The development of a national cycling network moved one step nearer on Friday with the launch of the Irish trail is strategy.
The strategy, which was unveiled by John Tracy, the chief executive of the Irish sports Council, laid considerable emphasis on the need to improve cycling and walking facilities.
The document highlighted the importance of cycling tourism to the economy. In quoting Bord Failte figures it said that cycling attracts 100,000 visitors and is worth €90 million annually.
However poor infrastructure is placing this lucrative niche market in danger. The strategy said that Ireland is out of step with its European partners in not having a national cycling network. A consequence of this has been the rise of complaints from tourists about road safety and poor signage.
Working with a budget of €650,000 the national trails office will focus its attention on co-ordinating groups involved in constructing trails for walkers and cyclists. Later it plans to include within the scope waterways and horse riding tracks .
The type of trails that falls within its remit are varied. They include city routes, trails linking urban areas to the countryside, links between towns, mountain bike routes and a possible long-distance national network.
Currently Ireland has no official mountain bike trails and only a scattering of unconnected on road cycling routes. According to the strategy this deficiency in infrastructure has been one of the factors behind the decline in activity holidays here. It contrasted the Irish experience with that of Britain, where adventure holidays have been a growth area and where there has been a national cycling network for over 10 years.
The strategy also mentions a few other reasons why it would be good to develop a model similar to that of the UK. It said that a third of all trips on the British national cycling network were now replacing car journeys. It listed the health benefits and the need to cater for a public who have ever-increasing leisure time.
What the strategy did not do was to state when we can expect to have a dedicated cycling network that traverses the country. Northern Ireland possesses two such routes.