North tourist board expects 100,000 fewer visitors as peace efforts falter


BECAUSE of the political and security situation, Northern Ireland can expect up to 100,000 fewer holiday visitors this year than in the "ceasefire year" of 1995, tourism planners have estimated.

The annual report of the Northern Ireland Tourism Board, published yesterday, reveals the reality of the cloud cast over tourism growth by the threat to peace.

The leap of 67 per cent in visitor numbers, from 280.000 in 1994 to 450.000 in 1995, is projected to turn into a decline of 20 per cent this year, to about 34,000.

The chairman of the tourist hoard, Mr Roy Baillie, called for greater efforts to be made to obtain a political settlement. He said that if Northern Ireland was ever going to maximise its tourism potential "we will need a resolution to our problems through dialogue and not through street demonstrations or bombs".

Three key developments were needed to secure the future of tourism, he said. "We need a resolution to the marching [issue] because that badly affects July and August. We need a total and permanent ceasefire. And we need some form of political stability."

He pointed out, however that the tourism industry was resilient and had not been terminally damaged by recent developments. Bookings for conferences were up 50 per cent on last year and current holiday visitor levels are still up 24 per cent on 1994.

Last year brought the highest ever visitor numbers to the North, as well as its greatest hotel occupancy figures, highest investment in infrastructure and most positive coverage from the world's media, Mr Baillie said.

The annual report covers the financial year April, 1995, to March, 1996, and does not therefore fully reflect the impact of the breakdown of the IRA ceasefire in February.

But it shows that holiday visitor numbers from the Republic increased by 68 per cent to 210,000 in 1995, while total visitor numbers from the Republic grew by 21 per cent to 470,000.

There was a 70 per cent increase in holidaymakers from Britain and a 100 per cent growth in visitors from the US.

Mr Baillie said it was estimated that in ideal conditions tourism had the potential to earn revenue of £500 million sterling a year for the North and to create 20,000 jobs.

GARDAI are to continue a follow up search today near the remote Co Donegal farm shed where a mortar and other munitions were located on Saturday.

Gardai mounted checkpoints in and around the farm at Ballygorman, near Malin Head yesterday. A selection of the items found were also put on display at Letterkenny Garda Station.

The cache included a projected recoiless improvised grenade - primed and ready for use, most - likely in an attack on the security forces - two Kalashnikov ARM assault rifles, several hundred rounds of ammunition, walkie talkies, balaclavas, all weather clothing, food supplies and training manuals.

Some of the items, including two grenades, were unearthed in the follow up operation.

Garda sources confirmed yesterday that the arms dump had all the hallmarks of a training camp. Gardai would not be drawn on whether the farm had been under surveillance.

It is located in an isolated part of the Inishowen peninsula, close to Ireland's most northerly point, and there are few roads leading in and out of the area.

A Donegal farmer who was arrested under Section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act in connection with the find was released without charge yesterday.