Belfast Telegraph

Paisley points to 'oddest map of Ireland I've ever seen' in fresh NI tourism row

The Tourism Ireland map from 2009
The Tourism Ireland map from 2009
Ian Paisley
Niall Gibbons, chief executive of the body
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Ian Paisley has reignited a row over the all-Ireland tourism body's promotion of visitor sites on this side of the border.

The DUP MP became involved in a fresh war of words with Tourism Ireland over what he claimed was its historic lack of support for attractions here.

It happened during a Northern Ireland Affairs Committee meeting at Westminster yesterday when he challenged Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons over a map of the island used in a global campaign 10 years ago.

"This is the oddest map of Ireland I think I've ever seen. Northern Ireland falls off the horizon," Mr Paisley said.

"We have the historic Walls of Derry noted, but the banner for the Giant's Causeway can hardly be seen.

"That's it, and this was used all over the world? It's a map that doesn't even have Northern Ireland on it."

He asked Mr Gibbons: "It doesn't really do it for Northern Ireland, does it?"

"It doesn't give Northern Ireland a fair crack of the whip.

"The view is that Tourism Ireland, first and foremost, has to promote the Republic of Ireland.

"Northern Ireland gets second place."

Tourism Ireland was set up under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement to promote the island internationally. Mr Gibbons said the map had been used as part of a 'Go Where Ireland Takes You' campaign in 2009.

Earlier this month the committee heard from Uel Hoey, business development director at Belfast International Airport, who claimed the "sales pitch is not being made for Belfast" in North America by Tourism Ireland.

Mr Paisley reminded the committee that Mr Hoey had also expressed frustration that there was currently no direct airline route between Northern Ireland and North America.

"There's a real feeling that the fact that Dublin Airport is principally owned by the state that it gives them an unfair advantage over a privately owned airport," he said.

Mr Paisley also challenged Mr Gibbons over the content of a report - Canada: Land Of Opportunity 2014-16 - published by Tourism Ireland.

"When you read that report it makes it very, very clear that the objective was to communicate how easy it is to access Northern Ireland through Dublin Airport," he said.

"Here we have, in black and white, Tourism Ireland enticing people to Northern Ireland though Dublin."

Mr Gibbons responded by pointing out to MPs that the three carriers that previously flew into Belfast International Airport from Canada no longer did so.

"There used to be 1,500 seats to Northern Ireland each week. Those three routes have disappeared. Now 10,000 seats a week come through Dublin and Shannon," he said.

"If people are going to come to Northern Ireland, we have to advise them on the easiest route to get there."

He also told the committee he was "shocked" to hear the claim his organisation wasn't doing enough to promote Northern Ireland, when the issue was raised again by Lady Hermon.

"I think it isn't correct to say we first and foremost promote the Republic of Ireland," he told the committee.

"That used to be the job of Bord Failte, but Tourism Ireland was established to carry out the functions previously carried out separately by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Failte. We do so in a very collaborative manner, we make sure we give a lot of prominence to Northern Ireland.

"Everyone is treated the same, there is very much a level playing field so I don't accept the criticism at all."

Mr Gibbons described tourism as a "vital industry for Northern Ireland" and the source of 65,000 jobs.

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