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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 13 Jul 1983

Vol. 101 No. 9

Tourist Traffic Bill, 1983: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The main purpose of the Bill is to provide for increases in the statutory limits governing Exchequer grant aid towards tourism capital developments so that the Government can, through Bord Fáilte, continue to encourage developments in this area. The statutory limit on grant expenditure on non-accommodation tourism capital development will be reached in the latter part of this year. It is necessary as a matter of urgency to increase this limit to permit Bord Fáilte to make full use of their capital allocations for 1983. In addition, the statutory limit on Exchequer grant assistance for the development of tourism accommodation will be reached in 1984 and it would seem appropriate at this stage to increase that limit. The opportunity is also being taken in the Bill:

(i) to increase the level of fines for infringements of the Tourist Traffic Acts,

(ii) to provide for proceedings in the Circuit Court to prevent the unauthorised use of protected titles,

(iii) to remove statutory maxima on the level of certain fees provided for under the Acts,

(iv) to provide statutory backing for Bord Fáilte's involvement in overseas consultancy work.

(v) to provide for the establishment of a register of holiday apartments,

(vi) to provide for the display of certain information in registered premises,

(vii) to provide for the appointment of persons, who are not ordinarily resident in Ireland, as members of the board of Bord Fáilte Éireann,

(viii) to provide statutory authority for Bord Fáilte to pay death gratuities and spouses' and children's pensions, and

(ix) to provide that remuneration, allowances, terms and conditions of employment of Bord Fáilte staff be determined by the board with the approval of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service.

Firstly, I would like to remind Senators that the present limits provided in the Tourist Traffic Acts for capital development were last raised by the 1979 Act, which increased the limit on grant expenditure on non-accommodation development to £10 million. These limits are now nearly exhausted and there is a need to increase them to permit Bord Fáilte to continue to provide grant assistance towards this type of tourist development.

In the period 1979 to 1982 the Government provided through Bord Fáilte nearly £9 million in grant assistance for the development of holiday accommodation. This grant expenditure stimulated total investment of nearly £33 million in expanding and upgrading our accommodation stock. Initially emphasis in the accommodation grant area was on the hotel sector but capacity in that sector is now considered adequate and the number of hotel bedrooms with bathrooms has been increased from 60 per cent to 79 per cent of total stock in the period 1979 to 1982. More recently grant assistance has been channelled towards other areas of holiday accommodation such as self-catering cottages and caravan and camping parks which have become increasingly popular. In addition, grant assistance was also provided for the upgrading of town and country homes as well as farmhouses. Some moneys were provided to An Óige to improve and expand the network of youth hostels.

Senators may recall that the National Economic and Social Council in the report on tourism policy published in December 1980 was critical of the idea of permanent blanket type grant schemes. It suggested that future policy should concentrate on stimulating the upgrading of accommodation outside the hotel sector. To a significant degree these recommendations were already reflected in changes in grant policy introduced prior to the publication of the NESC report and have been reflected in all schemes introduced since 1979.

Following the NESC report, my Department undertook an extensive review of tourism policy. This exercise included an in-depth assessment of accommodation grant schemes. There has been a tendency in the past to look upon grant schemes as the panacea for all the ills afflicting the tourism industry. The introduction of new schemes has too often been seen by the different sectors of tourism as the ready-made solution to their individual problems. The findings in my Department's review indicate that the implementation of schemes as originally conceived seems not to have had sufficient regard to changing circumstances between their launching and the final undertaking of some of its projects aided. The review has underlined the need for a more critical approach to possible future assistance in this area as a means of ensuring that the State obtains a worth-while return from any investment made.

With future development in mind I have asked Bord Fáilte as a matter of urgency to prepare a detailed assessment of current and likely future holiday accommodation capacities to establish whether supply over the next four to five years will match demand. When this assessment is available it should be possible to identify to what extent, if any, there is a need to expand or upgrade any particular segment of our accommodation stock and to consider if grant schemes are the most suitable means of stimulating any developments thought desirable.

By the end of this year the aggregate amount of grants issued by Bord Fáilte for accommodation development under the Tourist Traffic Acts will have amounted to £24,228,000, leaving only £772,000 remaining before the statutory limit of £25 million is reached. I propose that the statutory limit be raised from £25 million to £30 million. This should be adequate to cover existing accommodation schemes as well as allowing some leeway for the introduction of new schemes if this is found necessary.

As I have already mentioned, I do not intend to make any decisions on future grant schemes until I have had an opportunity to look at the assessment of future accommodation needs currently being prepared by Bord Fáilte. This is not to say that in the intervening period I will be unresponsive to the needs of the accommodation sector. Present policy tends to favour non-grant assistance in the form of concessionary finance provided through the Industrial Credit Company. The up-take of loans by the accommodation sector under these schemes has been most encouraging and I would intend to keep this type of financing under close review to ensure, in so far as possible, that sufficient funding continues to be available to the sector.

I will turn now to non-accommodation grant expenditure, which is used to encourage the development of tourismrelated facilities and amenities. The existing statutory limit on grants of this nature is £10 million and expenditure up to the end of 1982 amounted to £9.3 million. The provision in the 1983 Public Capital Programme for this type of grant expenditure was £929,000. The statutory limit must, therefore, be increased at an early date if this year's programme in tourism non-accommodation capital development is to be completed.

Since 1979 the Government, through Bord Fáilte, have provided £5.7 million in grant assistance for the development of tourism amenities and facilities in the non-accommodation area. This expenditure has been allocated to stimulate the development of a wide variety of projects, ranging from cabin cruiser projects on the Shannon, which received £1 million in grant assistance, to the upgrading and replacement of tourism information offices throughout the regions on which a further £1 million was expended. A similar amount was spent on developing recreational facilities in holiday resort areas. Other areas of major grant expenditure included angling development, water sports, equestrian centres, historical and cultural sites, parks and great houses and gardens.

