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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 27 Nov 2012

Vol. 784 No. 2

Other Questions

Integrated Ticketing

Seán Crowe


98. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he plans to implement a tag off, tag on system to Dublin Bus for use of the Leap card as is in place for Luas users, in an attempt to reduce queues on buses. [52664/12]

Catherine Murphy


125. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide an update on the rollout of the Leap card integrated transport scheme in terms of numbers of active cards, journeys travelled and other usage statistics; if the difficulties regarding availability of top-up facilities has been resolved; his plans to extend the scheme or a similar scheme to commuters around Dublin, or nationwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52680/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 98 and 125 together.

The questions relate to the Leap card public transport integrated ticketing system. Responsibility to develop, procure, implement, operate and maintain the integrated ticketing system in the greater Dublin area became the function of the National Transport Authority, NTA, with effect from 30 September 2010 in accordance with section 58 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008. The Leap card scheme continues to prove popular with public transport users.  I encourage ever Member to have one. It is imperative that we show leadership. To date, more than 175,000 cards have been issued and, in October, 1.5 million journeys were completed using Leap cards.  The scheme has now handled in excess of 10 million journeys since launch and turns over approximately €2.5 million per month.

I understand from the NTA that Dublin Bus equipment has not been designed to handle tag-on tag-off. Adding this function would involve significant time and cost and could well require replacement of the full ticketing system on buses. Generally, it is considered impractical to require that passengers tag off as they leave buses, and particularly where buses are single door vehicles.  Tag-on tag-off would slow down journey times because passengers would be tagging off on the same machines that boarding passengers are using. For single door operations, this would increase the dwell time significantly for passengers and be a bad experience. I understand there are few examples internationally of tag-on tag-off smart card schemes on buses in metropolitan areas and none using single door vehicles. In other major cities using an integrated ticketing system,  they operate either a flat fare system or they use two-door bus vehicles. I understand the authority is undertaking a study to prepare a business case for the national roll-out of the Leap card.  However, this would require additional funding outside of the current capital programme.  It is also my understanding that difficulties regarding availability of top-up facilities have been resolved.

The Leap card has been a good move for Dublin. It has offered a discounted and convenient way to use bus and rail services in the city on one ticket and we can see from the number of people who taken up the scheme how effective it has been. However, the one thing it does not do for bus users is help to speed up the loading and unloading of passengers at each stop. Luas users do not have to queue to ask the driver to key in their fare; they simply tag on and tag off. Leap card users on buses, as before when they used change, must queue with the majority of passengers to tell the driver their fare.

This means the Leap card has little or no effect on bus queues as the Rambler cards do.

Can we have a question, please, Deputy?

Dublin Bus loses money every year due to the gridlock that causes buses to be delayed. I am not convinced by the Minister's view that such a system would slow down buses; I believe it would actually speed them up. Is the cost an issue? Will the Minister re-examine this, as tagging on and tagging off with a Leap card seems to be effective on other transport services?

I have no doubt about the sincerity of the Deputy's question but from a practical point of view this will not happen. There is a cost issue, obviously, as well as an equipment issue which would require a complete overhaul of the bus fleet. The bus fleet would have to change, and there is no country in the world which has such a system unless it has doubled its fleet or has a standard fare. I would love to have a standard fare in urban areas, particularly in Dublin, but it is not practical given the economic situation, and I cannot say whether it would be practical at any stage in the future. Unless one or both of these changes happens, we will not be able to implement the Deputy's suggested system. It would cause serious issues for the financial situation of the bus companies. Furthermore, it would cause delays because people would be queuing at the same points getting on and off buses. We are trying to encourage as many people to use public transport as possible, hence the introduction of the Leap card. Any system that would devalue people's experience of using buses would be negative and I would not support it.

I do not see much difference between paying a fare getting on a bus and tagging on with a Leap card. One would be clocking on as one gets on the bus and then clocking off as one gets off. I am not convinced by the Minister of the cost implications of introducing such a system. Will he do a cost analysis of this? It would be interesting to see if it would be feasible.

We could introduce such a system if we got down to a common fare across Dublin city and the greater Dublin area. That, however, is not going to happen in the short term. We would have to examine the fleet of buses to allow for tagging on and off. The capital requirements would be so substantial that it would not be practical to introduce such a system. The current system is the best solution for Dublin city and the broader area. In addition, a number of substantial enhancements to the Leap card will be announced in the coming weeks and months, which I am sure the House will very much welcome.

