Tourism Ireland rejects Paisley claim it favours Republic

Organisation’s chief says it ensures it gives ‘a lot of prominence’ to Northern Ireland

Tourism Ireland chief executive Niall Gibbons said that since 2002 nearly 30 million overseas visitors had visited Northern Ireland.

Tourism Ireland has strongly rejected claims by the DUP's Ian Paisley that "there is a view" it "really first and foremost has to promote the Republic of Ireland and that Northern Ireland gets second place in that".

Niall Gibbons, the chief executive of Tourism Ireland, which markets the island of Ireland overseas as a holiday destination, told Mr Paisley that this view was not correct and that the organisation "makes sure that we give a lot of prominence to Northern Ireland".

Mr Gibbons resolutely defended the role of Tourism Ireland as he gave evidence on Wednesday to the Northern Ireland affairs committee at Westminster, which is conducting an inquiry on the importance of tourism to the North’s economy.

He told the committee that since 2002, when Tourism Ireland was established under the framework of the Belfast Agreement, nearly 30 million overseas visitors had visited Northern Ireland which had in turn generated £6.6 billion (€7.4 billion) for the Northern Ireland economy.


But Mr Paisley was keen to quiz Mr Gibbons about claims that had been made by Uel Hoey, the business development director of Belfast International Airport, who previously told the committee that his airport was not supported by Tourism Ireland.

Mr Hoey told the committee Tourism Ireland did a very good job "for the island of Ireland in terms of marketing and getting green lights on things on 17 March". "That brings people into Dublin. It brings people exclusively into Dublin. When they get into Dublin, they stay in Dublin," he said.

Mr Paisley said it was Mr Hoey’s case that his airport was not supported by Tourism Ireland as a hub and he asked Mr Gibbons if that was “fair criticism”.

The boss of Tourism Ireland said he did not accept the criticism at all.

In response to further questions from Mr Paisley about support for Belfast airport, Mr Gibbons said Tourism Ireland did not directly support any airport on the island but rather supported airlines “to promote the inbound leg of the route”.

“In relation to Belfast International their chief executive is on our board, we do interact with them and if there is any issues that they have they know exactly where I am and they can pick up a phone,” Mr Gibbons said.

Francess McDonnell

Francess McDonnell

Francess McDonnell is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business