This particular grant scheme, over which Bord Fáilte exercise considerable discretion in the matter of allocating grant assistance to specific projects, was examined in the course of my Department's review of tourism. The review disclosed that the scheme has to a significant extent been responsible for stimulating very desirable amenity development throughout the country which in many instances might not otherwise have taken place. However, the review was critical of the direction in which certain grants had been channelled. It suggested, for example, that while specific projects assisted may have enhanced general amenities in particular areas their direct impact on the generation of additional tourism traffic had been negligible. In addition, it questioned and was critical of the involvement of Bord Fáilte with Government Departments. local authorities and other bodies in the provision and improvement of amenities for the general public where these particular Departments and bodies had the primary responsibility for such works.

I find it difficult to disagree with these conclusions. I can readily accept that Bord Fáilte have a role on an ongoing basis to ensure that account is taken of tourists' needs when schemes of this type are being planned. However, as the public at large and not tourists specifically are by far the main beneficiaries of such development, I fail to see why Bord Fáilte should be expected to carry a considerable proportion of the costs involved. Funding available to Bord Fáilte is limited, particularly in these present recessionary times, and should in so far as practicable be used to further the board's primary role, which is of course the promotion and generation of tourism traffic.

It would be my intention in the future generally to confine assistance provided under this scheme to aiding and stimulating projects where there is likely to be an identifiable return in the form of additional tourism revenue generated. To this end my Department will be having discussions with Bord Fáilte with a view to agreeing guidelines for the future operation of these grants. It will, of course, be desirable that Bord Fáilte still maintain discretion in the day-to-day allocation of these grants, but I would envisage this being balanced by an annual requirement that agreement be reached in advance between my Department and the Board on the broad direction of expenditure for the following year.

I would expect that the new procedures which I have outlined will result in this scheme becoming more cost effective As I have mentioned already, the statutory limit covering this area of expenditure will be reached shortly and I am accordingly proposing that the limit be increased from £10 million to £14 million.

Turning now to other aspects of the Bill, I would like to deal with the question of fines imposed under the Tourist Traffic Acts. As Senators will be aware, the Acts contain penalties in the form of fines for specific infringements of the legislation. Maximum fines for the majority of such infringements were set out in the Tourist Traffic Act, 1939. The impact of inflation in the intervening period has meant that these provisions are no longer realistic. The Bill proposes, therefore, to increase all fines ten fold which will bring them to a more appropriate level.

The Tourist Traffic Acts also provide for the protection of certain titles and prescribe penalties for unlawful or misleading use of these titles. The title "hotel", for example, can only be used legally by a premises registered with Bord Fáilte in their register of hotels. The unlawful use of this title can have serious implications for other competing premises which are legally registered. While the Acts make provision for fines in respect of offences of this nature, the actual processing of such fines can be unavoidably slow and can to a considerable degree be circumvented by the offending party. In order to improve the existing situation the Bill proposes to make it possible for Bord Fáilte to obtain an order in the Circuit Court to prevent the use of registered titles by premises not properly registered with Bord Fáilte. This additional provision would be without prejudice to the existing provisions which allow for the imposition of fines in cases of illegal use of registered titles.

The opportunity is being taken in the Bill to make it possible to update specific fees charged by Bord Fáilte for particular services. At present the Tourist Traffic Acts permit fees to be charged for a wide range of services. In all cases the fees are prescribed by the board of Bord Fáilte subject to the consent of the Minister. However, in four particular cases the legislation precludes the board from setting fees above certain maximum levels. These maxima, which were set in 1939, vary from 2½p for a certified copy of an entry in a register maintained in accord with the Tourist Traffic Acts to £2 for application for registration. These charges are no longer even remotely adequate to cover the cost of the services being provided. For example, the registration application fee of £2 at most covers about 2 per cent of the cost of processing an average application. In accordance with general Government policy on the question of charges, it is intended that these fees be raised to more realistic levels. The Bill, therefore, proposes to remove the statutory maxima so that in future these particular fees can be prescribed by the board of Bord Fáilte with the consent of the Minister without being constrained by statutory maxima as is the case with all other fees charged under the Acts at present.

Intermittently over the last few years Bord Fáilte have undertaken a limited number of consultancy assignments in developing countries. The work involved has generally been in the nature of preparing tourism development plans or undertaking some form of studies as part of aid programmes. Countries assisted have included Zambia, Tanzania and the Seychelles and in many instances the studies were funded as part of a European Community aid programme.

As Senators can appreciate, this type of overseas consultancy work brings certain benefits and can make a positive contribution to Bord Fáilte, both in terms of staff development and revenue receipts. I should stress, of course, that there are no plans to expand Bord Fáilte's activities in this area and, as has been the practice in the past, Bord Fáilte will only undertake overseas consultancies when their staffing resources permit and when there is absolutely no possibility of such activity restricting the board's capacity to fulfil its overriding roles in the promotion and development of Irish tourism.

In recent years some doubts have been expressed about whether Bord Fáilte are properly empowered to engage in consultancy work. On the recommendation of the Attorney General the opportunity is now being taken to remove any doubts in the matter by inserting an appropriate provision in the Tourist Traffic Acts. A similar provision was made in respect of consultancy services to be provided by the ESB in the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act, 1979.

A noticeable trend in recent years has been the growth in popularity of self-catering accommodation. In this area Continental holiday resorts have seen a dramatic growth of tourism self-catering apartments. Bord Fáilte have advised that the holiday apartment concept, which is still relatively new to Ireland, could be an important factor in revitalising traditional holiday resorts in this country. To encourage this type of development and to ensure that high standards are set and maintained, I am providing in the Bill for the establishment of a register of holiday apartments to be maintained by Bord Fáilte. It would be the intention that only holiday apartments meeting Bord Fáilte standards would be allowed to use the registered titles applicable to this type of accommodation as listed in the Bill.

