Senator Manning was in possession. I want to thank the Minister, Deputy Wilson, for giving the House that half an hour.
Tourist Traffic Bill, 1987: [ Certified Money Bill ]: Second Stage (Resumed).
I had come to the last point I was about to make in my contribution and that was that I felt Bord Fáilte had found themselves in a situation similar to many other major institutions and organisations in this country. For a variety of reasons, they are an ageing institution, an ageing organisation, and I instanced many other public bodies which I feel are suffering from a similar malaise at the present time. The reasons for this are fairly simple. There was a huge recruitment of young people into these organisations and institutions in the sixties and it was this recruitment which gave many of them that sense of excitement at that time, that sense of pushing back the frontiers and that sense of the possible. Sometimes maybe there was a sense of naivety, sometimes this went over the top, but there was no doubt about the vigour and the thrusting, aggressive approach of many of these organisations at that time, organisations peopled by persons who wanted to make things happen.
Unfortunately, the economic growth of the sixties did not last. We have had two decades of retrenchment and we have had very little young intake into any of these organisations over the past number of years. They are increasingly dominated by the middle-aged and the young elderly — not quite the old elderly. As a result, many of these organisations have changed in character. They are now defensive, concerned with defence of the status quo, justifying and defending themselves, fearful of change, and certainly not taking on the new challenges of changed circumstances. This is certainly true in the case of Bord Fáilte who are not taking on challenges in the way Bord Fáilte of 20 years ago would have done. It is a huge problem and it exists right across our public sector. It is at the root of some of the problems now facing Bord Fáilte and it is not going to be easy to overcome. If our tourism industry is to be healthy, it needs at the very core a trimmed down, vigorous, redefined, muscular Bord Fáilte. It needs Bord Fáilte taking and giving a lead that has been lacking over the past number of years.
I welcome the Bill and I welcome the Minister to the House. It has always been a pleasure to stand opposite him as one always gets a very civilised and full hearing for one's point of view, however apt or inapt that view may be. I wish him well with the Bill and in his new portfolio. A great deal depends on the success or otherwise of what the Minister achieves in tourism. This Bill is a step in the right direction, as have been the wide range of measures he introduced, which have been greeted with widespread approval right across the tourist industry and which we all hope will succeed.
Like other Senators, I would like to join in welcoming the Minister, Deputy Wilson, to the Seanad. People from my part of the country were genuinely pleased and happy when he was appointed Minister for Tourism and Transport because it held out some hope that some of their problems might be addressed. The people of the north-west have had long experience in dealing with these problems and they have been met with sincere and sympathetic, understanding from Deputy Wilson in his capacity as Minister. I am one of those who are delighted he is in charge of tourism.
First, I want to refer briefly to some of the difficulties involved. I support Senator Manning in his reference to Bord Fáilte, critical in a sense but not for the purpose of just knocking Bord Fáilte. It is timely that Bord Fáilte should be looked at and I come from an area where the majority of the people feel that they have been neglected by Bord Fáilte. I am sure the Minister is not going to say he would support what I am saying but his own country, Cavan, and the rest of Ulster and also Connacht have not got their fair share of attention. I feel I have a responsibility to speak for an area that is in difficulty and the people from my county are very, very angry with Bord Fáilte. In the magazine of the hotel and catering industry, the question is asked: "How real is the Wilson package"?
My response to that is that the Wilson package and the Government package is a real and solid commitment to the tourism industry and there is no doubt in the world about that. Only those who want to play the game of politics with a very important industry could question the sincerity of that package and that is not a role that I intend to play. I accept that the Government, the Minister and everybody concerned are committed to that package because if we want to provide jobs for our young people, tourism is one of the potential areas of growth. Jobs can be provided for young people in the tourism industry if there is co-operation and the promotion is accepted by everybody.
There have to be very substantial changes in the tourism industry. I come from county Donegal where we have problems. We have one third of the beaches in the country. Whether one is mountain climbing or walking in areas like Glengosh or Glangevlin, the peace, tranquility and scenery of the areas are unequalled. Special care and recognition must be given to the remoteness, beauty and value of what we have to sell because it is not being done adequately at the moment. The tourist potential in Connacht is not being promoted as successfully as it could be and I humbly suggest to the Minister that he might consider some alterations in the way it is being promoted.
People in my county have tried consistently to work and to get a positive response from Bord Fáilte for 25 years but they have not achieved much. The Minister will accept that my county — and I hope he does not mind my being parochial — is serious about its commitment to the tourist industry. We have a hotel training college in Killybegs where we train people from other counties. This is a very successful college. We were honoured to have the Minister in his capacity as Minister for Education conferring awards on the students in the college and I have no doubt that he fully accepts and values the contribution that is being made by that college.
We have reached a stage when a review of the industry has got to take place. The provision of extra capital seems to be routine and it happens every year or every four years when the capital provision needs to be extended automatically. I want to ask some hard questions and if I am wrong or unfair I may be corrected.
People in my county believe that, if the Government allocate another £10 million to Bord Fáilte, about £9.5 million will go on administration. Bord Fáilte have three major headquarters in this city — the glasshouse at Baggot Street Bridge plus two other centres. I stand to be corrected but I think they have about 40 offices abroad which are all up to embassy standard. The remarks made by my colleague, Senator Manning in this regard are right because after a while complacency among the workers in these offices sets in and it is the order of the day for them to arrive at work in time for the tea trolley and a look at the paper. People are above being asked individually what their contribution to their job is or whether they were out of work because their Granny was sick or whatever. To question them is nearly beyond the limit.
The Minister should complete his task by taking a very hard look at the contribution Bord Fáilte are making to the tourist industry. Too much of the revenue of Bord Fáilte is being provided for administration purposes, for rent, for rates and pensions. Too great a slice of that cake is going towards administration which at the same time is becoming very ineffective. I hope the House will be patient with me if I give one or two simple explanations for this.
Previously to this term in the Seanad, I was 16 years or four terms in the Seanad. I tried to see the director general of Bord Fáilte to discuss a number of problems. I went to Bord Fáilte. I phoned his office and I made numerous contacts with Bord Fáilte but I failed to see the director general. I did this for a period of about seven years until I finally gave up. If I, in my capacity as a Senator, was unsuccessful in meeting the director general how does the ordinary person involved in tourist industry ever meet the director general of Board Fáilte if he has a special problem? I was always told the director general had appointments, he was out of the country, he was out of the office or that he was at meetings. The first time I met that gentleman — and I would not miss this opportunity to tell this to the House — was years afterwards when I got a phone call asking me if I would see a gentleman who was on a Seanad campaign. I agreed to meet him in my house in Donegal. When he came in I had a cup of tea with him and I said to him: "I do not believe you know me. I am the person who tried unsuccessfully for a number of years to meet you and if you knew the circumstances you would have to have a hard neck to approach me for a vote. If I had 100 votes, I would not place you at 99." That was the only satisfaction I got out of my unsuccessful attempts to meet the director general of Bord Fáilte. I would not have mentioned that if I thought there was some personal reason he did not want to meet me or that I went about it in the wrong way.
Donegal County Council are contributing substantially out of their rates to the Donegal-Sligo-Leitrim tourism industry. They discussed their contribution at local authority level towards the tourism industry. Some dissatisfaction was expressed about Bord Fáilte and as a result it was proposed that Donegal County Council would write to the director general of Bord Fáilte and ask him to come up to Donegal, meet Donegal County Council and answer some questions. The present Director General of Bord Fáilte, Mr. Michael McNulty, replied to Donegal County Council and said he did not have time to come up, but that he would send up a representative called Stan Glenn.
