Gathering No 2 proposed to woo diaspora back again
Following a record year for tourism in Ireland, a 'Gathering No.2' - targeting the Irish diaspora - is being considered by Government.
The Sunday Independent has learned Minister Shane Ross is currently drawing up a memo on hosting a second 'themed year'.
It will be brought to Cabinet in the next eight weeks.
The Irish tourism industry enjoyed one of its strongest ever 12-month periods in 2016.
A record number of overseas visitors - 8.8 million people - came here last year, spending €4.7bn. That was a 9pc increase, almost €600m more, than what was spent in 2015.
Now, the Department of Tourism has confirmed a second 'themed year' is being considered, to further boost one of the success stories of our economy.
Government officials have already consulted Ireland's two key bodies in this area - Tourism Ireland and Failte Ireland - as part of a specially commissioned feasibility study now about to be completed. While sources suggest the staging of a 'Gathering No.2' style series of events would prove a massive tourism boost - particularly given the uncertainties posed by the Brexit fallout - a number of key developments which emerged last year will need to be carefully considered.
These include a chronic "capacity constraint" in suitable accommodation, as the imbalance between supply and demand in the hotel market, particularly in Dublin, continues.
Over the past five years, tourist arrivals in the capital have increased by one-third - but the available accommodation in the city has shrunk 6pc.
Experts warn this "capacity crunch" remains a serious concern, with close to 5,000 new hotel bedrooms needed to satisfy demand.
Another serious concern is the unknown consequences in the months ahead arising from Brexit.
According to a department spokesman, the fallout has "significantly altered" the tourism environment in the short term due to currency fluctuations, coupled with other uncertainties in the medium to longer term.
Officials are currently evaluating Brexit "benefits and risks" which are emerging at this point in time, before a report by Tourism Minister Shane Ross will be delivered to cabinet before the end of March.
Meanwhile, it has also emerged that the Government has now ditched plans to offer Irish-born pensioners living abroad - visiting this country - free travel for the period they spend in Ireland.
It had been proposed to extend the Free Travel Scheme to make trips home cheaper and easier for members of the diaspora. However, the Department of Social Protection has now concluded it would not be compatible with EU rules, because it would not apply to citizens from other member countries, when they travel to this jurisdiction. It has also been established that plans to hold a referendum on granting voting rights in Presidential elections to Irish citizens living outside the State hangs in the balance.
Last July, Minister for the Diaspora Joe McHugh announced a referendum on the matter might be held at some stage this year.
If passed, it would give those eligible to vote, including those living in Northern Ireland, a say in future elections. However, officials now believe such a proposal could throw up a number of legal and practical problems.
Sources suggest an interdepartmental review of the proposal has been "prioritised", and a final decision is expected in the coming months. Among the issues being considered is the range and scope of the proposed extension of voting rights - and whether it should be limited to a particular category.