I did not hear any reference in the reply to my question about the difficulties regarding the availability of top-up facilities. Have these been overcome? Is it intended to extend the scheme? Internationally, the transport systems that really work are the ones that are simple to use and whose prices are within people's range. Ireland has a bad history of long-term planning in many areas. I know we are in a bad economic situation and there is limited scope to introduce new schemes. However, is a longer view being taken in terms of the introduction of such a tag-on and tag-off initiative when the current fleet is replaced? Is there forward planning for the public transport system, or is it just a case of short-term thinking?

In my reply, I outlined how it would not be possible to extend the Leap card scheme within the existing capital requirements. Given the fact that in the next year we will have broken the back of introducing the Leap card across Dublin city and the greater Dublin area, it could then be deployed countrywide, a move that I would very much support. However, it is not going to be achieved at the moment.

In my reply, I stated the top-up facility difficulties had been sorted out.

Several issues arose and they have been dealt with. We are thinking to the future. The new fleet being purchased in Dublin has double doors and we are considering that. It will take several years to renew the fleet given the capital situation. We are looking to improve the service and the use of double doors may provide options in the medium-term future.

Ultimately, changes in the operation of the Leap card system on buses will come down to either changing the fleet or a single standard fare throughout Dublin. That may be something that can happen. Certainly we are providing the infrastructure to make it a possibility in future should the economic circumstances exist.

Has the Minister of State considered approaching Dublin City Council to have the dublinbikes system included in the Leap card system?

That is something we have looked into and we will be looking into it again in future. It would be a worthwhile development. Following the programme we have outlined to get the various services and products on the Leap card we have also investigated in a preliminary way the possibility of the Leap card being used for the bike scheme from a technological point of view and whether this is possible. It might be something we can develop in future.

Sports Capital Programme Applications

Denis Naughten


99. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will introduce a second phase of the sport capital programme 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52621/12]

Martin Ferris


102. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the fact that participation in sport has increased from 34% in 2009 to 40% in 2012 and that due to increased concerns around health and obesity, his views on whether funding to community sporting clubs and organisations should be ringfenced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52688/12]

Sandra McLellan


130. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the efforts he has made to secure funding for sports in view of cuts in spending in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52684/12]

Derek Keating


132. Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide an update on the sports capital programme and the number of applications received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52679/12]

Mary Lou McDonald


141. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in view of the fact that he has received applications to the sports capital programme totalling €369 million and his budget is €30 million, if he plans to request additional funding to make up the shortfall; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52687/12]

Sandra McLellan


152. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the efforts he has made to ensure that the sports capital programme will run in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52685/12]

Seán Crowe


154. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on whether sporting bodies should be allowed to register as charities; his plans to introduce legislation to this effect; his views on whether persons who make such donations should be able to claim a tax break; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52686/12]

Anthony Lawlor


163. Deputy Anthony Lawlor asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide an update on the sports capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52513/12]

Pat Deering


164. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide an update on the sports capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52502/12]

Derek Keating


722. Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide an update on the sports capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52590/12]

Alan Farrell


725. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide an update on the Sports Capital Grants for 2012; when an announcement will be made; if there will be an earlier application date set for 2013 due to the large volume of applicants in 2012; the other supports that will be provided to sporting clubs outside of this grant system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52725/12]

With the agreement of the House I wish to take Questions Nos. 99, 102, 130, 132, 141, 152, 154, 163, 164, 722 and 725 together.

Can we get the list of the questions proposed to be taken together circulated?

All the other Deputies have questions down, obviously.

These questions relate to this year's sports capital programme and any future such programmes. The question is whether there should be changes to the taxation regime to support sporting organisations and clubs. The sports capital programme is an area delegated to the Minister of State, Deputy Ring. Deputies will be aware that the Department has received 2,170 applications for funding under the 2012 sports capital programme, seeking €229 million in funding for projects with a total value of €374 million. This is the largest number of applications ever received under the programme. I have approval from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to allocate €30 million. I believe this shows the value the Government places on sport. Approximately €26 million of this amount has been earmarked for local projects, including community sports clubs and organisations. Departmental officials are processing all applications and this process is almost complete. I expect to be able to announce the list of successful applicants later this year.