I have on numerous occasions in the past emphasised the need for, and desirability of, providing the consumer with adequate information. Specific provisions of the Tourist Traffic Acts make it possible for Bord Fáilte to exercise a certain influence in this area. Under the Acts, the board may require the proprietors of registered premises to display lists of charges for rooms, meals and other services provided and may also require proprietors to display external signs as supplied by Bord Fáilte. I now wish to extend the existing provisions to provide for a wider range of consumer information.

I should say that in the matter of providing consumer information the holiday accommodation sector has a better track record than many and I would like to compliment the sector on its performance in this area. Nevertheless, there are some establishments that could undoubtedly do more in this regard and whose reluctance to do so can reflect unfavourably on the sector as a whole. In the Bill I am making provision to ensure that there would be a standardised arrangement in all registered premises for providing certain specific information to the consumer. What I envisage is a standard type notice displayed in all bedrooms and in a prominent position in reception areas. Bord Fáilte would have the power to determine the type and scope of information to be provided in these notices. Included would be information on such matters as the grade of premises, meal times, the safety of property and the rights of guests generally.

I would draw the House's attention to the Hotels Proprietors Act, 1963. This Act sets out the duties, liabilities and rights of hotel proprietors. For example, the proprietor of a hotel is duty bound to receive at the hotel as guests all persons who, whether or not under special contract, present themselves and require sleeping accommodation, food or drink and to provide them therewith, unless he has reasonable grounds of refusal. I suspect that the general public are not fully aware of their rights in this area and I think that the provision now being made in the Bill could effect a useful improvement in this area.

The Tourist Traffic Act, 1939, provides that, if and whenever a member of the board of Bord Fáilte ceases to be ordinarily resident in Ireland, he shall be disqualified from holding and shall cease to hold office as a member of the board. Effectively, this section precludes the possible appointment of a non-resident to the board. In my view, this prohibition is over-restrictive and does not take account of the international nature of tourism. In certain circumstances there could be strong arguments in favour of appointing a non-resident if, for example, a particular individual who had acquired a wide knowledge and experience of tourism internationally became available. Such an appointment would clearly be beneficial to the board, particularly in the matter of deciding upon and implementing promotional and marketing strategies abroad.

In the course of preparing this present Bill it was found that the existing wording of sections of the Tourist Traffic Acts dealing with superannuation might not adequately allow for the payment of death gratuities and spouses' and children's pensions in respect of employees of Bord Fáilte. To remove any doubts in the matter a suitable amendment to the relevant sections of the Acts has been provided for in the Bill.

The Bill also includes a provision regarding remuneration, allowances, terms and conditions of employees of Bord Fáilte. This is to update existing provisions in the Tourist Traffic Acts relating to these matters in order to bring them into line with standard provisions being inserted as the opportunity arises in the legislation governing other State-sponsored bodies. The proposed amendment, therefore, provides for the remuneration, allowances, terms and conditions of Bord Fáilte staff to be determined by the board of Bord Fáilte with the approval of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister for the Public Service.

Before concluding my speech I would like to make a brief reference to the tourism prospects for 1983. At the start of the year Bord Fáilte had set themselves a target of 5 per cent growth for 1983. To support Bord Fáilte in this aim the Government have provided the board with a current expenditure allocation of £21.25 million — an increase of £3.131 million over 1982. In addition the VAT reduction for holiday accommodation announced in the Finance Bill should improve our competitiveness.

While it is still too early to provide any reliable estimate of tourism performance for the year there are a number of positive signs. Reaction to Bord Fáilte's promotional drive this year in the main markets abroad has been good and the level of advance bookings is encouraging.

Bord Fáilte have undertaken a three year promotional programme in Britain aimed at raising awareness and improving the image of Ireland and I understand it is quite successful. Earlier this year Bord Fáilte won two awards from the British Institute of Marketing for this advertising campaign. Provisional estimates on traffic from Britain in the period January to May indicate an increase of nearly 3½ per cent.

Germany is our largest market in continental Europe and Bord Fáilte are confident that there will be growth in this area. Our other major market in continental Europe is France. The imposition of strict currency restrictions by the French Government may hamper traffic from France in 1983 but the latest indications are that it will not be as severe as originally feared. Bord Fáilte were very quick to adjust their marketing campaign to take account of the currency restrictions and this should be of benefit in maintaining numbers from France.

Last year the number of North American tourists visiting Ireland reached a record level and I am confident that we can maintain this record level in 1983. I would point out that an increasing proportion of our visitors are non-ethnic in that they do not come from an Irish background. This is an encouraging sign showing that we attract tourists on our own merits without having to rely on ethnic ties.

Overall there is strong reason to be optimistic about the tourism prospects for 1983.

I have pleasure in asking the House to support this Bill.

I welcome this Bill, which will give more financial scope to Bord Fáilte. Any Bill that will help the tourist industry is more than welcome. I am grateful for the opportunity to express my views and concern on the present state of the tourist industry. The Minister said he was hopeful and optimistic; I am more hopeful than optimistic. I come from an inland area and over the years we had a tremendous number of people coming from the Continent for the fishing in Lough Sheelin.

The area of Westmeath and Cavan has been neglected by the tourist board. The natural resources, the amenities and the atmosphere of that area have brought many tourists from France, Germany and Britain. When I realised this Bill was being introduced, I visited the Lough Sheelin area on Monday afternoon where I saw the fishing boats lying idle. There had been a small number of fishermen from France earlier. I spoke with hoteliers in the area when they asked me to bring to the attention of the House that something be done at national level to salvage our tourist industry. I hope Members on both sides of the House will share my views and that, on the conclusion of this debate, many of the worthwhile suggestions put forward by Senators will act as an incentive to the Government to take the necessary steps to salvage the industry which, according to people in many areas, is on the verge of total collapse.

