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Achill being ‘thrown scraps’


STILL WAITING Cllr Paul McNamara has slammed the delay in the delivery of the proposed Wild Atlantic Way Signature Discovery Point at Keem Bay at the western end of Achill Island. Pic: Darren Moran

Council’s tourism efforts come in for stinging criticism

Michael Gallagher

2307 cllr-paul-mcnamara 390Achill is the jewel in Mayo’s tourism crown, yet it is being thrown scraps from the table by Mayo County Council. That was the stinging criticism delivered by Cllr Paul McNamara (pictured) at a meeting of the West Mayo Municipal District in Belmullet yesterday (Monday).
Forthright in his views, the island-based politician asked the local authority just how serious it is when it comes to promoting and developing tourism in the county in general, and Achill in particular.
“Since the Wild Atlantic Way was established, what has Mayo County Council put into it except for saying ‘Isn’t that a lovely view?’.
“We need to lead. We need to be setting the agenda. If Mayo County Council are serious about promoting tourism in the county then they have to step up. They should be working 24/7 to deliver a tourism dividend,” he argued.
Cllr McNamara (FF) then expressed his frustrations in the delay in the delivery of the Keem Bay Wild Atlantic Way Signature Point project.
“It’s five years since I met with Mayo County Council in Keem to get this vital project up and running, yet a design is still being drawn up. How it can take five years is beyond me. Keem Bay has been rated the third most beautiful beach in all of Europe, yet it’s taking years to get a plan together to develop this project.
“In my opinion, Mayo County Council aren’t serious about tourism,” McNamara told the meeting.

Loaves and fishes
Director of Services, Catherine McConnell, responded strongly.
“I refute that we’re not doing an excellent job in tourism,” she said, arguing that given the resources available, the council is performing somewhat of a miracle. “It’s a case of loaves and fishes with our resources, and the work of our tourism department is second to none. It’s actually a blessing that the Keem Bay project wasn’t delivered five years ago. What we will be doing now will be far more advantageous to Keem, Keel and Achill in general. Developing a world-class facility takes time,” she added.
Westport based Cllr Christy Hyland (Ind) intervened. “Monsignor Horan built an airport in three years; I can understand Cllr McNamara’s frustrations,” he said.

‘Told to be happy’
Cllr McNamara’s criticisms went beyond the Keem Bay project, however, as he accused the council of failing to invest in the island’s tourism in general.
“The County Council has €140 million of a budget, and Achill gets an embarrassing pittance. We’re the jewel in the crown yet we’re being thrown scraps and told to be happy. We won’t wait forever. Money needs to be spent,” he said.
“I hear talk of big projects and plans for millions to be spent here and there, but the County Council can’t even find the money to finish the playground in Achill Sound after Minister Ring allocated substantial funds.
“In fairness to Minister Ring, he has invested heavily in tourism throughout Mayo, but there’s very little happening on the ground to match his funding. Mayo County Council have to step up and become a leader on The Wild Atlantic Way, otherwise we will be left behind.”

Hard cash
Cllr McNamara’s sentiments were backed up by Cllr Gerry Coyle, who demanded to know how much the County Council had invested in West Mayo in recent years.
“This is a very important point. Padraic Philbin [Mayo County Council’s Head of Tourism] and his team in the tourism section of the council are doing wonderful work, but we need to know how much hard cash is being invested.
“Minister Ring has never been found wanting, but is that being reciprocated by the council? We need that question answered urgently,” said Cllr Coyle.