The Government has also committed to a further programme during its lifetime. When the current programme is finished, with the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, I will examine the successes and failures of the current round of applications. As the 2012 process is unfolding, one aspect of particular concern to me and the Minister of State is the high number of ineligible applications. In some counties assessed to date the majority of applications have been ineligible. In designing the next scheme we will need to take account of that. I note that the Irish Sports Council's sport monitor report for 2011 shows that active participation in sport increased from 34% in 2009 to 46% in 2011 among adults. The 2012 sports capital grants will improve facilities in every county and provide increased opportunities for more people to engage in sport to the best of their ability.

With regard to wider supports for sporting organisations, the Deputies may be aware that the Revenue Commissioners have a scheme that provides tax relief for donations to certain sports bodies. It is important that sporting organisations can secure alternative sources of investment, including private donations. The current tax relief scheme for donations to sporting organisations is restrictive because it applies only to donations for capital purposes. Taxation issues, including the amendment or introduction of tax relief schemes, are a matter for the Minister for Finance. However, I wrote to the Minister for Finance in October outlining possible amendments to existing tax relief schemes which would allow relief for non-capital donations to sporting organisations as well.

On top of the commitment and the funding sought, amounting to approximately €220 million, sports organisations have given a commitment to spend up to €145 million of capital to get these projects off the ground. In light of this and the assessed return carried out by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Finance, will the Minister consider increasing the number of grant approvals from the current projection of €30 million?

It could be increased to €90 million worth of commitments and the net cost to the taxpayer would still be the initial commitment of €30 million. In the light of the potential return and given the potential to untap capital lying in dormant bank accounts, will the Minister consider facilitating this proposal which could result in the creation of approximately 2,000 jobs in communities which are struggling owing to the number of people therein on the live register? I am sure if the work is done by a local person, it will result in an additional benefit to local clubs.

Unfortunately, €30 million is the amount sanctioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We have also agreed with the troika spending ceilings which are set in law. As such, any additional sum would have to come from another area of my budget and that is not something I can do now. As the Deputy correctly said, clubs making applications have offered up to €145 million to match funding provided by the Government. However, one of the reasons a large number of applications have been deemed ineligible is clubs have not been able to produce evidence of having the funding required - 15%.

I will call first on the Deputies who have tabled these questions and then come back to other Deputies if there is time remaining.

Sports clubs provide a valuable outlet and are crucial in the fight against obesity. Sports organisations embedded in communities are central to ensuring the well-being of towns and villages and crucial actors in the production of healthy communities. The Minister has received applications for funding under the sports capital programme totalling €369 million. His budget is €30 million. How does he propose to meet the shortfall? Also, will he liaise with his counterparts in the Departments of Health and Education and Skills to produce a more integrated approach to tackling obesity?

Funding has been provided for two rounds of the sports capital programme. It is proposed to have a second round during the lifetime of the Government which will allow organisations that do not receive funding on this occasion to-----

When will the second round be provided for?

In 2015. However, we will have to examine at a later date whether it will be possible to bring it forward. I cannot make promises at this stage. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, has been in contact with other Departments. While sports funding is provided in the main by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Departments of Health, Education and Skills and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government also provide funding. The only concern we would have, particularly at a time when budgets are constrained, is that organisations, rather than offering to share the cost, may opt to pass it on. However, the Minister of State is investigating the matter.

It is important to acknowledge that, despite prevailing economic and difficult circumstances, the Government has resumed the sports capital funding programme, which is an indication of its recognition of the need to support sports organisations in all codes, particularly organisations in the voluntary sector which are struggling. I am sure the Minister is aware of the great dependency of many of these organisations which are starved of funding. Those working in the voluntary sector are engaged in preventive work in tackling obesity, low self-esteem and depression among young people. It is hoped the Government will in this and future rounds of the sports capital programme provide a greater proportion of funding for small local voluntary organisations in all sports codes, rather than give a disproportionate amount to the larger organisations which have been surviving adequately for many years. I hope the Government will recognise and identify the need for funding at local and community level because of the special, valuable and preventive work the organisations and volunteers concerned are doing.