The reason I raise the issue on this occasion is that I believe it is consistent with my own bad experience with the director general. What chance have Counties Cavan, Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo and Donegal of projecting their problems and having a case heard? My simple assessment is — and my county men of all political persuasions have convinced me beyond doubt — that they are outside the Pale for recognition by Bord Fáilte at present. I have an obligation to explain to the Minister the feelings of my county colleagues. Rather than question how real the Wilson package is it would be more appropriate to question how real is the ability of Bord Fáilte to deliver the Wilson package. Mr. McNulty's photograph is on the back of that article. I wonder how he got time to stand to have his photograph taken as the report reaching Donegal is that he is very busy.
I have serious reservations about the performance of Bord Fáilte. I do not believe it is appropriate that Bord Fáilte should be made up of people who have been highly successful in the industry. I would like to give the Minister an example. I attended a jointly held tourism conference in Boyle a few years ago. Mr. Michael McNulty attended on that occasion, just after his appointment and he was being introduced. I did not know what kind of a contribution I might make but the meeting adjourned for lunch and I bought the evening paper. The heading was "A Dublin hotelier may have to lay off 2,000 people". I made my contribution from the headings of the evening paper and asked if the news was sensational enough to get banner headlines across the top of the paper, why did it not make sensational headlines if the industry had to lose substantially more in rural Ireland and in my constituency. Far in excess of that number of jobs were lost through the negligence of Bord Fáilte in the north-west of Ireland. I also said I believed it was wrong for a Bord Fáilte director to be guiding the policy of Bord Fáilte. I referred to the statement made by one particular director when he said the industry had now spent enough on development and it was time we did some selling. What that director, a hotelier based in Dublin, meant was that he had enough bedrooms well equipped with showers, baths and so on and that Bord Fáilte should start selling and filling his bedrooms. The people who are committed to the industry, the people in the west, have been getting an unfair deal from Bord Fáilte as presently structured.
I am asking the Minister, Deputy Wilson, in his struggle and effort to spend money wisely and get the best results to restructure Bord Fáilte and get rid of the tea-trolley complex at Baggot Street Bridge. I suggest that the Minister should examine the feasibility of regionalising Bord Fáilte and resiting the three office blocks in Dublin. They could be based in Dublin, the south and Connacht. Whether the Connacht office is based in Galway, Sligo or Cavan — there is no better site for it — I would be the first to congratulate the Minister whenever he tackles and succeeds in that task. I accept that it would be a marathon task to dismantle the existing structures.
Something has got to be done to retain the interest of those who are committed to and who have the potential for looking after the tourists. Because of the hopeless situation of tourism in the north-west my constituents have had to look to the North for business. The Minister will be aware that Donegal County Council have certain proposals to establish a tourism organisation with County Derry and County Tyrone. We sincerely hope that development will have the Minister's blessing. It may not have the blessing of Bord Fáilte and they may try to influence or discourage his support, but the people of my county are aware of the difficulties in setting up a new tourism structure.
It is not a small task; nevertheless we have undertaken that job and we have submitted a rough draft proposal for the Minister's consideration. Arising from the Minister's commitment to the area, we hope he will be helpful with regard to the submission, and, if necessary, that he will make proposals to improve that submission. We believe there is tremendous capacity in the industry and that capacity will not be fully developed without a courageous approach to questioning the value we are getting from the money that has already been provided. The danger of duplication has got to be looked at.
We all realise the limited areas where we can find jobs, whether it be in the fishing industry, agriculture, or manufacture. There is no area easier in which to find new jobs than in the development of the tourist industry. My little contribution here today is to encourage the Minister and to express the sincere hope that he will be successful because if he is not successful it will be a tragedy for us all. The Minister has a sincere commitment and support from the area north of the Boyne which area in my opinion is not getting a fair crack of the whip at present. We look forward to the Minister's success. I believe the Wilson package will work because there are enough determined people standing waiting and ready to support the Minister in whatever measures he proposes to take.
I welcome the Minister, to the Seanad gathering in this Chamber. It would be superfluous to talk about wishing him well. He appears to be a person with a definite purpose and I look forward to great strides being made in the area of tourism. It is nice to hear something that is socialistic in its purpose being praised by people who might at other times knock at it and it is nice to think that people are interested in this development in the various regions.
I am concerned about the importance of tourism not only from the point of view of attracting people to the country but because of its impact on unemployment. I live in a city that is burdened with unemployment and so generally speaking is the whole country. The tourist industry should be reassessed, with an emphasis on its effect on the problem of unemployment. The Minister has made an effort in this direction, for example, by the introduction of the cheap air fares and competition. If costs come down, automatically people have more money in their pockets to spend when they come here.
The problem of taxation is a very serious one. The sad development down through the years is that beer and cigarettes have taken an awful hammering. I do not think I can lay the blame on any particular person. Many years ago when I represented the Guinness workers as a branch official of the Workers' Union of Ireland I remember writing to the Minister of the day, our present Taoiseach, and getting a reply telling me that the Government would have to continue in the vein of taxing beer because revenue from that source was very buoyant. That dates back about 25 years ago and people have been using the same argument over 25 years. Buoyant and all as it was, the excessive tax on beer was one of the reasons the number of ordinary working class tourists particularly from Britain has declined. The Northern troubles may have contributed to a degree, but in general when the prices of beer and cigarettes were more reasonable a very good type of decent tourists who spent money were attracted here. It is not always the people with the big money who spend big.
With regard to unemployment, the Minister in his address referred to a grant-in-aid of £30 million and £14 million for amenity and accommodation development and then immediately refers to 950 jobs. I am a bit confused about this. The Minister states:
Considerable job creation has resulted over the years from this investment. For example, in 1986 it is estimated that investment aid by Bord Fáilte generated in the region of 950 jobs in the construction industry alone.
Is that the number of jobs created in 1986 or is it over the whole period of receiving the grant-in-aid? That is a bit of a puzzle. If it is over the whole period they received this grant-in-aid in addition to other moneys, would 950 jobs constitute a very successful output or spin-off from the tourist?
The Minister for Industry and Commerce is at present trying to deal with the question of petrol prices and I know some concessions have been made to tourism. Quite frankly, I think the Minister will have to go a little bit harder on petrol prices. There are Irish people who like to travel around the country and they might, if the weather improves, use their cars more if the petrol prices were satisfactory, and thus spend a great deal more money in Ireland.
There is a difficulty in relation to Northern Ireland and I will tell a true story as an example. Someone came home from England to visit me and he brought a person with him who had been suffering from a nervous breakdown. He went to stay with a friend of his in Dublin in an area where there happened to be a lot of graffiti about supporting the Provisional IRA, etc. This person was not used to drinking in the morning but he went out and had a few drinks. He was sleeping in a room with a roof extension. He woke up in a panic and jumped out the window. Fortunately he landed on the roof and jumped off the roof. We were going around Dublin for hours trying to find him. He was brought to Rathmines Garda station. He woke up in the horrors because of the graffiti; he thought he was in the middle of a Provo area and that he could be attacked and he had to go back home. That is a true story.
There is a certain amount of truth that the Northern Ireland problem is not good for the market. Nevertheless, British tourists, and the working class people in particular, who are good spenders, want to get out and about, to have a sing-song and let their hair down. I do not think the information that the South is a safe place is getting across very strongly but I do not know if it would be counterproductive to go too hard on that line. The fact that the South of Ireland is a safe place is realised by the ordinary people in the workmen's clubs in England etc.
On the question of the restaurants and food, in the package we received recently from Bord Fáilte there seems to be a stepping up of efforts to project restaurants, hotels, accommodation, etc. Overall it seems that it augurs well for international growth in the tourist industry, but there is still much left to be desired on the question of restaurants and prices in hotels. In England, where the inflation rate is higher than here, it is possible to get meals in first class hotels very much cheaper than it is here.
