'Lack of road and rail
links' killing tourism in west
Sunday Independent - 14th
Transport is 'greatest single issue' as holiday-makers
find that they just cannot get any further than Irish
by Shane Hickey
IT is the beginning of an idyllic holiday in Ireland and
you are looking forward to sampling Yeats country, the
beauty of the Burren and the fresh Atlantic air rolling
Having landed at the airport with a view to travelling
west however, the reality of the Irish transport system
dawns. Trains that trundle no further north than Sligo -
unless you want to trek to Derry and cramped buses - are now
more likely to be the main hallmark of a trip into the west
for holiday-makers. Without a car, a trip to Donegal is out
of the question and you can forget a sojourn to "lovely
Leitrim" because the county has no rail links. Lack of
transport infrastructure has been identified as one of the
crucial stumbling blocks in reigniting the west for
Demand for beds in the west declined dramatically between
1999 and 2003 with drops of 22 per cent in the area and 39
per cent in the Shannon region, according to the Irish
Tourist Industry Confederation (ITIC). While the drop has
been offset by increases in bed occupation in Dublin,
reports have indicated that drops in the west have continued
Chief executive of the ITIC Eamonn McKeon said transport
was the greatest single issue facing Irish tourism at the
moment, with recent statistics illustrating that drops are
unlikely to recover this year. At the core of the problem is
access to areas in the west and a better integration of bus
and rail services, he said.
The chief executive of North-West Tourism Paul McLoon
said if someone was travelling from Palmers Green in London,
the journey to Stansted or Gatwick is straightforward.
"There is frequent flights to the west of Ireland, but
then how do you get from Knock to Sligo? How do you get from
Derry to Donegal town?" asked Mr McLoon. "Say you land at
Knock and you are going to Sligo, the bus you get - if you
are lucky enough to get one - goes to Charlestown and you
might have to wait for a couple of hours - so suddenly your
short break is starting to turn into quite a long break.
"There is nothing to support the visitor when they land
at regional airports regarding quick access."
Pressure on better public transport infrastructure is
growing as the number of tourists who choose to drive or
rent cars have dropped. "The number of people bringing their
cars to Ireland has dropped by nearly 40 per cent in the
last four years and car hire dropped by two per cent so the
number of people mobile that get around Ireland is
diminishing," said Mr McLoon.
The solution, says Mr McLoon is build more roads which
will run through the area.
"It is long overdue - what should be in Ireland is a
motorway the length and breath of the country. I can't
understand why it is all over every part of Europe," he
"I can't see why there can't be a motorway from Derry to
Kerry and with arteries off it to other regions of the
country. Until that is done, we will not have addressed the
The economic implications for drops in tourist travelling
to the west are stark.
There has previously been calls for the Irish industry to
focus on activity-based holidays such as angling and cycling
which are close to collapse even though the economic value
of such travellers is said to be five times that of someone
here on a city break.
An on-going community campaign in the west of Ireland has
been underway to re-open the Western Rail Corridor which
runs from Sligo to Limerick. Spokesman for West-on-Track
Colman O Raghallaigh said it was impossible to have an
inter-regional flow of tourists under the current system.
"If you have a tourist who has arrived at Shannon and he
visits Limerick and he goes down to Killarney for a couple
of days, but he'd like to go to Galway, he cannot actually
go from Limerick to Galway on a train," said Mr O
"That seems bizarre to us. Or he wants to see where
William Butler Yeats lived and all about Yeats in Sligo - he
cannot get on a train.
"He has to go through an awfully difficult and slow
process of getting on a bus and changing a bus in Galway and
all that goes with that.
"There isn't a direct bus from Limerick to north of
Galway - you have to change buses in Galway.
"Bus Eireann is running enormous numbers of buses in the
west of Ireland and there are also several private
operators, but bus travel is not the preferred form of
travel for many tourists because if you are carrying baggage
with you, you don't want to be getting on a narrow bus."