I thank Deputy Keating for his comments. I was delighted to see sport featuring so strongly in a leaflet delivered recently by the Deputy to his constituents - he and I are neighbours.

Of the €30 million in the programme, €26 million is going to local clubs, including local soccer clubs, GAA clubs, community organisations and so forth, and only €4 million is going to regional projects. There is separate funding for the sports campus and national projects. It is the policy of Government to favour local grants heavily over regional and national grants, although there is also a strong argument for the opposite approach. Certainly, people in local communities very much favour spreading the funds as widely as possible to different sporting organisations, but often that means that facilities are duplicated, with two clubs not very far apart from one another getting the same facilities. The national governing bodies argue that we should split the money the other way and put more into regional and national facilities, which is an area in which we fall down quite badly as a country. However, for now, the split is €26 million to local clubs and €4 million to regional organisations.

I welcome the sports capital programme. I have been involved in a number of clubs in my own local area which have benefited from capital grants over the years. I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that some of the clubs that submitted applications might not be able to raise the required 15% of funding themselves but might be in a position to provide labour to that value in lieu of finance. I ask the Minister to consider that as part of the programme.

I am sure Deputy Lawlor will find that such applications would be invalid.

The scheme currently requires that clubs provide 15% of their own funding and that they produce evidence that they have that funding in place. The percentage required for RAPID and CLÁR areas is lower; I cannot remember the exact figure, but I believe it is 5%. The scheme does not allow labour or payment-in-kind to be counted as a contribution, although that is certainly something we could take into account in future programmes. However, it is not possible to modify the scheme after it has already been advertised because there are clubs which might have applied had the rules been different. We cannot change the rules after they have been advertised and must stick to the criteria laid down.

I welcome the sports capital programme. I come from the small county of Carlow, which was always left to one side by Deputy Dooley's party and largely forgotten about when it came to sports grants. The Minister has indicated that the criteria for the awarding of grants will be transparent on this occasion and I look forward to a decent and fair round of allocations.

We will publish the criteria for the Deputy.

There is no need as I am well aware of the criteria.

Due to the fact that Carlow was treated poorly in the past there are a large number of applications from clubs in that county, and that is also true of other counties. How will the clubs and organisations which do not meet the criteria on this occasion be informed of that fact? Will information be provided before the grants are allocated so that clubs and organisations know where they stand? This is important as some of the clubs may be able to source funding from elsewhere in the event of not being awarded a grant. What is the timescale for notification of the awarding of grants? Will it be before or after the budget or even in this calendar year? I also wish to know the timescale for spending the money once it has been allocated.

Notification of grants will issue after the budget this year and clubs will have two years to draw down the funds. The amount each county should get has been worked out on a per capita basis and the funds awarded to each county will be within a band of 90% to 120% of that amount, with counties that did poorly in the past being closer to 120% and those that did very well in the past closer to 90%. In no case will any county deviate from the 90% to 120% band.

I thank the Minister for his response and welcome the sports capital grant programme, which has not operated since 2008. Notwithstanding the current economic circumstances, I understand another round of grants is proposed, which I welcome.

It should be noted that the allocations given to local sporting organisations can be invested to create jobs locally. I welcome the allocation and look forward to getting to grips with the announcement. I thank the Minister for his response.

Does the Minister wish to respond?

There was no question; the Deputy was just making a contribution.

I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to permit me to raise a brief supplementary question.

We have a few minutes left and I will allow brief contributions. Deputy Naughten was the first to proffer and I must call on him next.

Does the Minister agree that increasing the allocation to €90 million would have a net cost to the Exchequer of €30 million when VAT, PRSI and other taxes are taken into account? Increasing the level of grant would produce a considerable bonus in terms of local employment. Does he also agree that he could approve up to 40% of the grants, which would cover nearly all of the eligible applicants, based on that type of return for the Exchequer?

I welcome the allocation of €30 million, although it is a pity that we have to wait until 2015 because the gap is huge. Has a decision been made to sell Lotto and will the new contract include further funding for sports projects? Can the windfall, or whatever one wants to call it, be ring-fenced for capital projects that would otherwise miss out?

I thank the Minister for his detailed and comprehensive reply. Given the difficult and restrictive situation with which the Government must contend, many sporting organisations across all codes have come together with joint applications for shared facilities and arrangements. Will the Minister look favourably on those who share resources made available through capital grant funding?

