Ross questions timing of pope’s visit before possible abortion vote

Minister says there may be ‘better times’ for papal visit than in 2018

Minister for Tourism Shane Ross questioned the timing of the pontiff’s visit ahead of a possible vote on abortion in 2018. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Minister for Tourism Shane Ross questioned the timing of the pontiff’s visit ahead of a possible vote on abortion in 2018. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Minister for Tourism Shane Ross says it is “wonderful” that Pope Francis will be coming to Ireland, but questioned the timing of the pontiff’s visit ahead of a possible vote on abortion in 2018.

The head of the Catholic Church confirmed on Monday morning he will visit Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in 2018 following a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, making him the first pope to visit the country since John Paul II in 1979.

Speaking at the launch of Tourism Ireland’s overseas marketing plans for 2017, the Minister welcomed the pope’s visit in a “tourism context” but questioned the possible resultant boost to tourism numbers.

“I don’t know whether it would benefit tourism or not, I suspect it would. And he’ll be very, very welcome in that context,” he said.

The Pope’s visit may well coincide with the run-up to a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, which deals with the right to life of the unborn, after the Government said any such ballot will not be held until 2018 at the earliest.

When asked about the potential overlap, Mr Ross responded that there may be “better times” for Pope Francis to visit should that scenario occur.

“I simply think that maybe there are better times to come than in the middle of a controversial political matter in which he might get embroiled,” he remarked.

Delegates from around Ireland met for the conference on inward tourism to Ireland on Monday.

They heard that 2017 is expected to once again surpass records due to be broken by the end of 2016 for both tourism numbers coming to the State and revenue created.

Tourism Ireland expects revenues to edge closer to €6 billion next year with a 4.5 per cent increase on the €5.4 billion expected to be recorded for the whole of 2016.

The State agency said it will target audiences in North America and mainland Europe in particular next year.

However, Monday’s announcement made clear that the uncertainty created by Brexit will impact on tourism numbers from Britain, currently Ireland’s largest market.

Meanwhile, Mr Ross addressed questions about his dedication to the tourism portfolio, describing suggestions that he has not paid enough attention to that part of his ministerial brief as “utter nonsense”.

“Any criticisms that I’m not spending enough time in the tourism portfolio are complete and utter nonsense. There’s simply no evidence produced by anybody to support that, not one scintilla of it,” he said, pointing to growth of around 10 per cent in Ireland’s inward tourism market this year.

He added that the Government is working “day and night” on several contingency plans to implement in the event of the UK leaving the European Union.