Category: Real Ireland Tour
3. TOURISM INVESTMENT
Around the country spiralling investment is taking place in the name of
tourism, fuelled by a combination of EU structural grants, urban renewal
tax incentives, seaside holiday resort tax incentives and BES (Business
Expansion Schemes) , along with the general rip of the economic boom.
3.1 Fake Tourist Shopping Villages
Given that tourism is now the sacred cow of Ireland, any investment that
presses the magic buzzword, jobs and tourism, is automatically seen as
This may apply when a particular investment is, in fact, not a tourist
facility at all, but may even, in the long-term, contribute to the
destruction of Ireland's genuine tourist image. Nothing better epitomises
this than the proposed "tourist shopping village" near Goffs on the Naas
dual carriageway in County Kildare. This is part of an international chain
type operation, providing a mall type retail outlet for discounted
international designer goods, the majority of which would be by definition
imported, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karen, etc. What is so wonderful about this
is, or what should be so particularly beneficial to Irish tourism is
difficult to imagine. It makes no sense for Ireland to spend a fortune on
roads infrastructure to encourage visitors from the Japano-Euro-American
industrial world to come to Ireland to buy yet more of the sort of goods in
the sort of malls which they have more than enough of in their own
Particularly bizarre about the Kill facility is the fact that a director of
the development company, Padraig O'hUig??n, is also the former chairman, and
still a director of Bord Failte the Irish Tourist Board. To suggest that
this poses a conflict of interest would be an understatement. Equally
curious is the fact that the Bord Failte, although a Prescribed Body under
the Planning Acts, has failed to make any comment on the matter. But then,
this is not surprising at all, given An Bord Failte's virtual national
abrogation of its Prescribed Body status and active collusion in the
plastic bungalow building B&B business.
3.2 Golf Courses.
The golf tourist is the fantasy of the tourist marketing guru, because of
his higher spending profile and higher age group, a big difference from
those Euro-hostelling back-packers, who spend so irritatingly little.
To satisfy the insatiable needs of this great recreational religion, golf
course fever is running rampant. However, in a competitive market, a new
golf course development has to market itself as being something special.
New courses must be located in sand dunes against the rolling Atlantic
breakers, lakes with spectacular mountain backdrops, or the grounds of
historic houses and castles. Among the most controversial has been that
developed by the brother of Dick Spring, TD in Castleisland Co. Kerry,
resulting in an ongoing controversy over the rare European habitat of the
natterjack toad. Plans simmer in Killarney for a proposed swap, by which a
slice of the Bourne Vincent National Park, part of the Muckross Estate, and
the greatest single treasure ever bequeathed to the nation, would be
abrogated, with the developer giving some woodland area to the National
Park in return, conveniently for him, as it would have no development
potential because of its location.
Most striking of all, is the glossy promotional marketing for the Doonbeg
golf course development in Clare. The brochure made a main selling point
of the fact that this was one of the "last such sand dune sites in Western
Europe available", what the report, of course, failed to mention was that
such sites in other European countries would not be available and would
have an inalienable status as wildlife habitats. This wonderful windswept
stretch of the Clare coast with the benefit of EU, Bord Failte directed
operational programme for tourism, funding to a tune of £2.4 million is
going to two 18 hole and one 9 hole golf course with lots of residential
development, holiday cottages and ninety bed-roomed hotel and of course,
all the massive road system, car parking, lighting sewerage and refuse
which that would generate.
A full investigation is needed to explain the extent and justification of
Bord Failte administered EU funding of golf courses. Among those
substantially funded, are the very exclusive Straffan in County Kildare,
and the totally private Luttrelstown in County Dublin.
3.3 Heritage And Interpretative Centres.
These have been the wonders of the last seven years. Fuelled by a
massive EU operation programme led by the Office of Public Works( now the
state heritage service Duchas ) and Bord Failte, every county now has a
Heritage Centre of some sort or another, many of them massive investments
of dubious economic return.
It would be unfair to praise or to criticise unevenly, many have
secured worthy uses for worthy buildings and provide genuinely needed focal
point visitor attractions. But others, particularly the more controversial
of the OPW group have been lethal in their insensitivity with the ongoing
saga of the Burren and Wicklow National Parks remaining unresolved.
The experience from National Parks in other countries shows that the only
viable strategy is to focus visitor numbers around existing settlements and
to minimise the impact of tour buses and mass tourism in the main national
park area in order to preserve the very qualities which the park embodies.