I know the Minister of State represents a good tourist area, with tremendous amenities. Probably it will be one of the last areas to be hit by a bad tourist season. But we must remember that tourism is about tourists and we must ask ourselves: where are the tourists in this good weather? What has happened, what is the reason, or who is to blame for their absence? Certainly we cannot blame the tourists themselves. I am in the licensed trade, I play a little music; we play at functions right across the country and we see the tourists who come here. Usually these functions are held in smaller towns where tourists come to have a drink in the local pub. At present they are not there; it is as simple as that.

If we check the registers I am sure we would find more Irish people than ever going abroad on holiday this year. That is true but sad and we should do something about it. People are going abroad not alone for the sunshine but because it suits their pockets, leaving behind our naturally beautiful coastal areas. Some of these people have never visited, say, Donegal, Kerry, Clare, Wexford or my own area, the east coast of County Meath where there are approximately six miles of coastline. People find it much cheaper to go abroad on holiday. I have never spent a holiday abroad myself. I decided I would discover all of Ireland before doing so.

I welcome the fact that more money is being provided by Bord Fáilte for tourist accommodation and amenities. It is crucial that we keep the scheme ticking over. But we might well ask: what is the use in providing extra money for, let us say, bed accommodation if those beds remain idle? The average tourist coming here simply wants comfortable accommodation at a reasonable cost, good food of which we have plenty, and a few drinks. For the remainder, they want to enjoy the amenities which are a natural part of our beautiful country. The problem is that hotel beds are too dear, food is too dear and everybody knows that drink is too dear. Some people contend that drink could not be dear enough. Whether we like it or not, drink forms part of our livelihood, of our everyday living. Certainly there was nothing wrong with the drink business when it was handled by the family publican. Also functions and dances have become cost-prohibitive. I would recommend that the House call on the Minister for Finance to take an honest look at the situation and face the reality that we are sending tourists from the southern into the northern parts of our country to purchase goods, to buy their petrol and drink. We are diverting a lucrative flow of traffic from the Twenty-Six Counties northwards. We are the best advertisement yet for the northern economy by way of revenue yield. We do not begrudge the northern economy that revenue boost, but charity begins at home and we should look after our own first. If the Minister were to give an incentive to the drink industry, pull it back on to its feet, in so doing he would be protecting the livelihood of the family publican and of hoteliers who it should be remembered are the backbone of the country to a certain degree, along with small business people.

I might bring to the Minister's attention the fact that air flights from England to Ireland cost over £100 while one can book a flight from London to America for £98 or £99. There is a gross anomaly here. Of course the reason is that a monopoly obtains and, where such creates a degree of imbalance it should be ended and free enterprise restored. We are keeping tourists away from our country. We must consider what tourism means to us, the immense contribution it makes to our balance of payments; it is ready cash flowing into the country. What a tremendous year we could have had this year. There were predictions of a 2 or 3 per cent increase on last year. My heavens, we would need some increase on last year because it was a disaster. We have the good weather and, had we been more cost-conscious, we would have had the tourists also; they would have flocked here.

The success of the tourist industry means so much to the ancillary service industries also. I would hazard a guess that hotel accommodation is at a peak, that for the number of tourists visible we are probably over-accommodated. I am glad to see the Minister place emphasis on the provision of finance and assistance to rural guesthouse accommodation which is to be welcomed and encouraged. Allied to the tourist industry is the food industry, laundry, bedding, not to mention the building industry. Ad hoc measures are not sufficient when we realise the full extent of what we are losing and what we could gain by becoming once again a cost-conscious and efficient tourist attraction country. Cost-wise we were very attractive at one stage but we did not have the accommodation, amenities or indeed the requisite standard of cleanliness. Also we had not developed our amenities or our fisheries. For example, we had not advertised the attractions of our lakes in the midlands for fishing, those in the north-Meath, Cavan and Westmeath areas.

Yet, we had a considerable number of tourists. Now we have provided the amenities but we increased prices to such an extent that tourists no longer come here. Last week I spoke to an hotelier who told me of some friends who came here on their annual holiday from England. They intended to spend two weeks here but had to return after six days. The hotelier offered to keep them and to allow them to send on the money later but they decided to return home. They simply could not afford to stay here for two weeks. The hotel in question is a first-class hotel but, simply to stay in business, it has not raised its rates since 1981. I might add that the area in question is not the most expensive. We must face reality and become competitive. The Government will have to make some radical changes. We have a beautiful country and we have the services to meet any demand but we are preventing people from coming here because of the cost. We must take down these self-erected barriers.

A matter to which I should like to draw the attention of the Minister and the board is that in some areas price controls are not rigidly enforced during certain periods. This applies in particular to some holiday resorts where there are major race meetings. In such cases, the sky is the limit so far as charges are concerned. I have experienced this myself.

When I was travelling during my Seanad campaign I noticed that in general sign-posting needs to be improved. In many areas it is good but in other places it is very poor. I have criticised the Minister for Finance on behalf of hoteliers but, equally, the hoteliers and the people who benefit from the tourist industry should get a message. If I were a foreigner coming to Ireland what would I expect to find? I should like to come to an Ireland that would be truly Irish. I should like to hear Irish music, experience Irish dancing, see the national games and hear the national language spoken. When I was a Member of the Dáil I said that the amount of Bord Fáilte assistance given to hoteliers was a national disgrace because many of them have done little to promote the cultural aspects of Irish life. Irish music does not come through the public address system in their hotels. I am not saying that all hoteliers are guilty of neglect in this area but a large percentage of them do little to promote our culture. People ask me why Irish music is not heard in hotels in Mayo, Clare and Kerry. With the exception of a fleadh, when a festival is held it features pop music. People do not come to Ireland to find that. The question is, who is to blame?

