I wish to refer specifically to the area of cultural tourism because as Fianna Fáil spokesperson for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht I have a particular interest in that matter. The Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-99 sets out as one of its priorities the further development of natural and cultural tourism.The National Development Plan 1994-99 identified the traditional strengths of Irish tourism as its people, scenery, cultural heritage, environmental quality and world-wide ethnic links. In its review of the 1988-93 period, it identified the development of inland waterways, the investment in 16 new theme town projects, two new literary museums, 65 houses and castles newly opened and improved, and other heritage attractions as being among the core achievements of the programme to date. I am sure all of us would agree that it is important to review these programmes to ensure the best possible long-lasting value for money is achieved for not only tourism but culture, which will attract further tourists.
About £22 million is available for the cultural incentives development scheme, designed to put in place the arts, heritage and cultural infrastructure to serve the needs for the future. The total spend for national cultural tourism is estimated at around £125 million over the extent of the programme. What has it meant for heritage and culture generally? Many arts and heritage people would say in terms of cultural infrastructure what we got was a series of glitzy projects which provided poor value and may well give rise to headaches.
We need to talk about a co-ordinated approach to cultural infrastructure. There is no strategy at present. In the past, funding allocations depended on the applications received and on the ingenuity, planning and clout of individuals and communities. Some of these projects are very good but all applications for funding should be assessed in the context of a regional and county arts and heritage policy which identifies strengths and weaknesses. Projects should include long-term goals that will serve arts, heritage and tourism well for a long time to come. We need living centres at the heart of communities which keep the arts and heritage vibrant and alive. That is what will energise those communities and enthral the visitor.
We must have good leisure and sports facilities for visitors, they come for something different. Our communities need centres which will encourage the arts, and local culture and which will protect and celebrate local heritage. The local people must be invited to participate and their energy harnessed. Ireland is not rich enough and its population is too small to have stand alone single-function tourist attractions which cannot have other uses. Such places have no heart; either they are cold and peripheral to living culture and heritage because they have become peripheral to local life or they have a poor employment record and often offer little chance of good jobs in the long-term. Many people involved in such jobs have to depend on FÁS schemes to survive rather than on long-term full-time jobs.
We are lucky to have landscape, archaeology, music, genealogy, an astonishing prehistory and general history, architecture, gardens and inland waterways. We have warmth and welcome, craic, and the session. We have extraordinary literary and artistic talent. Visitors should be able to interact in all of these areas in as natural a way as possible, and will resist us packaging it and presenting it in a plastic way. They want to see our heritage in context rather than trying to make it look like some kind of Disneyland. Since Ireland has all the natural ingredients where heritage and culture is concerned they must be developed in a sensitive way as that is what the tourist seeks.
It is only in the context of a proper national and regional arts and heritage strategy that we can value, celebrate and energise what we have. We do not want this to be presented in a plastic or stage Irish way. Art centres, museums and specialised heritage centres offer a chance for a living community to celebrate a living culture and heritage. Culture and heritage can be relieved and rediscovered because they are rooted in tradition, solid research and development and in people who draw on their talents to explore a story and to tell it.
I have been told that many centres have been developed from a computer programme of a foreign design team. This is not the way to proceed. I am told such a programme can be used anywhere. This is short-term thinking in terms of cultural policy and tourism generally because what the tourists come to see is something indigenous, not something bland which can be translated for any other culture.
Immense sums have been spent on design and display in some centres but little has been done in the area of primary research or on a collection of archival material and artefacts which would regenerate and invigorate any display and allow unlimited potential for development. Ireland has all the natural ingredients; it has the tremendous architecture, the archaeology, the artefacts and history. It is a question of being able to present that in the most acceptable form in its proper context. In talking about the heritage of a town, for example, one cannot by any stretch of the imagination ignore the town or its history. That is why I referred earlier to computer programmes, which do not have any real long-term part to play in what Ireland can offer culturally. It is not what the tourist seeks.
Many of the Irish heritage professionals have despaired at the small number of centres which have not come up to scratch. It is disappointing because there are some excellent examples, such as the Foxford Woollen Mills, County Mayo, which connects with its environment. It has a unique history and is well researched and linked to a living mill project.
Bord Fáilte should market the product "Ireland" but we should be careful that we know the product and how we want to present, preserve and celebrate it. Ireland's tourism policy must be conservation driven. If we do not preserve what we have and allow it to flower as it is, we will turn it into something plastic and shallow which will not be worth experiencing. We need to plan for the future. Having a strategy for arts and heritage will create its own dynamic and will ultimately serve the nation and the tourism industry.