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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 May 1939

Vol. 75 No. 20

Committee on Finance. - Tourist Traffic Bill, 1938—Money Resolution.

I move:—

That for the purpose of any Act of the present Session to make further and better provision for the encouragement and development of the tourist traffic, and for that purpose to establish a board having powers of regulation, registration, and control in matters relating to the tourist traffic and, in particular, the accommodation and attractions available for tourists, and to provide for the charging of fees by such board in respect of registers kept by them, and to provide for divers matters ancillary to or connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise—

(a) the payment out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas of any expenses incurred by the Minister for Industry and Commerce in the administration of such Act;

(b) the payment, under such Act, out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas of such sums, not exceeding in the aggregate £45,000 in any one financial year, as such board shall from time to time require;

(c) the advance, under such Act, out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof of such sums, not exceeding in the aggregate £600,000 as such board shall from time to time require; and

(d) the charge on and payment out of the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof of the principal of and interest on any securities issued for the purposes of borrowing under such Act.

The Minister did not give much information in the course of his Second Reading speech on this Bill regarding the money that was to be expended under the Bill. The revenue which will be provided under this Bill amounts to £45,000, of which £25,000 is to be paid in administrative charges or expenses. £20,000 is to be devoted to publicity. Speaking from recollection, the amount of money that is available to the tourist board at present is somewhere in the neighbourhood of £18,000, which also would be available for expenditure in connection with publicity matters. There are some points in connection with this expenditure of money which require further explanation. £25,000 for administration charges represents a fairly big sum. First of all, there are five members of the board. Could the Minister give us any indication as to what it is proposed to pay these members of the board? There used to be criticism of the way this country was run during the British régime. The principal criticism was that we were literally covered with boards. That seems to be, to some extent, the policy of this present Government. Is it necessary to form a board of five persons? We are now reaching a point where careful consideration must be given to the expenditure of every penny of public money. In essence, this particular Financial Resolution is going to involve somewhere between £1,500,000 and £2,000,000. Taking it as a capital sum that represents five years' purchase of £45,000 and £600,000. The success or failure of this measure will depend, very largely, on the way in which this particular board is going to be run. Would the Minister give us any idea as to how the estimate of £20,000 for administrative expenses was arrived at? The present tourist board spends something like £18,000 a year. Is it necessary to expend at such a rate as we find indicated in this Bill? I should say that most of that £18,000 is spent on advertising. The Minister, in the course of his speech, referred to the accommodation available in this country as being entirely inadequate and out of date. It may be that I am putting a wrong interpretation on the Minister's speech, but if that impression were to get abroad it would not make this country particularly attractive from the tourist point of view.

It is desirable to improve tourist traffic in this country. I wonder if this particular proposal is the best way to do it. Can the Minister give the House any information as to the type of person he has in mind for appointment to this board? Could it not be done by a branch of his Department, with the assistance of an advisory body? This method of dealing with a matter of importance such as this amounts in substance to this: that we provide £2,000,000, that we are setting up a board, and that the Minister has practically got no further responsibility. It is true that £600,000 of that sum has to be sanctioned or approved of by the Minister, and subsequently approved by the Minister for Finance, and presumably a Vote in respect of it will come before the Dáil. It does appear as if there was to be the minimum of Ministerial control as regards that sum of £600,000. In respect of it, I take it that the Minister must be persuaded that it is necessary, and satisfied that it is good business.

When we examine some of the purposes for which money is to be provided, we get into still deeper water. For instance, it is proposed under this measure to construct hotels in places where other business people might not be interested in constructing them—in places such as Rhynana and Baldonnel. I hope that on that point I am interpreting what the Minister said correctly. Is it part of the policy of this measure to have hotels built in these places? One of them is about 12 miles from the City of Limerick and some 12 miles, possibly, from the town of Ennis, in which, at the moment, there is very good hotel accommodation. Both Baldonnel and Collinstown are within a reasonably short distance of the City of Dublin, and one would think that a restaurant or something of that sort would be quite sufficient at either place. If it is intended to construct hotels in either of these places, it is unlikely that they will be paying concerns. If they are not paying, are we not withdrawing some patronage from hotels which would be paying or which are paying? I think that the House is entitled, when asked to vote such a large sum of money as this, to get very full information from the Minister. I hope that he is in a position to give it.