I do not envy the Minister his task of bringing together a variety of interests and a variety of agencies. That is not easy. Nevertheless, they must be brought together, and it can be done. Despite our small population we have a vast number of young people. I do not want to go over the worn out statistics about the under 25s. Despite the number of young people we have here, we are not attracting a great number of young tourists. I do not mean to be derogatory, but a substantial number of the blue rinse brigade and older men come to us, while there is a marked absence of young people. That is probably a result of the marketing promotion.
Senators referred to the benefit promoters get from conditions being made favourable for them by Bord Fáilte and their obligation to put in a little effort and to work perhaps to greater effect, which they do not always do. The quick buck, the large profit in excess of what is really necessary to make a very good living is always at the back of the minds of many people. They must be told emphatically that they are getting a great deal of taxpayers' money and assistance in many ways. The ground is made right for them. They must make some contribution even in the sense of not going overboard on the question of profit alone as long as they are making a good living.
We do not really get the feed back on this. You would wonder whether they are really putting forward significant information about ideas and suggestions. For instance, the beneficiaries should begin to think about how young people can be attracted to come here.
The question of off season attractions needs further examination. Not alone should we get good value during the high season for the money the taxpayer has put into tourism, by the people concerned should come up with further ideas and suggestions on off season tourism. Perhaps it would not be sensible to refer to the health cuts, but one must observe that there is a possibility that the health cuts could result in the hygiene regulations suffering to some extent. Like Senator McGowan, I do not mind being wrong and this must be said in order to find out the truth. Some premises are in a terrible state. Many years ago when I was on a Seanad campaign I went into a certain restaurant and sat down, had the menu in my hand ready to order a meal and decided I would go to the bathroom, as the Americans say. On the way out I happened to look into the kitchen, so I kept on walking. I did not go back. The hygiene regulations for public premises must be examined and I hope that they have not suffered because of the health cuts.
I read recently about more layoffs in the OPW in reference to carpenters. God forbid that the national monuments, parks etc. will be affected by this. You cannot on the one hand make strides to develop your markets by relying on the people who are beneficiaries thereof to come up with more ideas and, on the other hand, take away the services that would attract the tourists, thereby contradicting to a great extent the information in the brochures issued by Bord Fáilte.
Really the weather here is not what matters to tourists. We must advertise different attractions and look for tourists other than those who seek the sun. You cannot stop them from seeking the sun but they go for more than the sun. They get very good value for money, and this is a key factor in whatever attractions are on offer to tourists. Value for money is very important and it overrides the question of the weather. An Irish person travelling abroad can do very well in other countries with a pleasant atmosphere, good entertainment etc., far more cheaply than the visitor coming here can tour the country.
The incentives have been held out, but are they being lived up to? For example, I worry a little about hotel prices. Hotels have overheads and face many difficulties, but think of partial board at £34 a day. Americans who may not be too wealthy may have borrowed money to look prosperous while they are here, but £34 a day per person for partial board is a substantial amount of money to working class people from England. Perhaps many guesthouses would work out cheaper than that, but it is not always possible for people who are moving around the country to find a suitable guesthouse easily. Some hotels have no package deal. You get bed and not breakfast, and when you have breakfast it costs a dreadful price. It is unfortunate that for tourist purposes it could not be more uniform. The State has been the driving force under the Tourist Traffic Act since 1939. The financial assistance, the incentives, the advice, the guidelines and the marketing facilities have been there. For some time this was not complemented by many of the beneficiaries due to overcharging and to the fact that they did not exploit a lot of the opportunities that were put their way or if they did exploit them it was in an adverse way.
I am like some of the playwrights who pose a lot of problems but usually do not have the answers but I am entitled to make observations. I do not want to get into the gimmickry area but, for example, we now have a national lottery. When I used to travel to England the first thing I did was to buy a bond or something of that kind. Some of the people here who have the nose for the quick buck might be able to come up with an idea that would encourage tourists to buy lottery tickets. There might be some sort of a special prize for tourists or there could be a special type prize bond.
The question of licensing laws should be considered again. The insurance cover is another problem because it spins off into car hire which can be very costly. These are things which need to be considered. I wish the Minister well. He is going about this in the right way. I am not sure whether, down through the years, we have got the full value as regards employment out of the money which has been put into the industry on behalf of the taxpayers.
At the outset I welcome the Minister, Deputy Wilson, to the House. I assure him of our support and wish him well for his tenure of office. To date we have been very proud of his activities in the area of tourism. He has worked hard and worked well and the results are already there to be seen.
I wish to highlight the thrust of the Government's attitude to the whole area of the public finances. They are endeavouring to get the public finances under control and that has been the biggest single issue for them. Most people would accept that in the interests of this nation that is what they ought to be doing. The gap between Government income and expenditure should be reduced drastically. If that comes about, then the whole economy will prosper.
A second prong of the attack is a restructuring of the various Government Departments which we all hope will produce additional employment. The Government have created a Department of the Marine which relates to all functions in regard to the sea. I hope this will prove important in the area of fish farming and so on. Equally, they have carried out the same exercise for horticulture, forestry, science and technology.
Quite rightly, tourism has been included in that whole area for growth and employment. Tourism can prove very important in the area of new employment. We have fallen behind in terms of growth in this area. World tourism is a fast expanding area. It has been suggested that in 20 or 25 years time tourism can be one of the world's largest industries, if not the largest. The Government are correct in endeavouring to increase our revenue from tourism which will mean extra jobs and a better economy for this nation. The tax incentives that have been suggested and the extension of the business expansion scheme will also be of huge benefit.
The Minister, Deputy Wilson, has played a major role in bringing about these new developments in tourism. The extension of the business expansion scheme will have very beneficial effects in the area of tourism. It is quite obvious that this Government since coming into office have stressed the importance of tourism. They have clearly demonstrated their total commitment to the industry with the introduction of the special package of measures, which are at present in operation, with the express purpose of attracting substantial additional numbers of tourists this year.
In order to qualify for the benefits of the business expansion scheme a company must obtain approval from Bord Fáilte for a three-year development and marketing plan which is designed clearly to increase tourist traffic and to bring in revenue from abroad. The purpose of that would be to ensure that the qualifying companies are committed to the essential purpose for which the scheme is being extended, namely, to bring in more tourists from abroad. That is to be welcomed. I am confident this extension of the business expansion scheme will benefit tourism in a very practical and big way.
We realise there are many deterrents to tourism. For one thing, the weather over the past number of years has not been conducive to attracting people from abroad. We all like to get the sun while we are on holidays. If we had for three or four months of the year the nice, fine, warm weather that other countries of the world have we would not need a Minister for Tourism, we would not need Bord Fáilte and we would not need to make any effort to attract tourists because they would just come to this beautiful island of ours which has so much to offer them.
Another deterrent, which has been referred to by other speakers, is the North of Ireland problem. It is not helping tourism. Unfortunately, many people think a major war is taking place in Ireland and they feel that if they come here they will land in some war zone. Every possible effort must be made to show the people of other countries that this is not the case, that they are welcome here and that they will receive a very warm welcome. We all have a role to play in tourism and we should extend a very warm welcome to every tourist who comes to our shores.
When the Minister announced his packages the industry responded quite well. He referred to some of the initiatives that have come from various groupings such as the Irish Caravan Council, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and so on. One problem which occurred to me — and it is one I am dealing with at present and it was referred to by the previous speaker, Senator Harte — is the price of car rentals. The Car Rental Council of Ireland recommended that all their members should offer 10 per cent of their national tariff for hirings of ten days duration or more. All these initiatives are very welcome because, let us be honest, car rental is expensive. Last night I heard about a person coming from America with four or five friends who is anxious to get a mini type van, or a transit van, for two weeks and the charge is almost £1,200. That is a lot of money but it was suggested that the insurance and other costs contributed to this very high rental charge, and that is true. The cost of such insurance is very expensive indeed. I am asking the Minister in the autumn to use his good offices with the Minister for Justice to implement the Courts Bill which I think will clearly help to reduce the cost of insurance.
