Private Members' Business. - Tourist Industry Potential: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Flynn on Tuesday, 10 April 1984:
"That Dáil Éireann, considering the importance of tourism to the economy generally and particularly in the area of employment, calls on the Government to take immediate steps to maximise the potential of our tourist industry."
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all the words after "employment," and substitute:
"commends the steps being taken by the Government to assist the tourist industry to realise its potential."
—(Minister of State at the Department of Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism.)

I have been handed a timetable for the remainder of this debate. It has been agreed between the Whips and subject to the agreement of the House I am making it an order of the House: 7 to 7.10 p.m., Deputy John O'Leary; 7.10 to 7.20 p.m., the Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism; 7.20 to 7.28 p.m., Deputy P.J. Sheehan; 7.28 to 7.35 p.m., Deputy D. McGinley; 7.35 to 7.40 p.m., Deputy H. Coveney; 7.40 to 7.50 p.m., Deputy Seamus Kirk; 7.50 to 8 p.m., Deputy John Brown; 8 to 8.10 p.m., Deputy Cathal Coughlan; 8.10 to 8.15 p.m., Deputy Bernard Allen; 8.15 to 8.20 p.m., Deputy Michael Ahern and 8.20 to 8.30 p.m., Deputy P. Flynn. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome this motion calling on the Government to maximise the potential of our tourist industry because there is room for improvement in the manner in which this great industry is being operated. The tourist industry should be compared with the dairy industry, together worth approximately £750 million per annum. The tourist industry gets this money from foreign tourists and home holidays. The tourist industry deserves the same recognition as the dairy industry. Compare the dairy farm lobby with the tourism lobby and the latter is a small unpublicised one, not alone by the tourist interests but by the Department and Bord Fáilte. We should examine the great scope which exists for improvement in the marketing of tourism in the same aggressive fashion as our dairying industry is being marketed.

There are a number of ways by which the potential of the tourist industry can be expanded and developed: first, by cheap air and sea fares for tourists coming from the United States, Britain and the Continent; second, by special reductions in VAT for tourists who spend money on food and accommodation in hotels, restaurants and guesthouses; third, by the improvement of the domestic economy, because this is not only essential but vital for the promotion of the tourist industry; fourth, Bord Fáilte and the Department should embark on a vigorous and more aggressive marketing campaign throughout Britain, Europe and the United States; and fifth, the car ferry service into Cork from Britain and the Continent should be restored and even improved because this services the south-west area.

There is no doubt but that the Irish Sea in terms of transport is the most expensive stretch of water in the world. I strongly recommend that the Government approve of a transport subsidy scheme for a two-year trial period from Britain and the Continent into Ireland. This could and should be done and then reviewed after that period.

A positive and direct link can be proved between the New York — Shannon fares and the New York — London fares and the inflow of tourists to Ireland. When the New York — London fares are cheaper, there is a 15 per cent decrease in the number of Americans visiting Ireland, and when the New York — London fares are dearer the reverse is the case. This is a remarkable figure and a statistic which cannot be ignored.

The rate of VAT payable by hotels, guesthouses and restaurants is remarkably high and has a serious adverse effect on the tourist trade. I suggest that VAT at a very low rate, if payable at all, should be recouped to visitors in the manner suggested by Deputy Flynn in this debate last night. The biggest, most consistent and strongest complaint I get from hotel, restaurant and guesthouse owners in relation to tourism is the VAT problem. I am calling on the government to do something positive and practical about this as a matter of urgency. VAT makes Irish tourism uncompetitive.

The improvement of our domestic economy is fundamental to the improvement of the tourist industry. Petrol, beer, spirits and cigarettes are now taxed to the point of diminishing returns and Ireland is no longer the happy ground for visitors who like to motor and to relax over a relatively cheap drink and a smoke. From this point of view there is no incentive for the British and continentals to spend a motoring holiday in Ireland. I am calling on the Government to do something positive, fast, about this.

Many people engaged in the tourist industry — and I represent the best and most attractive tourist constituency in Ireland — tell me that the marketing system operated by Bord Fáilte is far from satisfactory. It appears that there is now a bias very much in favour of Dublin and the Dublin region and that in their promotional work the Department and their agents, including Bord Fáilte, encourage prospective visitors to spend more time in the Dublin area than in any other part of the country. If this is not correct — and it is a very serious allegation — I would like the Minister or the Government to prove it. It appears that more money is being spent abroad promoting Dublin than any other region.

Tourism is the only major industry in the west and south-west of Ireland. In my own constituency of South Kerry for example, there would be many more thousands of people registered as unemployed in the local labour exchanges were it not for this industry. It is the staple industry in west and south-west Kerry. The social and economic climate in Killarney, Kenmare, the Iveragh and Dingle Peninsulas would be very poor were it not for tourism, and the future growth of these areas depends to a large extent on the manner in which the south-west and the west of Ireland are promoted.

I appeal again to the Government and the Minister to revitalise both the Department and Bord Fáilte so that they can embark on a more vigorous and comprehensive marketing campaign based on the suggestions I made tonight. Finally, I am asking the Minister to investigate fully reports that the Dublin area is being promoted more strongly and forcefully abroad than areas of high tourist, scenic and recreational amenities, such as Killarney, west and south Kerry which I believe should be developed as a pilot area in the same way as the Shannon-Limerick area was developed for industry in the past through the Shannon Free Airport Development Company. This is a very serious complaint which should be investigated fully, and a statement issued without delay.

I am glad we are having this debate on tourism. We should not underestimate the importance of this industry. It accounts for nearly 8 per cent of our exports of goods and services and represents about 4 per cent of our GNP. In 1983 Irish tourism as a whole earned £824 million, an increase of 10 per cent over 1982. Revenue from overseas tourism amounted to £540 million, an increase of nearly 11 per cent on 1982, and domestic tourism earned £24 million, an increase of 9 per cent on 1982.

