John Dallat’s contribution to “Ballycastle Hotel” Assembly debate

17 03 2012

Members may wonder why somebody from County Derry is taking part in this adjournment debate, but I remind them that Ballycastle is synonymous with the name Dallat. My eldest son was very fortunate to meet a Ballycastle girl, and he lives there. As grandparents, we look forward to visiting Ballycastle on a Sunday, and we have a closer-range experience of the town’s uniqueness.
One thing that has always struck me about Ballycastle, having represented Coleraine for over 30 years where tourism is a big thing, is the absence of an hotel. Having listened to the debate this evening, I will not get drawn into the quagmire of politics. We have been very critical of the media because of its negativity to the Assembly, but, my goodness, having heard some of the statements this evening, we do not need the media.
Of course, we welcome the proposed 120-bed hotel development at Whitepark. My party was very much involved in the creation of the Marine Hotel. I do not know the circumstances of why it is not functioning, but that is a matter of regret. Certainly, the SDLP was involved in promoting tourism in Ballycastle and elsewhere when it was fashionable for some to blow up hotels, but that is in the past.
We had some references to guest houses and so on, and they are, of course, the backbone. However, let us face it: any town of any significance needs a hotel for conferences and other activities. We heard that the Marine Hotel in Ballycastle was used by the Orange Order, the Young Farmers’ Club and the GAA and for funeral dinners, and I have been to funeral dinners there. However, I know from my involvement in Coleraine that a million other things can happen in a hotel.
My colleague Councillor Dónal Cunningham told me in an e-mail just this morning that the local economy needs people to stay overnight. That was the main problem we had in the Causeway in Coleraine as well: creating the incentive for people to spend bed nights in the hotel. So, there is no need to apologize for asking the Tourist Board, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment — I am delighted that the Minister is here — Invest Northern Ireland and any other relevant organisation to promote and help with the creation of the bed nights that are badly needed in Ballycastle, which, of course, is the gateway to the glens of Antrim.
There has been a lot of hype about the Irish Open coming here. I spent yesterday in Portrush and Portstewart with the Minister, who was doing her utmost to promote the area in order to ensure that that opportunity is not missed. There are several other new items on the tourist agenda this year such as the Titanic project, as well as the Milk Cup and the North West 200, the benefits of which spin out into Ballycastle and the surrounding areas. I know from experience that the North West 200 brings people back time and time again. Even during the worst of the Troubles, relationships were formed between people from here and people from England, Scotland and other places. So it is a serious business.
As I say, my heart is in the Sperrins, but I absolutely love the glens of Antrim. I will finish up by entertaining you with a little poem, ‘The Nine Glens of Antrim’:
“There are nine Glens in Antrim, Nine great glens in all; Glenarm is the first one And near Cushendall There’s lovely Glenariff, Glenaan and Glendun And nestling between them Glenballyemon, Glencorp and Glenshesk Come on, don’t be lazy There’s only Glencloy and the last one, Glentaisie.”
My colleagues from North Antrim, for goodness sake, put your full weight behind the issue, back it 100% and make it a success.

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