Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Dec 1997

Vol. 484 No. 1

Priority Questions. - Irish Ferries.

Bernard Allen


16 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation the steps, if any, he has taken to deal with the negative effects on tourism of the withdrawal of Irish Ferries from the Cork to Roscoff route; and if he has spoken to the Irish Ferries Company to get them to reverse their decision, which would have a disastrous effect on tourism numbers in the Cork and Kerry region. [21589/97]

I understand the decision by Irish Ferries, a privately owned company, to discontinue the use of Cork port was taken on purely commercial considerations and as such I have no function in the matter. The company has announced an improved and upgraded continental cruiseferry service for the 1998 season between Rosslare, Cherbourg and Roscoff. This service will increase capacity for tourist traffic, vehicles and freight business and I welcome the company's continued commitment to the Continental route. I understand the service will begin next April and will operate according to a new schedule which allows for consistent departure and arrival times with early morning arrival times in France and Ireland to better facilitate passengers driving onwards to their holiday destinations.

I have not spoken directly to Irish Ferries about its decision to discontinue the use of Cork port, but my colleague, the Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Woods, replied to Deputies in the House on the Adjournment on 19 November on this matter.

It is too early to assess what impact, if any, the decision to discontinue the use of Cork port will have on flows of Continental tourists to and within Ireland. The new vessel being chartered by Irish Ferries will provide for increased capacity for tourist traffic and vehicles and will offer higher standards of on-board facilities which should prove attractive to potential visitors. While the distribution of visitor flows within

Ireland is primarily a matter for the regional tourism authorities and the tourism industry, I am concerned about improving regional spread generally, as we all know that recent growth in tourism has not been benefiting all regions to the same extent.

Last month I announced an extra £5 million for Bord Fáilte by way of Supplementary Estimate this year, which will facilitate tourism promotion and marketing for the coming season. I have asked Bord Fáilte to design a series of initiatives for the 1998 campaign, targeted not only at maintaining tourism growth but more particularly at addressing regional spread. Further details of this initiative will be announced after I move the Supplementary Estimate for my Department in the House on 11 December.

While the Minister has given a clear-cut description of the service out of Wexford will he agree the decision by Irish Ferries will have a decidedly negative effect on the tourism industry in the Cork-Kerry region in a year when the Tour de France is coming to the area? Has the Minister had discussions with top management in Irish Ferries, a private company, to encourage it to reverse its decision? Has the Minister expressed concern about the contraction of passenger numbers through Cork port?

When I met representatives of Irish Ferries to discuss some general matters recently the specific matter of the Cork-France ferry service was not brought to my attention. I can, however, allay the Deputy's fears. Demand for access by sea has been decreasing in recent years. Between 1992 and 1996 there was a 30 per cent decrease in capacity on continental ferry service routes.

Out of Cork port?

I am referring to the service to continental Europe.

The figures for Cork port are up.

There was an open competition between the two ferry ports to provide a service to three ferry ports in France. There has been a 30 per cent decrease in recent years but this has been more than offset by an increase in air traffic——

Out of Dublin.

No, there has been an increase in all regions, including Cork. There has been a 9 per cent increase in capacity on cross-channel routes. This has resulted in an increase of 264,000 passengers. Irish passengers and tourists are opting to travel to continental Europe via Britain.

Will the Minister produce figures to stand over his assertion that there has been a reduction? There may have been a 30 per cent reduction nationally but there has been a major increase in traffic between Cork and continental Europe.

A question, please.

I am amazed the Minister has not spoken to Irish Ferries chiefs. Will he ensure a replacement service is provided to the Cork-Kerry region and provide that region with greater resources out of the additional £5 million allocated to Bord Fáilte for marketing to correct the imbalance between Dublin and the regions?

When I met representatives of Irish Ferries, a private company, on 5 November to discuss some general matters the Cork-French route was not brought to my attention. There are no grounds for alarm. There is no reason to believe that the discontinuation of the service will result in a diminution in the numbers travelling to the Cork region which has been included on the route for the Tour de France next year. I will introduce a Supplementary Estimate on 12 December and hope to provide the funds the regional tourism organisations have been seeking for many years. The Deputy should look at the figures for my own region but I agree with him that there is an imbalance which I will seek to correct once the Supplementary Estimate has been approved.

I am amazed the Minister has had no discussions with Irish Ferries chiefs about the withdrawal of the service out of Cork. Will he agree that he has neglected the Cork-Kerry region and has shown a lack of initiative in not discussing the matter with Irish Ferries chiefs?

As a private company Irish Ferries makes its own policy decisions. There has been a dramatic drop of 85,000 in passenger movements but this has been offset by an increase of 183,000 in the number of air passengers. This should allay the Deputy's fears. Passengers have chosen to travel via Britain. We should be grateful that Irish Ferries will provide a cruise ferry service. I am sure there will be no diminution in the numbers of visitors to the Cork region.