‘Maximise benefits of Dark Hedges TV link’

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The Department for the Economy has been urged to put in place a long-term plan to maximise the tourism gateway opened by TV’s Game of Thrones phenomena.

North Antrim UUP MLA Robin Swann threw down the challenge to Minister Simon Hamilton in relation to the Dark Hedges and other attractions in the region.

Mr Swann said: “Given that there are only two series left, is the minister confident that the film and creative industries are sustainable enough to outlive the series, so that the production companies will keep coming back to locations in North Antrim?”

Responding, the minister stated: “I think we can focus on promoting the Dark Hedges in the short term. We are very fortunate to have secured the sixth series.

“There are at least two more, and who knows what the future holds with Game of Thrones? Northern Ireland has benefited from it through the promotion of certain places, whether it is the Dark Hedges, Castle Ward or wherever it might be. A lot of areas have reaped the benefit.

“I was in Ballintoy harbour, which is in the member’s constituency, over the summer. Again, that is a hidden gem in Northern Ireland. It was probably not visited that much in advance of the series, but now huge numbers go there. I think there are about 20 Game of Thrones tour experiences in Northern Ireland, and they employ people and provide a service for visitors.

“Perhaps the best and most important legacy is that for our film, television and creative industries in Northern Ireland. We have studios in the Titanic area that are full, we have new studios developing on the other side of the lough in Giant’s Park and there are studios in Banbridge.

“Whenever you look at the big studios in London that are full and see that studios are looking for capacity to make films, you see that Northern Ireland is very well positioned for the future thanks to the expertise we have developed through filming Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland.”

However, Mr Swann stressed he would like the long-term rewards of Game of Thrones to be invested in the local area.

He said: “Given the catastrophic job losses which North Antrim has suffered in recent years, I insist that the minister focus on ensuring that the benefits come specifically to my constituency.”

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