Other speakers referred to local issues. I did not intend to, but coming from Athlone on the banks of the River Shannon, I think I should. The River Shannon and its lakes have tremendous potential for tourism. Only last Sunday week my family and I went on a pleasure cruise to Lough Ree, a very enjoyable occasion but the sad reality is that there were very few boats on the lake that fine, sunny evening. It occurred to me that if this facility was in any other country, it would be overused with cabin cruisers, rowing boats of all sizes and shapes. I urge Bord Fáilte to continue their efforts to sell the Shannon and its lakes as a major tourist attraction, which I am convinced it is. This ought to be brought home more forcibly to tourists and, indeed, to Irish people. I did not intend to make a long speech this evening but I felt I should make some contribution to this very important topic.
I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Wilson, on his great efforts to date which are contributing to a better tourism industry which, hopefully, will continue. I repeat that we all have a role to play and, if we are to compete effectively for extra tourists on the world market, we have to pull up our socks, improve our amenities and facilities so that they are of a very high standard, equal to, if not better than, what is available elsewhere. In any tourist exercise — and this is the main point in my contribution — we must continue, to make a major marketing drive abroad to attract tourists. We must use every means at our disposal — the media newspapers, television and tour operators — to bring foreign tourists to our shores. If they come once and get good service, they will come back. The Minister knows only too well the problem facing the tourism industry. He is committed to tourism which can make a very important contribution to our economy. I wish the Minister well.
I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. It is the first time he has taken a debate in the Seanad on which I have spoken. I wish him well, particularly in this important area of tourism. I welcome the Bill which provides for increasing the statutory limits on the total amount of grant-in-aid which may be paid out by Bord Fáilte for development purposes. In supporting this measure I know it has potential for growth in the economy and will assist all of us in creating jobs, developing initiatives and both creating a demand for our kind of holidays and responding to trends in the tourist market.
Tourism needs to be taken by the scruff of the neck and thoroughly shaken. I despair at times when I hear some of the tired old rhetoric used to sell Ireland both here and abroad. Have we not got the imagination and the skill to reflect modern Ireland, to sell our culture and our scenic beauty as well as modern Ireland? Of course we have, but we must do more to improve the infrastructures, roads and telephones of that modern environment. We have come a long way from the bog road, the rivers, mountains and the pub syndrome.
In the tourism industry we have a vastly under-utilised resource. It is an industry that has few restrictions, and I mean that in the context of our other main industry of agriculture, the restrictions which could be imposed by the EC and by what happens in Europe. Perhaps a single exception would have been the restrictions on air fares which we had in the past and which I hope will be a thing of the past. It is largely up to ourselves what we do with our tourist industry, how we market the country and how we focus on specific and different types of holidays. We must ensure that the general standards of the quality of holidays are maintained, that tourists get value for money and that where possible — and this is not always possible and certainly is not something that can be dealt with in legislation — the tourists experience the warmth and the hospitality for which this country has been renowned in the past. As a national industry, tourism directly and indirectly employs 85,000 people, earns nearly £850 million in revenue for Ireland each year and contributes just over £400 million in taxes. It is a considerable industry and one that needs to be nurtured, supported and promoted.
This debate gives us an opportunity to put forward points that may be helpful to the Minister, his Department and to the tourist industry in general in looking at ways to make this a more attractive place to choose for holidays than thousands of other competing areas. Indeed, when we consider our uncertain climate in the last couple of summers, our relatively high cost of living and our high transport costs, it is a wonder that we have competed even as successfully as we have over the years. It is regrettable that we have not made sufficient impact in mainland Europe which represents only 14 per cent of visitors from 14 to 15 countries — the total in Europe. This has increased only from 11 per cent since 1975 despite the fact that since that time we have had closer liaisons with our neighbours in Europe through EC membership.
We fall down very badly in providing personnel who can deal with non-English speaking tourists. It amazes me that even in the higher grade hotels you will not always find basic information for instance in bedrooms, for using the telephone or for sightseeing in any language except English. Few things can make people feel less welcome than the frustration of not being able to communicate. Many tourists from France or Germany who do not speak any English would be in a desperate plight in the midlands or the west if unable to communicate. It is very different from the situation of an Irish or an English speaking person in France or Germany. We must make provision at key positions — apart from hotels — like airports and railway stations, for the employment of or access to interpreters to look after visitors from the European mainland. We will not improve or increase our trade from Europe until we do this.
Access to information is important and Bord Fáilte booklets and publications impart it very well. All their publications set a very good example in that they are in English, French and German. I would like to compliment Bord Fáilte — I know they take a lot of criticism and brickbats — for the job they have done in putting this small country on the tourist map. A great deal of our success is due to them even if initially they have a good product to sell. Credit must go where it is deserved. However, the board, the Minister, his Department, local authorities and regional local interests involved in tourism cannot rest on their laurels. A greater spur should be given to tourism and it does not all have to be of a financial order.
I will mention a few matters on tourist amenities in which I have a particular interest and which should be emphasised. The last speaker, Senator Fallon, said he was reluctant to take on local issues but it is important to highlight any local issue relevant to tourism. I am very concerned about Dublin Bay, the stretches of beach from Howth in the north down to Killiney or even further south of the city. To swim in the waters of the bay has become an unpleasant and unhealthy exercise. As a very keen swimmer, I get no joy whatever from raising this matter because I realise that swimming is a very enjoyable and healthy exercise and I do not want to create alarm or concern among people who like to go to the beach but there is cause for concern. As we saw this week from newspaper reports, there is a great disparity of opinion regarding the bacteria content in the water. I attempted to establish factual information about the suitability of the water in Dublin Bay but with little effect.
On Tuesday a report in The Irish Times made outlandish claims about the condition of the water. I do not believe that that report was sufficiently substantiated but it was later counteracted by the public relations officer of Dublin Corporation, Noel Carroll, who in yesterday's Evening Herald, invited everyone in for a dip saying the water was lovely, very healthy and good for us. I have great regard for Noel Carroll as an athlete but when he goes to Dollymount and paddles his toes to convince people that the water all around the bay is good for us, he is stretching credibility. He should look at the beaches at Sandycove, Seapoint, Dun Laoghaire and Killiney on a hot day. I used to swim all along the coast. Indeed as a teenager I cycled 12 miles to get to Seapoint or Blackrock for a swim. I do not expect the sea to be the same now as it was then but neither do I expect it to be as bad as it is at present. I do not swim in the sea any longer because it is polluted and unpleasant. I have had a skin rash even after a vigorous shower when I have had a swim in the sea. I am not saying that one person's experience makes a scientific case about the water in Dublin Bay but I know there is grave concern amongst health conscious Dubliners, particularly parents, in that regard which is not being addressed.
The issue of the bay will be acute if the heat of last weekend becomes a regular feature of the summer.
In the last two summers it did not matter much as the weather was bad. Dublin Corporation, Dún Laoghaire Corporation and the council responsible for that part of the coast outside, the Dún Laoghaire Corporation area are burying their heads — dare I say it — in the sand. I challenge Dublin Corporation to say how many samples they take of the water, how often and where the testing is carried out. Are they done daily, weekly or monthly? Are they done in Dollymount, Seapoint or Dun Laoghaire? That important information should be available so that people can make up their own minds about the risks.