For those who really wish to experience the qualities of an area, cycling
and walking are the best option and the most precious landscape of the
country should not be sacrificed for the fleeting glimpse of the tour bus
zombie going through the experience of being led to hotel to tour stop,
shop to tour stop, shop to hotel again with a bit of passing scenery
between, which phenomenon should be best witnessed on what should be
renamed the "Bus Ring of Kerry". Many of the heritage centres, such as
the one in Dunchaoin, are shut up and bleak places in winter, and others,
such as Kilrush, a positive architectural embarrassment with their plastic
windows, the very antithesis of heritage.
A heritage or interpretative centre is a wonderful excuse for the State,
tourist or development interest to simulate a concern or appreciation of
heritage and environment. By packaging up whole lot of little red dots on
the map as bits of heritage to see, it means that the real environment of
the rest of the country becomes non-heritage, and the real landscapes,
wildlife habitats, archaeological legacy and national historic building
stock, can continue to be flushed down the tubes.
3.4 Holiday Villages.
Following the "success" of the urban renewal developer tax write off areas,
many rural counties and TDs became aggrieved that they were being left out
of the action. Hence, the brilliant strategy in the name of tourism
investment was the Enda Kenny seaside resorts tax incentive scheme,
including the re-invention of that fine planned town Westport in County
Mayo, in Mr. Kenny's own constituency as a "seaside resort". The principle
is the same as the urban renewal areas, a designated chunk of land,
allocated for development, which in this case had to be tourist related,
either housing, hotel or retail, with a condition that any housing had to
be short-term rental.
In practice, it simply made whole chunks of the Irish country as new tax
investment vehicles. When an area is give tax designation, it takes on an
economic force of its own right. Land values rise and the property is
acquired by investors or syndicates seeking to launder money through the
tax system. The scheme is introduced without any strategic plans for the
designated towns and the predictable haphazard results are now all too
obvious to see and are being bewailed in Achill, Enniscrone and Kilkee of
clusters of new white villages plonked arbitrarily here and there in the
landscape failing to reflect in any way the process of organic growth. The
one hope which was expressed for the holiday scheme that it would act as a
counterfoil to continued ribbon development has proved unfounded, since
ribbon bungalows remain rampant, and in large sections of Galway, such as
Renvyle and Roundstone, second homes now predominate. When local
conservation interests sought to appeal against the landscape and habitat
damaging scheme for Inchydoney Island near Clonakilty, the result was
locally orchestrated furore in the name of employment.
3.5 Tourist Accommodation
We are told, as if in a state of panic, that Ireland simply does not have
enough capacity to meet the hotel bed requirement which its wonderfully
burgeoning tourist infrastructure requires.
One of the most welcome developments of recent years has been the
development of a whole network of hidden Ireland type and country house
hotels, and some very sensitive conversions of country houses into discreet
good quality accommodation which is attracting a high spending and
discriminating international clientele. At the other end of the scale the
development of a huge new network of hostels has made the country
accessible for the adventurous budjet traveller.
The unexplained tourist accommodation phenomenon is the rampant growth
of B & B rural ribbon development plastic dormer bungalow.
It is difficult to understand what sort of clientele the vast majority of
older hotels are seeking to attract to judge by the grotesque quality of
typical refurbishment and alteration. Ireland has a great legacy of 19th
century hotels in the major cities and towns and from the days of the Great
Southern Railway Hotel chain. Yet most of these are currently suffering a
complete failure to appreciate their architectural quality and are covered
in dross and tat, including the sea of plastic windows. Among the most
notable casualties are the Great Southern Hotels in Killarney and Galway,
the noble Classical fronted Imperial Hotel in Cork, the historic Hearne's
Hotel in Clonmel, the Westenra in Monaghan and Old Ground in Ennis. The
18th century Cruise's in Limerick was a casualty to urban renewal, and is
now replaced by a chain store street, and development of Jury's Inn and
multi-storey car park type schemes of the dreariest architectural quality
in other parts of the city, a bizarre contradiction in the administration
of urban renewal.
3.6 The Marketing Triumph - The Big Event
There is a current obsession to lure major international TV sports events
to Ireland in the strange assumption that this will somehow be of enormous
benefit to tourism. The world equestrian games fiasco has been the first
attempt, but now Ireland is hosting part of the 1998 Tour de France, and in
the next century, the Ryder Cup. It is difficult to see what benefit there
is to the country of subjecting large areas to the complete chaos and motor
car tailbacks which these events will bring. It is also difficult to
understand the basis of the marketing hype, given that these are all the
sort of events that take place in other places anyhow, and why should the
millions around the world watching them on television suddenly say "Gosh!
It's being held in Ireland this year! Let's go there!". All they will see
on their screens are the same sort of shots of cyclists going up mountains
or pink or lemon pullovered people plugging balls in holes, which could be
Such events bring chaos and very little benefit to the population in the