tourism opportunities presented by the establishment of the Wild Atlantic Way Coast Route. (AQO 6984/11-15)

Mrs Foster (The Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment): The promotion of coastal routes is an important activity for Tourism Ireland, as research confirms that visitors who come here by car or hire one while here tend to tour more widely, stay longer and spend more on their trip.

I recently had discussions with the chief executive of Tourism Ireland and expressed my disappointment about how the promotion of the Wild Atlantic Way stops at the border. I have asked that, in future, the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coast and glens coastal routes be marketed together by Tourism Ireland and given equal prominence. [added emphasis throughout]

Mr Ó hOisín: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an fhreagra sin. I thank the Minister for her answer. Does the Minister agree that an important economic interest may have been missed in that this has not been developed as a single route that would have stretched from Youghal in County Cork all the way round, perhaps, to Ballycastle?

Mrs Foster: I was rather disappointed, and that was one of the reasons why I asked to speak to the chief executive of Tourism Ireland about the issue. The Causeway Coast and glens route has received many accolades from across the world in relation to its beauty. I was disappointed that it was not added on to the Wild Atlantic Way. The two of them together could have been a very good promotion, and it would have allowed people to travel wherever along that route and, as I am sure he would welcome, given them the opportunity to stay in different areas and spend money. As I said, I have asked that the two be promoted together, and I hope that that will be the case.

Despite the NI Tourism Minister repeatedly raising the issue with the Chief Executive of Tourism Ireland over the past year,  the Causeway Coastal Route remains firmly partitioned off from the Wild Atlantic Way on the Tourism Ireland website.

And, just over a year after the launch of the Wild Atlantic Way, Fáilte Ireland have launched another tourism initiative, Ireland’s Ancient East – “This new branding will ensure that the area is presented in a cohesive and unified manner”.  No capital investment required mentioned…  From the RTÉ report

Following the success of the Wild Atlantic Way, Fáilte Ireland wanted to create a similarly enticing tourism proposition for the south and east.

Ireland’s Ancient East is focused on heritage and history themed along four pillars – ancient Ireland, early Christian Ireland, medieval Ireland and Anglo Ireland. [added emphasis]

[It ends at the border too! – Ed] 

Irelands Ancient East Map


Expect future questions to the NI Tourism Minister about ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ from representatives of Armagh – the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, site of St Patrick’s Trail, Navan Centre and Fort, the final resting place of “Ireland’s greatest High King“, Brian Ború…