I contacted An Foras Forbartha to see what action they might be taking and while they were helpful I got no concrete information. I learned that they are constantly monitoring the water quality and will have a proposal report as to what needs to be done ready and costed in two and a half years' time. That is merely an assessment of the problem. We will have to wait after that for a programme of action. People were very evasive when they spoke about it and I am concerned that it should be so difficult to get information about the quality of the water when you think of the number of people who go daily to the beach and who are swimming in water that does not meet reasonable standards of health. I was told that there is flotsam and jetsam in the water, that certain areas are a problem — some are better than others — but there was no hard data. Dublin Bay is important to millions of Dubliners and tourists who realise it is on the coast and want to go for a swim, but they should be dissuaded because it would be a very offputting experience to swim at the beaches around Dublin. It is a free recreational resource with easy access, potential for healthy exercise and relaxation and it is being allowed to deteriorate to unacceptable standards.
A working party should look at the whole stretch of Dublin Bay and I suggest that it should not be confined to officials. There should be some officials but also environmentalists and conservationists to examine the facts and take remedial action not later than this year.
To return in general to the developments in the tourist industry, I should like to make a few comments about one area of our tourism accommodation I consider to be outstanding, that is, the number and quality of Bed and Breakfast accommodation. If Bord Fáilte are to be commended on anything it is the manner in which they have encouraged and supported the upgrading of bed and breakfast accommodation. It is different, it is better, it is a form of accommodation about which people talk when one goes abroad. Americans particularly will mention such reasonable good accommodation, food and friendliness provided by bed and breakfasts establishments which cost on average £10 per night. The women who run these businesses are the unsung heroines of our tourist industry. They are excellent and constitute the backbone of the industry. I am delighted at their success.
The Minister mentioned the initiatives of the Irish Caravan Council. It has taken us far too long to realise the potential of caravaning and camping here. Ten or 12 years ago there appeared to be a fear that if one allowed camping as a tourist or holiday amenity somehow it would destroy the countryside and would attract undesirable people. I think Bord Fáilte felt at that time that campers from abroad did not spend enough money, that they all arrived with knapsacks on their backs. If one examines what happened in France one discovers that that is not the case. Campers and caravaners comprise the most certain survival species of the tourist industry in France and I am delighted to rate that there appears to be a definite policy for developing camping sites here.
I am a camper. I have camped here and many of our camping sites are as good as any to be found elsewhere. One does not really need a Michelin Guide to go camping. One can go to a site that is reasonably simple and well planned. It does not have to have all the luxuries. People camping do not seek the luxuries of a Grade A hotel. These are the kinds of areas we must examine — off the beaten track the opposite of the Spanish resort, high rise flats, pools outside balconies. That is not what Ireland is about. Ireland is about giving people access to the countryside, giving them reasonable accommodation such as is available in bed and breakfasts accommodation. We are only begining to realise its potential. I am very happy to welcome this Bill.
There are a few points I would like to make on this very welcome Bill. First, I welcome the Minister to the House on this, his first visit. I wish him well in his important task. Over the past couple of hours there have been many comments about our tourism industry, its regulation and management. It has to be said that in recent years Bord Fáilte have been working in an environment which has been very hostile to the tourism industry. They had been endeavouring to expand the industry at a time when internationally there were problems encountered vis-a-vis American tourists. It appeared that Americans decided Ireland was a place that should not be visited because of events which took place in countries not very far away from us. We have encountered fluctuations in currencies and other difficulties. We have also encountered difficulties in terms of access costs. Added to that, the weather experienced over the past few years has not been good and it has not helped local tourism. They are a number of factors that are now changing which should help development of the tourism industry in a manner that will be to the overall benefit of our economy.
I might avail of this opportunity to compliment the Minister on the work he and his European counterparts have been doing attempting to have air traffic deregulated. It is unfortunate, because of a difficulty encountered between Spain and Britain, that such deregulation will not be speeded up. I do not blame Spain for gibing at the British on the issue of landing rights in Gibraltar. There is an historical problem attaining there. Probably this is the first time Spain have had a chance to have a go at Great Britain and unfortunately we find ourselves in the middle. Because of that, Aer Lingus one of the smaller airlines in Europe, is not being helped. One of the problems that Aer Lingus has experienced in recent years is the fact that they have been confined to flights to and from European destinations without being able to pick up passengers en route or extend their area of operation.
The cost of access to Ireland has decreased in recent years, competition being one of the factors involved. In particular the emergence of Ryanair has speeded up that process. First time in a number of years there is now competition prevailing among airlines on routes in and out of Ireland. There was a time when there was a large number of airlines flying particularly on the transatlantic route but many pulled out when the going got tough. Recently I read that, statistically, possibly Aer Lingus have the heaviest transatlantic traffic at present. Our tourism industry will benefit because of the fact that access costs here are becoming cheaper, that is by air and sea. The shipping companies plying the Irish Sea and to France are reducing their prices as a result of the ever-increasing competitive air fares.
Certain speakers mentioned the management and organisation of Bord Fáilte in a somewhat uncomplimentary manner. There are difficulties being experienced in certain areas of their activities, but their director general, Mr. Michael McNulty, and his staff have done a very good job in difficult times. The back-up they are receiving from the regional tourism organisations is fantastic. There has been some talk in recent months about their abolition. That would not be a good thing because the people who work at local level in a voluntary capacity as members of regional tourism boards or on a professional basis bring local initiatives into play which have a significant effect on the provision of tourist facilities within their regions. It is not sufficient to suggest that Bord Fáilte attract tourists to these regions and that the regional tourism organisations direct them where to go. There have to be local initiatives which will provide entertainment for visitors, to direct them where to go or visit and to ensure that they get good value for their money.
When speaking of local initiatives, I must cite the position obtaining in Kilkenny where the hotel and tourist industry have amalgamated their efforts. One can listen to radio programmes sponsored by hotels and catering establishments in Kilkenny, paid for by them. This means that on a national and international basis they are putting their money where their mouths are. For instance, there is the provision by the South Eastern Regional Tourism Organisation — on the initiative of the local manager in Kilkenny — of a cityscope which gives the history of Kilkenny by way of sight and sound. It has increased tourism in Kilkenny to an enormous extent. A very simple thing like a guided walking tour which can be provided without much bother is often of as much value to somebody living in a city or town as it is to a tourist. It is only when you go on one of these guided walking tours that you realise how many good facets of your home town or city you have missed because of your very proximity of them in everyday life. I mention this as an indication of what can be done by local initiatives.
Some years ago Alderman Mick McGuinness at a corporation meeting said that a plastic illuminated sign which was put up on a major shop in Kilkenny was a disgrace. As a result of that comment there are only about seven illuminated plastic signs left in Kilkenny now and traditional shop signwriting has come back into being and traditional wood carving is very much to the fore in the shop-fronts. It is amazing the number of people who come, take pictures and are very interested in seeing what can be done without glaring Las Vagas type flashing lights.
It is also important in bringing in tourists that we do not oversell. How many people have read tourist brochures telling them of riding schools, availability of swimming pools, fishing, etc., and when they go looking for these facilities they cannot find them. Brochures must be clear, to the point and accurate. If we are to develop the tourist industry to the extent that it should be developed our ancient monuments and artefacts must be recognised as being of major value. We have Knowth, Tara and such places which are of significant international importance but, seemingly, are not pushed as hard abroad as they could be. Many of the ancient sights we have here are equal to if not better than any I have seen anywhere, including Egypt. I have not seen anywhere a site as valuable as Knowth.
Mention has been made of the fact that we are not getting young travellers into Ireland. They are coming in and are using inter-rail tickets more and more. The back packers who are travelling around Ireland by CIE are very welcome. The initiative of one hotel group in providing facilities for elderly tourists has to be commended. The Ryan Hotel Group cater for elderly tourists with specific week-ends and specific weeks and provide the type of facilities needed by this age group. This is to be welcomed.