The Minister to conclude.

No. We would like first to hear what he has to say.

Many of the matters referred to by Deputy Cosgrave were discussed on the Second Reading of the Bill, and I should have thought that it would not be necessary to go over the same ground again. We are proposing to set up this board because we consider that the functions which it is designed to carry out can best be performed by a board which will have the liberty of action that such a board usually has. We might have decided to set up a public company or some such similar organisation, but we felt that the particular arrangement for which the Bill provides was the best in all the circumstances. I think it would be completely impossible for a section of a Government Department to do this work, apart altogether from the administrative difficulties which would be inevitable. The question of political pressure, of representations from particular areas for the undertaking of expenditure in those areas, which perhaps purely business considerations would not justify, and other matters of that kind would make effective and efficient administration by a section of a Government Department impossible. Therefore we decided that the best course was to set up by statute a board with certain statutory functions and certain statutory powers, and to give it within certain limits the necessary resources to do the work. We are retaining in the hands of the State powers which we think should be adequate to ensure that the board will do the particular job that is designed for it. The power of appointing the members of the board, the power of appointing the auditors of the board, and the other restrictions on its activities for which the Bill provides, are, we think, sufficient to ensure that the board will not act in any manner other than is intended.

The Deputy does not appear quite clear as to the financial provisions of the Bill. The Bill provides for two forms of advances to the board: non-repayable advances, and repayable advances. The only thing in relation to the non-repayable advances is that they must not exceed £45,000 in the year. The actual amount will be estimated and provided for by a Vote of the Dáil. It is anticipated, however, that the board will have a revenue, a growing revenue, as a result of its own activities. It will have a revenue from the registration fees at the beginning, and ultimately, a revenue from its investments. In the course of time, the revenue of the board will be sufficient to finance all its activities and remove the necessity for the making of any non-repayable advances at all. The sum of £45,000 in the Bill is there to indicate that that is the maximum sum which can be provided without an amendment of the law. The actual sum required will, of course, depend very largely on the board's programme of activities on the one hand, and upon its revenue from other sources on the other. Repayable advances will, of course, be advanced for capital purposes, and will be invested by the board in profitable undertakings, undertakings capable of ensuring not merely the payment of interest upon the amount expended but the ultimate repayment of the principal to the Exchequer.

There is no question about the desirability of considering carefully before we undertake any expenditure of public money. I do not think the need at present is any greater than it was ten years ago, but the need is, nevertheless, considerable. If, however, we are to undertake the expenditure of public money at all, the most useful way of doing it is in a manner which will bring additional business to the country, increase its income, and operate to raise the general standard of prosperity. We think that the development of the tourist business is one way of doing that; that money spent upon that activity—if it produces the results we anticipate—will be money well spent, and that the people as a whole will get back that expenditure and a substantial profit in addition. I think there is no doubt whatever that some of the hotel accommodation and a lot of the tourist facilities which exist in this country are out of date, and that it is desirable that some body should be in existence with powers and resources to ensure that they will be improved. I do not think that is going to do any damage whatever to our tourist trade, when it is said in connection with a plan to improve them. I think the improvement which the board will effect in due course will make it impossible for anyone to say the same thing in the future.

The Deputy, I think, misunderstood my remark concerning the establishment of a hotel at the Shannon airport. I was asked why it was considered desirable that the board should have power to build and operate hotels, and I said it might prove to be desirable in the public interest that, in certain circumstances, hotels could be established in particular localities where they would not pay in the ordinary commercial sense. As an illustration of what I had in mind I mentioned the possibility of the establishment of a hotel at the Shannon airport. There is no immediate intention to establish a hotel there. I merely mentioned that possibility for the purpose of illustrating my remarks. It might be considered desirable from many points of view that there should be a hotel there—a hotel which, as Deputy Cosgrave has said, would not be a paying proposition, and which consequently would not be established by private commercial enterprise. In such circumstances we think the board should have power to undertake such development itself. That is the only reference to such a project that I made in the Second Reading debate. There is no such project in mind. Whether the board would in fact be prepared to undertake any such project is something on which I could express no opinion. My reference to the establishment of a hotel there was merely by way of illustrating a point. I think I have dealt with the main points raised by the Deputy. I have no doubt whatever that the establishment of an organisation like this to ensure that adequate attention is given to the development of our tourist facilities is preferable to the conferring of those functions upon a section of a Government Department.

