Committee on Finance. - Tourist Traffic Bill, 1970: Committee and Final Stages.

Section 1 to 5, inclusive, put and agreed to.
SECTION 6.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 2, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:

"(a) by the substitution in section 4 (3) (which relates to the number of members of Bord Fáilte Éireann) of `nine' for `seven' (inserted by section 16 of the Act of 1952),".

On a point of order. I put in an amendment. It is a different kind of amendment from that of the Minister, but it is on the same point. I take it I will be allowed to put it in verbally.

Acting Chairman

I shall not limit the Deputy in any way in this discussion.

The effect of this amendment is to increase the membership of the board from seven to nine. Section 4 (3) of the Tourist Traffic Act, 1939, provides that the board shall consist of such number of members not exceeding five. Section 16 (a) of the Tourist Traffic Act, 1952, increased the number to seven. I now propose to increase the number to nine. It is not that I like having a bigger board. I agree with Deputy O'Donovan that the ideal number is probably five, but I am prevented by the terms of appointment from interfering in any way with the existing members who are appointed for a five year period; two of the present seven come up for reappointment in 12 months' time. The other members will not come up for reappointment for a much longer period. Faced with this situation and because of the urgency of immediate planning this autumn and winter for next year's tourist season I decided it was necessary to have two members, with the kind of expertise required, associated with the industry, two members who could add something to the present board from the point of view of the preparation necessary for next year, members who would be aggressive, commercially minded and commercially oriented. As an interim measure this was the best way to deal with the immediate situation as quickly as possible so that we could appoint people immediately who would get down to the practical business of preparing proposals for next year. Proper planning must be undertaken in the previous autumn and that is why there is such immediacy about this.

Now that the Minister has clarified the situation I am inclined to view the amendment in a different light. It is pretty obvious that something must be done to strengthen or improve the position of Bord Fáilte. I agree with the need to improve the composition of the board. I would not agree with this if it were being introduced now as a permanent measure. There is no way open to the Minister, technically, to effect the immediate improvement in the board which is so necessary if the tourist industry is properly to be assessed and new policies formulated on a long-term basis.

My first reaction to the Minister's proposal to increase the number of members of the board was one of suspicion. I must confess that I looked on this as a way of finding jobs for two more boys.

That will not be the case.

The obvious main qualifications of the two new members might, I feared, be membership of the Fianna Fáil Party. However, the Minister has said he will nominate people with certain expertise: he mentioned in particular marketing expertise. My idea at first was that one of the proposed members should be nominated by the Irish Hotels Federation and that the other should be nominated by the regional tourism companies.

I am particularly concerned about the lack of liaison and proper co-operation between the regional tourism companies and Bord Fáilte. If one of the proposed members of the board were nominated or selected by the regional tourism companies it might improve the lines of communication between the regional tourism companies and Bord Fáilte. The Minister will have to elaborate on what he said here regarding the types of persons he proposes to nominate to fill the two newly created vacancies on the board of Bord Fáilte. What does he mean by a person with marketing expertise? Would the Minister not think that the Irish Hotels Federation would be an appropriate organisation to nominate a person?

I hesitate to give the Ministercarte blanche, so to speak, to nominate people for these two new posts. Surely the travel industry and car hire operators and other such people could give a valuable opinion in this regard? In other words, I should like an assurance from him that he agrees with the recommendations made to him last week in regard to changing the composition of the board of directors from time to time and, secondly, that the private sector of the tourist industry could better be represented on the board of directors. This is another way of saying that the travel agents, the car hire operators, the hotels federation might be consulted in the nomination of such a person and that the regional tourism organisations would be asked to select a person to fill the second vacancy. I had intended to table an amendment to this effect. The Minister is in a most reasonable frame of mind. If he explains the situation further and gives us some idea of what he has in mind I might be prepared to accept his assurances rather than push ahead and move an amendment.

The Minister's explanation about the proposed increase in the membership of Bord Fáilte is not adequate. He said the extension of the Irish tourist industry has gradually become more difficult in view of international competition. This Bill was printed on 2nd July, 1970. He did not find that out between 2nd July, 1970, and today. What is the real reason for increasing the membership from seven to nine? What has happened in the past three weeks did not happen in the months of May, June and up to the 2nd July. Possibly I would support the other reason to which he referred but which he has not dealt with in great detail. Certainly we should have experience and expertise in the membership of the board. Does that exist amongst the present members? Some of them were appointed because of their various connections in the industry and particularly in the trade union movement. On all these State bodies, the most important people are the workers and they should be represented on the board—and that is so now. We have dozens of State bodies. We recall the opinion given by the late Deputy Donagh O'Malley, that, all things being equal, the Government would appoint a Government supporter. We should try to get away from that approach as quickly as possible and appoint people for their experience and expertise.

I do not know whether or not I can agree with my colleague in his proposed amendment. I do not know what is sacrosanct about five, seven or nine. Maybe different boards require a different membership. The Minister should tell us what special qualifications existing members of the board of Bord Fáilte have and what extra qualifications the two additional members he proposes to appoint to the board have.

The suggestion was that the word "nine" be replaced by the word "five".

