On the last occasion I did not have much time to go into any of the matters in great detail. I dealt solely with a portion of the report of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Catering and Leisure. I would like to start this morning by dealing with the White Paper on Tourism Policy. This is not a very lengthy document. It has 83 pages. When I say not lengthy I mean in comparison with some of the documents and the reports that we have dealt with, for example, the Whitaker report on Prison Reform. It contains 19 short chapters. Nevertheless, I must say that I feel it is an important document. It deals with the subject in quite a comprehensive way. Because it is so important and because tourism, after industry and agriculture, is very important for this country I feel that all Members of the House will want to make a contribution.
The report starts off by telling us that tourism policy needs to be reassessed by reference to the problem of unemployment. The Government are giving priority to tourism in their efforts to tackle unemployment. I commend this approach. I think it is the correct one. With imagination much can be done to improve the situation as regards unemployment. Obviously, this will take time and thought. I believe that a start could be made, as regards giving employment, by manning tourist offices in the important locations throughout the country.
This is one thing, in my own town, that we have missed for the last number of years. This would give employment, which might be limited employment but, nevertheless, it would be a good start. Perhaps young people who have left secondary school or are attending secondary school could be employed. We had a pilot project in Kells last year for a limited period and the Minister, Deputy Bruton, was good enough to come down and inaugurate the scheme. It was very successful. I think that this is an area where a start could be made. The tourist office and tourist information centre are most important. Of course, the funds are limited and so must be used wisely. Nevertheless, I feel that in this important area an effort should be made to provide more funds and finances.
The report tells us that the driving force for a forward movement in tourism must be entrepreneurial capacity rather than additional Government funding. The aim of this document is to provide a framework within which individuals can undertake new tourist enterprises. The report really gives us a skeletal framework on which to build and which will be fleshed out over a period of time. Eventually, through this document we will have a body which will be energetic and active rather than obese and moribund, and which will be the turning point as regards tourism.
I notice that in this report — and this is possibly a pedantic point of no great significance and something I would not have noticed were I not dealing with the two reports at the one time — and in all Government reports the Government are considered in the plural — the Government "are". I notice the committee "states", the committee "is" and the committee "has". It is just a small detail and probably has no signifiance and it is probably an established practice.
In the late 1970s the National Economic and Social Council were asked by the Government to consider tourism, and its report was published in December 1980. It is NESC Report No. 52, Tourism Policy. The report identified ten problem areas facing the tourism industry. The council did not, however, agree with all the conclusions and recommendations of the consultant who had prepared part 2 of the report. It is not indicated here what parts they were in disagreement about. It was decided, in response to the outstanding issues raised by that NESC report, that the Department of Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism would itself carry out a review of tourism policies. It looked at the overall tourism objective. It was felt that an increased emphasis had to be placed on the need to ensure an adequate return from the resources allocated to the development of tourism. This is something that I would imagine would have been regarded as fundamental in any report. The Department's review is interesting because the national objective was revised to optimise the economic and social benefits to Ireland of the promotion and development of tourism, both to and within the country, consistent with ensuring an adequate and acceptable economic rate of return on the resources employed and taking account of five factors.
These are five very important factors. The first one was tourism's potential for job creation. As I said before, I agree that this should be number one. This has been added by the Government, which indicates the priority which the Government have. The second one is the quality of life and development of the community, which again must be the primary purpose of tourism and, indeed, industry and industrial development. The third one was the enhancement and preservation of the nation's cultural heritage, which again is most important. The fourth factor was the conservation of the physical resources of the country, which is developed in some detail later on in the report and which I intend to go into in some little detail. The fifth factor relates to tourism's contribution to regional development.
The report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Small Businesses was issued on 3 April of this year and this report was issued in September. I am disappointed that more use was not made of this report in preparing the White Paper. The White Paper tell us in paragraph 1.15:
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Small Businesses recently reported on Tourism, Catering and Leisure. The Minister, in formulating and developing tourism policy, will, of course, have regard to this valuable report which will also be considered by the Oireachtas in due course.
I appreciate that the Minister will take into account the recommendations of the joint committee report. It seems to me that within that period, which is practically a six month period, more account could have been taken of the report in the preparation of this White Paper. Nevertheless, I am not too critical in that regard because I realise there are difficulties and printing delays. My understanding of this is that the report of the joint committee has had very little impact on this White Paper.
The Government's national economic plan Building on Reality contains references to tourism policy. It tells us that the limitations of space require that these be brief — and they are fairly brief. This White Paper is now taking the opportunity to provide the details which are necessary. Dealing with the importance of tourism, the White Paper tells us that the Government maintain that every area of the country has some tourism potential. This is something with which I would agree. While we have some beautiful scenic areas, some historic areas and some areas which, for various reasons are given special treatment which they deserve, there are areas — and I feel that this is something which needed to be stressed — in which the tourism potential has not been exploited. I feel, having regard to this reference in the White Paper, that this is something which will be taken care of in the future, and I welcome that.
The Tidy Towns Competition, initiated by Board Fáilte 25 years ago, has been a major factor in developing tourism consciousness in areas not traditionally associated with the industry. The Tidy Towns Competition has done marvellous work in this country. The winning of the competition has not been the sole objective. Areas which have never won the competition, and never will win, have benefitted immensely. I do have to say that the areas which have won awards have benefitted most, because in those areas I can see there was great co-operation among the community. Only where there was great co-operation have awards been won. In Trim, in my own county, for example, which has won the premier award on a couple of occasions, groups in the various estates throughout the town have undertaken to be responsible for their own areas. They have succeeded in cleaning up spaces and making them presentable. In this way the Tidy Towns Competition has done marvellous work. I believe there is much more to be done in this regard.