I have noticed that cups, saucers, plates and cutlery in hotels are generally foreign made. The same applies to bed linen and vegetables. All of these commodities are imported. Bord Fáilte have done tremendous work during the years to encourage tourism but they can only do so much. The people involved in the industry and the public have a lot to contribute. I am afraid there has been failure on all sides. We should be able to sell our games and music to the rest of the world. I should like to see more grant assistance given to organisers of national festivals and to the promotion of heritage tours and so on. It will not be necessary to pump £10,000 per job into this area. Some grant assistance would be most welcome.

I welcome many sections in the Bill. It proposes the establishment of a new register to encourage and control the development of holiday apartments and camping sites. I am in agreement with what is proposed in these areas.

As this is the first occasion I have contributed on a Bill taken by the Minister of State, Deputy Moynihan, I should like to welcome him back to the Seanad. He was a distinguished Member of this House and I am glad to see him here today in the Minister's chair.

I welcome the Bill. I am glad that it was initiated in the Seanad and I am sure that sentiment is shared by An Leas-Chathaoirleach. Because the Bill was initiated in this House we will have the opportunity to discuss it in detail and ensure that when it goes to the other House it will fulfil the obligations and expectations we intended.

Equally, I welcome the proposal to provide a sum of £9 million for the promotion of tourism accommodation and for the provision of amenities for tourists. The provision of that money is an indication of the concern of the Minister that the industry be stimulated at this stage and that the people engaged in it be encouraged with regard to the future of the industry. It will help them to accept, despite our difficulties, that there are still reasonably satisfactory prospects for the tourist industry.

The Minister referred to the prospects for tourism generally and particularly for this year. That provides us with an opportunity to look at the industry in general. Nobody will dispute that since the late sixties, and particularly since 1969 this industry has gone through a most difficult and trying period. Those of us who recall the progress, expansion and prosperity that were taking place in the tourist industry right through the sixties could never have imagined that such a serious turnabout could have taken place. There is no doubt during those years that that industry offered tremendous prospects to this country. Unfortunately things began to change in 1969. For the last 14 years the tourist industry has been going downhill. Admittedly, there are indications this year—and there were indications in 1981 and 1982 — that we might have turned the corner. However, it is as well to acknowledge that there are factors which contributed to the decline in tourism here and over which we or the Government had very little control. But there were also factors that we had control over and we did not exercise that control in a way that would have been of advantage to the industry. Basically the start of the decline arose from the problems in Northern Ireland and we had very little influence over that.

Senator Lynch mentioned that we had lakes here which were teeming with fish and so on. It is as well to recall and to register the fact that in the early seventies when we had people coming to fish in these lakes, these same people were intimidated and their transport often burned. The most damaging publicity of all was the so-called patriots with their buckets of whitewash in the middle of the night, daubing their slogans on walls throughout this country. These people have wreaked havoc on the industry by creating the type of publicity that emerged from their activities.

The prospects were there for improvement in 1981, again in 1982 and we also had it this year. Unfortunately, the situation regarding the H Block hunger strikes in 1981 hit us at the very time when the trade should have been taking off. Last year the Falklands situation did not help the position either. Now we have our eyes on 1983 and, so far, we have none of these factors which were present in the past two years to militate against the prospects of an improvement. I am encouraged by the Minister saying that Bord Fáilte are aiming for a 5 per cent increase in tourism this year. He seemed to indicate it was on target and I sincerely hope so.

Perhaps when the Minister is replying he might avail of the opportunity to reconcile the points he made here with a statement from the Irish Hotels Federation which received publicity in the papers this morning and which paints a particularly gloomy picture of the tourism prospects for this year. That statement is either true or false. If it is true then it is a tragedy for all of us. If it is not true then it is not the kind of publicity we should be projecting now. Basically there were four main points in the publicity concerning the Irish Hotels Federation. They said that in a normal tourist year about 3,000 part-time jobs could be expected in the industry but that this year we will have only 1,000. Bed-night accommodation will be down by about 10 per cent and the factor responsible for this is the decline of the touring motorist. They also say that the drop in the commercial trade is a factor. They are projecting that the consumption of food and drink within the hotel industry will drop by 20 per cent this year and that is an enormous drop.

I have mentioned the damage that has been caused by various elements to the tourist trade over the years. We have almost reached the point in the tourist industry — I admit to an involvement —where we have to start at the beginning and build it up to what it was. We must make Ireland attractive to the tourist. The Minister and Senator Lynch indicated the value to our country and to our economy of a thriving and vital tourist industry. The more tourists we get the more we help our balance of payments. There is extra cash in circulation, extra spending power and extra jobs, full or part-time. In general you get a spin-off effect. It is necessary that the Government, those involved in the industry and everyone else, recognise that this is an extremely valuable industry. There are advantages for everyone if we have a successful tourist industry.

It is a tribute to the resourcefulness of the industry that it has weathered the storm so well up to now. I sympathise with those who put a high investment into hotels, particularly during the sixties and with the people who devoted a lifetime of commitment to building up the tourist industry and then had to face the difficulties of the past number of years. For them, there is a significant message in what the Minister is doing today. By putting in that extra £9 million he is giving a measure of encouragement to those whose resources at this stage may well be almost exhausted and whose confidence and capital could be running thin. The Government believe that there is still a successful future for our tourist industry provided we can get certain things to fall into place.

Senators mentioned the advantages we have as a tourist country. However, they are limited and we should recognise this fact. We have four advantages, the first one being the wonderful scenery, beautiful coastline, beautiful inland lakes, drives and mountains. We are a friendly people and despite all the difficulties, there is still co-operation and help available in abundance from the people.

We must put a question mark over the other advantages we had. One was that we were a quiet, peaceful, law-abiding people. I question this now, particularly if we speak in terms of the entire island. The tragic events in Northern Ireland shattered much of that and the attitude of people in Southern Ireland has changed. Tourists should be able to feel that this country is a part of the world where they can park their cars or caravans or where they can walk in the certain knowledge that their property is going to be there when they return. That is an advantage we had back in the period I spoke about and I hope we still have it.