Tourism has proven in real terms to be relatively resistant to the recession. Once people acquire the habit of taking a holiday they seem to continue to do so, even though circumstances deteriorate financially in a country, and even personally, and other areas begin to suffer. Hence it is a very important industry from the point of view of this country in that it is one which is not only buoyant but also relatively resistant to temporary downturns in the economy. Various forecasts, including that by the European Travel Commission, suggest a continued lack of growth in the tourist industry. Therefore it is extremely important that we should devote all possible attention to the development of this industry.

I am very glad that in the period I have had responsibility for tourism we have taken some steps forward, including a reduction in VAT in respect of some of the important expenditures related to tourism and also the introduction of a VAT refund scheme in respect of goods purchased by tourists within this country. I would have to admit that these two concessions are not by any means large in their financial impact but they indicate a clear move in the right direction and a clear recognition by the Government, in very severe financial conditions wherein very few concessions have been made to any sector, that tourism is a sector which deserves special incentives and attention.

I am also glad to say that I was able to participate early last month in a major tourist promotion in the most buoyant of all our markets, namely, the United States. I was very struck by the optimism expressed by all the tour operators, both Irish and American, whom I met during the course of that intensive promotion. All reported that booking levels were significantly up on last year which, as I have already indicated, was a good year, relatively speaking.

We succeeded this year in obtaining an earlier indication by the airline companies of the intended level of fares for transatlantic flights in 1984. It was a problem in the past that the airlines were a little late in giving this information because one was watching to see what the other would do and this meant that travel agents had difficulty in quoting prices. It is very important that there should be the closest possible co-ordination between our national airline and Bord Fáilte in promoting the interests of tourism in Ireland and I was glad of the opportunity during my visit to the United States to have an extensive briefing with the representatives of Aer Lingus in North America. I intend to pursue these contacts further with a view to the greatest possible synchronisation of the two policies. I recognise that the national airline have a job to do. They want to have a positive bottom line and there are limits to the extent to which they can incur social responsibility towards tourism which does not appear on their balance sheet. The company are operating in the public sector because they are performing a national as distinct from a purely company role and hence they have a wider responsibility which they would not have if they were simply an Irish-owned private airline.

I regret that I did not hear Deputy Flynn's speech. However, I have a report of some of the remarks the Deputy made. He said that tourist numbers from the United Kingdom have fallen every year for the past few years. This is not correct. Tourist numbers from the United Kingdom in 1981 were 1,008,000, in 1982 they were 1,031,000 and in 1983, 1,052,000. There has been a slight upward trend. I would agree with Deputy Flynn that probably the most important market we should attempt to regain is the British market and we would be foolish if we did not recognise that political developments have played a part. I am hopeful that the improvement in the political climate as between Britain and Ireland and within Ireland resulting from the work of the New Ireland Forum will in forthcoming years lead to a great growth in British tourism to Ireland. We should see these important political developments, which are valid in themselves, as having this further economic role in assisting the development of tourism.

I can assure the House that I intend to give this industry the maximum attention. I am very glad to have working with me as Minister of State Deputy Michael Moynihan who has a very intimate knowledge of the industry. In response to Deputy John O'Leary, who has now departed the House, I would point out that there is no question of the Dublin area receiving preference in tourist promotion over other parts of the country. It has been my experience of the tourist promotions in which I have engaged that all of Ireland is promoted and that there is no reference to this area rather than that area. Most tourists visit more than one part of the country and it would be quite foolish to promote one area rather than another because people will not stay in one area. We promote Ireland as an entire and single package as a destination and that will continue to be our policy.

I call Deputy Sheehan, who has eight minutes.

I come from a constituency which could be described as Ireland's Riviera and I know what tourism means to our national economy and also to the economy of the south-west region. We in Ireland can offer our tourists fresh air, unpolluted water, good food and drink and good hospitality. We must ensure that that standard is kept up as far as tourists are concerned, and we must be careful not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Our tourists must be given a fair deal. I appeal to those running our hotels and guesthouses not to charge exorbitant prices. They must remember that when the tourist leaves the hotel he does not take the bed with him — indeed, some of the charges would nearly include the price of the bed. The tourist deserves civility, hospitality and a fair deal, and I appeal to our tourism promoters to cut out the "get rich quick" policy.

Proper travel facilities are a necessity. The development of decent ferry services between Cork and Britain is vital, as is increased air traffic service between Cork Airport, Britain and the Continent, if this industry is going to prosper.

Remember that the south-west region is the most popular for European tourists and Cork port and airport are the gateway to that region. Over 80 per cent of our tourists come to the south-west. It is a sad reflection that they must land at the eastern tip of the country and travel almost 250 miles before they hit the real beauty spots. This is very bad planning and must be tackled as quickly as possible.

Good road networks are a must for the tourist regions. Indeed, I am very pleased that our Minister of State, Deputy Moynihan, announced last night the formation of an EEC tourism policy. This is a major breakthrough. I congratulate Minister Moynihan on his initiative in bringing about the introduction of this policy. If there is to be a future for tourism there must be proper planning in coordination with other European states and we must get our fair share of the cake as far as the Regional Fund is concerned, in order to upgrade and update our tourist industry.

VAT charges have a crippling effect on hotels and guesthouses. A reduction in this penal tax would be a vital step towards making the industry solvent again. I must emphasise that the tourist industry has a very high labour content, employing many seasonal workers. It is of immense value to the small farmers and fishermen on the western seaboard who are trying to eke out a living and educate their families. They relish the possibility of getting seasonal employment for their families in the hotel and catering industry.

One section of tourism which is completely neglected is angling. Our rivers and lakes are completely neglected. They should be restocked to capacity with trout, salmon and other fish of vital importance in attracting the angling tourist. There is a huge potential for angling tourists and we are only skimming the surface in this regard.

The Deputy has about two-and-a-half minutes.