Coming to the role of public and private sectors, the White Paper tells us that all involved in the tourism industry generally must be prepared to complement Bord Fáilte's activities to a greater extent then heretofore. Again, this is understandable. In some general sense everybody in the country benefits, but those who directly benefit should make some contribution in this area. In the nature of our economy the State may give support, but expansion, increased profits and additional employment can only come from the efforts of those directly involved in tourism itself. Greater effort is needed. This is something that is examined in some considerable detail. It is something that I would be in total agreement with. Those who get most out of the tourist industry should be expected to put a lot back into it.
A new approach by Bord Fáilte will be the development of brand marketing of particular products in the marketplace. A target for the establishment of three branded hotel groupings over the next two years has been set. I am sure that this is commendable. I know that significant changes are taking place in the area of accommodation, particularly hotels. There is a possibility — and I have seen this referred to in recent newspaper articles — that some hotels will lose out considerably in this regard. The hotels which are selected, no doubt, will benefit. I am sure the country as a whole will benefit. I am also sure that there are many establishments which have spent considerable amounts of money in extending and improving their premises and have built up a good business. It would be unfortunate if these people suffered on this account. I am sure a great deal of thought has been given to this area. A radical change like this is not taken lightly. Nevertheless, I would have great sympathy for those hotels which have fulfilled an important role in this area of tourism. If they are on this account going to suffer, I think this proposal should be looked at again with considerable sympathy.
With regard to import tourism, the report in chapter 5 goes into this matter in detail. Apparently, there is not very much such tourism. It is considered in the White Paper, as I understand it, that there is not very much that can be done to promote domestic holidays in this country. The report tells us:
On the evidence there is little justification for allocating additional marketing resources to persuade Irish people to switch from foreign to domestic holidays. At the same time it is felt that Bord Fáilte should try to develop new ways of encouraging domestic holidays among Irish people aimed at particular niches in the market where substitution could be achieved.
It is unfortunate that there are so many people who aspire to holidays abroad. The majority of those people have not explored the Irish market. There would be many places in our own country they would not have visited. We have many places to visit. More could be done in the way of promotion in this area. I would not be as pessimistic as the White Paper appears to be about this. I believe a considerable amount could be done. The majority of the people in this country have not explored the wonderful scenic areas which we have in tourist resorts.
The question of competitiveness has been dealt with by Senator Lynch and Senator Howard. I do not intend to go into it in any detail. Competitiveness is very important in every area of life, not just tourism. Of course, with tourism being so important to this country, competitiveness is vital. The White Paper tells us that even in primary tourism destinations prices become an important factor in determining demand. Therefore, in secondary destinations, such as this country, competitiveness is more important. The Government are conscious of this. By reducing the VAT on hotel accommodation, caravans and boat and car hire from 23 per cent to 10 per cent they have helped enormously. It should be considered, if it would be possible to reduce the VAT on food in hotels. Everybody knows that this presents a problem in hotels. Obviously, from the whole tenor of this White Paper, particularly with regard to competitiveness, if it were possible to reduce the VAT on food in hotels and in the catering institutions, this would have a great impact on tourism.
With regard to the general environment for tourism, the White Paper goes into this aspect in sufficient detail to indicate that it is most important. We all know that it is important. We know that without reference to the White Paper. The White Paper emphasises this importance and deals with the different areas in detail. We are told that the attractions of this country as a tourism destination are as follows. Scenery and natural environment. It is well-known that some parts of the country are noted for their scenic amenities, from the areas which would be regarded as sublime to those areas which may not be so distinguished. Culture is rated as our second attraction, and the third attraction is our friendly people. I hope we are not losing out in this area but, having regard to the changes over my lifetime, I feel that in general people are not so friendly as they were. Indeed, they have good reason in many cases, not to be friendly. Our fourth tourist attraction is, in the case of our two biggest markets, Britain and North America, the widespread use of the English language.
We know that Ireland is not a primary sun destination. The White Paper tells us it is a market of limited appeal. Looking objectively at this, we would have to agree. Nevertheless, I would be inclined to contend that the appeal is not all that limited, taking everything into consideration and realising that the sun and the weather matter most to people who tend to take holidays.
The political factor of Northern Ireland has severely inhibited development of our nearest and largest market, Britain. Other markets have been affected also. We all hope that the recent agreement will be a success, not just for this purpose, but for that reason as well as the many other important reasons.
Ireland is geographically isolated from its main markets. Therefore, the availability of convenient and price competitive access transport is a critical factor. This is an area which has been discussed in some detail by Senator Michael Lynch, who is a member of the committee. I can add nothing to that except to agree that it is most important and that if anything can be done to improve this competitiveness it should be done.
The report tells us, optimistically, that these disadvantages are not insurmountable. Looking at them in some detail, I believe they are not insurmountable; but, nevertheless, we are left with them. The weather factor is very difficult to surmount. At the same time other Members of the House have spoken about indoor sports and indoor facilities. In that way I am sure, if the necessary finances were provided, this drawback regarding the weather could be overcome. Perhaps, after the bad summer we had last year, we may be inclined to over emphasise the weather. The previous year gave us one of the best summers in my lifetime. Generally, for the two months of the year, during the primary tourist season, our weather is good. We should not underline it as a disadvantage that cannot be dealt with and overcome.
With regard to the large number of tourists we have had from North America in the last couple of years, this has been discussed and has been attributed to the strong dollar, which led to an upsurge of tourism in Europe as a whole. The point has been made by other Members that we could have done better from this and that our share in the tourist market was not as high as it could have been. Again, on account of this White Paper I believe that this should mark a turning point in this regard.
