Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman and member of the Stormont Public Accounts Committee, has challenged the DUP Economy Minister “to urgently put in place a long-term plan which will maximize the tourism gate way opened by the Dark Hedges and other attractions in the region given that only two more series of the hit Games of Thrones is planned”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is also UUP Chief Whip and North Antrim UUP Chairman, was speaking as he challenged the Minister: “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 to Assemblyman Swann, the Minister noted: “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.
“There are opportunities for Northern Ireland to be used for filming locations for many years to come. Over the weekend, I was looking at statistics from the National Association of Theatre Owners in the States that show the huge increase in the number of films being made and released in the United States alone.
“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,” the Minister told Assemblyman Swann.
However, Mr Swann reminded the Minister that he wanted the benefits from Game of Thrones to be reaped in North Antrim. He added: “It’s all very well talking about how other parts of Northern Ireland will be hopefully utilized because of the Game of Thrones success.
“But 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.”