THE plight of a number of Clare tourism businesses was raised in the Seanad this week as Minister Catherine Minister appeared before the upper house.
Senator Timmy Dooley voiced concerned that venues including the Ail
wee Cave and Doolin Cave might not be allowed to reopen at Level 3 as outlined last month in the Path Ahead Plan.
The Fianna Fáil member told the chamber he had had communication from The Association of Visitor Experiences and Attractions outlining how such venues have extensively invested in new and updated safety measures and training Fáilte Ireland’s Covid-19 safety charter. He argued that these attractions are well placed to reopen “as safe spacious places”.
“Given the likelihood outbound international travel for Irish holiday makers will be hugely curtailed this summer, and recognising that there will little, if any, inbound tourism, there is an onus on all of us involved at State level to try to ensure these facilities are supported and the restrictions are lifted at the appropriate time,” he said. “What they are appealing for is that they be allowed to open under Level 3 restrictions.”
Senator Dooley also raised the situation of The Clare Heritage and Genealogy Centre in Corofin, which expected to be initially included under the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS). “Unfortunately, it missed the deadline of March 8 for the tourism business continuity scheme,” Senator Dooley outlined. “This was through no fault of its own, but because of close contact with Covid and staff not being able to perform their duties, the centre missed the deadline for getting its application in. Can the minister look at schemes with specific deadlines and perhaps extend the deadlines to cater for business like that, if at all possible?”
The case Seán Kilkenny of Dromoland Castle, who runs a jarvey business, was also raised with the minister and Senator Dooley acknowledged she has had interaction with him. “The pressure on that man is immense,” he told the chamber. “There is no doubt the pressure on his business has taken a considerable toll on him and his family. I appeal to the minister to examine businesses such as his, which have significant costs and have fallen between the cracks under many schemes. He has rental costs and the cost of maintaining his animals but there is still no business in sight. I appeal to the Minister again to look at facilities such as that.”
Senator Róisín Garvey cited the huge investment of a number of major tourism projects in Clare, including The Cliffs of Moher, but said more is needed to support its hinterland.
“That is fantastic but I do not see Milltown Malbay or Kilfenora benefiting from that in any way,” she said. “The same is true of anywhere in Ireland where we have a huge tourist attraction. In order for it to be sustainable, it has to be of benefit to the people around the area, not just the people right at the point of entry.”
Senator Martin Conway raised the situation at Shannon Airport and called for an initiative similar to The Gathering in 2013 once restrictions allowed. “A similar initiative should be introduced and I know that plans are afoot to look at that,” he said. “We can do it bigger and better than we did the last time.”
The Fine Gael member also called for the structure of Shannon Group to be examined.
“I do not believe an airport company or property company, while their hearts are in the right place and they want to do the right thing, necessarily have the skill set to bring Shannon Heritage to the new level I believe it can potentially go to,” he said. “That is why I think the expertise of the OPW, were Shannon Heritage and the OPW to be married together, would provide Ireland with a phenomenal tourism product.”
Responding to Senator Garvey, Minister Martin noted that a sustainable tourism working group was established prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. “I have now charged this group with the development of a suite of actions that will promote sustainable tourism practices,” she said.
Addressing Senator Dooley’s comments, the minister said she wants to sectors to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so. “I assure Senator Dooley that I am fighting my corner for the tourism and hospitality sector,” she said. “On businesses seeking the extension of closing dates of certain schemes, I ask the Senator to provide me with the details.”
Minister Martin said she agrees with Senator Conway on the need to extend the season and to disperse business across the country. “With regard to the successor to The Gathering, the Senators will be aware the programme for Government incudes a commitment to the Year of the Invitation initiative, which could play a really important role in rebooting tourism,” she said. “It needs to be done at the right time. My officials are looking at how best to do that.”