The White Paper deals with the different countries from which tourists come. It deals with North America, the United Kingdom, continental Europe, Far East-Australia and, lastly by domestic holidays in Ireland. It is interesting what it has to say in the final paragraph, under Ireland:
It is unlikely that real disposable incomes in Ireland will rise significantly in the immediate future. Accordingly, it would be unrealistic to anticipate any rapid increase in the level of domestic holiday expenditure. Nevertheless, Bord Fáilte's future strategy for the home market will be directed towards building on the present overall level of the domestic long holiday market and expanding the short and off-peak holiday segments through promotions built round activity and special interest holidays for our younger population.
I feel much could be done in this area perhaps through promotions in schools and even perhaps, by reducing the summer holidays and providing a weekly holiday at some other time of the year, encouraging the students to visit different places in the country and to tie this in with examinations and school and college curricula. Something worthwhile could be done in this area, even by promotion in the schools through literature and leaflets. A tremendous amount could be done to encourage young people to visit different places in the country, historic places and the scenic places that they read about but which many of the people in the country up to now have seldom seen.
The White Paper tells us that "The environment is of primary importance to the overall tourism product". Of course, the environment is of primary importance to every activity in the country. "It is important that the image of a clean environment is preserved. Indeed, it marks sound economic sense to bolster this image by investing in environmental management and pollution control and in the preservation and development of amenities". It is extraordinary, having regard to the planning laws which we have had in effect, since 1963, that more has not been done in this area.
The White Paper refers to the different problems we have in the country. Littering is a problem about which I would be pessimistic. I do not know how this can be dealt with. We have the Litter Act, 1982. In places this has resulted in improvement; but in my own area and in the different places I pass through from time to time I see the problem of litter as a major one. I realise that education can help in this regard. Nevertheless, I also feel that many of the people who are responsible for the litter problem — I see people from time to time throwing cigarette packets and empty bottles and parcels out of car windows — are well educated. It is disappointing and it does point to some lack in the character of the people. Even in cases where it seems that there is tidiness, it can often be at the expense of littering in other ways. In my own town of Kells there is a small field that runs along the roadway. The roadway is kept tidy and clean by the council workers and it is kept clean by throwing the tin cans and other litter across the hedge. This is not dealing with the problem.
Water pollution is identified here as a major problem. It is such a major problem that Meath County Council in the past few weeks have brought out a major report on the problems of east Meath due to the overspill from Dublin. This report has been presented to the county council. It is a comprehensive report which could be taken into account in dealing with the matter of water pollution, because the problem in that area is really the density, having regard to the use of septic tanks. There is a serious problem and a danger of diseases of different kinds. There are identified in the report. That is a special area in east Meath which has a problem due to the proximity to the city and people wanting to commute from that area. There is a danger of pollution of the underground water at all levels.
Something should be done by the IIRS with regard to the use of septic tanks.
This is an unsatisfactory way of dealing with domestic sewage and yet it is the only way. It is strange that, with all the developments in technology, nothing better has been discovered. The IIRS report, SR 6, states that in some circumstances it may be necessary to allocate an acre site to a house. But in some situations where the soakage and the percolations are unsatisfactory, a site of even one acre may not be acceptable. Something should be done about this. The IIRS report while it has been very helpful and has assisted people in determining whether the ground was suitable or not for a septic tank, by and large has not been as helpful as it might have been. In one area the report states that a septic tank could be sited 23 feet from a private house and yet in the planning regulations I do not know of any situation where this would be allowed. The minimum, according to all the planning authorities I have been in contact with, is 60 feet. Even the IIRS report, which had regard specifically to this danger of water pollution, in regard to the important area of distance from the house is not being followed by the planning authorities. Something more should be done in that regard and something specifically should be done to see if it would be possible to get rid of septic tanks and deal with the domestic sewage in a better way.
Increasing noise levels are identified as a serious problem. This is another area where it is not easy to see that improvements can be carried out, because in the urban areas in particular and where roadworks — pneumatic drills and so on — and traffic are concerned, it is difficult to see what great improvement can be made there.
Unsightly development is identified as a serious problem. We would agree with this and identify unsightly development all over the country and in the city. This was dealt with in great detail in a publication recently. Unsightly development can be a subjective thing. Some people might take the view that houses in a rural area could constitute unsightly development. Extremists might feel that houses in a rural area, particularly houses for people who are not employed in agriculture, inpinge on the amenity value of the environment. To an extent I would disagree with this. The report on Building Land points out that the one-off house was very important and without it it would not have been possible to cater for housing needs over the last number of years particularly in the late seventies. While unsightly development is something we would agree with as underlined here, nevertheless, I feel that this should be looked at in some detail.
Air pollution is also mentioned as causing a problem to some extent. This is being dealt with, I believed by the Government. Over the last week or so there has been an amount of discussion regarding open fires and their contribution to air pollution. With regard to EC regulations, we are behind time in dealing with this problem. In a seminar last week it was pointed out that the problem is more acute than we realise. This could be overcome by encouraging people to use closed stoves and by providing grants to encourage people to use closed stoves and in some areas using only smokeless fuels. The use of the incentives of the grants and also a little urging by way of regulations would help in this area.
The White Paper says that "recent changes in the law relating to agricultural structures have resulted in some improvement". I am not familiar with these recent changes but I would be in agreement with any changes that would result in an improvement. Agricultural development in the country has damaged the amenity area of a locality. Agriculture is a priority in the country. What happens in some cases is that a cluster of houses would be built in a rural area and the local farmer might decide to enter into some area of farming which might be considered a nuisance, for example, pig production. The people in the houses would consider that this would devalue their property and objections have been raised in many cases. In an agricultural country it should be understood that agriculture is a priority and that people who go out into the country take that risk. No farmer should be restricted in his activities because of objections by people who have moved from an urban area to the country.
