When the debate adjourned I was referring to the non-accountability of Bord Fáilte. I do not know how much control the board has over its executive, whether it has any control over it, whether it gives its executive any guidance as to policy or whether it makes policy. I just do not know these things for the simple reason that it is not accountable. In principle that is quite wrong. A board with the sort of budget this board has should be accountable; it is very dangerous to have it unaccountable to Parliament which provides the budget.
Marketing activities have been rewarded with success. Advertising has been impressive. I have no doubt this has contributed to the growth in tourist business over the past few years. That end of the board's activities has given general satisfaction. We should remember, however, that a great deal of the successful marketing was not carried out by Bord Fáilte alone. Aer Lingus must get a considerable amount of credit for their projects. There is no way of knowing how much is due to them and how much is due to Bord Fáilte.
Other activities of Bord Fáilte have not commended themselves generally to the people in the industry. There is the question of grading and the inspection of hotels. A set of arbitrary rules has been laid down. A hotel with so many bathrooms per bedrooms will get a certain classification. Because of its age it might not be possible for a hotel to provide the number of bathrooms per bedrooms Bord Fáilte lay down as necessary to qualify. But, in all other aspects—general appointments, furniture, management, dining room, amenities for guests over and above bed and lodging—it could be very much a grade A establishment, but it might be designated grade B because it lacked bathrooms with bedrooms. There has been dissatisfaction, too, with the approach of Bord Fáilte in inspecting hotels: it is felt that the approach of officials has been overbearing; that they are very conscious that they are the treasurers where the hotels are concerned and act accordingly.
A further criticism is that their system of receiving applications for grants, examining these applications and paying on foot of the applications, needs to be reviewed. We have had the situation that they ran out of money last year to the tune of £½ million which had to be provided so that Bord Fáilte could meet its commitments. There is something seriously amiss with the financial control in a body where that can happen to that appalling extent. This stems from the lack of accountability to some independent tribunal—let it be to this House or to the Comptroller and Auditor General or through some other system. I believe that lack of accountability is directly responsible for any financial trouble in which Bord Fáilte may have found itself.
I do not know if the Minister is satisfied with the board itself. From his speech, it would appear that he is not satisfied. He makes the remark that the existing board has done a magnificent job but that he is convinced it would benefit from an expanded membership in preparation for the challenges of the future. That might be a polite way of indicating that he is dissatisfied with the way they have acted in the past. If, in three or four years time there is further criticism of the board, will it be met by a still further increase in membership? At some time the Minister must face the fact that there may be dead wood on the board which must be removed. The board, in turn, may have to face the fact that there is dead wood amongst the executives which they will remove. The tax-payer is providing money but due to Bord Fáilte's lack of accountability we do not know the system in operation between the board and its executive staff: we do not know the relationship. Does the board lay down policy or does it accept the recommendations of its executives? Has it control over its executives? If an executive decides he needs a chauffeur-driven car can the board say "No. You will not have one. You can just as effectively drive your own car"? These are small points. Has the board control over its executives? Are these people absolute masters within the day-to-day workings of this body? I am afraid they are and that is not a good situation.
It would appear, too, from the Minister's speech that the amount of accommodation now being provided is adequate to meet demands. The unfortunate experience of this past season confirms that. In Athlone, the figures for bed nights for the month of May this year are only one-third of those of last year. It is a startling difference. The actual figures are— May, 1970, 324; May, 1969, 1,316. It is a common fallacy to argue from the particular to the general but we have heard so many disquieting reports this year that it might not be fallacious to do so in this respect this year. If that pattern prevails all over the country, then, undoubtedly, we have ample accommodation for our guests this year. If that trend is to be improved— it would need to be improved fourfold to be a big improvement—we would only be back where we were last year and therefore there is ample accommodation for the guests we can reasonably expect for some time to come.
At this stage, the bulk of Bord Fáilte expenditure should not be on accommodation but rather on the provision of amenities and recreational facilities for visitors. We lack the great attribute of continental tourist countries—constant sunshine. Given constant sunshine, it is a perfect holiday to lie all day on the beach. We have not got constant sunshine. Consequently we must provide entertainment for visitors. It is not beyond the wit of Bord Fáilte to devise ways and means of entertaining visitors. I suggest that it be indicated to the board that this matter should have priority in their activities over the coming winter and that, by and large, the finances available to them should be devoted towards putting into effect plans to provide plenty of recreational facilities for tourists. Imagination and careful thought should be given to this and the facilities provided should be different from what people could reasonably expect to have at home. People come on a holiday for something different. It is important that something different by way of recreation should be available for them. Drinking in a pub is no holiday for most British visitors. I am sure they would like something better.
It is hardly relevant to this debate to refer to the cost of living but unless the cost of living—and particularly the cost of what I might call the fringe activities of living, drinking, smoking and driving—are controlled, our tourist trade will suffer. The facilities for getting here with motor cars are now first class. I have heard criticism of the fares on the car ferries as compared with those on the ferries from England to the Continent. I am not competent to comment on that apart from the fact that it has been a possible factor in the reduction of the number arriving with cars. A more important factor is the price of petrol here. I think Bord Fáilte could consult with the Department of Finance or with the Minister as to the possibility of subsidising the price of petrol for foreign tourists. I do not know if this is still done on the Continent. It was done some years ago in France and as far as I remember in Italy also. There was a special rate for tourists when they were buying petrol. This could be a very important carrot to attract the Englishman over here with his motor car.
In the coming winter and for the foreseeable future, Bord Fáilte should ensure that their promotional activities are beamed at the easiest market, which is Britain. For the reason that there is no accountability to us—we are here discussing finance for Bord Fáilte and we have no control over how it is spent—I do not know what proportion of the money they spend on promotional activities in the United States or further afield. The mass market, which is the one we should be aiming for, is beside us. That is where the biggest effort should be made, unless, of course, we have priced ourselves out of catering for that mass market.
The idea of the rented cottage scheme to which the Minister referred is a commendable development because it is novel. It enables people to have a holiday here in a completely strange environment. This is the attraction of going to a foreign country. You do not want an ersatz version of what you have at home, or even a more expensive version of what you have at home, when you go on your holidays. It is important at this stage that there should be a rethink by Bord Fáilte on how they spend their money. The bulk of their spending for the foreseeable future should be to create recreational facilities here which will make a holiday in Ireland different.