Labour's Plan for the Rural Economy

Issued : Tuesday 15 February, 2011

Labour's Plan for the Rural Economy

The food and tourism industries play a pivotal role in the Irish economy, particularly in rural and regional economic activity. What is more, most of the earnings from both industries stay within Ireland, filtering through the economy. In total, the food and tourism industries employ more than 400,000 people throughout the country.

Labour believes that the tourism and agri-food sectors, both of which have historically been strong sectors in Ireland, can be drivers of Irish economic recovery. Both are important indigenous sectors, capable of creating jobs and increasing export earnings, which will be key to Ireland's economic recovery.

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Focus on emerging long-haul markets.
- Develop intensive marketing campaigns - funded by the Tourism Marketing Fund - in emerging long haul markets, which represent the growth areas in global tourism, such as China, India, Japan, as well as Russia and the Middle East.
- Conduct a fundamental reform of the visa process to make it easier for tourists from these countries to visit Ireland, including reducing the amount of documentation required for entry and the duration of the visa application process.
- Develop a broader translation policy, led by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

Regain market share in traditional markets.
- Britain, the US, Germany and France constitute 70% of Ireland's overseas visitors. Recovery of market share in Britain, and increasing penetration in the other three markets will be a key priority in a revamped tourism strategy.

Develop niche markets.
- Build on Ireland's existing strengths to grow niche markets, such as golf tourism, surf tourism and food tourism.
- Promote Ireland's business tourism offering, which includes the National Convention Centre in Dublin and our many country houses and castles, which would provide excellent venues to hold prestigious business events and meetings.
- Develop ecotourism. With its green image, Labour believes Ireland is in a prime position to capitalise on the rapidly growing market of ecotourism, as people become increasingly aware of environmental and ecological issues.
- Prioritise 'event tourism', through increased strategic planning and funding, in order to attract major international fairs and events to Ireland, such as the Volvo Ocean Race or the Solheim Cup.
- Extend the Culture Night initiative to a twice yearly event and market to foreign tourists as a peak time to visit Ireland.

Improve tourist infrastructure.
- Extend Irish Rail's free travel scheme for over 66s to all CIE services at off-peak times. Funding for this scheme will come from within CIE's existing budget. Such a scheme will assist Ireland's efforts to successfully develop the 'silver market', who tend to take longer holidays.
- Develop Coach Tourism to encourage organised tourism. This initiative will also boost Ireland's attractiveness to older tourists, who tend to utilise coach tourism more frequently than any other demographic.
- Improve ferry connectivity with more frequency and additional routes, as an alternative to air travel, on which Ireland is over-reliant.
- Improve signage. Mandate the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport to conduct an assessment of the quality and effectiveness of existing signage, with a view to improving the tourist experience and increasing visits to attractions close to major sites.

Use technology to improve our tourism product.
- Upgrade the Discover Ireland website. This will involve greater connectivity of tourist accommodation, attractions, transport and hospitality offerings, thereby providing potential customers with all the information they require within one site.
- Develop web-based tools which support the tourism industry. This includes developing information platforms on the internet for various niche audiences, such as a Surf Ireland or a Golf Ireland web portal, or new web-based tools, such as an interactive Irish tourism application for smart phones.

Normalise the hotel sector.
- Require NAMA to conduct an independent review of the hotel sector, and use this as a basis for decisions on which hotels will be supported.

Refocus government attention on tourism.
- Conduct a critical assessment of the functions, systems and efficiency of the semi-state agencies in the tourism sector, as part of the wider Comprehensive Spending Review. The objective of this assessment will be to establish the optimum support required by the tourism industry, which offers the best value for money for the taxpayer.
- Establish an industry-led tourism recovery taskforce to drive growth in the tourism sector.


Grow the dairy sector.

- Establish a dairy taskforce with stakeholders who will be impacted by reforms in the dairy sector, which will develop an action plan to facilitate farmers expanding to take advantage of these opportunities.
- Promote technological change in the sector, particularly in the areas of improved genetic standards, farm management practices, animal health and nutrient/ input use efficiency.
- Encourage greater use of price differentiation to reflect improved practice.
- Prioritise improving animal health and fertility within the dairy herd. This applies particularly to research, skills development and knowledge transfer.
- Fiscal incentives, such as capital gains relief, should be reviewed to encourage and facilitate better consolidation of land and reduce fragmentation, in order to increase the size of the dairy platform on dairy farms.

Grow the meat sector.
- Using Teagasc's research and extension services, transfer the skills and technologies being developed within the BETTER farm programme to facilitate farmers to achieve better margins from their enterprises, with a focus on better farm and grassland management practices and improved genetic efficiency.
- Work with Bord Bia, Teagasc and industry stakeholders to facilitate an increase in the number of farmers producing higher value added niche meat products, such as organic and specialist meat products.
- Work with industry stakeholders to ensure that those producing higher quality meat can receive higher payments, leading in the medium term to an increased value-added sector.
- Build trust through partnerships across different industry stakeholders in order to achieve shared objectives. This is essential to realise an increase in value added for the whole meat supply chain.

Help Irish farms to scale up.
- Support a model of Single Farm Payments that will reward innovation and lead to further inclusion of younger farmers.
- Enable farmers, non-rural residents with inherited land and older single farmers to vest their holdings in a local co-operative farm partnership, where they would retain ownership, share in the profits of such partnerships and be regularly informed of progress and plans. These farm units could be a powerful source of local employment, and could have the scale to develop and produce branded products.

Grow Irish food businesses.
- Build pilot plant kitchens that are compliant with environmental health requirements to allow food producers to develop and manufacture food products on a small scale.
- Work with Bord Bia to develop local food brands, into which local producers could slot, without the expense of developing their own brand.
- Facilitate partnerships with farmer's markets to market test products, and facilitate partnerships with international retailers to link into their international supply chains to help get the product to market.
- Work with Enterprise Ireland to develop scalable manufacturing solutions for food businesses that have the capacity to expand and export.
- Encourage, through the tax system, the establishment of cooperatives for food producers to develop brands and bring together different skill sets required to develop these businesses.
- Improve cooperation between industry and public sector agencies to improve market intelligence as to consumer preferences and market trends in export markets.

Foster knowledge and innovation.
- Prioritise upskilling of workers across the supply chain to achieve value added, to increase the general skill base, to improve the understanding of potential efficiency-enhancing technologies and to improve management capability.
- Facilitate greater cooperation between industry and high-level academic research in global food market economics, efficiency of food logistics, economic returns to the development of new technologies, and optimising supply chain interaction, location and scale economics of the food sector.

Secure a fair deal for producers.
- Put the current voluntary code providing for greater transparency in the food supply chain on a statutory footing.
- Encourage a sustainable planning model that promotes diversity in the food retail sector.

Ensure balanced regional development.
- Provide for a rural audit, policy coordination and oversight function with real teeth to ensure that cross-departmental policy not only meets national growth objectives, but also local growth objectives.

Address climate change.
- Increase the proportion of scientific research expenditure going to develop technological solutions to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions per unit of agricultural output, including mechanisms such as improved land use feed, farm management practices, genetic improvements and low carbon emitting tilling.
- Use Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA) to quantify the carbon footprint of Irish food and drink products and develop a food industry standard.
- Negotiate with the EU to allow land use changes that increase carbon sinks, such as farm forestry to be used to offset agricultural emissions.
- Continue supports to the Irish bioenergy sector, currently co-financed with the EU by the Rural Development Programme, with renewed focus on market development support to facilitate and increase in appropriate scale.

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