In my area not far from Navan a beautiful church, Kilbarry Church, is ruined by the proximity of agricultural buildings. This was unfortunate. This is not the only area. This has happened not to the same extent all over the country. If the recent regulations have succeeded in changing that, they will have done a great day's work.
The White Paper refers to An Foras Forbartha report on the State of the Environment which outlines the current position. I would like to have studied that publication but we do not have it in the Library here in the House. We do not get copies of all the expensive publications by An Foras Forbartha. We only get copies of the cheaper ones which is a pity. The Library is very important to us and the staff there are very helpful. All the publications of An Foras Forbartha should be available in the Library.
The report also refers to the recently launched Environmental Awareness Bureau. Its intention is to help in this area. I wish it success. We are told in the report that the Government will encourage the local authorities to pay particular attention to the need to make their areas more attractive for tourists, and in so doing to draw on the assistance of local voluntary groups in carrying out desirable projects. Without the assistance of local voluntary concerned groups it would be very difficult to make progress in this area. The record of the Tidy Towns shows that the greatest success has been in areas where local voluntary groups have taken charge of areas. We should pay tribute to the volunteers who have worked unselfishly for this cause.
At the direction of the Government, Bord Fáilte is now embarking on a more active approach in encouraging the development and presentation of the environment.
This will include seven different areas and it is worthwhile mentioning them—
(i) the identification of sites and sources of serious littering particularly with regard to abandoned vehicles.
We have this problem all over the country. It is important to make progress in this area. It is difficult to know how it will be made because even in my own town I see a vehicle, perhaps, stolen. It is left abandoned in a particular place and after a few days it is vandalised. It then becomes an eyesore and a problem. This is happening in urban and rural areas. I agree that it is a number one priority.
(ii) the agreement of a pilot area with the City and County Managers' Association which would be a model for a project on litter bin design, provision and servicing,
This is important. It is an area where we could usefully take the example of other countries. In Britain sponsorship does an enormous amount of work in this area. People sponsor the bins. Their names are shown on those decorative concrete fixed bins. This is something that was tried out in different areas of Ireland but it was not as successful as it might have been. If a concentrated effort were made to make it successful I do not see any reason why it should not be
(iii) the computerised mapping of the country's physical attractions,
I am not sure how this map would be used but it should be reasonably simple to prepare this computerised map. In this age of electronics this is indispensable.
(iv) the carrying out of a study of our national heritage of outstanding landscapes to identify those areas of tourist importance which may be under threat from development,
This is important and might not be as difficult to carry out as it seems. All the planning authorities in the different areas are very conscious of the amenity. With some organisation by Board Fáilte and the planning authorities it would be a relatively simple matter to have this study carried out.
(v) a review of recent reports on water pollution with a view to producing a policy document on the current and future implications, for tourism, of trends in water quality,
There is a deterioration in the water quality in particular areas of greatest concentration. It is important that we would make progress in this area. The treatment of domestic sewage is the greatest problem. The IIRS should be asked to deal with this problem and see what could be done as regards pollution.
(vi) the intensification of Bord Fáilte co-operation with planning authorities in the operation of the planning Acts,
Bord Fáilte are involved in the planning process. They are co-operating to the extent that is possible with the planning authorities, but if intensification of this will bring about a greater improvement I would be in favour of it also.
(vii) the intensification of Bord Fáilte co-operation with the Department of the Environment, particularly in relation to the Environment Awareness Bureau which has been recently set up.
The report refers to the desirability of bringing any specific actions considered necessary to the special notice of the local authorities concerned for appropriate action. This is being done. I hope that, as a result of this, that something more will come from it. I mentioned the Tidy Towns Competition before and the importance of this competition for the country and what it has achieved. It is very difficult to quantify the achievements of the Tidy Towns Competition.
The White Paper emphasises this importance and refers to the civic awards scheme operated by Bord Fáilte which has been a source of considerable community interest and teamwork. It says that it has been instrumental in generating an increased awareness and understanding within local communities of the need to protect and cherish our environmental heritage. The report then goes on to tell us it is extending the scope of the scheme through a series of awards of excellence. I agree with this. This will enable us to get a greater return from the Tidy Towns Competition.
The report gives us the different headings under which it intends to set up the awards of excellence. The National Tidy Districts Awards will bring every area within the scope of the Tidy Towns Competition. There is also the Commercial Street Award. At a time when there is so much criticism regarding the destruction of our streets and streetscapes, when old buildings are being renewed and plastic signs are being used and gaudy fronts, I think it is important to try to preserve our heritage, particularly the old shop fronts and family businesses. We have an important heritage to preserve. There is a tendency to discard the family name and to use names from television films such as "Dynasty" or "Dallas". It is important to retain the old tradition of the family name and the beautiful, simple shop fronts. The Commercial Street Award will make a determined effort to preserve the old streetscapes.
A Best Local Authority Housing Estate Award is also contemplated. This will bring all housing estates within the ambit of the Tidy Towns Competition. Perhaps some housing estates may be at a disadvantage: their designs may not be regarded as conforming to modern developments. I am sure all these things will be taken into consideration. It is an important development and will bring a considerable area, which is not at present availing of the Tidy Towns Competition, within the ambit of that competition.
The Tidy Beaches Award is next on the list. I come from an area near Bettystown and Laytown which has a beautiful beach. This award will improve such areas as I have mentioned. They remain undamaged and unexploited. This award will be very helpful to all beach areas.
