'Occupy' stance regrettable - Varadkar

Wed, Mar 7, 2012, 00:00

It is “regrettable” that those involved in the Occupy Dame Street camp outside the Central Bank in Dublin will not consider relocating for a few days during the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar was speaking today as he announced a tourism initiative aiming to attract an extra 300,000 visitors to Ireland next year.

“I think it’s disappointing that they’re not going to move the camp for a few days. I understand they feel very strongly about their politics but I’m sure they don’t want to damage the festival,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Occupy Dame Street movement said this week it would continue its protest despite a request by gardaí on February 28th to remove the camp.

Mr Varadkar said the St Patrick’s Day festival was “a huge draw” for tourists. “What I’d hope that they would do is to move the camp for a couple of days – which has been done in other cities.”

He said it was "regrettable" that those at the camp were unwilling to do that. "I think if they had more concern about Dublin and tourism in the country they would be willing to relocate for a couple of days.”

Mr Varadkar was speaking at Leinster House where he urged communities, business groups, sports clubs and alumni associations to play their part in the initiative entitled "The Gathering 2013", which centres on 12 major events throughout the year.

Government Ministers will launch the initiative internationally during their St Patrick’s Day trips abroad next week.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will promote the event on his visit to Washington, while Mr Varadkar will promote it in London at the St Patrick’s Day ball.

Announcing the event outside Leinster House today, Mr Varadkar said it was a call to the Irish disapora and to people with a love of Ireland to visit in 2013 for one of the big events planned. “The aim is to bring in an additional 300,000 or so extra visitors to Ireland that year, which would bring an extra €200 million in revenue into the economy,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said this would involve getting communities, local authorities and sports clubs to make contact with people overseas who might visit Ireland in 2013. He hoped the media might also become involved, perhaps by holding a major conference.

Twelve major events, including Bloomsday, St Patrick’s Day and the Heineken Cup final will be used as a focus for the  initiative.

The Minister said it was “very much targeted at the diaspora” - both the living diaspora of people who had left the country in recent years, and also the “generational diaspora”.

He said huge numbers of people had also studied or had work experience in Ireland. “We are working with the universities to put on alumni events, for example, for them. I think it’s going to be really big.”

The Minister said the initiative had its own board, budget and business plan in place. The domestic arm of the programme – entitled Connections – will be launched in April.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on tourism Timmy Dooley said, however, the Minister had damaged confidence in the tourism sector by signalling the reduced lower 9 per cent VAT rate was unlikely to be kept through next year, despite the Government’s commitment it would run until the end of 2013.