THE CASE FOR THE BRIDGE
The immediate hinterland to Carlingford Lough, consisting of parts of counties of Armagh, Louth and Down has been classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Slieve Foy and the shoreline of the Cooley Peninsula is a designated Special Area of Conservation and Protection. Carlingford Lough with the Mournes to the north and the Cooley Mountains to the south is considered one of the most scenic areas along the East Coast.
The lough is ideally located on the North-South Corridor and roughly equidistant from the largest centres of population in Ireland.
Despite its prime location and natural capital, the area is significantly under-achieving both in economic development terms generally and in tourism in particular.
Newry Mourne & Down along with Derry & Strabane are according to the detail, an investigative and news analysis website, the worst performers among the new council areas. In September 2015, in its quarterly Tourism Industry Barometer, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board highlighted the South East as its weakest performing region. The McArdle Report of 2011 cited Dundalk as the most deprived part of the border region.
The effects of economic deprivation and lack of tourist numbers are clearly visible in communities around the lough, especially in Warrenpoint and Omeath. The most blatant examples on the County Louth side include the Park Hotel, the Táin Holiday Village. Both establishments ceased trading in 2007. It is easy to imagine the Park Hotel, now derelict, in a comparable area of natural beauty as the luxury hotel in the district.
Park Hotel Omeath
Táin Holiday Village Omeath
Carlingford Bay Hotel Warrenpoint
The Carlingford Bay Hotel, in a commanding seafront position in Warrenpoint, closed its doors nearly 20 years ago. It is also derelict.
The most recent and perhaps the most poignant premises to be added to the list is Bennets . This iconic pub and restaurant ceased trading on New Years Eve 2015 after over a century in the same family - an irreplaceable loss to the area.
Bennets Pub & Restaurant Warrenpoint
The NWBCN supports fully the NITB's contention in its recent "Campaigning for Tourism" document the Northern Ireland Tourism Board that:
"The economic opportunities that exist between now and 2020 are limited only by our willingness, determination and commitment to value tourism. Tourism is poised as a key driver of the economy."
Fáilte Ireland in a report from 2014 put the following economic value on tourism: Every €1m of tourist expenditure helps to support 34 tourism jobs. Every 55 international tourists help support one tourism job with each 1,000 additional tourists support 18 jobs in the tourism industry.
Dublin Airport, just over an hour from Narrow Water and now clearly the gateway into Ireland, reported passenger numbers for 2016 of some 28 million, a figure which is approximately 5 times that of Belfast International, George Best City and City of Derry Airports combined. Most tourists however either stay in Dublin or travel on to the West and South West.
The NWBCN argues strongly for the recently launched Ireland’s Ancient East to be extended into counties Armagh, Down and Antrim. It is difficult to conceive of an Ireland's ancient east without Armagh City and Downpatrick!
The recent Wild Atlantic Way initiative is beginning to disperse tourists along its entire length and encouraging the exploration of counties like Mayo, Sligo and Donegal.
In recent years there has been growing interest in what has been termed active tourism which includes all forms of active holidays but significantly walking and cycling. Inspired by the increasing popularity of the medieval pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, many European countries are rediscovering their ancient pilgrim paths, including Ireland.
"After generations of slumber, many of the pilgrim paths of Ireland are reawakening.
Some of Europe’s oldest penitential walkways, most reaching back to pre-Christian times and, [….]– are again echoing to pilgrim footfall." Irish Times October 2015.
Since the development of the Great Western Greenway in County Mayo, the growth in cycle paths has been exponential. A Eurovelo study, published in 2012, reckoned the European cycling tourism market to be worth €54 billion. Fáilte Ireland has recently identified a potential market of 11 million cyclists in Germany alone!
The NWBCN believes that Narrow Water Bridge will provide a natural interconnector for the scenic areas of Cooley, Gullion and Mourne This will decisively capitalise on the growth in active tourism and tap into an under-exploited market especially in Britain and among our near-neighbours on the continent for new and interesting walking and cycling destinations.
"By 2019, we will have become one of the premier tourism destinations on the island of Ireland."
Newry Mourne & Down DC
The NWBCN is convinced the Narrow Water Bridge is the critical piece of tourist infracture that will bring this about.
The NWBCN maintains that the bridge as approved in 2012 remains the appropriate concept and design. It involves no aesthetic or environmental degradation to an established Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which underpins the valuable tourist offering. It will facilitate a level of vehicular transport that is fully consistent with the tourist and community access objectives. The cantilever construction is vital to maintain navigable access to Newry via the Newry Canal. We at the NWBCN firmly believe that Carlingford Lough begins at the Albert Basin.
The NWBCN believes that the tourism and community development objectives of the Narrow Water Bridge are both clear and achievable. With all permissions, in terms of planning, in place and environmental assessments completed, the Narrow Water Bridge can be delivered quickly, unhindered by any protracted and costly inquiry.
The Narrow Water Bridge Community Network is seriously concerned that Brexit has the potential to cripple economic development in an already seriously under-performing and politically fragile region.
Brexit is likely to drive an economic wedge between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. While there is great economic uncertainty for the Republic, it is well accepted that Northern Ireland is the more vulnerable.
The NWBCN believes that the potential of a bridge connection in uniting communities should not be underestimated. The recently constructed Peace Bridge in Derry is a clear case in point.
The iconic “hands across the great divide” dimension of the bridge, widely heralded some years ago, is now of immense significance. Building the bridge at Narrow Water will send a number of welcome signals around these islands and to the world beyond. The first is that politics can work and deliver for the people and if societies need to build - it is to bridges they must turn not walls!
For further information contact:
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