The recreation and amenity and urban development awards will be of enormous benefit to the environment. But when will these awards be brought into operation? I would urge the Minister having identified those areas and having decided to extend the competition to cover these areas, to include them in the tidy towns competition immediately.
With regard to the question of litter, the report refers to the irresponsible attitude of Irish people to litter, including the abandonment of used vehicles. It states that this is in sharp contrast to that found in the rest of western Europe. It is difficult to understand why people contribute to the enormous problem of litter. Indeed our bogs have become polluted with litter. There is a beautiful bog close to my home town of Kells. I worked in it in my youth. At that time it was a beautiful, clean place. If I had a few slices of bread left over from my lunch I would put it under a few sods of turf to preserve it and it would be perfect when I came back to it.
Now the place is infested with rats and vermin. It is covered with litter and abandoned cars. The county council made a dump of part of it and covered it over with soil when the dump was closed. While it appeared presentable it was, I think, a mistake to have a dump in a beautiful area of bog with sylvan setting including heather. Even though the dump is closed people still throw refuse indiscriminately in drains and elsewhere throughout the bog. While the council were wrong in spoiling such a beautiful area, nevertheless the start was made by the people living in the towns nearby. Some of the beautiful trees, the silver birch trees, have been cut down, presumably for firewood. Silver birch is of poor quality for firewood but it is one of the most beautiful trees which grow in our boglands. This position is irreversible and these actions are criminal.
Under the heading of planning, the White Paper tells us that there is a need for a more rigorous and consistent enforcement of planning regulations. I would not agree totally with that. The regulations at present are rigorous enough. I fail to understand how any development could be carried out which would contravene the amenities of an area. Unnecessary obstacles are sometimes placed before people who have proposed development, perhaps to build a private dwelling house. Great sympathy should be given to those people. Except in really exquisite scenic areas, such areas as are best described as sublime, development need not necessarily blemish the amenities. A good designer with the necessary resources should be able to complement any area and improve it with development.
We are told that a particular problem arises with uncontrolled caravan and camping developments. It is difficult to understand how this can be, seeing that it is necessary to have planning permission for such sites. We are also told that the Minister for the Environment is reviewing the provisions of the 1948 Act with a view to extending the licensing provisions to the whole country, which strangely is not the position at the moment. There does not seem to be any great difficulty in extending that Act to the whole country. If a serious problem has been identified in this regard surely it is critical to have this extension without delay.
Water pollution is also dealt with in the White Paper on page 36. The two sources of pollution which have had the most damaging effect are inadequately treated sewage and agricultural waste and run-off. I have already dealt briefly with the domestic sewage. Agricultural waste and run-off are of great importance and in some areas more important. Large stretches of our rivers have been denuded of fish because of the unfortunate or thoughtless actions of farmers or because of accidental discharge. It is important that people involved in that area of agriculture where there is the possibility of waste run-off should understand what is involved and exercise every precaution to ensure that it does not develop. A few years ago fish life in quite a large stretch of the Blackwater river was destroyed when a farm machine carrying out spraying leaked into the river. Something in the region of 50 large salmon were taken from the river, not to count the other fish.
In this area, coarse fishing could be as important as angling. I can recall a few years back going out in the mornings to work and noticing dozens of cars passing down to the beautiful lakes in County Cavan and, indeed, some of the lakes in County Meath. All these cars had small boats and their equipment attached. That is something that has dwindled noticeably in the last few years. Perhaps this could be attributed in considerable measure to pollution and to the destruction of fish life in those areas. In this regard a working party in the Department of the Environment is preparing a manual to provide comprehensive advice on the standards and controls which should be applied to farm development. This is important and urgent and I would be in total agreement with it. In the North of Ireland, for example, a very useful manual is provided to all people making planning applications. It is a guide for householders and a similar one should be supplied in this country, so that we would have the same criteria applying all over the country, with of course, the various other criteria which might apply to localised areas in the literature of the planning authority. It is important to have a manual or a guide of this kind for people who intend to build, particularly in the agriculture area where a considerable amount of harm has been done — not deliberately. By means of proper education and a comprehensive, simple guide this problem would be overcome.
Marine wreckage is referred to as a problem and indeed in the very short area of beach which we have in County Meath the beautiful amenity has been spoiled for a considerable number of years by a wreck. It is a pity that these wrecks cannot be moved more speedily. They seriously damage the environment. It was proper and correct to identify the problem in the White Paper.
The taking of beach material is another problem which is difficult to deal with but we have the Foreshore Act, 1933, and perhaps the local authorities could make a greater effort in this regard. I know that in all areas there are notices stating that it is illegal to move beach material but there should be some kind of supervision also. This should be possible and again, it would be worthwhile and it would be in line with the primary objective of this White Paper to provide extra employment.
In this area of amenity, conservation is most important and this is dealt with in the report. It states that this need is particularly acute in relation to the conservation and preservation of wet lands and peat lands which are the natural habitat of migratory species of birds and other species of flora and fauna. I have already spoken about that in relation to the bogs which are convenient to Kells. I suppose it also applies in other areas of development, for example, the Boyne drainage scheme and the other various drainage schemes. A considerable amount of damage has been done in this area. I think that it is possible to get into a situation where improvement would be difficult. Improvement is necessary and progress is necessary.