The fourth and the crucial advantage is that a holiday in Ireland was, up to recently, good value. I find myself on common ground with Senator Lynch and I am sure even the Minister will not disagree with me. We have lost that advantage. This country is no longer good value for money. The fact that a holiday in Ireland was good value when the tourist industry was thriving compensated for the uncertainty of our weather, which is something we can never guarantee. To whatever degree the Minister and the Government are responsible for the weather now, they are to be congratulated. Because we cannot guarantee good weather, we must ensure that the value of a holiday here is sufficient to compensate for that.

As long as we have the dearest petrol in Europe and as long as we are selling drink that carries the highest level of taxation in Europe, we will not give good value to a holiday-maker. We must face the reality of this situation. Food, accommodation, petrol for transportation and drink for the social and relaxing atmosphere that exists here are the main components of the cost of a holiday. As far as petrol, drink and even cigarettes are concerned we have priced ourselves to the degree that we are no longer good value. We need to recognise this at every level and to work at restoring the balance and the advantages we had.

A genuine effort has been made over the past few years to peg the cost of accommodation in the hotel industry and guesthouse accommodation generally at a level within which, because of the volume of trade, the establishments in question can justifiably operate. We have four basic advantages and we should keep those that we have and restore those we have lost. If we can do that then we will be back on the road to restoring our tourist industry. I accept that the Bill is a recognition of that need. The extra £9 million in the Bill for accommodation and amenities is an indication of our commitment. I hope that commitment will continue. If it is continued we will work towards retrieving the successful situation we had.

We should applaud the efforts of Bord Fáilte abroad in promoting and advertising the advantages of a holiday in Ireland. It is satisfying to know that the Minister can record that they have won awards from the British Institute of Art. No matter what awards we win or how effective the publicity is, unless we can establish that Ireland is a country which is good value for a holiday a lot of it will be wasted. I accept the Bill before us as a gesture of confidence and commitment from the Minister and from the Government.

I accept the need for registration. I understand from the Minister's speech and from reading the Bill that we will have a number of registers for hotels, guesthouses, cottages and caravan parks, some of which exist already. I recognise the need—and support it fully—to display the cost of staying in any of these establishments and the cost of the services being provided. It is important that we have the confidence of the tourists coming here. We want to prevent the rip-off which helped to destroy what was a very important industry. I believe the measures being taken, including the substantial fines, strengthening the powers of Bord Fáilte where registration is concerned, giving them easier access to the court, will have beneficial results.

I need clarification on one point. We can discuss it on Committee Stage and I am just drawing attention to it now. Section 7 (4) states:

It shall not be lawful for the proprietor or occupier of any premises to describe or hold out or permit any person to describe or hold out such premises as a holiday apartment, tourist apartment, apartotel or holiday flat, or as being of any other description prescribed for the purposes of this section unless the premises are registered in the register of holiday apartments and such proprietor or occupier is registered in that register as the registered proprietor of such premises.

One interpretation which can be put on that is that unless you register with Bord Fáilte you cannot offer accommodation to tourists. That interpretation is possible on reading the Bill. I am seeking clarification whether that is the situation. We can argue on Committee Stage. whether it is too restrictive a regulation.

I do not have to refer to Killarney, Cahirciveen, Lahinch, Laytown, Bettys-town or anywhere else to point out that there are people who offer valuable, clean accommodation who are not registered and who may not wish to be registered. Are they excluded from the terms of the Bill? I accept the need for Bord Fáilte and their staff to engage in overseas consultancy work in developing countries. If we can do a good day's work for the countries concerned, then there is no reason why we should not do so. I am glad to see provision for it enshrined in the Bill.

I support the provision which will ensure that adequate gratuities, benefits and pensions are available to the spouses and children of the staff of the board. I accept the point made by the Minister that the restriction which required a member of the board to be resident in this country was something which could deny us the services of people who could do an outstanding job in promoting the tourist industry here. I welcome the removal of that regulation. I congratulate the Minister for introducing this excellent Bill. I believe it will achieve the task that the Minister and the Government have in mind for it. I believe that it can help to stimulate all those who have an interest in the tourist industry and will enable everybody to realise that a contribution is needed at every level to restore to this country an industry that was extremely valuable to it and which can be in the future.

This is the first time the Minister introduced a Bill in this House to which I have had the honour of speaking. Like Senator Howard, I congratulate him and welcome him to the House. This is a short Bill but I believe it is important. I also welcome the Bill.

The national objective as expressed in Bord Fáilte is to maximise the economic and social benefits to Ireland gained by the promotion and development of tourism both to and within the country. Taking account of a number of factors and elements including the balance of payments, the quality of life and the development of the community, the enhancement and preservation of the nation's cultural heritage, the conservation of the physical resources of the country and tourism's contribution to the progress of regional development and job creation. Whilst the national objective is concerned with both the economic and social benefits of tourism, the balance between those two depends on the general state of the economy. Naturally, during a recession the economic objectives assume a greater importance. Tourism as we all know is a major industry and any positive measure, such as the Bill before us, to contribute in this area must be warmly welcomed. Any opportunity lost, whether on the operational side from within or through restrictive and unfair measures imposed externally, must be a source of grave concern because at individual and collective level the loss will be felt not just immediately but on a continuing basis.

Some people claim that there are signs of an increased awareness among the public of the importance of conserving the environment. Bord Fáilte and the environment council have warned that there should be no faltering in preventive action and that sustained vigilance is vital if increasing problems are to be overcome and if environmental resources are to be adequately protected and improved in the future.

