“To see the Giant’s Causeway promoted on the Wild Atlantic Way website while a large chunk of the southern seaboard is left out is slightly incongruous.”
Fine Gael TD John Deasy has secured a commitment from Tourism Minister Michael Ring to facilitate a presentation to officials from Fáilte Ireland and his Department.
The Waterford deputy made the request in the Dáil on Wednesday (April 15), notwithstanding the previous morning’s launch of ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’, a new marketing promotion based around heritage sites and cultural assets.
Last July Mr Deasy met Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn and persuaded the tourism body to let Waterford City and County Council pitch to become part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
But while the Waterford local authority set to work on a submission, council officials in Cork have not pushed for east Cork’s inclusion, leaving an obvious missing link to the touring route’s conclusion in Kinsale.
Mr Deasy sees Waterford Airport as an ideal south-eastern starting point for the WAW touring route. The new VLM Waterford—London Luton service will operate 12 flights each way weekly from April 27, with strong bookings so far.
Having “bent the ear of every official and politician for the past four years to secure funding to keep the airport going until a new London carrier was found”, Mr Deasy says “it’s now time to give it the chance to become self-sustaining, which is what Governments have repeatedly said they’ve wanted.”
With the State having invested massively in Waterford Airport — including €10m in upgrading the access road alone — he says “it’s critical that the Government now starts connecting projects to the infrastructure… and this is how you do it.”
While by no means being negative about or dismissing the potential of the ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ product — which, he feels, “can work if marketed properly” around attractions such as the Viking Triangle in Waterford City — “there’s no escaping the fact that it doesn’t focus on the county’s coastline in any shape or form.”
“Our priority is marketing our spectacular coast,” he said, saying Wild Atlantic Way status would work in tandem with a number of major tourism-led projects, such as the Deise Greenway, the UNESCO Copper Coast Geopark, and the regeneration of Tramore.
Mr Deasy added, “To see the Giant’s Causeway promoted on the Wild Atlantic Way website while a large chunk of the southern seaboard is left out is slightly incongruous.”
He rejected the idea that Waterford’s inclusion would “dilute the essence” of the Wild Atlantic Way, saying: “This is not about looking for a hand-out. We feel we can add greatly to the overall proposition and only want in on merit. I’m asking that we get the opportunity to make that case.”
While emphasising the potential of ‘Ireland’s Ancient East’ “if communities buy in to it,” Minister Ring acknowledged that the Wild Atlantic Way has been “a tremendous success” in selling Ireland overseas.
He added afterwards: “Clinching the London link was key. The future of the airport here was very tenuous. Remember, Galway and Sligo have shut down to commercial flights. It was about buying time.
“We now have the new routes but we have to build on it. As I said in the Dáil, it is now critical for the Government to consider the airport’s future and not simply to say ‘Job done’.”
He cautioned that connecting east Cork remains a serious obstacle Waterford joining the Wild Atlantic Way. “There are people in west Cork who would like it to end there; one factor being the concerns surrounding the huge debt attached to Cork Airport.
“But as well as talking to Waterford Airport management I also met the relevant officials in the Department recently and I think they agree that Cork, with 54 routes versus our two, is not comparable and that including us in the Wild Atlantic Way wouldn’t have an adverse tourism impact elsewhere.”