East Clare tourism must not lose out to Limerick, Clare Fine Gael Deputy Pat Breen has warned in calling for “balanced and careful management” if the tax-break scheme for tourism developments on the lower Shannon is to be extended downriver to the city.
“While not begrudging Limerick any openings for tourism development, the city does have substantial advantages over the East Clare area when it comes to attracting the type of investment and developments which qualify under the tax incentive scheme,” Deputy Breen said.
“It is entirely predictable that developers and investors would prefer riverside locations in the Limerick City area, where services and infrastructure are already in place.
“But that runs completely against the grain and the spirit of the tourism development scheme which was brought forward to stimulate investment in year-round tourism developments that would create employment from the construction stage in areas where tourism is underdeveloped,” he added.
Deputy Breen recalled that when the Lower Shannon Corridor tourism infrastructure investment scheme was launched by Brian Cowen as Minister for Finance, “it was quickly pointed out that while the scheme was most welcome as a prompt to tourism growth in the East Clare area, the absence of sewerage and other services would have a restraining effect on interest from developers and investors”.
“What initially appeared as a major opportunity for East Clare and areas around the lower Shannon to catch up with tourism growth elsewhere was held back by circumstances at home and abroad.
“First, it took the EU Commission most of a year to vet and give the scheme its approval.
“But when the green light was given, the banking crisis was already setting in and the financial institutions were not prepared to advance the required credit.
“Even though Shannon Development indicated that 20 or more projects had been submitted, developments that would have created construction activity and jobs and tourism employment, later on could not be sanctioned because the funding had not been secured.
“Because of these complications, the Government responded to high-level lobbying from the Mid-West to extend the tax incentive scheme for a further year,” Deputy Breen said.
But now one of the key recommendations of the Mid-West Task Force interim report published in July is for the tax corridor scheme to be extended to include Limerick City.
“While the taskforce is entitled to search out every possible avenue for speeding up investment and developments in the city that can counter-balance the setbacks of recent years, we should not be faced with a robbing Peter to pay Paul situation,” he said.
While posing a question as to whether the EU would also have to grant consent for the tax break scheme to be extended to the city, he added,
“If the recommendation is accepted, measures and conditions should be included that would be geared to create an even playing field. It would be completely wrong and unfair for an area like East Clare to be in direct competition with a city which has benefited enormously under tax break schemes for most of 20 years.”
Deputy Breen said while Clare gets the lion’s share of tourism numbers visiting the Shannon region, “Limerick has a distinct advantage when it comes to tourist spending”.
While Clare gets 53% of the visitor numbers with Limerick on 41%. “The positions are reversed in the share-out of tourism revenues, according to the last 2007 returns from Fáilte Ireland.
“While the two counties also dominate tourism revenues with 90% of the region’s take, the figures show that the Limerick area gets 54% of the revenue, with Clare on a 40% share.”