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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Dec 1997

Vol. 484 No. 1

Priority Questions. - Licensing of Commercial Accommodation.

Bernard Allen


18 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation if he intends to set up a licensing authority for the licensing of commercial accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21591/97]

I presume the Deputy is referring to the tourist accommodation sector where there is already in place an extensive system for approval in accordance with standards set by Bord Fáilte.

One of the board's statutory functions is the registration of certain types of tourist accommodation such as hotels, guesthouses, holiday cottages, holiday apartments and holiday hostels. The inspection activities associated with these functions were contracted to a third party, Tourism Quality Services Ltd., arising from the implementation of the recommendations of the review of Bord Fáilte carried out by Consultants Arthur D. Little Ltd., in 1994.

In addition the board's system of approval for accommodation in the bed and breakfast sector was also out-sourced, following the Arthur D. Little review, to Industry Associations formally recognised by Bord Fáilte, as self-regulatory bodies, on the basis that they apply Bord Fáilte agreed standards. The regional tourism authorities also operate a system of approval for single unit self-catering accommodation to ensure that they are consistent with Bord Fáilte standards.

I do not propose to establish any licensing authority on the issues mentioned by the Deputy.

The Minister referred to those units which have chosen to enter the system. In a £3 billion industry, employing 100,000 people, with a current complement of 5,000 approved premises with a capacity of 47,000 bedrooms, with 12,000 unapproved premises with a capacity of 40,000 bedrooms, what steps is the Minister taking to safeguard standards and protect our country's image as a quality tourism destination while so many uninspected units operate outside the standards prescribed by him and his Department?

This has not been a problem encountered by me only but by consecutive administrations and Ministers. I emphasise that I am pursuing exactly the same policy pursued to date. The standards of those unapproved units about which the Deputy speaks have not been causing any major alarm. As a matter of fact, I have received many more complaints about standards obtaining in five-star accommodation than in those unapproved units. For example, I have received complaints about cups of coffee which, in some areas, cost more than the ordinary pint, indeed, in some areas of this city about a cup of coffee costing as much £4. I have also received complaints about £10 being charged for two cups of tea and light biscuits and £8 for a bowl of soup and a roll. Therefore, it will be clearly seen that such complaints do not arise in those unapproved units. Nonetheless I must warn those engaged in these areas that I am concerned about excessive prices being charged.

On the matter of the numbers of unapproved units to which the Deputy referred, while they are indeed of importance, they are not the units at present causing me problems vis-a -vis standards.

I did not ask the Minister a question about five-star accommodation but about unregistered units. Does he agree that they tend to destroy our tourist image and tourism itself? What steps is he taking to ensure they comply with fire and safety and health and hygiene standards generally?

Deputy Allen is well aware that the standards in regard to fire and safety and health and hygiene apply to all units, as does taxation. Of course, if those unapproved units do not come up to standard, tourists will not return to them, which in itself answers his question. If they are approved by Bord Fáilte, there is certainly a mechanism available by which tourists or others can complain to my Department but I reiterate that standards have not been the problem encountered in these unapproved units.

While the overall matter of licensing was mooted in the past, on its introduction how does one police that type of authorisation or operation? How does one go about imposing penalties on those who do not adhere to the relevant regulations or standards? In the interests of the future of our tourism industry, I shall certainly examine the matters of standards and licensing. However, the latter probably is something with which it would be impossible to get to grips immediately or in the short-term and undoubtedly cause immense headaches for any of my predecessors who might encounter such problems.

It appears to be a "head in the sand" syndrome.

As the time allocated for questions nominated for priority has expired, Questions Nos. 19 and 20 can be taken in ordinary time.