If the angling tourist were attracted here, it would lengthen considerably the tourist season. Our farmhouse holidays, guesthouse holidays, caravan and camping holidays all have an attractive appeal to the European tourist. We must go all out as a nation to attract ever more tourists. Tourism could be a better proposition than any oil field, provided it is properly handled and planned. I must congratulate our Minister, Deputy Bruton, for his initiative in travelling to the United States on an intensive promotion tour to attract many American tourists this year. In this year of the visit of President Reagan, there would be a vital injection to our industry in the form of these extra American tourists.

I also congratulate our Minister of State, Deputy Moynihan. He comes from what can be described as the Mecca of tourism, Killarney — the area of south-west Kerry and south-west Cork constitutes the Mecca, as far as Ireland is concerned. He is a man with an abundance of knowledge and foresight with regard to tourism. He has seen the industry progressing for many years and was the first Minister for Tourism to take the opportunity to investigate the conditions prevailing on the ferry and airline services to and from this country. I know by Michael's foresight that he is a very intelligent man who will pioneer this major industry——

Deputy, office holders should be addressed by their title and not by their Christian names.

The Deputy has a fondness for his type.

Minister Moynihan is the man to pilot this industry into the future years with confidence. We are all pleased to have him in the position of Minister of State in charge of tourism. When tourists come to Ireland they expect conditions as good as anywhere else. We must ensure that the conditions on our ferry services are as attractive as those at our airports. First impressions are always lasting and they are what bring the tourist back.

We all realise the importance of the tourist industry to our economy and, indeed, the number of speakers offering here tonight is indicative of the importance which we in this House place on its contribution to our economy. That industry employs almost 80,000 people. The income to the national Exchequer from tourism last year was in excess of £800 million. In my own area of the north-west — Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim — I understand that for 1983 the income from tourism was in excess of £80 million. I do not know of any other industry in that area which would make the same contribution. I understand also that between part-time and full-time workers it employs in excess of 6,000 people.

We all know well that there have been difficulties in the tourism area in the last few years, probably due to economic difficulties and the high level of inflation which we have been experiencing, causing us to fail to hold our competitiveness with other tourist areas in Europe and elsewhere. I believe that we have come through the worst of that and our inflation rate is now under 10 per cent. We shall become more competitive. I congratulate the Government on some of the measures they adopted last year and this year — for instance, in reducing the amount of VAT on bed nights from 23 per cent to 18 per cent and lowering the tax on caravan and boat hiring and so forth.

There is still VAT of 23 per cent on meals. I was in a hotel in Donegal last weekend where I had a chat with the proprietor. He told me that if four people come into his hotel for a meal the money he receives from one of the four goes to pay the VAT. Perhaps in ensuing years the Government would see their way to doing something in regard to that.

I listened to the Minister of State last evening and the Minister this evening. It is good to know that there is a tourism promotion going on in the United States at present and that the feedback is most encouraging. I believe the Minister of State said last evening that he expected an extra 40,000 American visitors here this year. But unfortunately in the region I represent, the north-west, particularly Donegal, our past experience has been that very few of these American visitors go northwards, especially to Donegal. Tour operators and promoters, as a rule, do not put Donegal on their itinerary, possibly because they contend it is too far north, perhaps because it is too close to Northern Ireland. But, for one reason or another, the increased numbers of American tourists coming here do not go as far as Donegal. I do realise that they make a very significant contribution to our economy and to tourism nationally. But, if it is taken on a regional basis, then it will be seen that they have very little impact or make very little contribution to Donegal. I have had experience of travelling in other parts of the country during the summer when I found it almost impossible to get a bed in any hotel in southern Ireland because of the number of Americans in the tourist season whereas, in Donegal, it is very seldom one will see a tourist operator with American tourists.

I was delighted to hear the Minister say that we would have to concentrate more on the United Kingdom market. I would hope that would include Scotland, because we in Donegal have been dependent on Scotland for many years for a large percentage of our tourists. There is hardly a family in Donegal who have not got relations in Scotland. That market should be tapped, and the only way we can do so is to promote Donegal in Scotland. I have had a number of complaints from Donegal people about the location of the tourist office in Glasgow, where I understand it is situated in some backroom of the Aer Lingus offices. I would hope that something would be done in the not too distant future to bring the Bord Fáilte office in Glasgow on to the main street and undertake a proper promotional job there. I have spoken to the Minister of State about this, when I received a very positive reaction.

It must be remembered that we do have unique problems in the north west. Some of the continentals to whom Deputy Sheehan referred, and some Americans, do not go northwards. When the Minister is nominating members to the board of Bord Fáilte he might consider nominating somebody from the north-west from, say, Donegal or Sligo-Leitrim. As far as I am aware, since its inception, nobody from that region has ever served on that board; as far as I know the nearest we ever got was having somebody nominated from Cavan.

I might mention self-catering units briefly, of which I understand over 200 have been sanctioned in the past two years. They are an excellent idea. If more are to be built in the future I would appeal to the Minister to give first priority to those people with a commitment to the tourist industry. There is always the danger that builders and speculators who would get these buildings would not put the same amount of work into them as would people who are committed to tourism.

There is one problem we have in Donegal and in all Gaeltacht areas, which goes back to the early seventies, when it was decided that signposts in Gaeltacht areas should be in Irish only. I have had experience, as I am sure have other Deputies who frequent Gaeltacht areas, of seeing continentals in these areas consulting a map, looking at a signpost which read, say, Ailt an Chorráin while on the map there appeared Burtonport, or worse still, on the signpost there appeared Baile na nGallóglach while on the map it was Milford. I am as committed to the Irish language and have as great a love of it as anybody else, but I feel that signposts should correspond with names on maps or, alternatively, that there should be bi-lingual signs.

In the couple of minutes available to me I should like to make a few points. It is fair to say that this Government have shown themselves responsive to the needs of tourism within the very severe budgetary constraints on them. The VAT concessions and so on at least are an indication, though I readily agree they are not sufficient.

