The Chairman of Fáilte Ireland has stepped down after it emerged he travelled to Italy on holiday.

Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht Catherine Martin said she has accepted Michael Cawley's resignation after it emerged he was on holiday in Italy, despite Government advice to avoid non-essential travel abroad.

In a statement, Mr Cawley said he had resigned with "great regret", saying he did not want the issue of his pre-arranged family holiday to Italy to distract from the work of Fáilte Ireland in rebuilding the Irish tourism industry.

He said he fully supports the Government's policy on tourism and will continue to help the industry emerge from its current difficulties.

He told the Irish Independent, where his holiday to Italy was first reported, that he would be taking two holidays in Ireland in September and October to support the Irish tourism industry.

The resignation followed a call this morning from Ms Martin who said Mr Cawley's position was untenable.

Latest coronavirus stories

In a statement, Ms Martin said that tourism and hospitality have suffered significant losses since the start of the pandemic.

She said the industry in Laois, Kildare and Offaly are particularly affected after restrictions were re-imposed in the counties following a rise in coronavirus cases.

The minister said the Government has encouraged people to holiday in Ireland this year, in solidarity with the tourism industry and to help schools reopen next month.

She said the vast majority of Irish people have followed this guidance at some personal and financial cost. 

"While Italy is on the green list, meaning that people who return from there do not have to restrict their movements, the Government has called on people to avoid all non-essential travel," she said, adding that she was "disappointed to learn that the Chair of Fáilte Ireland was holidaying in Italy".

The minister said: "Mr Cawley has served Fáilte Ireland with energy over his time as chair, and I want to thank him for his service to the cause of tourism promotion in Ireland.

"He recognises that solidarity with the industry is extremely important at this time, and I have accepted his resignation this afternoon because I believe his position was untenable.

"I would encourage everyone to support the tourism and hospitality industries in any way they can, and am taking my own holidays in this country. Fáilte Ireland will continue to promote holidaying in Ireland, including a special provision to support the reopening of tourism in the three midlands counties."

Fáilte Ireland CEO Paul Kelly thanked Mr Cawley for his strong chairmanship saying "he has made a significant contribution to developing and growing the tourism sector in Ireland".