Has the Minister in mind the names of the persons whom he is going to appoint to the board?

They have not yet been considered.

Is not that a very serious proposition? Here we are asked to vote what is in substance a sum of approximately £1,500,000. Normally, if there is a prospectus asking for subscriptions to the extent of that sum, or any sum, one gets a regular detailed plan concerning the whole business. We appoint this board in six months' time, or in three months' time, as the case may be. Will the board and the Minister then decide whether or not a hotel will be built at Rhynana or any other place? It is an extraordinary thing that we are to consider a business of this sort without considering even the personnel. Has the Minister in mind what he proposes to pay them—what their remuneration is going to be? There are to be five members on this board.

On the face of it, it is an extraordinary thing that there are five unemployed person or persons whom we can get from other occupations to take on this right away. Once they are appointed, they have the expenditure of £45,000 if that sum is voted; £18,000 the present income of the Tourist Development Association; then there are registration fees. While all those developments and improvements are necessary and desirable, the question arises as to how soon we will have every single man in this country looking after his brother or somebody else; we will be inspected out of existence. I think the Minister ought to tell the House what he proposes to pay those men, whether they are persons with experience in hotel work, or what particular type of person he had in mind when he considered setting up the board.

I think that matter can be very usefully discussed on the appropriate section of the Bill.

We are voting the money now. It is between £1,500,000 and £2,000,000. We will be told in a few weeks' time that we are responsible here for the enormous Budget we have to meet year after year. This is one of the items, £45,000, and possibly the interest on the £600,000 or a part of it, because it can be waived. There was another point raised by Deputy Professor O'Sullivan as to whether this tourist board could lend money. Is it not restricted to profit making transactions? For example, a hotel company might desire to put up a new front. That will not increase their profit making possibilities. It will, perhaps, attract more customers, but of itself it is not profit making. Would they be entitled to make a loan in respect of that?

Only with the consent of the Minister.

I should like to support Deputy Cosgrave's contention that, before this Money Resolution is passed or in order to enable us to say whether it should be passed, the Minister should give us more information. To-day we finished the discussion on a general resolution under which a very substantially increased sum of money was being raised from the taxpayers of this country, and a part of the Minister's contribution to the debate indicated that he was of opinion that the development of this country depended on its being possible for the State to take more money out of the people's pockets in order to carry on that development. Enshrined in this measure here, and in the explanations of the measure which the Minister has given, there is definitely a suggestion that the State is going to step into an arena in which it thinks the people have failed; that it is going to spend the people's money in a particular kind of way, and enter into certain profit making occupations. They admit that some of them may not be profit making, and that they may have to write the money off. There are two sides of the question which occur to me. At the present time a large number of the ordinary people of the country are spending money in the country— money which is not raised either from the ratepayers or the taxpayers—in providing amenities and facilities throughout the country of the kind which would enable tourists to enjoy their time here.

Take, for instance, the Royal Irish Automobile Club and the Automobile Association. I do not know what the annual expenditure of the Royal Irish Automobile Club is, but I understand that the expenditure of the Automobile Association is £20,000 a year. It provides services here of various kinds. It provides information for foreign visitors to this country—particularly English, Scotch and Welsh visitors. It is an association that is recognised throughout very many countries in Europe—Italy, France, Belgium and other places—and part of the services that it provides for the tourist from Great Britain is information about hotel standards. The information is provided in their guide books and also by signs on hotels. It seems implied in Section 38 of the present Bill that the power or the permission of the tourist association to indicate standdards from the international point of view, of the various hotels to which their signs are applied, is going to be interfered with. I would like to find out from the Minister to what extent there is going to be interference of that type with international bodies which are formed for the purpose of assisting their own nationals and tourists generally to get information with regard to hotels in the different countries in which they are travelling, according to the standards of the association.