Bord Fáilte must be credited with the success of many important community projects. These include tidy town competitions, lock-keeper competitions, and national gardens. When we realise that almost 800 towns and villages participate in the tidy towns competition the scale of the organisation will be realised. The contribution which this competition has made to the physical environment on a national scale over the years is not fully appreciated. All those involved deserve the highest praise and a special word of praise is due to Mr. Patrick Shaffrey who is the final judge of the competition and who has done more than anybody else to improve the awareness of the importance of the environmental aspect and the aesthetic content of the environment.

With regard to hotels and guesthouses, those of us who have canvassed for the Seanad have a fair idea of how good they are. In particular I pay tribute to the guesthouses. We have stayed in them overnight and we have the highest praise for them. At present very little help is available by way of grants for new hotels, guesthouses, or extensions. This should be looked at sympathetically and grant aid should be made available for them. Our caravan parks are very important and contribute enormously to the tourist industry. Perhaps they could be distributed more widely.

Roads are very important. Unfortunately in this area Bord Fáilte have no jurisdiction. Everybody will agree that our roads are in pretty bad shape. In our towns the roads are potholed and have bad surfaces and footpaths are defective. This is outside the scope of this Bill, nevertheless it is a very important in regard to the tourist industry. We should have good roads and I hope that the surface and alignment of our roads will be improved without serious damage to the environment. In some places whole areas have been bulldozed and in completing the works fences which are not compatible with the environment have been erected. In all such places, the form of fencing installed should be in sympathy with the environment. Where hedges or stone walls are a feature of the locality they should be retained. The whole should be designed to blend in with the environment rather than stand out like a sore thumb.

Like Senator Howard I will refer to today's Irish Independent which reports an enormous slump in the tourist trade this year. The latest indication is that nearly 2,000 of the jobs usually seasonally available will not be filled. Food and beverage sales are 20 per cent below what they were last year. I hope that the Mitterand Government's currency restriction will be removed in the near future.

Like Senator Lynch, I will refer to the area around my locality, the town of Kells. People in the tourist business there feel that Bord Fáilte are responsible for organising tours which, understandably, include the beautiful Boyne Valley but on many occasions the town of Kells is not included. That old and historic town has an enormous amount to offer. On the cultural side we have ancient monuments such as St. Columcille's Oratory which dates back to the early 9th century, the Celtic crosses, the Market Cross and the Cross of Kells which is known throughout the world. The Book of Kells unfortunately we do not have, and many feel we should have it. We have the round tower and many other features of a cultural content in the town. We have sports of every kind and one of the best golf courses in the country. We have soccer and Gaelic football, squash courts, badminton, handball alleys which have produced many Irish champions, pitch and putt courses, fishing — in fact nearly everything. Perhaps VAT should be reduced to a figure of 18 per cent in toto on hotels. The 23 per cent VAT rate still in operation as regards food and 18 per cent VAT on rooms affect only the very big hotels. It has very little effect in small hotels.

The Minister made a very long and detailed speech. It was heartening to listen to him. With regard to a member of the board ceasing to be ordinarily resident in Ireland, this should not disqualify him. The Minister mentioned that other areas of major grant expenditure included angling development, water sports, equestrian centres, historic and cultural sites, parks, great houses and gardens. I wish to make a plea for the humble thatched cottage. Everybody interested in conservation and retaining our architectural heritage is concerned about our great houses and rightly so. The thatched cottage is a feature very much associated with Bord Fáilte's promotions. It is an emblem which is associated with Ireland as much as the shamrock. From an aesthetic point of view there is nothing more beautiful than a little thatched cottage, whitewashed, tarred plinth, the roses around the door and perhaps pots of geraniums on the window sills. Perhaps it is a romantic notion but it is a beautiful one.

While we promote tourism with the help of this emblem we have done nothing to help to maintain the thatched cottage. It belongs to history now. It was a special form of architecture which derived from a restricted choice of materials and finance but it was much enhanced by local craft. Everything should be done to preserve this part of our heritage. Since the foundation of the State no Government Department or county council built a thatched cottage. There are many people concerned about our culture and about having a good way of life for our people. They would say the thatched cottage should be bulldozed away because it condemns people who live in them to a rather primitive way of life. I do not think so. I carried out a survey on thatched cottages and found that very special people live in them.

There should be some kind of grant given to help to maintain the thatched cottage. It is very expensive to re-thatch a house particularly if the whole roof has to be done. A number of authentic thatched houses in each county should be selected. They should be buildings which have remained unaltered. Grants should be provided to maintain them and help the people to preserve them.

The thatched house should be preserved for posterity. It is a house which can deteriorate rapidly. If the thatch begins to take the water the weight of the roof is too much for the house and it collapses. It is very easy to get rid of a thatched house. When grants for new houses were introduced in the Gaeltacht no attempt was made to preserve thatched houses. They were let deteriorate.

It is appropriate to deal with this subject under the Bill. If grants were made available for the preservation of such houses they could be included in the register which Bord Fáilte provide to help tourists. To a passer-by every thatched cottage might look the same but there are subtle differences depending on which area one is in. I make a special plea for the thatched house and ask the Minister to find some way of preserving some of them which have not been altered. I welcome the Bill.

I extend a warm welcome to the Minister of State, not so much on his return to the House but because of our long association and common heritage. We were both spawned from the trade union movement. I hope that will enable him to understand the nuances of my delivery and appreciate more than others whatever rationale I may have in the observations I make from time to time.

He has a very difficult job in so far as tourism is a vital sector of our cultural and economic infrastructure. I welcome the Bill as a genuine effort to help maintain development in that important sector to a degree which is profitable to the people who work in it and to the nation at large.

Nobody knows better than the Minister that the hotel industry is under siege at present. I will not refer to what appeared in one of the national newspapers this morning other than to say that those hotels which operate on a 52-week basis and who employ staff on a full-time basis are being decimated daily. Staff are being told with almost inexorable regularity that they are no longer required in the industry. Labour forces have been reduced in a way which I can only describe as dramatic.

