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Foster's drive to have Wild Atlantic Way extended over the border

By Noel McAdam

The Wild Atlantic Way may be Ireland's first long-distance driving route, taking tourists through more than 1,500 miles of spectacular scenery - but it shouldn't end at the border, it has been claimed.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster says visitors to these shores should be encouraged to keep on driving once they reach Londonderry - and enjoy the breathtaking views all the way to the Giant's Causeway.

The DUP minister is now demanding that the all-Ireland tourism body put the Causeway Coast and Glens of Antrim on a level footing with the Republic's Wild Atlantic Way.

Ms Foster told the Assembly she had asked for "equal prominence" to promote the scenic Northern Ireland route alongside the rugged west coast drive.

She said she had voiced "disappointment" with the chief executive of Tourism Ireland at a recent meeting, through the North South Ministerial Council.

Her attack came after Sinn Fein MLA Cathal O hOisin asked whether a major opportunity had been missed in not extending the Wild Atlantic Way from Cork, via the west coast and through Donegal to Ballycastle.

Launched last year, the Wild Atlantic Way successfully promotes Ireland's western coastline as a tourist destination. The route stretches from the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal to Kinsale in Co Cork, taking in 'Discovery Points' such as the Blasket Islands, foraging for local food across the Killala Bay or kayaking in Kinsale.

Mrs Foster, whose brief covers tourism, said yesterday it had been shown that tourists who are motorists stay longer in an area and tend to spend more.

She said she had voiced disappointment with Tourism Ireland chief Niall Gibbons and asked that the Causeway route be given "equal prominence", with the two routes being "promoted together".

She said when the two were added together it would be a very good promotion.

Answering a question from independent MLA Claire Sugden, the minister said the route included two of Northern Ireland's top attractions, the Giant's Causeway and the Bushmills Distillery.

And she said she was looking forward to meeting the new owners of Bushmills, the Mexican business Jose Cuervo, which took over the UK firm Diageo, and welcomed it to Northern Ireland as "inward investors".

Speaking last year, the minister had said: "We are keen that people who take the Wild Atlantic Way to Donegal move over into Londonderry and across into Antrim and Down to appreciate what we have to offer here in Northern Ireland."

Tourism bosses in Northern Ireland have been working to ensure more of the six million visitors who arrive via Dublin Airport every year include Northern Ireland in their trips.

"It is very important that we work with the tour operators to make sure that Northern Ireland is on the agenda of visitors arriving on the island through Dublin. We have engaged in that in the German, French and other markets," Mrs Foster said.

"We believe that, if we are able to get on the major tour operators' agendas, we will be able to draw visitors to Northern Ireland when they are on organised tours of the island."

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