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…

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  • Ernekid

    To me the elegant solution is to merge Fáilte Ireland and Tourism NI and just have one all Ireland cross border Tourism body. The frameworks already exist with Tourism Ireland and the other cross border bodies. Lets have all Ireland Tourism with joint ministerial oversight from both Belfast and Dublin.

    To my mind it doesn’t make any sense to market Northern Ireland separately from the rest of Ireland. A large majority of tourists already cross the border anyway and an international audience doesn’t understand or care about the distinctions between the North and the Republic. They are just visiting ‘Ireland’. We hope that visitors to Northern Ireland will fly in to Dublin and travel up North but many don’t. Despite what people here might think, ‘Northern Ireland’ doesn’t have the greatest international reputation. People still associate the name with the Troubles and as such are put off from visiting.

    It’d make more sense to jointly market the tourism draws in the border regions like the Fermanagh and Cavan Lakelands, The Shannon-Erne waterways, the Donegal and Derry coastlines and the Louth and Down Mourne region together.

  • I wouldn’t start from here either…

  • Dan

    Time Northern Ireland promoted itself.
    Expecting the Republic of Ireland to promote Northern Ireland is lunacy.
    It’s own destinations and businesses will always come first.

  • chrisjones2

    Perhaps very little because, while the Causeway Coast is indeed beautiful and there are a couple of decent pubs and hotels – much of the Causeway Coast is also a run down hole that has been milked dry of investment. Just look at the state of Portrush and ask yourself what high spending US or European tourist would want to spend more than 20 minutes there?

    What should be an asset to our economy actually drags it down – so will Coleraine Council use its new planing powers to fix this?

    Don’t hold your breath.

  • chrisjones2

    So who will run it, who will it be accountable to, who will ensure it spends its money fairly and wisely? The reality is we are two competing countries vying for the same tourist $$s an €€s – hence the Assembly winge which cost and achieved nothing but can be quoted as evidence of supporting local businesses

  • Ernekid

    Cross border cooperation isn’t a new thing Chris. It’s worked since 1998. The Frameworks already exist.

    The problem with your attitude of competition instead of co-operation means that in a compettiton for Tourist money the North will always lose. It can’t compete with the South for tourists. It has less attractions, a smaller hospitality industry and has less developed tourism potential. Cooperation with the South is the best way to get Tourists to make their way North.

  • banana man

    sure the Atlantic stops once ye pass the Foyle anyway…

  • chrisjones2

    I know all about the ‘arrangements ‘ but If you seriously think that Irish Politicians will let their Agencies take trade away from Ireland to benefit de Nurth you are a fool my friend

  • P.J McErlean

    To my knowledge it goes the whole way around to the North Channel, here is a map:

  • Ernekid

    How did they decide at which point the Atlantic Ocean ends and the Irish Sea begins?
    How defined are borders between seas?

  • Davros64

    There is no way the North has a real Atlantic coastline!
    Talking about wanting an extra fish supper?

  • Nevin

    “the Causeway Coastal Route remains firmly partitioned off”

    CCR has been ‘partitioned’. The company tasked with promoting CCR has ceased to be; it died at the end of March when the new super councils began:

    Causeway Coast and Glens Tourism Partnership will cease trading on March 31, 2015. .. “We sought, but did not receive, assurances, as to the nature of any future working relationship between Causeway Coast and Glens Council and our other funder Mid and East Antrim Council. Without confirmation of a continuing partnership between the councils we faced significant and immediate pressures on delivery of the company’s 2015/16 draft operational plan and, furthermore, we recognised that our long-term survival was in jeopardy.”

    Art Ward’s one-man CCR

  • Practically_Family

    We need more golf courses if we’re going to compete…. More golf courses.

  • Barneyt

    Would it not have to be renamed in the north to “Tha wile Atlantic wye”?

    I don’t see why there cannot be a cooperative approach to promoting tourism on the island with it being funded by both jurisdictions. I’m not sure I would even weight the contributions. Many folks from other parts of the world do not see the border, so we need to make all attempts to ensure both economies benefit from a potentially captive audience.

    Island cooperation on infrastructure is key to this. There is scope for a common tourist identify, which can defy the political and religious division that exists.

    The problem however with cross-border is that some will feel threatened with all Ireland references and others will provoke with jibes of reunification etc… We can’t win on that one, however we need to find it in ourselves to promote Irish Island Tourism.

    The partition of the island can be justified by those that wish to do so, and we can agree or disagree. However, there are some industries and initiatives that will only benefit if we are at times border agnostic.

  • P.J McErlean

    Not sure exactly where they start and end, i am not an expert on the waters of these islands and I don’t think there is an exact border between what is and what is not the Atlantic but i do know that off the coast of county Derry is in fact considered the Atlantic Ocean.

  • Croiteir

    and there is the problem right there, unionists see themselves in competition and as such want to keep competing whereas the nationalists and some more brainier unionists see themselves as part of the one package, at least in terms of the all island economy. And due to this the unionists lose out yet again. It is a pity that their all duck or no dinner oft times leaves us all hungry north of the border

  • Croiteir

    And there was me thinking the seas were part of the ocean.

  • mickfealty

    This has very little to do with Unionism.

  • Croiteir

    I disagree – unionism has cut itself off from the rest of the island to its detriment, the project Ulster venture, now modified to “northern Ireland”, means that. Our wee countryism has failed the people in many ways, here is one economic outworking of it