The Deputy might note that that matter could be discussed on the amendment which has already been tabled.

I want to get some idea as to in what way the taking of this money from the taxpayers is going to interfere with services that are already being rendered and money that is already being spent without calling on the taxpayers of this country to pay up.

On the Money Resolution a discussion which must arise on the Committee Stage, in consequence of three amendments specifically tabled to achieve the purpose the Deputy now desires to achieve, should not be anticipated.

It is a reasonable request, to put simply and without great argument, to the Minister when we are asked to vote this money. It is reasonable to ask whether it is in any way going to interfere with the provision of services and the expenditure of money here that is not going to be taken out of the taxpayers. There are other groups of people in this country who develop fishing, shooting and other facilities; and I would like to ask the Minister in what way they are going to be interfered with, to what extent the £600,000 that is to be available for capital work is going to be used to buy up and interfere with societies that are at present providing shooting facilities and providing fishing and other amenities throughout the country. That is one aspect of the position with regard to this Bill that I think we would like to hear at this stage.

The Minister has indicated that out of £45,000 to be provided annually, £25,000 is going to be used for administrative expenses and £20,000 for publicity. As well as that, something like £18,000, the income of the Irish Tourist Association, is likely to be available. If this £25,000 is going to be spent on administrative expenses, I would like to ask the Minister under what headings it is going to be expended. It seems to me to be a very considerable amount of money to spend on purely administrative expenses if £20,000 is going to be expended on publicity. Even if the whole £600,000 is going to be spent on outlay, loans, or capital investments of one kind or another, to spend £25,000 annually on administrative expenses seems extraordinary without getting some description as to how it will be spent.

The Minister says in column 1177 of the Official Debates:

"The £45,000, constituting the non-repayable annual grant, will be divided as to £25,000 for administrative expenses and £20,000 for publicity."

It is extraordinary to ask the House to contribute £25,000 for administrative expenses in circumstances where we are not told who the persons are who are going to control this work, nor under what headings this expenditure is to be distributed annually.

Can the Minister give us any indication as to how the £600,000 was arrived at, and also the remuneration of the members of the board?

It is not possible to give further information than that which I have given already as to the possible allocation of the capital sum of £600,000 under different headings. I gave certain information here on the occasion of the Second Reading debate —particulars of which are available to the Deputy—but that was merely for the purpose of conveying an idea as to the activities which the board would undertake upon which these capital moneys would be expended and the relative importance attaching to one particular matter as compared with another. The same applies to the question of the £45,000 non-repayable grant to which Deputy Mulcahy refers. The division into two parts was made by me roughly, merely for the purpose of indicating what we anticipate will be the amount of the necessary expenditure.

Could the Minister tell us, even roughly, what the headings would be?

I think the Bill will give an indication. There are a number of duties imposed on the board by the Bill, a number of activities which they will have to undertake and which will involve expense. There is the question of provision of hotel signs, the inspection which must precede the grading of hotels and their subsequent registration, the carrying out of the functions of the board in relation to special holiday areas in the appropriate part of the Bill—all these matters would involve expense to some extent —on staff and other expenses of that kind.

Has the Minister not even made a rough estimate?

I have made a rough estimate: it cannot be more than that. On the question of what the remuneration of the board would be, I can only say that no decision has been made. The remuneration would have to be decided in consultation with the Department of Finance, and I can only say that I do not anticipate that the members of the board, apart from their managerial capacity, would be wholetime on that particular work. They will, I expect, be business people who, in the ordinary way, will undertake membership of this board, and the duties of this board as they would undertake membership of the board of a commercial concern.

The Minister did not mention how his estimate of £600,000 is arrived at.

I mentioned that the £600,000 could be divided into the following main classes: loans for the extension and improvement of existing accommodation, about £150,000; loans to, or investments in, new hotels and guest houses, including provision for hostel accommodation for industrial holiday-makers, about £250,000; resort improvement through the medium of loans or investments, £150,000; and £50,000 for sundry investments not included under these three main headings.

Resolution put and declared carried.
Resolution reported and agreed to.