In many of our scenic areas, the small class B hotel has virtually disappeared, due in no small way to the phenomenal growth of bed and breakfast units. This, too, has had an enormous effect on the employment content and potential of our tourist industry, which, as I said, is one of the most important and vital sectors of our economy. Whilst some fleeting comments have been made about other elements essential to maintain the equilibrium of our tourist industry, it is important to stress that one cannot develop a tourist industry without regard to the other elements of the infrastructure which are essential in the maintenance of that industry. For example, one needs a properly integrated rail and road transport system, in order to claim effectively that one can provide a comprehensive tourist environment. We have not been able to do this because, like the hotels, our rail system is under siege and an essential link between one area and another could very well become extinct if the full or even part of the provisions of the McKinsey Report are given effect to. Most of us know that that report, with the serious effects of its implementation on the tourist industry, is the end product of a contract entered into by a previous Minister for Transport to produce a report which suited the arguments which he then held to be sacrosanct. The same firm of consultants some ten years previously had produced an entirely different report to suit CIE. This challenges the validity of this type of report.

It is essential that we have an efficient transport network to enable the tourist industry to develop consistent with its importance within the national infrastructure. While on the subject of McKinsey, it is not too far to strike into the area of hotel management as entered into by CIE. They have for very many years maintained probably our only real national up-market hotel chain. Perhaps the Minister might give some indication of the overall prospects for the maintenance of the CIE hotel chain in the future.

Whenever people challenge the existence of State monopolies, my adrenalin rate increases rapidly. Reference was made by Senator Lynch to the monopoly held by Aer Lingus and to what I detected as his view of the detrimental effect that this was having on the tourist industry. The implications seemed to be that perhaps if it were privatised, or if we had a number of private air operators or if someone else came into the civil aviation business, that might be a way of depressing the charges, in some way helping the tourist industry. That is one end of the spectrum. If one travels right across to the other end, there is the Laker debacle, where this was carried to an extreme, leaving its own monstrous monument to the inefficiency of the private enterprise system and in the process, leaving thousands stranded, deprived of substantial amounts of money which they had zealously saved for a holiday in that period. In the last analysis, the Minister has a difficult and onerous task and I wish him well in his brief. In his pursuit of stability within the tourist industry, I would ask him to have regard to the transport factor in that industry and to have maximum regard to its employment potential and the preservation of employment levels, which are now currently under stress.

I am glad that in spite of what was said this morning, the Republic welcomes the tourists from the North even if it does not welcome our turf. I have had many good holidays in Donegal in very simple surroundings. I would like to back some comments made by Senator Fitzsimons, who should be well aware of the potential of the small home, cottage or whatever one calls it, in Ireland, through being the author of the book "Bungalow Bliss".

One of the points which should be emphasised if one looks at the various projects throughout Ireland is that one of the most successful is on Cruit Island off Donegal with thatched cottages, which gives some lessons to be learned. First of all, the two people who have been responsible for the project have been very much involved in it right from the start. Secondly, they keep in very close contact with those who use those thatched cottages. Thirdly, they feel that the advantages which they have over other cottage schemes is that they have employed real craftsmen to use first-class thatch applied in an attractive manner. Fourthly, they are in an unusual situation. Fifthly, the area is kept spotlessly clean and there is great attention to detail. The tourist comes and feels welcome. He or she sees a clean place which has a novel Irish feel about it and is in a unique situation. Those are things which we should consider.

I have also seen caravan sites, particularly in the Republic, where the basic toilet requirements are primitive, to say the least, and where people using the site do not seem to understand the elementary principles of camping sanitary arrangements and where litter is not disposed of in spite of the recently introduced Litter Bill. With regard to the comments made about caravan sites throughout Ireland, an increasingly important aspect of the tourist industry, there would be a place for a very simple notice indicating to those using the sites the techniques of sanitary and rubbish disposal. Furthermore, the caravan sites need help from the local councils. I have witnessed the situation where there are two bins for some 25 caravans which were until this year emptied once a week so that the litter collected around the base of the bins and the dogs and other animals used it and pulled it apart. The only way of disposing of that litter was when a person came to set fire to it once or twice a week, usually managing to smoke out most of the residents if the wind was blowing in the wrong direction. That site happened to be situated in one of the most beautiful bays in Ireland.

If we seek tourists who want to stay here, we must pay attention to the tourists' requirements on holiday. We must not be frightened to insist on high standards in our camping and caravan sites. We must help people who perhaps are having this type of holiday for the first time to cope with the elementary facets of camp-style living. It is not that they do not want to cope, it is for lack of knowledge. To see rubbish just emptied into the sea is not good enough, but it happens around Ireland and there is not very much said or done about it. Persuasion is important rather than coercion. This can take place through example and through notification.

The next point I wish to make is that one of the encouraging things which have occurred in the violence throughout the past 14 years is the degree of co-operation there has been between the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte. There was an article in The Irish Times this week in which a study was made on the philosophy of tourism by Mr. Shane Belford, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Long may that continue.

In relation to the problems raised by Senator Howard, I wonder whether there is not some need to look at a voucher system which would enable tourists from the Continent of Europe to have a photograph identical to the one on their passports on that voucher which would enable them to have food, refreshment and petrol supplied to them at rates more commensurate with the full development of the tourist industry. I welcome the idea of outside representation on the tourist board. As we are a small country, we know each other well, and I would hope that people could be objectively critical without others being offended. This would give rise to constructive thinking.

I would go a long way with what Senator Howard said. Ireland is in a unique position. It is an island. There is much beauty left, if we pay attention to conservation which was mentioned on both issues raised here today. We are a friendly people. Unfortunately, as he said, in the eyes of the world we have become a violent people. I do not think the tourist industry will boom again until we can resolve our political problem in a constructive fashion.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House

Debate adjourned.