Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (502)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

619 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to report on his Department's activities in respect of Ireland's EU Presidency; if he will outline his plans for the next few months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1216/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

As I outlined in reply to a similar question on 18 December last, my main priority for the Presidency, in so far as arts, sport and tourism are concerned, is to ensure that normal EU business is conducted efficiently and effectively particularly given the additional workload and complexities associated which the accession of ten new member states. In this context, I had very useful meetings in Dublin Castle on 6 January with the two Commissioners with responsibilities in the field of culture, sport and tourism, Viviane Reding and Errki Liikanen, respectively. Just yesterday, I addressed the European Parliament Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport on our priorities for the Presidency.

In order to advance the work programme in the field of culture, my Department will host three major events during the Presidency: a seminar on cultural and linguistic diversity in Killarney on 11 March, a seminar on the music industry in Dublin on 19 and 20 April, and a meeting of a European group on digitisation of heritage and culture to be followed by a conference on digitisation to take place in Dublin on 28 and 29 June. We are also supporting an Arts Council seminar in Cork in May which is aimed at facilitating greater networking among NGOs in the arts field.

The main priority in the sports area will be the European year of education through sport. I, along with my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Dempsey, will host the official European launch of the year in Croke Park on 29 January and this will be followed by a conference on the importance of sport in an educational context.

While tourismper se is not an area of competence for the EU, Ireland recognises the importance of the tourism sector in Europe and the opportunity which the Presidency presents to consider the key issues facing the industry in a European context. In that context, I have asked Fáilte Ireland to organise a business-focused conference on competitiveness and sustainability in tourism during our Presidency. The conference will take place on 5 April in Dublin Castle.

Earlier this month I formally launched the Presidency cultural programme. This extensive programme, which will see over 250 Irish artists and hundreds of European artists presenting work across the expanded EU, is one of the central features of the Irish Presidency. We have already had a very successful concert in Brussels to mark the start of the Presidency there.

The new member states will be officially welcomed into the EU by an Irish city or town in a special day of welcomes on Saturday, 1 May. This day will be at the heart of a national weekend of celebration that will involve each of the ten towns and cities hosting distinct and engaging European fairs, while a fireworks extravaganza in Dublin from a leading European pyrotechnics company will commence celebrations in the capital on Friday, 30 April.

Dublin will also see St. Stephen's Green transformed into a colourful bazaar with marquees, stands and stages making up the European fair on Saturday, 1 May. It is expected that over 100,000 visitors will pass through the fair over the weekend to enjoy the experience of unique and interesting produce from the new EU member states and participate in the fun cultural activity.

A major concert of Irish and international stars on O'Connell Street will be a highlight of the weekend and will be produced by RTÉ and the BBC. It will be broadcast live throughout Europe. The line-up for this concert will be announced in February. From a cultural, sports and tourism perspective, the Irish Presidency promises to be both exciting and rewarding for all those involved.