I should like to say something about the question of promotion mentioned by Deputy Flynn last evening. In fairness to him I think he was critical of all Governments, not necessarily this one. The figures here are striking in that, in 1979, the Government of the day spent just under £8 million on promotion whereas this year the Government will spend £15 million. Allowing for inflation that indicates an improving recognition of the need to spend substantial money on the promotion of Irish tourism. If Deputy Flynn's point was that all Governments have failed to recognise the need to spend more on promotion, then I would agree with him, because any major multinational promoting a product internationally would not get very far with £15 million. We are promoting perhaps the largest single product we have to offer internationally, which is our country, to visitors and we must place greater emphasis in future years on its promotion.

The Minister has just returned from the United States. There is no question but that that constitutes a huge potential market for Ireland with 40 million people there claiming to have an Irish background. We have not really begun to tap that market, and £15 million, £20 million or £30 million will not tap it either. While our resources are limited we must find ways and means of allocating those resources somewhat differently so that we get into the field of really promoting Ireland on a large scale in the United States, in particular amongst the Irish ethnic community. I might draw an interesting comparison: I am always astonished at the comparative success of the Jewish community in the United States relative to any other ethnic group. There are five million Jews in America. Last year every man, woman and child in Israel received in effect from American investment of one kind or another the equivalent of 800 dollars, which amounts to 2,800 million dollars invested in Israel last year by the United States Government. Of course, much of that would have been in the area of defence, but much of it also was on development, on tourism and other things. The Irish lobby in the United States has not been tapped by successive Governments to bring about that kind of dramatic improvement in American investment here, particularly in tourism.

A comment was made about the impending visit of President Reagan. That is something which will cost us relatively nothing, which will be worth much more than anything the £15 million could do for us in America, if we seize the opportunity of that visit to promote Ireland through the enormous press and media coverage it will receive, for whatever reason. I hope we will seize that opportunity. There are other opportunities open to us also. Last year I remember being in the United States when Eamon Coughlan ran his famous mile wearing his "Discover Ireland" jersey. We could not pay for that either because 50 million or 60 million Americans were watching that race, many of whom had Irish backgrounds. Therefore we must look at innovative ways of getting our message across in the United States, because we cannot really afford the £50 million or £100 million we might need to do it the hard way.

I might make a short reference to the area I come from, the Cork-Kerry region. We are now awaiting in Cork with bated breath the announcement relating to the Government task force for that area. It is no secret that the people on that task force did regard as of extremely high priority the question of a cross-channel ferry, and the question of services through Cork airport, in particular the need for a replacement of Avair. Those are the points I wanted to make of central importance to Cork and Kerry tourism.

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this Private Member's Motion which was debated last night and is being debated again tonight. All speakers on the motion have emphasised the importance of tourism to the economy and it cannot be over-stressed. In 1982 tourism brought £706 million to the economy and £840 million in 1983. We had State investment by way of Government funding to Bord Fáilte of £24.6 million, and that is a very small investment for the total overall return to the economy generally.

Unfortunately, for various reasons in recent years and in the very recent past tourism has not meant to the economy what it should mean. Tourists have not been coming in the numbers that they should. We need a systematic examination of all aspects of our economy and tourism is one very important area that needs to be examined very closely. The investment of State money through Bord Fáilte and the funding of local authorities for the all so necessary infrastructural development work that is part and parcel of the development of the environment for tourism and the return on that money need to be looked at immediately. The attractiveness and friendliness of Irish people are renowned world wide and with changing times and lifestyles these attributes may be changing very slowly, but I, and I am sure other Members of the House, hope that we will maintain that fundamental attractiveness that has been in many ways the cornerstone of our tourist industry. The friendliness of the Irish people and their readiness to meet and greet the tourists on the boreens and roads of Ireland has meant so much to us and to the industry generally.

In our system of examination of tourism, or of any other aspects of the economy, we must inevitably come up against the problem of the very high cost economy that we have at present. The serious level of taxation is a positive discouragement to people coming in and to people who are in the business of providing accommodation for the tourist coming in. The capital sums needed for investment in the industry in addition to the taxation are proving to be beyond the means of many people. The levels of VAT have become a major problem and the anomalies in relation to its application are very obvious. I will quote some figures to the House. In respect of bednights for overseas visitors in 1983, £2.1 million received by the hotels was subject to VAT and £5.1 million received on other accommodation was not subject to VAT. Of the £374 million spent by out-of-State visitors within Ireland 68 per cent, or £254 million, went to the Exchequer in taxes. Those figures are sufficient to emphasise the problems of the application of VAT generally, particularly for the tourist industry. A VAT rate of 18 per cent applies on accommodation in some cases and 23 per cent on meals and on other accommodation no VAT at all is applicable. The anomaly there has profound implications for the industry generally and the Minister would do well for the benefit of the economy and the industry generally to apply himself to it immediately.

The tax on beer in Ireland is 20 times that in Germany, ten times that in Belgium, 50 times that in France and twice that in the UK. That last quotation emphasises the problem for those involved and employed in the provision of accommodation in my constituency of Louth on the Border with Armagh. In addition we have the problem of the difference in the price of petrol North and South. These price differences are sufficient to emphasise the problems confronting those involved in the tourist industry in Counties Louth and Monaghan.

Tourism in the Border counties of Louth, Down, Armagh and Monaghan is very important. The natural beauty of the Cooley peninsula with its mountain range combined with the Mourne mountains is the logical area to sell and project in one unit. Some years ago the East Border Region Committee in conjunction with the local authorities in that area commissioned a tourism study of the north-eastern region embracing the counties of Louth, Monaghan, Down and Armagh. I hope that that study will be an invaluable document to those concerned with development plans for the tourist industry in that region. It would have relevance to Bord Fáilte and to the local authorities in that area. The need which was emphasised for the infrastructural development, the provision of more accommodation and the development of the various amentities that go hand in hand with the tourist industry are there and obvious for anybody who wishes to read that study and to take action on the points raised in it.