In the case of the Boyne drainage, for example, the beautiful rivers which had curving banks seem to have disappeared. Areas where I fished and indeed worked for many long days, along the river Meadow are greatly changed and now in place of the river we have practically a canal, with steep banks. The fishing has been interfered with; I will not say "destroyed" because I believe that salmon fishing in the last year was an improvement on anything up to then, but the trout fishing has been interfered with. The flora and fauna have been interfered with. I resent this. Beautiful parts of the river with overhanging trees have been destroyed. This is something I regret, but at the same time progress is necessary and I know farmers there who have benefited to quite an extent. I know one farmer who had 20 acres of land along the river, which in his lifetime and in the lifetime of anybody else around, grew nothing but rushes. For the last few years he has grown crops of wheat, oats and barley in that area.
Progress is necessary and we must move with the times, but more care should be taken to restore the banks, the spawning beds and the fish. From the point of tourism this is very important. Undoubtedly, through the drainage works there, from which the farming community have benefited, there has been a reduction in the fishing and therefore tourism has suffered. I am speaking for one area. This has happened all over. While it is easy to be critical of the Office of Public Works and the drainage works, I am not really critical: over the last few years they have been very concerned about the state in which they left the banks and the rivers. We must take into consideration, on the one hand, the necessity to improve this agricultural land and on the other hand the damage that is caused. While making progress every effort should be make to minimise this damage.
The report deals in chapter 10 with internal transport. I do not intend to go into it in any detail, but it states that:
The Government are already committed to a programme of major improvements to the national road network.
I come up from Kells to Dublin and I have a good road as far as Clonee and indeed the main road from the northern end of Donegal right through Cavan, Kells and Navan is a first class road. Then we come into that area from Clonee, a few miles of road which is narrow, which has only a margin or a footpath on one side and where, if I am coming up in the morning behind a tractor or behind a JCB or behind farm machinery, I and all the other motorists must stay behind the vehicle in front because there are bends. It seems strange to me that, while all the roads have been improved over the years from north Donegal right up to Clonee, this bottleneck has been left. It would have seemed sensible to improve this road at the start, improve the exit and the entrance to the capital city. It must be the worst road into the city.
I am glad to see from Irish Road Statistics, 1985— a handbook by the Confederation of Irish Industry — that this part of the road is to be improved. I welcome that. It is very important. It states here that in the Navan relief road in Meath, 3.5 kilometres, will be completed in 1986, a new road to allow traffic using the entry to by-pass Navan. That work is in progress at the moment and it will be one of the most beautiful by-pass roads in the country because it runs part of the way along the river. But this other road — 8.9 kilometres from Clonee into Dublin — will be completed in 1986. I welcome that very much. It is long overdue. Serious accidents have happened along that road. I have been held up at one time by an accident in which a man lost his life while cycling on that road. That area of internal transport and roads is most important and I particularly welcome the proposal to have this road completed in 1986.
Coach tours and car hire is taken into account in the White Paper — and this is important — which also deals with signposting. Those of us who have travelled through the country canvassing for a Seanad seat know that signposting leaves a lot to be desired in many areas, particularly for the tourist trade. Signposting in a general sense is covered by the planning laws and regulations. There are many aspects of it in which the Government and the local authorities should be complimented. Even in my own area the Boyne route is signposted, and has been signposted very well over the last few months. I welcome that. On the other hand, signposting can be a major problem with private individuals. To erect a sign on a business premises or any premises it is necessary to get planning permission. I know of one case where a married lady did a course in AnCO — a start-your-own-business course — and she passed the course. She set up a small guesthouse and provided the facilities that were necessary. To a large extent, she was and is very successful. But she was refused planning permission to have an advance sign for her business. This kind of thing should not be allowed to happen. This lady, whose husband was helping her with the business, had gone to considerable expense to have premises that were suitable for the business, but she was not allowed to provide an advance sign. She is just inside the Cavan border. She applied to Cavan County Council and was refused. The indications were that, if she applied again, she would be refused. I believe she was informed that she would have no problem with Meath County Council.
This brings us back to the planning regulations where we should have uniformity and consistency. This is an area that should be looked at. Somebody making a livelihood from a particular business should not be debarred, provided tasteful signs that are not offensive and not too big are erected within certain areas. There should be some allowance for people to do this even for a particular period — during the tourist season, for example — without having to apply for planning permission. This type of development could easily be brought within the terms of essential development, particularly where it means so much in the area of tourism, as this one undoubtedly did. I am sure that this is not an isolated example. "The Government will consider any action which they might take to promote an increase in Irish participation in all niches of the coach tourism market". This is important. Indeed, in my own area the Boyne Valley tours are very important. I must compliment CIE on those tours. Some of them were extended to Kells over the last year and they have been very successful. It is an important area which could and should be developed. I am very grateful to Bord Fáilte for the help given me when I made representation at different times to have this Boyne Valley tour extended.
Tourism amenities and facilities are very important and they are dealt with in a separate chapter, which is one of the most extensive in the report. The report speaks of the attraction of activity holidays centered around angling, sailing, golf, equestrian or adventure sports. I have already gone into those, particularly angling and fishing. We have an area in County Meath renowned for its coarse fishing, particularly around Ballyhoe, that beautiful scenic area with all the lakes. I remember in my youth reading the ballads and poems written into the local paper and I recall one about Ballyhoe "...where perch and troutlet smoothly glide among the reeds of Ballyhoe". I am sure there are many people who feel as strongly as I do about this. It is a very important area for fishing and angling. These are all areas where considerable progress could be made without any great outlay. Indeed, voluntary groups could be organised to help in extending these facilities and making them available to tourists — with the exception, of course, of the sports which it is not possible to hold outdoors. Other Members have felt that greater grants should be available for the provision of indoor facilities. The White Paper tells us that grants have been provided to develop the necessary facilities and Bord Fáilte have marketed activity holidays successfully abroad. This is very important.
