I’m no bully, says Paisley, I’m just seeking fair play for Northern Ireland tourism
Ian Paisley has hit back at Dublin Airport in the row over what he has called an “unfair marketing campaign” to attract visitors arriving in Northern Ireland to the Republic.
He added that the failure of PR and marketing experts to take on the fight to bring more visitors north of the border “reflects badly on them, not me” at a time when Belfast’s airports are continuing to lose over a million customers a year to Dublin.
He suggested that 70% of Dublin Airport’s marketing budget was spent in Northern Ireland and that visitors arriving in Dublin should be told “you've come to the wrong part of the island — you need to be up north”.
He provoked an angry reaction by suggesting Northern Ireland should “put it right back in their face”.
In dismissing Mr Paisley’s claims as “totally false”, Dublin Airport’s chief communications officer Paul O’Kane said it was “ludicrous” to suggest that the airport’s marketing campaign is aimed at visitors arriving in Belfast. But Mr Paisley is refusing to back down.
“It’s easy to dismiss comments someone hasn’t made as a way of diverting people away from the facts,” he said.
“Facts are stubborn things. Northern Ireland airports lose one million passengers a year to Dublin and that equates to 900 jobs, worth approximately £22-30m being denied to our economy.”
Mr Paisley also denied he was trying to “bully” anyone, insisting he comments were aimed at ensuring “fair play”.
“I am asking for fair play. I am asking for a tax policy that attracts airline businesses and customers to NI airports. I am asking for a VAT regime that does not disadvantage Northern Ireland, I am asking for a marketing strategy that recognises the fact that people want to visit the attractions in Northern Ireland yet are compelled and marketed by public money to enter via the Republic and see Northern Ireland as a day trip destination.
“I am surprised by the cowardice of some PR and marketing experts who know about the attractiveness of the province yet won’t take on the fight to get more visitors here.
“I suggest that reflects poorly on them, not me.
“We cannot have a situation when one airport is given the monopoly of getting international visitors into the province yet have a vested interest in keeping those same visitors in the Republic.
“I’m glad that on the first day of the select committee inquiry I have generated such a debate,” he said.
“I look forward to them positively responding to other matters I’ve raised such as developing a skills base for tourism training — given some people who criticise me sat on government quangos when some of our training facilities were closed I’m surprised they have the neck to criticise me. Roll on the debate.”