That leads to the question of funding. Money under the special border region fund is being channeled into the provision of tourist-related amenities. Unfortunately, the amount of money being made available under that fund is inadequate. Louth County Council in addition to Bord Fáilte are the agency in that area for the expenditure of that money and they find that the sums being made available to them are so small that the type of projects they can undertake or contemplate are of no significance to the overall development of the area in its promotion of the tourist industry. I ask the Minister for Finance to consider the provision of far greater amounts of money under this heading. In the past 12 or 15 months we have had a number of debates on the development of the Border region in which the importance of the tourist industry was emphasised over and over again. When we identify the need for the development and its benefits, the next logical step is to talk in terms of the type of funding we will make available for that development.

I would like to refer to the role the local authorities play in this development. Unfortunately, at present local authorities are in very serious financial trouble which obviously has implications for the type of work projects they will undertake. Many of them find themselves millions of pounds in debt on their current account. They are hamstrung because of their financial position. The fine teams of engineers in many of those counties have an output and productivity only 50 per cent of their capability because the moneys are not being made available for the projects so sorely needed. I ask the Government and the Minister to look immediately at this area where many of our fine professional people, who have spent years perfecting themselves in their profession in the universities here and abroad, find themselves languishing in local authorities where their output and productivity are but a skeleton of what they should be and could be if the necessary finance were made available to them.

I have touched briefly on the unique problems of the Border areas, North and South, the price differences in petrol and the tax on drinks which are posing serious problems for people in accommodation in those areas.

Deputy, your time is up.

There are other things I wish to say in relation to the tourist industry but as I am limited to time I must conclude.

In the brief time available I would like to deal specifically with tourism in the south-eastern area. Earnings from tourism are now worth £80 million in that area. I would like to pay tribute to the South-Eastern Regional Tourism Organisation for their tremendous input despite the lack of Government support and the limited resources available to them. Working in close liaison with the different local and voluntary tourism councils, SERTO have initiated a number of joint marketing ventures in order to promote the south-east as a prime holiday destination. We now have the successful servicing by the B & I shipping line, and their day trip programme will be extended to include Sealink in 1984. This type of business is very important not only to County Wexford but in general as many of the day trippers have not visited Ireland before and are potential future long-stay tourists.

Unfortunately, SERTO and the county tourism councils of the south-east region are only scratching at the surface of the vast potential available for development because of both lack of funds and Government support.

From the Garden of Wicklow to Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny and Tipperary we have a reservoir of untapped natural resources which the Government shamefully continue to ignore. They have shied away from investing in the tourism industry in this region, when with proper development over 2,000 extra jobs could be created there. It is a region with the highest unemployment rate, well above the national average, and we could certainly do with those jobs.

With the support of Wexford County Council the County Wexford Tourism Council put forward a proposal for the development of a heritage park at Ferrycarrig, County Wexford. Recognising that our countryside is dotted with the physical reminders of our ancestors in the forms of earthworks, castles and churches this council are reconstructing a selection which will prove to be a focal point for tourists.

I ask the Minister to give a commitment that adequate funds will be made available through the environmental and Youth Employment Agency schemes to ensure that this worthwhile project becomes a reality. When completed it will be self-financing and of major benefit.

The whole concept of self-help by voluntary tourism organisations is to be welcomed, although their achievements will be limited without adequate financial resources. The Government must grasp this self-help attitude and give support to such organisations in the south-east area.

The greatest asset available to the south-east region should be the port of Rosslare which is the gateway to Europe or, put in reverse, the gateway to Ireland. Rosslare is a national and regional resource that has been starved of funds despite its proven performance and potential. In 1977-81 major extension works were carried out by the Fianna Fáil Government on Rosslare Harbour. A sum of £5 million was invested in land reclamation, and a new link span loading ramp and pier constructed. No further development has been carried out and Rosslare Harbour today does not even comply with the minimum basic requirements of a port. There is no terminal building, no proper gangways and inadequate passenger services to and from the port. A major development programme on the lines suggested by the Rosslare Harbour Development Board is needed to boost the whole south-eastern region. A recent survey has shown that at least 80 per cent of first-time visitors to Ireland come by sea. One million passengers pass through Rosslare every year, and the increase in roll-on, roll-off freight has been enormous.

Rosslare port is connected to Britain by Fishguard and Pembroke while Le Havre, Cherbourg and Roscoff provide direct continental links. The accessibility of the port and its proximity to Europe are important factors in its emergence as Ireland's Euro-port. However the present facilities are totally inadequate for the approximately 3,000 sailings per year. Apart from the customs block the remainder of the port is like a shanty town with temporary buildings scattered all over the area, unsurfaced areas of the terminal and major problems with flooding and drainage. There is an old wreck of a bus that should have been sent to the knacker's yard years ago which is used for ferrying passengers. The train service makes us the laughing stock of Europe, with the passenger train pulling out of Rosslare Harbour five minutes before the ship arrives. We cannot expect tourists to come to this country via Rosslare when providing this type of service.

The sole responsibility for this farcical situation lies with CIE as the port operator, and the Government. The Minister announced recently that £300,000 had been allocated for the development of Rosslare. This is a mere pittance when compared to allocations in other parts of the country. When this was announced at a press conference called by three Fine Gael TDs in Wexford there was back-slapping and ballyhoo, but that does not fool the people of Rosslare and County Wexford. It was an insult to the local development committee who have fought the case for the development of Rosslare since 1973.

It is time for the Government and CIE to look again at Rosslare Harbour and its importance to the economy, and instead of empty promises to come up with adequate finance for its development. There is a need for co-ordination of the activities of the various organisations involved in the development of the port. The Minister has before him a proposal by Rosslare Harbour Development Board to establish a State-funded development agency to promote development of the harbour and its environs.

With appropriate aid from the Government tourism can do much to increase foreign revenue and provide employment. The local authorities and voluntary organisations have made great efforts to develop tourism, but due to the lack of finance they find themselves somewhat constrained. The Government have made no effort to assist them so far. It was pointed out that last year the tourism industry earned £840 million. Money earned from foreign tourists amounted to £600 million. Approximately 10 per cent of our total work force is employed in the tourist industry, but the industry here has never been given proper recognition, and it is time the Government woke up to the fact that we have an industry with 85 per cent input of Irish origin which is a major contributor to the economy. There is a vast potential for job creation if the will is there to develop the tourism industry.

