Belfast Telegraph

DUP MLA criticises tourism campaign

A tourism bid to encourage the Irish Diaspora to return home relies too heavily on leprechauns and donkeys and does not deserve Stormont support, an Assembly member has warned.

But concerns raised by the DUP's Stephen Moutray and other unionists over the Dublin government-backed "The Gathering" initiative was criticised by SDLP and Sinn Fein members, who stressed the economic importance of supporting the promotion.

An Assembly motion tabled by the SDLP calling on the Executive to join the campaign to encourage the huge worldwide population with ancestral links to Ireland to make a trip to the homeland in 2013 provoked heated debate in the chamber.

While nationalists highlighted potential benefits of adopting an all-Ireland approach, Mr Moutray said the concept it promoted was alien to him and insisted the power-sharing administration should instead focus on selling a distinct Northern Ireland image.

"I think all of us in this house would agree that we cannot overestimate the importance to our economy of developing and growing our tourist industry, and when I refer to our economy and our tourist industry I am referring to that of Northern Ireland," he said.

Mr Moutray claimed the motion was "very green".

"It is a case of the SDLP using tourism as an excuse to peddle its all-island agenda. To my mind, at any rate, next year's Irish homecoming will be hugely sentimental and very Irish in a way that I for one cannot and will not really identify with.

"It is a sort of mother Ireland concept which conjurers up images of leprechauns, shillelaghs, pints of Guinness, donkeys, dancing at the crossroads and thatched cottages. In other words, it's the sort of stuff we see far too much of in retail outlets at our airports."

While he said he had no problem with the Irish Government promoting its own country, he added: "We must concentrate on marketing our own distinct Northern Ireland image, that has got to be our priority."

However, SDLP deputy leader Dolores Kelly criticised the attitude of unionists opposed to the motion. She said: "The majority of people of Irish descent living abroad regard Ireland as all 32 counties and therefore The Gathering should be embraced on an all-island basis to benefit every part of Ireland both north and south."

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