No shortage of local projects for new minister

The appointment of Deputy Brendan Griffin as Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport this week revives something of a tradition in having a Kerry hand steering the ship at national level.

He becomes the third Kerry deputy to hold the Tourism brief in recent years, and follows in the footsteps of the late Michael Moynihan, the Killarney Labour TD who was a junior minister from 1982-87 at what was then the Dept of Trade, Commerce and Tourism, and John O’Donoghue, who held the tourism portfolio at senior level from 2002 to 2007.

As many as 1 in 5 jobs in Kerry are tourism related, so the appointment of Deputy Griffin as junior minister in the Department can certainly be welcomed as an acknowledgement of the critical role the industry plays in the county.

It’s a national role, of course, but it also comes at a crucial time for Kerry tourism.

After several years of little or no government investment, new capital funding for tourism projects is once again becoming available. But there are fears that Kerry could be overlooked in favour of areas seeking to grow their own tourism sector.

That would be a shame because there is still so much to be done to support the industry here and the people it already employs.

Kerry’s greenway projects - each one a major tourism initiative - are crying out for completion. Hopefully the new minister can use his influence to see the ribbon finally being cut on them. In Mayo and Waterford, greenways are lauded as shining examples of what can be achieved, while in Kerry we’re still waiting as other counties take the initiative and attract the tourists.

The major project is the South Kerry Greenway, but the Tralee-Fenit walkway must also be completed, along with the North Kerry Greenway from Abbeyfeale into Tralee.

There is also an ambitious plan to develop a walking route around Lough Leane in Killarney and to upgrade the Dingle Way.

These are not mere pie-in-the-sky projects - all are featured in the new Kerry County Council Tourism Plan, and each will bring significant benefits. But they need to be pulled over the line to completion.

There are many other projects too that would further enhance the menu Kerry offers to tourists, domestic and international.

Tralee’s visitor attractions are in need of a major upgrade and the town itself should be repositioned as Kerry’s tourism hub. Meanwhile, South Kerry badly needs all-weather attractions to enhance what Star Wars has brought to the Skelligs catchment area.

Perhaps the most significant tourism-related project in the county at the moment is the drive to have Valentia Island listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, marking its role in the birth of the modern communications industry.

The possibilities such a designation would bring to the county are tremendous, but like the Greenways, the project has been ongoing for years now without being brought over the line. A little push might do it.

Supporting the PSO, Kerry Airport will also be integral to the continued success of the industry too, as well as to Kerry’s continuing development as a viable county in which to do business - and the new Minister is already making his voice heard here.

The bottom line is that there is no shortage of projects or ideas for the new Minister to support.

At a recent meeting on the future of rural post offices, Deputy Griffin suggested a way of making them more ‘viable’ would be to convert them into tourism points. He called his idea ‘thinking outside the box’.

With a little more of that, he can help bed down the growth of our tourism industry in Kerry and ensure its continued development and success.