The Taoiseach should consider the appointment of a Minister with sole responsibility for tourism and transport who would initiate a national tourism policy in order to raise the industry from its present state to one of major growth. Problems in the industry at present make it impossible for us to compete for a share of the international market. We have the highest inflation rate, the highest VAT rate, highly priced petrol and the least developed telecommunications and transport system in Europe. These problems must be rectified if we are to compete successfully.

Mr. Coughlan

I welcome the opportunity to outline some of the problems in relation to tourism in Donegal. It is the most northerly county in Ireland, far from the major tourist points of entry such as Dublin, Shannon, Rosslare, Cork and Belfast. Due to the geographical location of Donegal it is vitally important that we have adequate services. As our rail service is almost non-existent additional finance should be made available for the improvement of roads, particularly the roads leading to the major tourist resorts in the county of Donegal. If we are to prosper as a tourist county an airport is vitally important. A definite commitment to provide an airport was given but unfortunately Donegal is still awaiting the provision of finance for an airport site, despite the fact that 50 per cent of the finance is available from European funds which I understand expire next year. I suggest to the Minister that every effort be made to provide this necessary facility.

Traditionally a large percentage of our tourists have come from Scotland, and much has to be done to revitalise that market. A joint feasibility study was carried out by Bord Fáilte and the North of Ireland Tourist Board and it was recommended that a ferry between Scotland and Donegal should be a priority. The ferry was to operate from Ardrossan to Moville, but unfortunately there has been no progress to have the proposal implemented.

With little or no State investment in the industry, last year Donegal earned approximately £50 million from tourism and provided between 6,000 and 8,000 jobs. It is obvious that a positive commitment to financing and marketing the industry in Donegal would result in a substantial increase in tourism earnings and also substantial job creation. This is necessary in all areas but particularly in Donegal, which has a high level of unemployment.

Donegal does not benefit in any real way from Bord Fáilte's tourism marketing programme, and this is felt very much at local level. We seem to be the last to be considered. It is not clear if this omission by Bord Failte is due to lack of care or is deliberate policy. In any event, Donegal is the loser. A commitment by Bord Fáilte to treat Donegal in the same way as the other major tourist centres would be of great value to tourism in our county.

Donegal has tremendous tourist potential. It has unspoiled beaches, magnificent scenery and excellent hotels and guesthouses as well as farmhouse holiday homes and self-catering apartments. However, despite these advantages the fact that we are a Border county has created serious problems for the tourist industry, for instance, with regard to the price differential in petrol, drink and foodstuffs. Many Northern Ireland tourists take advantage of our amenities but they do not contribute to the economy of the county as they purchase many items prior to their arrival in Donegal. Unfortunately this also applies to visitors from other parts of the Republic who travel to Donegal via Northern Ireland. Donegal has obvious problems but they are not recognised by the Government although many submissions were made to them last year and this year. Steps must be taken to alleviate some of those problems.

It was mentioned earlier that some relief on VAT rates had been granted to the tourist industry, but 23 per cent VAT on food and drink and 18 per cent on accommodation are the highest rates in Europe. They are counterproductive to tourist development. This applies to all tourist regions throughout the country. The refund of VAT to non-nationals should apply also to accommodation costs. This would be a useful aid for tourism, and it should not present any major difficulties in implementation. I may be wrong in this, but I understand that the North of Ireland Tourist Board are exploiting the high cost of petrol and drink and the high cost of living generally in the Republic in their overseas promotions. All of this reduces our competitiveness, increases our difficulties and exposes our vulnerability.

The Minister must consider seriously the introduction of refurbishing grants for hotels as the hoteliers, with their present margins of profit, cannot provide the necessary finance for such works. This has the inevitable result of a fall in standards at a time when we should be more competitive than ever.

I recommend that a substantial amount of money from the European Regional Development Fund should be made available immediately to mount a joint marketing campaign for Border counties and for promotion work in North America and in Britain. This should be done in conjunction with the North of Ireland Tourist Board. I urge that the European Regional Development Fund be continued for a further five years. Moneys from this fund should be allocated exclusively to tourism projects as intended and not used in normal spending programmes.

The tourist industry is an undeveloped industry here and the potential of regions, especially the region of Cork-Kerry, has not been exploited to the full. The provisions of the budget, even in these hard times, will help the tourist industry enormously. They show that the Government have a commitment to the industry and to its future.

The whole economy is on an upswing, and this year we must take advantage of that improvement. The only way we can do that is by having a proper marketing strategy abroad. Figures published in recent months show that the tourist industry has a major role to play in the overall wellbeing of the economy. With the strength of the US dollar, the upswing in the US and European economies, the drop in our inflation rate and other positive signs, the prospects for the industry in 1984 seem bright. We must take advantage of this by ensuring that our environment is attractive. We need a long-term policy in relation to the protection of the environment, and a national policy on those lines would help the tourism industry.

The greatest thing we can do is to give value for money. Satisfied tourists will tell their friends about the attractions here. A satisfied customer is our greatest marketing agent. We must endeavour at all times to cater for tourists and ensure their holidays here are enjoyable. The industry is a labour intensive one, and I understand that 23,000 people are employed in the hotel sector and a further 3,000 on seasonal work. The total turnover of the industry is £255 million, and that is an indication of how much we depend on it.

I understand that 17 per cent of our tourists availed of hotel accommodation last year and the remainder were catered for in guesthouses, caravans or farmhouses. We should follow the example set by the French tourist board and sell the concept ofgîte type holidays that are on offer in that country, making small accommodation available to continentals. We must see to it that our attractions are publicised in a proper manner on the Continent but not forget the enormous market that exists at home. In 1972 the income from the home market amounted to £45 million, and that increased to £260 million in 1983. When we discuss tourism we seem to forget that the greatest customers we can have are our own people. For that reason we must make holidays here as attractive as those available on the Continent.

