The area in Mayo from where I come is the most economically deprived in the country. In view of this we need whatever can be done to improve matters. On the face of it, tourism is a very important industry for the area but the terrible state of the roads makes travel a hazard. As a consequence, the season is very short. New tourism product is, therefore, required.
Although many activities are ongoing in my area, I am angered at what is happening. For example, one of the hotels in my village, once a wonderful Great Southern hotel which employed 100 people, is a wreck. The bats are flying through it. The village was eligible for the seaside resorts scheme and applications for planning permission were submitted to the relevant authorities. However, following an appeal by An Taisce to An Bord Pleanála, granting of permission was delayed with the result that when it was finally granted the scheme had been abolished. As a result, the hotel is lying vacant and there are no further schemes to facilitate its development, which is a sad state of affairs. A number of other hotels in my area will close.
Matters are exacerbated by rising insurance costs and many operators in the area may not be able to continue in business. I am involved in two local community festivals where insurance cover has increased by 50% this year. I cannot see how they can continue. The State must become involved in regulating the insurance industry to ensure adequate cover can be provided, not only in respect of tourism products but also for young people who face great difficulties over the cost of motor insurance. They must often pay €4,000 or €5,000 for first-time insurance, even where they have never had accidents. Young people should only be penalised after they have had an accident and not before.
Our main problem is a lack of tourism product and a short season. We need all-weather facilities. I was involved in reviving the use of the yawl, a traditional sailing boat indigenous to our area. It has undergone a complete revival. On behalf of our community I made an application for the construction of an all-weather centre. Deloitte & Touche reported that although tourists were visiting the area they were not staying. Weather conditions require us to have an all-weather facility and my application was one way to proceed. Although the operational tourism programme under the national development plan promised much in this regard, the application was doomed from the outset because applications were sought a year late and there was then a six to eight week rush to have them submitted. To date they have not even been considered. I wonder why there was such an indecent hurry. I do not wish to be cynical in pointing out that it happened just before the last general election. To date we still do not have the facilities we need in Achill Island and hotels continue to close.
I have been involved in feasibility studies of non-profit making activities, such as bed and breakfast operations, that would help local people attract and keep visitors in the area. The idea was to show visitors how the yawl was built and so on. It was a wonderful product but the resources were not available to see it through. How can people proceed in the absence of resources to develop communications, roads and a local airport?
The initiative on the yawl sailing boat was part of a cluster of other products in the county that would have interlinked. As a result many other localities are at a loss from the failure to proceed with the initiative. It is irrelevant that many others could not make applications, because they would not have been considered. I ask the Minister to look at this.
I am wary of so-called new structures that turn out to be the same constructs only with a new image. The Minister referred to the future, which is good because I am an optimist. Nevertheless, I am unsure what this legislation will do for the existing situation.
There are 40 hotels in County Mayo and 80 hotels in County Galway, yet as far as I am aware, only 74 applications from the west have been submitted for funding from the operational programme for tourism. Hotels and bed and breakfasts are closing down at a time when there is a lack of product, such as all-weather facilities. There is something wrong here. The programme appears to be a cynical exercise. I ask the Mini ster to provide a county by county breakdown of all applications submitted under it.
We will soon have to compete with the applicant countries from eastern Europe. Being an island we have access difficulties whereas it is possible to access the applicant countries by road. Many of them have big populations. Despite this, we have priced our tourism products out of the market. How do we propose to compete? Hotel chains will establish themselves where they can make the biggest profit.
The industry needs a proper, ring-fenced budget. Section 24 provides that the Minister may make advances to the authority out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, up to an aggregate level of €65 million. Is this to be split between marketing and product development? Is it an annual or a once-off budget and if it is an annual budget, will it be index linked? Is it ring-fenced or will it be used for operational expense only? If it is a development budget will conditions be attached to provide extra incentives to the BMW region? What will happen when the accelerated capital allowance for holiday houses is abolished? Two major tax incentives were abolished. How will reinvestment occur? I do not know how it will happen in respect of our hotel in Mulranny because there are no capital allowances any more and we have a very short season. It seems the rural areas, such as that in which I live, will be doomed unless there is some magnificent change or action that has not occurred already.
Where is the incentive to invest in the tourism product? There is only a disincentive at the moment because, for every €100 spent, one has to wait for a disproportionate period before reaping the allowance. The Minister talks all the time about a quality product. I heard him today and he was very eloquent, but if one wants to develop a product one has to invest money. There is no incentive to develop a five-star hotel at the moment. This will lead to a proliferation of drinking houses, of which we have enough, and they will flourish. The big operators will invest where they can make money and therefore they will take their money abroad to the other EU countries. They will invest it where they can obtain the maximum having invested the minimum, such as in drinking establishments.
I agree with the Minister on his point about quality and the need to improve the product. However, why is he removing the incentives that serve as a way to improve it? By the time the hotel in Mulranny finished its dealings with An Taisce and re-applied, the incentive scheme was gone. It is not worth it if we are to see a total deceleration of the incentives that already exist. Are we all committed to the scrap heap without a future?
The problem is very serious in my area. I know of three major hotels that have closed on Achill recently and one is on the verge of closing. Bed and breakfasts have closed down, as have fine restaurants because their operators cannot make a living. The season is too short. There is no point having a budget unless there is also proper professional advice.
In regard to the new board, who will decide where the money goes? If it is to be the same as before, the money will go to the cities and not to the areas that need it. We need a young, dynamic board. I ask the Minister to ensure that the board will be non-political and non-representative of the current establishment, which has not delivered in the areas about which I am talking. Applications have been made under the national development plan or the operational programme for tourism. What has happened to them? We live in hope but, ultimately, it is nice to have something that provides one with a future. We need to change the whole approach.
Under section 35, does the Minister envisage a voluntary redundancy scheme? In combining two organisations there will be people lacking the necessary skills to be re-employed. What will happen? Will the Minister clarify if there will be another costly voluntary redundancy scheme? Maybe the people in CERT or Bord Fáilte Ireland are getting older or something. Will the Minister advise us regarding the age profile and how he feels about the board? It is important to have people who can do the job and deliver. It does not matter whether they are young or old as long as they are non-political, independent and have the right advice.
The issues of cost and insurance need to be sorted out and I know this Bill will not do it. The rising cost of the tourism product and the need for proper roads have to be addressed. The road into Mayo is an utter disgrace and it is worrying to think that there is no hope for the future. People who come from other areas deserve a certain standard, never mind the people who live in the area. How will we advance if we do not have balanced regional development? This applies to tourism as well.