The hotel versus bed and breakfast versus farm house or guest house argument can go on and on. There are excellent hotels providing excellent service, as there are excellent farmhouses and guesthouses. If we look at the international prices for hotels, we have in Ireland hotels which are of international status but are much cheaper than those of a similar nature abroad. Unfortunately when people compare prices they look at the highest price charged by hotels here and compare this with hotels which are not similar in nature and which are lower in grade. I suggest that when people are comparing hotel prices here with hotel prices abroad they should compare like with like.
The tourism industry is a base industry. It is third in terms of money generation in our economy. The employment content in it is extremely important to the economy and can be built on. The very fact that the CERT hotel training courses have been so successful is an indication of the value in terms of placement of students. Over the past few years CERT trainees have invariably been able to get jobs, whereas trainees from other training establishments have not been able to do so. There is a problem in our tourism industry as between home tourism and foreign tourism. There is no doubt that because of the initiatives of the Minister, which have been backed up by many organisations, we have been successful in attracting more and more tourists. As time goes on more tourists will come.
I am glad to see that an attempt is now being made to get petrol prices down to a reasonable level. It has to be said the problem is that the international companies are creaming off the profits here. People suggest that garages are earning too much from the sale of petrol but they do not look at the throughput. The volume is not there and therefore, the profit is not there. Any attempt to curb petrol prices should be made at the supplier end and not at the garage end.
Seaside resorts are having a difficult year because of the short season. Many of the seaside resort hotels are family run, family owned and family managed and there is no doubt that they need special attention. However, they, too, should be able to use their own initiatives. The very successful seaside resort hotels have had to develop facilities which provide amusement for people even if the weather is not of the best. The hotels which have the highest occupancy for home tourism are the ones which continually provide these facilities. However, if business is not good for a few years, unless they get substantial grant-aid to change their method of attracting visitors they will be unable to do so.
Convention business is ideally suited to Ireland. Our country is not a sun seeker's paradise but it can be attractive to a broad range of people. Recently the Minister was in Kilkenny to show the initiatives that can be taken at local level and suggest that regional and local managers should take an interest in the place in which they are working. We had a convention in Kilkenny on Irish origins and had over 50 people from Australia and New Zealand in Kilkenny for one week. The went back with a better idea of modern Ireland and what it has to offer. Sun is not the be all and end all of holidays. We do not have enough of it but without sun we can produce a holiday package for the majority of people who want a varied and interesting holiday.
I compliment the Minister on the excellent initiatives he has taken over the past number of months and I sincerely hope that, with the help of everybody in the tourism industry, they will continue. Mention was made of dirt in public places and where tourists tend to gather. There is an increasing awareness that hygiene is of primary importance in attracting people into pubs, hotels and guesthouses. Litter was a major problem in the past but initiatives have been taken at local level and the situation is not as bad as it was.
The Bill has given people an opportunity to address themselves to one of our major industries. It will give Bord Fáilte the grant-aid they need for the coming years and I sincerely hope the industry will respond to the Minister and that the board will respond to the industry and to the Minister.
I want to associate myself with the welcome that everybody else has conveyed to the Minister lest I appear in any way to be rude to him. I wish him well because it is a difficult time to be in Government. However, that is not to say we would not all wish to share his difficult burden if we had the opportunity. Within the general philosophical approach that dominates the approach to tourism what the Minister has done is welcome but whether it is the right way to approach fundamentally the question of developing tourism, and whether we have addressed ourselves and our contradictory views and attitudes is another matter.
Tourism, and the discussion of tourism, has probably generated more clichés and more waffle than even agriculture has generated, and that is saying something. Much of it has at its root extraordinary uncertainties about why people come here, what they want when they come here and how we should best go about providing what they want. We have not yet really addressed in full what people come here for or what we think they come here for because there are different kinds of tourism. The Mediterranean countries are seen primarily as tourist countries for sea, sand and perhaps other things as well. Countries, such as Switzerland, on the other hand have a quality of environment and certain opportunities in the area of winter sports. There is also the sick sort of tourism in places like Bangkok such as child sex tourism, which is one of the most rapidly growing areas of tourism.
In the spectrum of the kinds of tourism one can have we cannot sit back and wait for something to happen. It is up to us to realise what people want and, more particularly, what kind of tourism we want ourselves. I do not think we want the sort of tourism which has every decent piece of beach along our coastline absolutely saturated by large vulgar Costa de Sol type hotels. That is not what we want and it is not what the Irish people want. Given the choice, we would regard that as too high a price to pay for large amounts of tourists revenue. We have to go more deeply into it. We should not, see Ireland as a playground for good hunting, fishing, shooting and so on, similar to what people can have in their own countries but perhaps in a slightly different and more pleasant environment. Our future does not lie in encouraging huge numbers of huntsmen from the Continent to come here and have a great time shooting the wildlife that our own gun clubs have worked very hard to preserve. That is not what we want.
At the centre of the tourist industry is ourselves. It is we, the Irish people, who makes this country an attractive place to visit — our values, our attitude, our identity, our heritage and the environment we have the good fortune to live in. Many of the things that happen peripheral to the tourist industry and even directly within the tourist industry which are thought to be good ideas very often are direct attacks on the qualities that appeal to tourists. I have a long list of items that need to be discussed.
Development and increasing affluence in many tourist areas seem to have motivated many of those who have benefitted financially from tourism into the construction of mini-Southforks in our most attractive rural and tourist areas. These are large vulgar piles which masquerade as houses and which desecrate the environments in which they are built. On the road as Gaillimh go dtí An Spidéal there are huge numbers of houses on the seaward side of the road which has desecrated the visual amenity of that area. Those houses were built because people choose to ignore good planning, good development philosophy, etc. and they are an affront to the environment.
When I go into a Gaeltacht pub and am assaulted by a juke box in a corner playing identical music to that which a tourist can hear in any country in the world, I have to wonder whether those who hope to make a living out of tourism are aware of what distinguishes this country from other countries. We will not get large numbers of discriminating tourists to come here by giving them exactly the same services, the same environment and the same culture they can get in any other country. I have a strange feeling that many of those involved in our tourism industry, having noted that we are different, have extraordinary poor taste in terms of deciding the qualities that are different in this country. They allow, for instance, probably the worst traditional band in the country, the Wolfe Tones, to masquerade as the image of Irish traditional music. They are a band who can neither sing nor play and they have the capacity to exploit Northern sufferings to their own financial benefit.
There is also the extraordinary spectacle that unfortunately characterises large areas of the west where second-rate country and western music masquerades as culture. This is an offence to people who come to this country to find something different. What is good about this country is what is different about this country — it is not what makes us the same as every other country but what makes us different. Even within the ranks of Bord Fáilte there is a certain apology for the fact that we are different, for example, the sort of mid-Atlantic presentation of their home holidays campaign on television, Mid-Atlantic people with mid-Atlantic attitudes and quite obvious mid-Atlantic values have very little to do with the uniqueness, the values, qualities and identity of this country.
I would prefer if you would not make reference to groups in the fashion you have just done so.
I will not make reference again to groups in the fashion that I have just done so. I am referring to our sense of our own identity. Our sense of our own identity is not just cultural; it is not just the Irish language although that is part of it. It is not our traditional music, although that is part of it. It is a sense of our being at one with the country we live in and that goes through all sorts of things. As I have said, it goes through our attitudes to ourselves, to the country we live in, to the environment we live in, to the values we have and to the way we respond to other people. It is reflected in our identity, and in our heritage, and I have said enough about that. It is reflected in our lifestyle and in our environment. That is what we have to sell if we want to create a real tourist industry, not artifical add-ons which are a kind of a compromise between this country's uniqueness and the plastic identikit tourist hotels that are springing up in other areas. We are a unique country, with unique values, and we will not succeed in tourism by pretending we are the same as everywhere else.
