The potential for the development of further tourism projects and thereby the creation of more employment opportunities in the Midlands was highlighted by Laois/Offaly Fine Gael Deputy, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, in a Dail speech last week.
The Deputy was speaking on the National Tourist Development Authority Bill 2011 and she commended the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan, for bringing the Bill forward and for his plan top increase the funding cap for capital expenditure projects at €150 million. “This will enable the National Tourism Development Authority to develop and enhance our tourism product” said Deputy Corcoran Kennedy.
Referring specifically to tourism in Offaly, the Deputy cited the example of Lough Boora Parklands as being “a wonderful example of how a harvested bog can be transformed into something new and exciting.” She added that she welcomed plans by Bord na Mona to further expand the already wide range of facilities available for visitors to Lough Boora.
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy also pointed to the rich eccleastical history of Laois/Offaly with ancient sites located at Clonmacnoise; Durrow; Aghaboe Abbey; Seir Kieran and the Rock of Dunamaise. Referring to Durrow Abbey, the Deputy spoke of the difficulties in the provision of safe access to the High Cross located within the Abbey, and she urged more cross-Departmental co-operation with national bodies and local authorities in order to ensure “good use of scarce funding.”
“Tourism is a competitive market with our keenest competitors investing heavily in their tourism infrastructure” said Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, who identified garden visits as being one area of tourism that could be prioritised. “I firmly believe that our gardens are an attraction to specifically targeted tourists, but that we have not sufficiently marketed this area” said the Deputy, who pointed to the internationally-renowned Birr Castle and Gardens in Offaly and Heywood Gardens in Laois. “The visitors to Birr Castle and Gardens contribute €250,000 euros to the local economy with bed nights and other spend” said Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, who suggested that perhaps Tourism Ireland might consider a presence at the Chelsea Flower Show in London to publicise gardens such as those in Birr.
In her wide-ranging speech, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy also spoke of the potential for further employment in the arts, and pledged her strong support for the work of the Irish Film Board.
On a more practical note, she added that there should be more public amenties, especially off motorways, and said we should adopt a more focussed approach to tourism by providing “high-quality accommodation with an eye on repeat visits.”