Is the Deputy moving an amendment now?

Yes. I move the following verbal amendment to amendment No. 1:

To delete "nine" and substitute "five".

Is it accepted that the amendment is before the House now?

Acting Chairman

Yes, I think the House agreed to deal with Deputy O'Donovan's amendment.

It does not have to be circulated?

Acting Chairman

If the House agrees.

I understand it is in order to take it verbally.

Acting Chairman

It is a verbal amendment. I was anxious to let the Deputy state his case fully. I think that is the easiest way.

This is not a facetious or a fractious amendment. I genuinely believe that, for a board which deals with one limited economic subject, you would be better with a board of five people than a board of nine people. My chief, Deputy Corish, and the Minister may say that nine would be better than five.

I did not say that.

That is my opinion. I want to go back to what the Minister said. It is obvious that he is not satisfied, whatever the difficulty is. He proposes to resolve that difficulty in a certain way, by adding two members to the board. Much will depend on how they will be received by their colleagues, the existing seven. I assume that they are reasonable men. I said last night that I do not know any of them, but I have been reminded, by inference, who one of them is, a representative of a trade union. By a happy coincidence I do not know any of the members of this board and that is an advantage.

The Minister's speech was intended to be progressive when he talked about enriching the expertise and experience available at board level. That is a nice piece of alliteration, whoever the happy author was. It does not convey much in the way of solidity or substance to a person like me. The Minister said he was convinced that the board would benefit from an expanded membership in preparation for the challenges of the future. We need language which grips something rather than just this euphoria suggesting we hope that by doing a certain thing we will get better results.

The Minister made what I thought was a good point when he said he could not restructure or recast the board and that he wanted to do something about it. If we could get a specific promise from the Minister that he would recast the board next year, or within some reasonable time, that would be all right. There would be no harm in having two extra people on it for about a year but this kind of stop-gap arrangement, unfortunately, has a habit of becoming relatively permanent and remaining on for a long time.

Deputy Corish drew attention to the fact that this is an afterthought. I am not blaming the Minister for that in the same way as we blamed the Minister for Finance yesterday in relation to the pigs. It is a relatively short time since this Bill was printed. He may have been thinking about it in the time available and got caught up by the time. He might have been able to do a reasonably good job if he could have waited until after the Recess, but the money angle of the Bill is a necessary operation. If we got a promise of what the Minister hinted at, that he intends to have a real look at this over the next 12 months, we probably would not make a fuss about giving him his two extra members for a year or so. I am not being difficult when I say I believe five members would be better than nine.

I share the doubts of the other Deputies as to whether the Minister is meeting the difficulties which he is now experiencing and admitting. I suppose we must have a certain amount of sympathy for the Minister in dealing with such a volatile industry as the tourist industry. I suppose he has had to do his best to try to create a general feeling of euphoria, and to suggest that everything is all right with the tourist industry, when Deputies on this side of the House and on his own side of the House know from our own experience that things are more difficult than he was prepared to admit.

He has now conceded that there are difficulties, that the situation has become gradually more difficult, that competition has become keener, that there are problems facing the industry, and so on. We all share those general views and we all held them before the Minister was prepared to admit that. The question is whether increasing the size of the board by two, or reducing its size, as Deputy O'Donovan suggests, would begin to deal with this very dangerous trend in the tourist industry.

In his opening speech the Minister said he thought this was an exceptional year. That is something a number of people might question, or begin to question, in the light of our own experience living, working and, in my own case, invariably taking my holidays in Ireland. It is possible that this is not an exceptionable year——

Hear, hear.

——and that, on the contrary, it is the beginning of a very dangerous downturn in the tourist intake which has been so valuable from the country's point of view. It might be the beginning of a very severe and continuous recession in the tourist industry for which this proposal by the Minister is not really the answer. It is most frightening, from the point of view of all of us on both sides of the House that this very considerable money earner for the community may be adversely affected because of mistakes which have been made. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about these matters to know precisely what those mistakes were. The whole process of finding out what these mistakes were is of such importance to the whole community that the question arises: will increasing this board by two be sufficient? Secondly, this hope that you will get two people of expertise and experience who will make all the difference seems to me to be a rather sanguine and rather over simpliste assessment of what most of us have believed for some time is a very much more serious malaise in our tourist industry.

No doubt many of the regional boards have worked very hard and have made many important changes and Bord Fáilte appears to have done what it could but this does not seem to have been enough. In his introductory speech the Minister gave the impression that he was thinking about two people who have old association with the tourist industry. I wonder if I heard him properly. Can he give us any indication as to the kind of person he is seeking? The idea of expertise and experience is a very broad generalisation. To me it would seem to be more important to have the expertise and experience in the executives who will be carrying out policy. The overall planning board of an organisation such as this needs rather different qualities, proven business experience of a very high order of the organisation and running of a very large concern. It needs the type of people you find heading either a State company or running a great corporation like ICI or General Motors, not somebody who is an expert in some part of the tourist business.

Hear, hear.