Food is again dealt with. We are told that:
The cuisine of a country is a very important part of its overall image. Foreign tourists are likely to acquire new tastes while on holiday in Ireland and take them back home within them.
I am not sure whether it is intended that they bring them back home "with them" but I suppose "within them" would be correct too. It then goes on to state, with regard to the White Paper on Industrial Policy:
Moreover the Government in the National Plan Building on Reality have indicated their intention to introduce legislation to enable restaurants to provide a full range of alcoholic drinks which is a normal facility in restaurants abroad. The preparation of this legislation is going ahead.
I referred to licensing laws and alcoholic drink in my last contribution. I would like to refer later on, though not in any great detail, to some of the points that I did not make on the last occasion. As far as I can see this is the only place in the White Paper where there is a reference to where alcoholic drinks are supplied. With regard to this legislation I understand that the vintners have no objection to extending this facility to restaurants. By and large I do not think there is any great objection. At the same time, it seems to me that for people who want to get drink, the opportunities are there. I am not too sure whether that would help as regards tourism.
I have met tourists looking for information about their destination and other things. Indeed, many of them come to me for information they cannot get locally because there is no tourist office. I have never met a tourist who was looking for some place to get a drink after hours. Perhaps it would be proper to make intoxicating drink available in restaurants but I understood that some years ago when this question arose — I stand to be corrected if I am wrong — the publicans were not very enthusiastic about it. They were given an opportunity to provide meals in public houses which would more or less meet the problem of getting meals and drink in the one premises. This has been achieved to a large extent all over the country. People go into public houses for meals. Nobody to my knowledge has objected to this and I am not objecting. I am not against drink in any way. I enjoy a drink and always did but I believe that making it more readily available will have no great advantages. I can certainly see big disadvantages.
The report deals with national and forest parks. I compliment all those involved in this area. I have visited many of the forest parks. We have a beautiful forest park in Doonaree outside Kings-court to which people go Sunday after Sunday. I have been to the Lough Key forest park near Boyle many times and I enjoyed it. One of the most beautiful of all I believe is Curraghchase. I have also been there on a caravan holiday and I enjoyed it. I am aware of all the advantages that we have in the area of forest parks. The report tells us that the development of national parks by the Office of Public Works and forest parks by the Department of Fisheries and Forestry has made a valuable contribution towards improving and preserving our environment. Of course it has. Apart from tourists the people who live here enjoy these amenities.
It should be possible to develop them further. In some of them facilities should be provided, for example, at Curraghchase. Not all of them have that really beautiful setting and such a long drive from the public roadway. Caravan parking could be provided and, indeed, some of the smaller forests could be opened up to the public. I know an attempt has been made in this direction by the Government, and I commend it. Very recently all Members of the House were invited to one of these open days. It should be possible for school groups to visit the forest parks on these open days. For that reason I suggest the schools should be closed to enable pupils and teachers to attend.
Historic monuments and houses are another aspect dealt with in the report. This aspect is very important. It is gone into in considerable detail. It states here that:
Bord Fáilte have helped in the provision of visitor facilities at historic monuments maintained by OPW. There have, however, been legal restrictions on the extent of the work which OPW may do in presenting national monuments to the public. The Government have decided that the existing restrictions on OPW will be removed in 1985 by the introduction of the National Monuments Bill.
Time is running out in 1985. I hope this will be brought in early in the New Year.
We are told what provisions will be included in this Bill. I agree with all of them. The first one is very important: the control of use of metal detectors. I should like to emphasise the importance of this provision. A great deal of damage has been done in my own area to important sites by people using metal detectors. I thought it was illegal to use them but I am not an authority in that area. I know that irreversible damage has been done. It is most important to curb these activities with this restriction. As we know, when some of those sites are being excavated, the work is carried out meticulously with very small implements and no damage is done. Unfortunately with the use of metal detectors, areas are dug up on historic sites. Information which should be there for those who carry out the excavation properly is lost forever.
Another area which will be included is the protection of our underwater cultural heritage. That will be interesting. It is not developed any further and I am not sure exactly what it refers to. It says the Bill will also:
substitute an Historic Monuments Council for the National Monuments Advisory Council provided for in existing legislation. Bord Fáilte will be represented on this new Council.
I believe the Historic Monuments Council do a good job. I cannot see what advantage there will be in a substitution but I know that many of our historic monuments are in danger. In my own town of Kells we have the market cross, which is renowned the world over and it is in danger from a number of aspects. First of all there is the traffic. It is in a very exposed area and it has been damaged twice. Miraculously it was not damaged to any great extent. There is also the damage from pollution and frost. It has fissures and cracks and further damage is caused during the frosty weather. There is damage from improper use. In its own way this monument is as important as the Book of Kells. Attempts were made to have this cross moved to a safe location. Because of a certain amount of emotion it has not been possible to have the cross removed and yet there is no question in my mind that destruction of the cross is inevitable. It is an ancient and wonderful monument.
In some areas of the country monuments have been moved indoors. This is a matter which has been more or less left in abeyance. There are people who for emotional reasons would not want to see the cross or any old monument moved. The cross and the town would never be the same again. In any situation where there is an ancient monument if it is moved that area will never be the same again. There should be a body in control to examine these situations objectively, who would look at a monument such as the Market Cross and who would decide the degree of danger and who would be in a position to come to a decision that it should be moved or it should be retained or it should be covered. Something should be done. At present we do not have a body with that power although there are many people concerned about it and concerned about this area.