There have been many comments about the inadequacies of our seaports when compared with our airports. Our seaports must be modernised because they cannot handle big numbers of passengers. Delays at those ports must be reduced to a minimum. The growth of tourism in the Cork-Kerry region has been hampered by the absence of a ferry service between Cork and Great Britain. The Cork-Swansea service is essential for the healthy growth of tourism in that region. I am not satisfied with the performance of the B & I in recent years. I am not satisfied with the way that region has been sold abroad in recent years. However, I am pleased to detect a determination among all interests in that region to resolve the problem in the coming year.

I appeal to everybody, from the Minister down, to do all possible to get an early decision on the ferry service between Cork and Great Britain next year. We cannot hope to have a viable service if we do not make a decision about it until February or March next year. A decision must be reached in the autumn of this year at the latest. If that is done it will be possible to sell the region in Britain and on the Continent before Christmas. We must bear in mind that the British, and the continentals, decide on their summer holidays around the Christmas period. It is too late to try to sell holidays in February or March.

I hope the seaports will be modernised, that there will be a Cork-Great Britain ferry service next year and that our airport will continue to operate services that will bring tourists to the region. I am pleased with the performance of the Ministers this year and with the initiative shown by Minister of State Moynihan during his trip to Germany to sell Irish holidays.

As we are all aware the tourist industry is of great importance to our economy particularly when one realises that £840 million passed through that industry in the last year. The objective of the Government should be to optimise the economic and social benefits to Ireland gained by the promotion and development of tourism. That is not happening. In order to achieve that objective it is incumbent on the Government to provide the resources to the bodies responsible for the development and growth of the industry. With the strengthening of foreign currencies against the punt Ireland is more attractive to foreigners, particularly Americans and Europeans, than it has been for many years. In order to ensure that the benefit to be obtained from the currency differential is not a short-term one many aspects in relation to the industry must be reviewed and corrected forthwith. The standard of our accommodation must be up-graded, and there is a need for increased grants and interest free loans for the refurbishing of hotels. Unless visitors can obtain good and relatively cheap accommodation the hotel industry will continue in the crisis it is in.

In this year's Estimates there has been a reduction in the grant-in-aid for holiday accommodation of 12 per cent before inflation. That reduction is an indication of short-sighted planning, and it will in the long term be detrimental to the hotel industry and, consequently, increase the numbers queueing up at employment exchanges. The 18 per cent and 23 per cent VAT rates the hotel industry is subject to makes it difficult for it to compete with the other accommodation on offer. It also makes Irish accommodation expensive when compared to accommodation in other countries, thus losing us more tourists. I urge the Minister to look at this area and get the Minister for Finance to examine the VAT rates with a view to reducing them to a flat figure in the region of 10 per cent, or less. The attitude of our people towards keeping the countryside, the towns and the cities beautiful still leaves much to be desired. Continued pressure and advertising must be kept up so as to inculcate a civic spirit among our people. The legislation enacted to curb pollution and littering will have to be enforced more rigorously.

If we present a sloppy and dirty product to our visitors they will not return to their homeland with good reports. The cheapest and best ambassadors we could have are satisfied customers. The promotion of tourism should be on a year round basis but Bord Fáilte, hampered by the lack of finance, must curtail marketing in the winter months. The grant-in-aid under section 2 of the 1961 Act in this year's Estimates was increased by 7 per cent but that does not keep in line with inflation. With an increase in tourism worldwide it is economic suicide not to take advantage of such an improvement. If Bord Fáilte are not given the necessary resources to promote Ireland worldwide all the year round the country will suffer. The Minister of State should make every effort to get more money from the Minister for Finance so that Bord Fáilte can carry on their promotion work throughout the year instead of from January onwards.

East Cork is not noted for tourism but many visitors go to the area for coarse and sea angling in the Blackwater river and in the Youghal-Cobh area. Pollution is a great threat in that area and it must be controlled properly. A special grant must be made available to those interested in promoting angling such as the Blackwater Valley Angling Association. There are excellent beach and amusement facilities in Youghal, and in recent years Youghal Fáilte have made great strides in promoting the area. More help is needed from central funds to assist that group.

A caravan site is available in the area but it cannot be developed due to a lack of finance. I appeal to the Minister of State to use his good offices to request the Minister for the Environment to make the necessary finance available to Youghal Urban District Council so that that much needed project can commence.

The ferry service to Cork brought in 100,000 visitors and 20,000 vehicles in 1983. It is imperative that we have a Government commitment to provide a new ferry service because the loss of the ferry will be detrimental to the tourist industry in Cork and Kerry.

We have had a disappointing response from the Government benches, indicating a lack of political dynamism in the Department. Yesterday we were treated to a series of generalities by the Minister of State. He just gave us an historical essay on past performances on tourism by Bord Failte. He indulged in the glory of former years. He tried to justify the lack of political will to do something about tourism and blamed everything on our economic difficulties. He did not give a single indication of intention to deal with, to accept or reject the positive alternatives proposed by us. If the Minister accepts what we recommended yesterday he should do something about it. If he rejects it he should argue in support of that rejection. If, as it appears, he will do neither, it is obvious that he and his Department are destitute of any ideas on how to deal with a major revenue earner.

The Minister of State, when referring to the reduced VAT rate, seemed to forget that Fianna Fáil had the VAT rate on hotel accommodation and bed nights at 18 per cent. It was his Government who increased it to 23 per cent but because of the pressure from vested interests and from this side they were forced to reduce it to 18 per cent. He spoke about the reduction of VAT on live entertainment but forgot that this does not include cabaret shows at which food and drink are served. This hits the tourist sector directly. Live shows for tourists in Gleneagle and Doyle's and Jury's still pay VAT at 23 per cent. The Minister should remove that terrible level of VAT.

Our hotels have a major employment content. They have a huge investment and it is fair and proper that the Minister should have referred to them in some small way when dealing with the matter yesterday. He should bear in mind that the profits in the hotel industry last year were only 6 per cent of total revenue and that 38 per cent of all hotels lost money. I suggested the need to equalise VAT on hotels with the average VAT in Europe at 9 per cent. I suggested that we should have a refurbishing and renewals grant for the hotel industry but the Minister did not even suggest that he would consider implementing the commitment and promise he gave in this House last October during the debate on the Tourist Development Bill.