That brings me to the appalling state of our capital city which Senator Fennell referred to also. It is beyond me how Dublin can masquarade as a tourist centre in its present state, with rotten, collapsed, derelict buildings and ugly office blocks, most of which have been constructed either by State bodies or bodies that are directly funded by the State. Likewise, all over rural Ireland there are houses springing up in areas mostly as a consequence of section 4 decisions. The same amadans who introduced the section 4 decisions are the ones who proceed to lament the collapse of the tourist industry.
If we are going to sell ourselves, our uniqueness and our environment, it is up to us to protect and appreciate that environment, to advance it and to underpin it. The idea that a kind of a mid-European or mid-Atlantic nightlife, of the vulgar kind that is visible in, say, Killarney in the mid-tourist season is going to attract huge numbers of international tourists is a contradiction in itself. It is a contradiction philosophically and in business terms.
I do not like interrupting you, Senator, but I do not think you would make reference to your electorate as amadáns and I do not think you should do so with the electorate of county councils around this nation.
I am not referring to the electorate as amadáns, I am reflecting on those people who bring in section 4 decisions which allow houses to be built in areas of prime visual amenity and then fail to understand the connection between that and the lack of tourism. It is not meant to be a generalisation. I have a considerable respect for the electorate. I have very little respect for those who persistently flout good planning and good environmental thinking in order to achieve some short-term political gain. I would regard Members of this House who do that as amadáns, I would regard myself as an amadán if I did it but, if the word gives offence, I am sorry, I did not intend it to give offence or to apply collectively to all county councillors but simply to those who fail to distinguish between the short term consequences and the long term consequences of their own decisions.
This country has a way of developing a successful tourist industry. In terms of developing a successful tourist industry, the first thing we must have is a product. I think I have elaborated enough on the product. The product is us, the way we are. We must be very careful in terms of developing ourselves not to lose us, the way we are. It is regrettable that there are many signs that we are losing that sense of ourselves, the way we are. If you travel around many of the major tourist regions of the country, you will find more and more barbed wire around more and more fences, saying "no camping allowed here" and "trespassers will be prosecuted" and so on. There seems to be a reluctance to accommodate tourists in a way that, perhaps, did not exist some years ago.
Assuming we can straighten out the product, and I am not sure yet that we can, because we do not seem to take our planning, our environment or any of those things seriously enough yet, the second part is the job of selling and developing that product. This is where some of the major contradictions in what he said developed. Everybody apparently agrees that there is a huge potential for job creation in tourism. It is fairly sensible economics to presume that, if there is a huge potential in job creation, there must be a huge potential for wealth creation. I cannot understand, if everybody agrees that there is a huge potential for wealth creation — not necessarily for wealth creation but for drawing in wealth through tourism — why we are perpetually hearing about the need to create more incentives, to give more grants, to make more generous tax allowances available. We heard that VAT rates in hotels were far too high. They were reduced and I did not notice a dramatic increase in tourist numbers. We heard that VAT rates in restaurants were too high. They were reduced and I did not hear of any huge expansion in the whole catering area. We hear now and have heard for years that the cost of access to Ireland was a huge deterrent to tourists. That has now dropped dramatically and we still have not heard or seen any sign of a dramatic increase in the number of tourists.
I am not sure — and I do not mean to be in any way offensive to anybody — that we have yet satisfied ourselves that we have the quality of management, the quality of leadership, the quality of enterprise in the tourist industry that can capitalise on opportunities. The industry seems to be, along with agriculture, one of the two which spends most of its time demanding more and more by way of State aid while, at the same time, wearing its other hat — the one which preaches loudest about the values of the enterprise economy — suggests that perhaps there is too much reliance on the State in the industry and too little willingness to do that which ought to characterise entrepreneurs which is to take risks which, when they are successful, ought to be properly rewarded. There is a case to be made for the valid point which has been made frequently that perhaps tourism ought to be treated for taxation purposes in a similar way to manufacturing industry. The consequence of that ought to be the virtual elimination of most of the grants towards the development of the tourist industry, so that those who are successful will be rewarded by their success and will not need the State to hold their hands.
In that regard, I have a peculiar view about Bord Fáilte. I cannot understand why, on the one hand, Bord Bainne has to be run by the industry itself, but Bord Fáilte is financed by the State. If tourism has such a huge potential for growth and if there are so many people with the capacity to develop tourism the least they could do is take on the job of marketing and developing their own industry themselves, instead of relying on the State by and large to do it. There is a strong case to be made for turning the whole operation of Bord Fáilte into an industry cooperative modelled on Bord Bainne rather than into a State agency being funded directly by the State. You cannot have it both ways. If tourism is the sort of industry that is going to rely on the enterprise mentality for development, then the driving force for tourism development ought to be under the control of those who have that kind of mentality; if not, then perhaps the State should take a far more direct role in the development of tourism.
In conclusion, I will repeat what I said at the beginning. At the centre of our tourist industry are ourselves, our culture, our identity and our values. At the centre of that are our faith and our belief in that culture, identity and values. That means a sensitivity in tourist areas to preserving that uniqueness and to understanding that whether people necessarily come and talk about it or not, what they want is something different. The more we try to make ourselves the same as where they came from, the less interested they will be in us. The extreme examples I talk about are Radio 2 blaring out of coffee shops in Gaeltacht areas but there are different degrees of this in evidence in most of our large tourist areas. The sunset strip vision of some of our big tourist towns is nothing to advertise, nothing to sell and nothing to appeal to the sort of tourists to whom we should be appealing.
If we get the product right, then there is the question of selling it and that requires all the attributes of any good selling job. It means advertising and it means also, quality of delivery of the product. They are the sort of qualities that we, as a people, are supposed to have. We are supposed to be friendly, considerate and thoughtful. The tragedy is that more and more people are saying that, in many areas where they encounter the Irish tourist industry, they do not meet those qualities. They are the qualities that will develop a unique tourist industry, which is the only sort of one we can develop. We cannot develop one which is a mirror image of somewhere else, because there is nowhere else that is any way like this country.
I dtús ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Aire as ucht é bheith ceaptha mar urlabhraí turasóireachta. Caithfidh mé a rá go bhfuil an-obair déanta aige ó ainmníodh é agus go deimhin go bhfuil toil aige dul ar aghaidh agus turasóireacht a chur chun cinn, rud nach ndearnadh le blianta fada anuas.
Mar dhuine as an nGaeltacht mé féin labhróidh mé, b'fhéidir, go háitiúil faoi na deacrachtaí atá againn maidir le tuarasóireacht. Go hiondúil bíonn iarthar na tíre, is é sin iarthar na Gaillimhe, ag plé le bord turasóireachta an iarthair féin i nGaillimh a bhfuil baint ag Bord Fáilte leo. I mo thuairimse níl na Gaeltachtaí ar fud na tíre ag fáil cothrom na Féinne ó na boird áirithe seo, mar tá mé ag ceapadh nach bhfuil an meon ná an toil acu an cúnamh a thabhairt don Ghaeltacht maidir le turasóireacht.
Go hiondúil tá na Gaeltachtaí uilig le taobh na fairige má thógann tú Gaillimh, Maigh Eo, Dún na nGall, Ciarraí agus Port Láirge, cé go bhfuil Corcaigh freisin agus Gaeltacht Chontae na Mí istigh i lár na tíre cé gur bunús de mhuintir Chonamara atá ann. Chuir Údarás na Gaeltachta moltaí ar aghaidh, tá mé ag ceapadh dhá bhliain ó shin chuig Aire na Gaeltachta chun cead a thabhairt don Údarás dul i bhfeighil cúrsaí turasóireachta sa Ghaeltacht. Iarraim ar an Aire an mbeadh sé féin in ann casadh le Aire na Gaeltachta agus an cheist seo a phlé chun a chinntiú go bhfaighidh na Gaeltachtaí cothrom na Féinne.