Everyone in the House is aware that the number of applications is at a record level due to the current shortage of funds. Organisations across the country have invested significant amounts of money over the past 20 years. I support Deputy Naughten in his appeal to the Government. This is an investment which offers incredible value. Alcohol abuse costs €3 billion and if we can reduce that by one third the State could save €1 billion. Sport plays a major rule in addressing alcohol abuse among children who get involved in activities. We underestimate the importance of sports to children, who would be lost without it.

I support the Minister in his proposal to amend the existing tax relief schemes. Has he approached private companies, particularly international corporations operating in Ireland, to encourage similar supports? For example, Coca Cola has a community fund to support clubs and community activities that promote sporting activities in their areas.

Will the Minister ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to publish his diary for the several months since the applications were received?

I cannot confirm Deputy Naughten's figures but the net cost would be higher than the gross cost when PRSI and VAT are included. Of course, one needs to have the money in the first place because it has to be spent before VAT and PRSI can be recouped. Bear in mind that when €30 million is allocated on the expenditure side the amount returned in VAT and PRSI is already counted on the revenue side.

The Lotto franchise is a matter for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform but I can advise Deputy Ellis that the Government has decided to sell the franchise. Most of the money earned from the sale will be invested in the new children's hospital, assuming it receives planning permission.

In regard to Deputy Keating's question, the scheme sets out specific criteria where applications come from a number of organisations working together or with a local authority, and they will score higher if they do so.

If, for example, a soccer club and a GAA club got together, with or without the local authority, they would get bonus points in the scoring system.

In response to Deputy Murphy's question, I have approached some private companies and individuals, largely with regard to funding projects, at the sports campus or coaching programmes and so on, but I have not had much success on that yet. However, I am still working on that. With regard to Deputy Dooley's question, I am sure if he writes to the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, he will be happy to respond to him.

State Airports

Barry Cowen


100. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans for the State's holding in Aer Lingus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52626/12]

This question relates to the State's remaining shareholding in Aer Lingus. The State's shareholding in Aer Lingus is one of the assets included in the State asset disposal programme. The Government agreed that the shareholding would be sold at an appropriate time, but only when market conditions are favourable and at an acceptable price to be agreed by Government. A steering group has been established to examine the potential options for the disposal of the State's stake and the issues that may need to be addressed in the context of the disposal of the stake. The steering group is chaired by my Department and comprises representatives from the Department of Finance, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and NewERA.

There is no preferred option at this juncture for the sale of the State’s shareholding. All possible options are being considered and any final decision will be informed by the outcome of the steering group's analysis. As the Deputy will be aware, the European Commission is currently conducting an in-depth examination of Ryanair's offer for Aer Lingus under the EU merger control rules. The Commission's decision is due in early February 2013 and my Department continues to monitor the case closely.

Does the Minister accept that in the event of the European Commission giving permission to Ryanair to purchase the Aer Lingus stock, this would represent a negative position from an Irish point of view, particularly as it would reduce the level of competition between us and our nearest neighbour, one of our biggest markets, and within the wider European context? Will the Minister also comment on the Cabinet decision today to separate Shannon Airport from the Dublin Airport Authority? How will this benefit our overall capacity to attract tourism to Ireland, considering the Minister has failed to give the appropriate level of support to Shannon by virtue of removing Aer Rianta International, the vital revenue source that has formed part of the Shannon operation for decades, from that airport?

Ryanair has submitted a number of remedies to the European Commission explaining how it proposes to get around any competition concerns. It is certainly not the case that the Commission would allow it to take over Aer Lingus just like that. Ryanair would have to give up quite a lot of routes, either Aer Lingus or Ryanair routes, to other airlines from overseas in order to reintroduce competition. It will be up to the Commission to determine whether it considers the remedies being put forward by Ryanair to be adequate. It is the policy of the Government to have as much competition as possible on routes in and out of Ireland. We do not wish to return to a situation where we have a monopoly provider of any sort in the airline business.