There is a lack of tourism policy in the Department. Last night we put forward the framework for a national tourism plan. We suggested a co-ordinating advisory council and the increased allocations necessary for Bord Fáilte in respect of revenue and capital expenditure. We asked the Minister to deal with the taxation situation, the access transport difficulties, environmental control and preservation and specialist tourism facilities. We asked the Minister particularly to deal with standards in hotels and in tourism facilities in general. We suggested that he would deal with the British potential, and though the Minister this evening glibly trotted out certain figures, I should like to give him the real figures as far as the British market is concerned. In 1978 1.055 million visitors came here from Britain, in 1979 it was 1.077 million, in 1981 the figure was 1.068 million and last year it was 1.052 million. In spite of what the Minister has said, that is a fall-back in British tourists. It was Fianna Fáil who were in power during the three years when the figure was increasing. It now appears that British would-be visitors do not like the Coalition Government because they have not been coming to visit us.

Tourism as an employer and contributor to our gross national product is as important as the dairying industry. Why would the Taoiseach and his Ministers not give as much attention to tourism as to the dairying industry? Dairying output in 1982 was £727 million and the tourist industry in that year brought in £747 million. Therefore, the tourist industry matches the dairying industry but it is not getting the same allocations, grants or other supports from the Government.

We spoke last night about standards. When Deputy Gene Fitzgerald was Minister in 1982 the employment incentive scheme was applied to the hotel industry. It was very useful for the seasonal hotels because it allowed the industry to take on extra staff when they needed them. However, as soon as the Coalition came in they withdrew that scheme but had to restore it under pressure from this side; but they restored it on the same basis as the manufacturing industry which is no use to seasonal and resort hotels. I ask the Minister to restore it to the level provided by Deputy Gene Fitzgerald when he was Minister.

I have asked the Minister to consider the new scheme of VAT refunds on sales to tourists from abroad. If he had given a commitment that he would look at it again he would have done something useful. The scheme outlined by the Revenue Commissioners is nothing but a send-up for bureaucratic nonsense. It has been made awkward for the sake of being awkward. It is a simple idea and it required only simple administration. The experience is there in other countries and we should have taken the pragmatic view and stopped pussyfooting about looking for difficulties where they did not exist. The scheme will not have any beneficial effect on the industry this year.

The position is as follows. The Revenue Commissioners wish goods to be bought in Ireland and the goods to be taken out of the country in a certain period. They are to be stamped on the way out and the visitor sends back the stamp, forms and invoices to get the refund. But the visitor, having returned home, has to send all that documentation to the shop or shops where he bought the goods. The shops will then have to make the refund in the currency of the visitor. The administration costs will be enormous and the validating of purchases will also be difficult. Why do we make it so difficult to implement a simple scheme which operates in other countries in a simple way? The scheme should be that the visitor would purchase the goods, get his invoice and receipt, bring it to the rebate counter at the point of exit and get the money refunded. I cannot understand why the Revenue Commissioners are allowed to bring in such a nuisance of a scheme, so complex that it will not have any benefit whatever.

We have outlined the basis for a new national plan for tourism. I invite the Government, if they cannot put forward a plan of their own, to adopt ours and to get on with the job. We do not think the Government have the proper attitude towards tourism. We do not think they recognise the potential in tourism. They have a do-nothing attitude, total inertia, which does not allow them to recognise or appreciate the economic good thing that tourism can be as a job creator. We cannot accept the Government's amendment. They ask us to commend the steps taken by them. We condemn the lack of steps they have been taking to deal with what we regard as a major revenue generator. The Government stand indicted for their lack of activity in this regard.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 76; Níl, 65.

  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Barry, Myra.
  • Barry, Peter.
  • Begley, Michael.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Bermingham, Joe.
  • Bermingham, George Martin.
  • Boland, John.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Liam.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Cluskey, Frank.
  • Conlon, John F.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Coogan, Fintan.
  • Cooney, Patrick Mark.
  • Cosgrave, Liam T.
  • Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
  • Coveney, Hugh.
  • Creed, Donal.
  • Crotty, Kieran.
  • Crowley, Frank.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deasy, Martin Austin.
  • Desmond, Barry.
  • Desmond, Eileen.
  • Donnellan, John.
  • Dowling, Dick.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Doyle, Joe.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Enright, Thomas W.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • Fennell, Nuala.
  • FitzGerald, Garret.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Oliver J.
  • Glenn, Alice.
  • Harte, Patrick D.
  • Hegarty, Paddy.
  • Hussey, Gemma.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • L'Estrange, Gerry.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McLoughlin, Frank.
  • Manning, Maurice.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Molony, David.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael. (Limerick East)
  • O'Brien, Fergus.
  • O'Brien, Willie.
  • O'Leary, Michael.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • O'Toole, Paddy.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Prendergast, Frank.
  • Quinn, Ruairi.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sheehan, Patrick Joseph.
  • Skelly, Liam.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeline.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, Niall.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brennan, Mattie.
  • Brennan, Paudge.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, John.
  • Burke, Raphael P.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Byrne, Seán.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Cathal Seán.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Fahey, Francis.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Faulkner, Pádraig.
  • Fitzgerald, Gene.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam Joseph.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Haughey, Charles J.
  • Hilliard, Colm.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael.
  • Lemass, Eileen.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leonard, Tom.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McEllistrim, Tom.
  • MacSharry, Ray.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael J. (Limerick West)
  • O'Dea, William.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • Ormonde, Donal.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • Power, Paddy.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Walsh, Seán.
  • Wilson, John P.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wyse, Pearse.
Tellers: Tá, Deputy Barrett(Dún Laoghaire) and Taylor; Níl, Deputies B. Ahern and Briscoe.
Amendment agreed to.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.