*FILE PIC: Bobby Kerr, Chairman of the Board, Cliffs of Moher Ltd, Leonard Cleary, Director of Tourism with Clare County Council and Geraldine Enright, Cliffs of Moher. Photograph by Eamon Ward.
ELECTED representatives in West and North Clare refused to back a motion from a Green Party councillor banning day trip buses from visiting the Cliffs of Moher.
In what is a rare occurrence in the workings of Clare County Council, there was no seconder willing to put their hand forward to support a motion from a colleague when elected members gathered for the September sitting of the West Clare Municipal District.
Lahinch’s Cllr Liam Grant (GP) urged the local authority to ban day trip buses from visiting the Cliffs of Moher. He explained that these are “buses that leave Dublin in the early morning visit the Cliffs and return to Dublin on the same day without stopping at any other visitor attraction or town. These buses are a hindrance and a nuisance on our roads and they are not providing enough of a benefit to the North Clare community to continue allowing them operate”. He added, “We need to be more selective with our tourists to ensure that the benefits outweigh the costs”.
Up until September, 13 percent of visitors to the Cliffs were arriving via route licence which would have began their trip in Dublin or Galway.
General Manager of the Cliffs of Moher and Clare Tourism North West, Geraldine Enright stated, “75% of route licence operators are stopping in another location in Co. Clare, delivering economic benefit to the areas and businesses at which they stop in. Clare County Council has put a stop on new route licences since 2016, unless specific criteria is met to stop at another fee paying attraction, visit outside of peak times and offer an overnight package in Co Clare. Two licences have been issued under the new criteria”.
Bunratty, Ennis, Liscannor, Doolin and the Burren are the other stops in the county on the current route licenses.
Ms Enright outlined, “Under Failte Ireland’s DEDP (Destination Experience Development Plan) for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher an online Ambassadors Module has been developed and is being rolled out to drivers, guides and businesses as an education tool for responsible travel in the destination. The DEDP and the preliminary draft of the Cliffs of Moher Strategy 2040 recommends an integrated traffic and transport strategy for North Clare”.
Speaking at a sitting of the West Clare MD, Cllr Grant admitted that the motion stemmed from a public meeting in Ballyvaughan. “The consensus from that meeting is an unhappiness with the tour buses in the area, there is a perception that these buses aren’t benefitting the area, a lot of people expressed concerns”.
He questioned if all bus operators were stopping in places other than the Cliffs. “It is a great benefit in offering jobs but we have to look at the value of tourism, are they of value if they are not staying over”.
No seconder was forthcoming for Cllr Grant’s motion.
Director of Services with Tourism Development in the Council, Leonard Cleary told the meeting, “This is a public road and people have the right to travel on a public road, people who operate commercial buses have a right to use the road, the data in relation to licenses has been set out, Clare County Council must have regard to route stop licences. We can’t actually even if there was a seconder for the motion, we can’t implement the decision proposed, we want to work as part of a transport plan, specifically on stopping the buses the data would say 13% of visitors are arriving via route licence, 75% are stopping in another location in Clare, it is important to have that data available today”.
Encouragement for Cllr Grant to put forward his views in a submission to the North Clare mobility strategy was issued by Cllr Joe Killeen (FF), “We do need to reflect on the density of traffic coming through, we do need a strategy and to strategize all this density of traffic into the future”. He added, “It’s fine to be able to say we can’t stop all the buses but surely we can come up with a strategy to minimise the density of traffic”.
More questions were offered in the response by Ms Enright, Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) believed. Among the queries he had were the amount of other attractions visited that were not operated by the Council. “If 100% of the 75% are stopping in local authority owned attractions well then the question of where distributed benefits are going is the question. How many route licenses are operating? What about 2019 figures, are we looking at 13% of that and looking at reducing those numbers down so we are capping real numbers, I appreciate it will be in strategy”.
Clarity was then sought by Cllr Grant on where the company ‘Wild Rover’ were stopping other than the Cliffs.
Responding to this, Cleary admitted, “I wouldn’t have the specifics of any route off the top of my head and I’m aware of the commercial sensitivities of naming a company. A lot are going to Doolin as well”. He suggested Geraldine Enright give a presentation to councillors “so we have the truth and the facts on the data. Good data informs good decisions”.
North Clare is not getting sufficient spinoff, Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) maintained. “If 75% stop at another paid attraction, that is not a major number for the North Clare area, it is not enough when you look at Lisdoonvarna, Kilfenora and Miltown in our area. If our policy is to make sustainable towns and villages then those numbers relative to what we are attracting which is really positive but what has struck me is the lack of urgency in trying to steer benefit to them towns and villages”.
Garrihy continued, “I see a massive challenge over Council owned versus our towns and villages that don’t have Council owned attraction, therein lies our biggest opportunity and alongside it the challenge”. He predicted, “We will end up with State Aid competing against the sustainability of our towns and villages”.