With regard to today's Cabinet discussion, a memo was discussed, but I am not yet in a position to make an announcement on it. One or two matters must be clarified and the issue must be discussed with some people. An announcement will be made in the near future. I am pleased Shannon is adding North American routes next year, to both Philadelphia and Chicago. Its ability to set its own charges again, if it is separated, will assist it in securing new business, which will be a positive for the airport. The 2004 Act, which was introduced by Fianna Fáil, always envisaged that Aer Rianta International would remain part of what was then the Aer Rianta Group, now DAA. That remains the case. The Act also requires that whatever happens, both entities must be viable. Shannon must be viable and the remaining DAA must be viable. For Shannon Airport to retain Aer Rianta International and have its debt written off, would bring the viability of both Dublin Airport and Cork Airport into question. It was never going to be a case that Shannon would get both a debt write-off and retain Aer Rianta International. Indeed, that is envisaged in the 2004 Act.

Does the Minister accept that Shannon Airport would be well and truly able to carry its current debt pile if Aer Rianta International was left there? He will be aware from company records that Aer Rianta International made a profit of almost €30 million last year when exceptional items are removed. It is clear that if Aer Rianta International were to be retained by the airport, the debt burden of approximately €100 million at Shannon Airport could be wiped out within three or three and a half years. Does the Minister accept that the removal of that revenue stream from a company that was created, developed and built in the Shannon region would represent a significant loss to the region? Many people would find its removal unacceptable.

The revenue stream goes to the Dublin Airport Authority, rather than to the region. As far as I am concerned, the Aer Rianta International jobs that are in the region will stay in the region. It has never been the case that the revenue stream goes to the region. An important detail was missing from the figures mentioned by the Deputy. As a consequence of its own investments, Aer Rianta International will have considerable capital expenses in the next couple of years, involving a capital outlay of approximately €60 million. It can only do its business when it has the big balance sheet of the Dublin Airport Authority to borrow against. If it were to remain part of the Shannon entity, it would have great difficulty finding the €60 million it will need to continue to do its own business.

I am opposed to the sell-off of Aer Lingus. Has the Minister or the steering group carried out an assessment to ascertain the impact of the sale of the State's share in Aer Lingus in terms of both jobs and the wider community, particularly given that a relatively low sale price is likely to be agreed for a company that has provided so much for this country and its image? Will the money received from the sale of Aer Lingus end up in the pension fund? We know there have been huge problems with the pension fund. The Minister has been heavily involved in negotiations in this regard. Will all of this money end up in the pension fund? Is it intended to address this issue in a way that would have a massive effect on the workers in the airport, who are under pressure as they face into the future?

The 25% stake in Aer Lingus belongs to the State and to the taxpayer. That is where it will go. It will not go to a private pension fund. As I have said, the steering group is doing its work on the sale of the stake at the moment. It is fair to say we will be careful in this area. It would not be my view that the stake should be sold quickly or cheaply. This asset belongs to the people, and that must be taken into account. At the same time, we have to bear in mind that 75% of the company is in private ownership already. Any other shareholder that reaches 30% ownership will be in a position to present a takeover bid, and any shareholder that reaches 50% ownership will be in a position to force the State to sell its stake to it. We must be aware that it would make more sense to sell our stake at a time of our choosing than to be forced to do so.

The Minister said earlier that the State Airports Act 2004 always envisaged that Aer Rianta International would transfer to the Dublin Airport Authority. Does he accept that the same legislation envisaged that separation would not take place until viable business plans were in place for both Cork Airport and Shannon Airport? He is now proposing to separate Shannon Airport. Can he explain how he considers the business plan that has been produced to be viable? I understand the business plan is based on an anticipated level of growth that is considerably in excess of the underlying growth in the total Irish market. It involves holding on to all existing routes and winning back traffic lost to Knock Airport and Kerry Airport. Is the Government proposing to give the new entity the capacity to target those airports? Is that the viable business plan that is being accepted by the Government? Is it realistic to expect that existing carriers on transatlantic routes will add additional routes on a phased basis from 2013? Is the Government about to agree a plan that targets Knock Airport and Kerry Airport?

The legislation requires that there be business plans for both Shannon and Cork, if Cork is to be separated, and then also for the residual entity. It is not a case of just having a business plan for one; there has to be a business plan for two.

I know that. The Minister should stick to the question, which concerns a business plan for Shannon.

