Varadkar to fight for retention of tourist VAT rate

Gathering already at 90% tourism growth target, Global Irish Economic Forum hears

Economist David McWilliams chairs the opening session of the Global Irish Economic Forum at Dublin Castle. Photograph: Frank Miller / The Irish Times

Economist David McWilliams chairs the opening session of the Global Irish Economic Forum at Dublin Castle. Photograph: Frank Miller / The Irish Times

Fri, Oct 4, 2013, 12:14

Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar has said he would be fighting for the retention of the 9 per cent VAT rate for tourism services in the final budget negotiations.

While he said it was only meant to be a temporary measure, “if you remove it too suddenly it can cause harm”.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said in the Dáil this week the Government could not afford keeping the rate indefinitely.

Mr Varadkar ruled out a continuation of The Gathering into next year saying the idea may be revived in seven or 10 years time.

“The Gathering we always said was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Mr Varadkar said. “I think it would be wrong to repeat it too soon, but it will maybe happen again in seven or 10 years’ time.”

The Gathering has already achieved 90 per cent of its target for tourism growth this year, the forum heard. MrVaradkar said a target of 325,000 extra visitors had been set “and we are well on our way to meeting that with 291,000 (additional) visitors at the end of August”.

He said the Gathering has cost the State €13 million over the last two years but the return was likely to be “a multiple of that”.

Earlier, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore announced at the conference that the Government is creating a “disapora advisory group” to advise it on how best to strengthen links with Irish overseas.

Opening the conference at Dublin Castle, he said the Government was reviewing its “diaspora policy” as part of which it was convening the advisors group, consulting with Irish emigrants internationally, and working on the creating of an ambitious Irish diaspora data base.

This is the third meeting of the forum, which sees 270 members from 40 countries discussing job creation plans and other initiatives to boost the Irish economy.

The 2009 forum was “a call for help at a time of crisis”, Mr Gilmore said. Two years later, it was looking at paths for recovery, while this year the focus was on job creation and also “to create a vision of post-recession Ireland”.

Author Colum McCann told the opening plenary Irish people needed to reclaim patriotism and volunteerism as part of that recovery. He listed Mary Robison, Gabriel Byrne and even Ian Paisley – because he was willing to compromise for peace - as patriots.

We shouldn’t shy away from the past but rather we should be both “joyous and critical of what we have become”, he told the gathering.

Opening the conference, David McWilliams said the forum should seek to “recharge the Irishness of the diaspora” to make them “a sales force for us”. Highlighting the “soft power” of the “the great Irish tribe that is outside this country”, he said “they give us a competitive advantage that many countries do not have”.