Video: ‘The physical deficit in Ireland and in NI sits within the North West’
Brian McGrath, of Foyle Port and Niall McKeever, of the Federation of Passenger Transport (FPTNI), have insisted better road, rail and maritime infrastructure in the North West is critical if tourism is to thrive.
The business leaders made the call while providing evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee’s tourism inquiry on Wednesday.
Mr. McGrath, who is Chamber of Commerce President but was there as a representative of the Port, said: “We need to have foundational infrastructure in place that allows us to move people around if we are going to increase the volumes of people for the improving products that we are developing. I think we are doing it from a deficit in terms of our basic infrastructure.”
Mr. McKeever, who is a director of Derry transport firm, Airporter, but was in London as FPTI chairman, said: “Infrastructure is certainly underfunded in NI. We’ve been making great strides on the A6 and the A26 most recently.
“I think, as the backbone of the skeletal service that provides the movement of people in N. Ireland, infrastructure is a key priority for us.”
Mr. McGrath, referring to cruise ship tourism, said Derry was being held back by the lack of modern deep sea facilities for the huge ocean liners that routinely dock in other ports in Ireland. He said that while Belfast was expected to welcome upwards of 150 cruise liners this season, Derry would see just 17.
“It was in Londonderry where the first cruise ships came into N. Ireland. Ironically it wasn’t in Belfast at all in the 1990s.
“The growth of the industry and the size of the ships effectively became too big for the infrastructure to handle. That is why Belfast has made such significant strides over recent years.”
Plans are in place to address this, however, with a major new facility at Greencastle.
“To remedy that the harbour commissioners have developed a plan to develop a deep water cruise terminal in Greencastle which is in Donegal but sits within the jurisdiction of the Londonderry Port and Harbour Commissioners because, whilst the harbour commissioners were formed in 1854 and pre-date partition, Lough Foyle, in its entirety, is under the control of the Londonderry commissioners and recognised by both the British and Irish governments in terms of that navigability and operation of trade.
“We are a unique enterprise being both a UK trust port and operating in Europe at the same time. That gives us a tremendous opportunity in the North West. Those plans are well advanced and we are looking at the ownership and operational model of those that would bring somewhere in the region of 100,000 passengers to the North West.”
He said it was essential this deficit was addressed.
“There were 400 cruise ships in Ireland last year - Cork, Dublin, Belfast, all doing around 150 ships - and the physical deficit in Ireland and in NI sits within the North West and in Derry/Londonderry. So we need to address that,” said the Port chief.
Both men agreed a tourism minister was needed.
“The very fact that we have to come to Westminster, and we’re very pleased to be able to do it, shows this is where we are having to come to make these pleas on behalf of the people we represent and, without trying to disrespect this place, a much more engaged system at home would be eminently preferable,” concluded Mr. McGrath.
Foyle Port chief executive Brian McGrath told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee port, road and rail infrastructure deficits must be addressed.