Could the Minister give a little more information on these two additional members that he thinks will carry out the particularly difficult job of attempting to hold, and preferably reverse what could be a dangerous downturn in the tourist business or, at least, lack of growth, so that the figures would compare more favourably in the future with international tourist figures than they are likely to do this year? We must consider the whole question of the failure to grow at the rate expected. If the Minister, following his consultation with the board came to the conclusion, or was led to believe, as he seeks to convey to us, that we were just having a bad year because of local difficulties we must ask if there is not more than that involved. I do not think he made that case precisely because he did mention the difficulties facing us but I think the general impression everybody had was that if these local difficulties did not exist as regards the north and so on, this was in fact a particularly expert and experienced board and, as he said, all of us at different times have praised the qualities shown by this board.

Is the Minister correctly informed when he is led to believe that this is an exceptional year because of local difficulties and that it is not due to factors like hotel prices and prices of consumer commodities and that we have not really met the need for an expanding tourist economy for reasons which have very little to do with the local difficulties mentioned by the Minister and that what he really faces is something much more comprehensive than the addition of two members to a board? They will need to be very exceptional people if, by their addition to a seven-member board, they can effect things like more reasonable prices or control of petrol or whatever tourists find act as a disincentive, such as drink prices particularly.

My main point is that I hope the Minister is not oversimplifying his problems. I think it is a much more serious and deeply rooted malaise in the tourist industry. I am very anxious that whatever the Minister may say to us in order to protect the industry from repercussions of ill-founded comment— he must do that as Minister—at the same time, in his private investigations into the reasons for the apparent falling-off in tourism he should examine with courage and complete honesty any factor that may be involved in this very dangerous trend.

I agree with what the Deputy has said in that this is not a simple or easily-assessed problem. I am faced with a situation where, while it can be argued that there are exceptional circumstances this year—I agree that there have been but I shall not go into them in detail, particularly the trouble in the north—and while these contributed to the downturn in June which now appears to be an upturn in July, I share some of the doubts in Dr. Browne's mind and I feel we must have a thorough investigation. That is what I have asked Bord Fáilte and the Irish Hotels Federation to do. I had a very fruitful discussion with the former Deputy Michael Mullen who led a deputation to me from the trade unionists working in the industry. Although they did not come to me on this particular point—they were concerned about service charges—we discussed the whole trend of the industry also.

As an interim measure pending whatever needs to be done for the future planning of the industry, if there is a more serious problem affecting it, I propose to appoint two people of business marketing experience, relatively young people, active people and who can go on this board and contribute in a positive way towards shaping whatever proposals Bord Fáilte may have to prepare immediately—I mean in the coming months—for the tourist season next year.

In this interim we shall have a general look at the whole future programme of the industry on a five-year or ten-year basis and, if necessary, we shall reshape or recast the board to achieve the objective that will become apparent following the examination to be made by Bord Fáilte and following my own investigations in the matter. That is my thinking at the moment.

I do not think there is any fundamental malaise or anything that cannot be rectified by having a hard look at the whole matter. I disagree with Deputy Dr. Browne in that I do not think there is anything fundamentally wrong. There is certainly a problem and it may not be a problem associated with this year's exceptional circumstances. There may be another problem or problems and I think this is the time to get down to having a look at the whole matter.

I can meet Deputy O'Donovan's point to this extent. At the moment under legislation members are appointed for a period not exceeding five years. All the existing members are so appointed and therefore I cannot interfere with them. I do not propose to appoint these two members on a five-year basis. I was thinking in terms of a two-year appointment which I can do within the overall five-year period under the relevant section of the Tourist Traffic Act.

Could the Minister tell us what criterion will be used to appoint these people?

Deputy Corish is seeking to put me in hot water.

Not in this discussion. The Minister should not be looking for trouble.

I can assure the House that the appointments I shall make in this respect will be of people of outstanding business ability. They will be chosen purely and simply on the basis of the service they can give to Bord Fáilte through their commercial knowledge and expertise. On this point I do not go along with Deputy O'Donnell's suggestion. Anyway it would require an amendment of the law. As the law stands these members must be appointed by the Government. I do not agree with Deputy O'Donnell that I should confine myself to making appointments of people from specific organisations or anything like that. Some of the appointments may come from such organisations but I want to leave myself free to appoint outstanding men who will make a contribution in a very short period. We do not want a continuation of the situation we experienced in June of this year. Restructuring the board and passing the necessary legislation will take a year or a year and a half. We want to do something immediately within the limitations and exigencies of the present situation to ensure that planning will result in an upward trend in tourist business next season. If we go through all the examination relating to a long-term solution and have a bad season next year, the situation could become very difficult indeed.

When the Minister talks about the immediate situation is anything being done by Bord Fáilte to counteract the exaggerated reports abroad of conditions in this country? A great many people have the impression that bullets are flying all over the place.

I referred to this in the course of the debate and I have discussed this with many people. When people see on a television screen or read in the newspapers about the terrible things that happened in the northern part of our country some weeks ago, there is no kind of publicity or promotion that can be organised by the Press or any public relations outfit to overcome that. Unfortunately you cannot fight that kind of publicity.

Amendment to the amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 1 put and agreed to.
Section 6, as amended, agreed to.
Section 7 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill reported with amendment, received for final consideration and passed.