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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Varadkar hints at second Gathering

Published 04/10/2013 | 12:41

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Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Leo Varadkar

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar has suggested Ireland will host another Gathering within the next decade.

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As the current year-long event enters its final months and is on course to meeting Government targets of attracting 325,000 extra visitors to Ireland, the minister insisted it helped boost recovery in the economy.

"The Gathering we always said was a once in a lifetime opportunity," Mr Varadkar said.

"I think it would be wrong to repeat it too soon, but it will maybe happen again in seven or 10 years' time."

The minister confirmed the Gathering has cost the state 13 million euro over the last two years.

No figures are yet available to determine how much it has raised, but Mr Varadkar insisted the return will be "a multiple of that".

He was addressing the Global Irish Economic Forum - an event he claimed had also been "fruitful" in the past.

The first eight months of this year has seen an extra 291,000 visitors from the previous year.

The number of visits from the United States was up by 16.5%, while overall visitor numbers had increased by 6.5% from the same time in 2012.

Mr Varadkar said the Gathering, which began in January and is aimed at promoting Irishness at home and among the diaspora, was not just about money.

"The Gathering was never just about tourism revenues or visitor numbers," he said.

"It was about other things. It was about helping the economy recover."

Almost 5,000 gatherings have been held so far this year - 29% of which was organised by families and clans, and 26% by communities.

Others were arranged by businesses, sports bodies, schools and colleges.

Six out of 10 hotel owners have reported increased business as a result of the Gathering, which has been described as "a huge factor" in takings.

Elsewhere, as the budget looms, Mr Varadkar said he would argue the case for retaining a special reduced rate of VAT for tourism and leisure-related goods and services.

A temporary 9% VAT rate was introduced in July 2011 as part of a Government initiative to boost jobs.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has said the relatively low rate would be costly to retain, suggesting an impending hike on October 15.

But the Transport and Tourism Minister said "of course" he would fight its corner.

"It was only intended to be a temporary measure but like any stimulus, if you remove it too suddenly or too quickly it could do harm," Mr Varadkar said.

"That has to be taken into account by the Cabinet and Minister Noonan, but bear in mind, budget decisions are never easy."

Press Association

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