It is also intended, under the Bill, to establish a register of historic monuments and require prior notice to be given of any works proposed on monuments entered in the register. We must at present have a fairly comprehensive register of ancient monuments and it should be possible to complete a comprehensive register without too much difficulty. I know, on the other hand, that with the carrying out of works and improvements by farmers many of our valuable monuments such as ring forts and other mounds of different types have been lost. In this age when a bulldozer can move one of those forts or other important mound monuments in a matter of hours, it is critical that we have some means of preventing that occurrence. Excavations have taken place on some of our national monuments. In Knowth and Dowth in County Meath materials have been used for road works. If that happened nowadays the whole mound would be moved in a very short space of time. We would be in a situation that could not be reversed.
It is also intended to strengthen the commissioners' power to acquire and protect monuments. There is some restriction which it is not possible to overcome at present with regard to acquiring monuments which are under the control of local authorities. We have this problem in Kells and for the reasons that I have mentioned I look forward to the Bill.
Cultural matters are dealt with in two short paragraphs although this is a very important area. With regard to major cultural institutions and agencies four are mentioned: The National Museum, the National Gallery, The Chester Beatty Library and The National Concert Hall. In this context I feel I should welcome the Chester Beatty Library Bill which will come before us in the Seanad because it is mentioned here. I believe up to 10,000 people every year call to this cultural centre to examine that wonderful collection of books and artefacts. I look forward to the introduction of that Bill and also it is appropriate that in a cultural area like this the Bill should be introduced in the Seanad.
Accommodation is dealt with in Chapter 12. We are told that market research has shown that tourists using hotels are seeking a higher standard of accommodation. This is understandable and when we are in competition in this area the standard of accommodation is crucial. Like Senator Lynch I welcome the grants that have been made by the Government in this area for the improvement of hotels. Senator Lynch has gone into that in great detail and I do not propose to repeat that. For too long hotels have been starved of grants. These new grants are most welcome.
The White Paper refers to the siting and format of directional signposts and notices. This is something that is strictly controlled at the moment. I would like to see some leeway for people who are involved in the area of tourism because signposting for them is essential.
I am glad the report refers to the disabled. It states:
It is obviously desirable that all forms of accommodation would have facilities for use by the disabled. The Government would urge tourism operators to pay particular attention to this aspect of their activities. Bord Fáilte have already produced a brochure for the benefit of disabled persons showing the accommodation which caters for their special needs.
In all areas it is important to cater for the disabled, particularly in hotels, guest-houses and places where congregations meet such as churches. In most of them I would imagine that facilities are provided for the disabled — certainly in the larger churches. It seems to me that in this day and age provision for the disabled should be made in all places which are used by the public. The extra work and the extra expense involved in ensuring that facilities for the disabled are provided are not great. It simply means that doors are wide enough for wheelchairs, ramps are provided and that doors open in certain directions to make it easier for the disabled person, in a wheelchair and otherwise, to use these facilities. The extra costs in making these provisions, even in private houses, are so little that a standard which would facilitate the disabled should be mandatory.
We have a very short chapter on investment in tourism. It states here:
all such schemes...
—that is all schemes providing grants—
are being reviewed by the Department of Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism, on a regular basis to ensure that value is being obtained for taxpayer's money.
If is very important to get the best value for money. I am sure this is an ongoing thing in every area of Government. This is so important with regard to tourism, where we have changing trends, where we have competitiveness and where all of these things are critical. An ongoing review is very important.
Chapter 14 deals with seasonality. This is one area one which we do not have control. We have to improvise and we have to try to deal with this problem. Obviously, we cannot compete directly with countries which have longer, hotter seasons. We have a high tourist season, which is about two months of the year. Then, the White Paper tells us, we have the shoulder period, which is two months before and two months after the high peak period. The White Paper states:
The possibility of substantially increasing revenue from tourism activities therefore clearly lies in the development of business during the shoulder season.
It is critical that this should be done. Obviously, we should not be restricted to a very short two-month period. For the remainder of the time, particularly the period when the weather can be as good as in the peak period, a special effort should be made to improve the tourist potential. The Government are firmly of the view that the most realistic approach would be to concentrate the limited resources available for tourism promotion on efforts to build up this season — the shoulder season — while at the same time extending the peak season from two months to a three month or longer period. Extending the peak season depends largely on the weather; but if it can be increased from two months to three months, so much the better. We would all agree that the least of our problems is getting the tourists during the peak period. Therefore, it is logical that the shoulder periods should be developed. I suppose, by and large, during the peak period most of our hotels would be filled to capacity, so there is very little improvement to be made in regard to the peak period. Certainly, many hotel rooms would be left unoccuped during the shoulder periods, so whatever can be done to help out during this time would be most important.
Regarding promotion and marketing, the report refers to Bord Fáilte's annual reports. We get those in this House and we get an opportunity to discuss them. That is important, more particularly now with this White Paper, which is the first White Paper on Tourism. Giant strides can be taken and great improvements can be made. These annual reports will be very important. They have always been important but since we are trying to catch up, from a very low base, on the potential in tourism in the future.
The primary objective in many of our market reports is to increase and diffuse information about Ireland. Bord Fáilte have been very successful in this regard and, from my personal point of view, Bord Fáilte have been very helpful with regard to information and suggestions. I have always found them most helpful. I believe their efforts in this regard, while costly, have been very successful.
Senator Lynch has gone into the area of access transport in great detail. I will not go over the ground he covered very comprehensively. At the end it says:
More specifically the Minister for Communications will authorise, subject to minimum technical and other clearances, the development of "feeder" air services from Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports to Ireland's regional airports.
I am not from Knock and I have no vested interest in Knock Airport, but I feel I should refer to the success of Knock Airport and the success of Monsignor Horan. This is something that could and should be looked at.