In terms of passenger numbers and volume, what has to be envisaged for Shannon to do well is to recover some of the lost ground. It has lost almost half of its passenger numbers and it needs to recover that, either by growing new business or competing with other airports, and that includes Dublin and Cork.

Tourism Industry Issues

John McGuinness


101. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the reason for the fall in visitor numbers from Britain during the three months to the end of September; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52624/12]

The question relates to the fall in visitor numbers from Britain. According to the latest CSO figures for January to September 2012, and despite ongoing economic difficulties across much of Europe and further afield, our visitor numbers from the European and long-haul markets performed well and America has held steady. However, our visitor numbers from Britain continue to be affected by the slow pace of economic recovery and weak consumer confidence in that market, with overall trips from Britain to Ireland falling by approximately 4% in the first nine months of the year.

While British visitors spend less and do not stay as long as other overseas visitors, Britain remains our single most important tourism market and I am determined to restore it to growth. In this regard, I was pleased to welcome last month’s report of the Tourism Recovery Taskforce, TRT, entitled GB Path to Growth, and I understand that its recommendations for restoring growth in visitors from Britain will be reflected in the 2013 plans of our tourism agencies and businesses.

Tourism Ireland has been conducting an extensive promotional programme this year focusing on our main markets, including Britain. Its autumn-winter campaign aims to boost late season travel to Ireland from around the globe, as well as promoting The Gathering Ireland 2013. For next year, The Gathering Ireland 2013 will form the central focus of all tourism campaigns, with the TRT recommendations further informing marketing plans and activity in the British market.

Growth in visitor numbers from Britain is dependent on improved economic conditions and consumer confidence, as well as the efforts of the tourism industry and agencies. Using The Gathering as our centrepiece for 2013, and building on the approach set out by the TRT, I know that Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and other tourism industry players will work to sell Ireland overseas and to strengthen the competitiveness of our product. I am confident we can grow tourist numbers from Britain and further afield for 2013 and beyond.

As the Minister said, the CSO figures which were published last month showed a drop of 9% in visitors from Britain during the July to September period. He is aware that his Minister of State, Deputy Ring, launched an "Escape the Madness" Olympics campaign to target some 8 million Londoners. It would appear Londoners were quite disinterested in that and declined his invitation. The question also arises as to whether it was a sensible campaign in the first place. Is it possible the slogan "Escape the Madness" was considered somewhat insulting to Londoners and to people in that region generally considering they were hosting what is undoubtedly one of the most important sporting events of the year? In light of that, has any review taken place of that campaign and whether the creative aspect was developed in-house, en route to Mayo or through some of the external agencies that are hired in on an ongoing basis? If that is the case, the Minister might come back to us with some information.

The number of visitors for the first nine months was down 4.3% and the last quarter was particularly bad, which probably related both to the Olympics, which caused people to stay in Britain, and also the bad weather, which caused people to go to warmer destinations. In the same period the number of visits from North America was up 0.6%, the number of visits from long haul markets was up 3.7% and the number of visits from core Europe - the old EU countries - was up 3.8%. We have had growth from everywhere else but that has been pretty much cancelled out by a fall-off in numbers from Britain. Roughly 30% of visitors from Britain visit Ireland in September, October, November and December so I would not yet write off this year as there is still potential for us to recover some of those losses this year.

With regard to the Minister of State, Deputy Ring's work on the Olympics, he was very successful in enticing a number of teams to come and train here, in particular the UK Paralympic swimming team, the South Korean Olympic swimming team, the synchronised swimmers from the United States, the water polo teams and many others. I am not sure if the "Escape the Madness" campaign has been reviewed yet but it would be the normal process for that to be done. While we accept the hoped-for tourism growth did not materialise, the industry has noted that it came at a relatively modest cost and still managed to raise the profile of Ireland within Britain. People may not have travelled during the period of the Olympics, when they decided to stay at home, but perhaps they will come in the autumn and winter of this year instead.

Sin deireadh na ceisteanna.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I want to say something. I have sat here for an hour and a half and I just want to ask the Minister a question.

Please, Deputy-----

I just want to say something to the Minister. We had conspiracy theories on The Gathering. All I wanted to do was to say to the Minister to keep the local authority funding for another couple of weeks, but they come in here with conspiracy theories over the funding of The Gathering, and we sit here for an hour and a half. No wonder it is a joke.

There is a man about to go overboard.