Má thógann tú na háiseanna atá sna Gaeltachtaí, go mór mhór i nGaeltacht na Gaillimhe — tá na hoileáin ann amach ón chósta, Oileáin Árainn, áit a dtéann na mílte daoine gach bliain ó Ros a'Mhíl agus ó Ghaillimh. Tá seirbhísí á gcur ar fáil ansin faoi láthair ag daoine príobháideacha as Ros a'Mhíl, ag éirigh réasúnta maith leo cuid mhaith den am, go hiondúil ag brath ar an aimsir. Go mór mhór na daoine anseo, daoine ón Fhrainc agus as na Stáit Aontaithe, is daoine iad sin a bhfuil suim faoi leith acu sna hoileáin mar gheall ar go gceapann siad go bhfuil siad thar a bheith iargúlta.
Rinneadh scannán anuraidh ann — bhí Bobby Ewing ann as na Stáit Aontaithe. D'imigh siad as Ros a'Mhíl go dtí na hoileáin agus chaith siad seachtain ann. Cuireadh an scannán seo ar fud na Stát Aontaithe, agus i mbliain tá sé le feiceáil go bhfuil na céadta Meiriceánaigh ag teacht isteach. Ceapaim féin gur féidir an bolscaireacht atá ag teastáil le haghaidh daoine a mhealladh isteach a fháil tríd a leithéid de scannán a thaispeáint.
Caithfidh tú an Ghaeltacht a chur i gcomparáid leis an Ghalltacht mar ní hé an meon céanna a bheadh in iarthar nó i ndeisceart Chonamara agus a bheadh i dtuaisceart Chonamara. I dtuaisceart Chonamara tá, b'fhéidir, suas le 15 d'ostán ann. I ndeisceart Chonamara, áit a bhfuil tú sa Ghaeltacht, níl ann ach ceann amháin. Crothaíonn sé sin an rud a bhfuil mé ag caint faoi, nach raibh cothrom na Féinne á fháil ag na Gaeltachtaí.
Tá go leor cainte déanta faoi aerphoirt sa díospóireacht seo, agus caithfidh mé a rá gur maith ann Aerphort Chnoc Mhuire ag an am seo. Tá mé cinnte go bhfeicfidh muintir Mhaigh Eo toradh na hoibre seo, go bhfuil na mílte ag teacht isteach, agus an rud céanna nuair a bheas an t-aerphort i nGaillimh faoi lán seol, go mbeidh na daoine ag teacht isteach chun cuairt a thabhairt ar an gceantar.
Tá caint déanta faoi chúrsaí tránna, an salachar atá orthu. Cuireann rud amháin imní orm ag an am seo, mar go bhfuil na tránna is deise agus is glaine ar fud na hEorpa sna ceantair in iarthar na hÉireann. Rud amháin a chaithfimid bolathrú amach chuige ná go bhfuil tionscal mór ar bun ansin maidir le feilméireacht éisc. Iarraim ar an Aire go ndéanfadh Roinn na Mara, a bheas ag plé le seo anois, a chinntiú nach mbeidh an salachar a thogann ó na feilmeacha seo ag dul isteach ar na tránna, mar tá contúirt ann go mbeidh truailliú an-dona ann agus go bhfágfaidh sé na tránna i ndroch chaoi ionas nach mbeidh aon turasóireacht ann.
Sna Gaeltachtaí féin luadh an chaoi maidir le cultúr. Chomh fada agus a bhaineann sé liomsa, tá an cultúr go láidir fós sna Gaeltachtaí ach tá an brú isteach ag teacht maidir le ceol nach ceol Gaelach é. Cloisimid gearáin go minic ó dhaoine a thógann isteach ó tíortha thar lear, nuair a théann siad amach chun na Gaeltachtaí nach bhfuil an ceol Gaelach le fáil chomh flúirseach agus ar mhaith leo.
Bíonn go leor féilte ann maidir le rásaí curacha. Tagann go leor foirne isteach ó na Stáit Aontaithe — ó Nua Eabhrach, ó Boston agus mar sin de. Tagann siad ar ais chuig na féilte seo chuile bhliain chun páirt a thógáil iontu. Chomh maith le sin, maidir leis na rásaí báid seoil, fiú's chuaigh cuid acu treasna an Atlantach chomh fada leis na Stáit Aontaithe anuraidh. Taispeánann sé go bhfuil cineál athbheochana déanta ar an chultúr seo, rud a bhí ag fáil bháis le blianta anuas.
Bhí an Seanadóir Ryan ag caint faoi easpa pleanála sa Ghaeltacht, cuir i gcás an Spidéal. Ní fheicim san Teach é faoi láthair. Níor mhaith liom go ndéarfadh éinne sa Teach seo gur amadáin iad na daoine a chuir ar aghaidh section 4s. Tógaim é sin mar mhasla, agus is trua nár fhan an Seanadóir go dtabharfainn freagra air.
I take exception to what Senator Ryan said regarding the movement of section 4s in county councils especially on the west coast and possibly Galway. It is quite easy for professors such as he who live in a very snug environment. At the least people of the area should be able to live where they want to live and not be pushed up into the mountains where some of our planners would love to see them. I take exception to that remark and I ask him to withdraw it.
I join with other Senators in welcoming the Minister to the Seanad and I wish him well. He has a tough job before him. Like other members of my party I support the increased grant-aid to Bord Fáilte. Bord Fáilte had a great many problems which have been eased a bit recently. Bord Fáilte and Aer Lingus were at each other's throats. We realised that when they came before the Joint Committee on Small Business. The trouble was that Aer Lingus fares were so high that it was very difficult for Bord Fáilte or anybody else involved in tourism to bring people into Ireland. The Minister in the last Government gave a licence to Avair, Ryanair and Club Air and the present Minister gave a licence to Virgin Airways. This made Aer Lingus sit up for the first time. When Ryanair introduced their service Aer Lingus offered a cheap fare but they were not prepared to carry people. I had many complaints from people who paid the £79 fare to England and could not get back. The ticket was valid for 14 days. You could not pre-book. You reported into the office every day but you could not get back. I had that out with Aer Lingus. Before the collapse of the last Government I had arranged that the Committee of Public Accounts would hear the case. Aer Lingus refused to go on Radio Éireann with me, and I would not go on radio without them. However they went on air and made their statement.
Aer Lingus have done more damage to tourism in Ireland than anybody else. They had a monopoly in the charter flight business, but I do not know how they acquired it. I can instance cases where Aer Lingus blocked charters from France to Ireland, bound for Killarney, which were due in every week for three months during the off tourist season. The travel agent, Mr. O'Reilly, a Cavan man, brought them in by boat. He succeeded in breaking that monopoly. The Minister is on the right lines regarding tourism. He made certain changes and he will do more.
I listened to the Minister on the radio one morning when he said that the price of car hire in Ireland was too high. As somebody who is involved in car hire I could not agree more with the Minister but the reason is that this Government, the last Government and all the previous Governments taxed cars so much that you now pay £10,000 for a car on this side of the Border which would cost £6,000 on the other side of the Border. Where we are really losing out — and I would like the Minister to take note of this— is known in the trade as backtracking. People coming from the UK to Ireland for their holidays are hiring cars in the North and if they are hired from the bigger companies the hirers can leave them in Dublin on their way back and they will be collected. That arrangement applies to them as it applies to the car hire people here.
Various Ministers for Industry and Commerce were unable to do anything with the insurance companies. For car hire we take out what is known as block insurance. Anybody who qualifies with licence, age, etc. can hire a car for a week, a fortnight or any period they wish. The peak season in Ireland is about 20 weeks for the car hire people and we have to pay £1,000 in insurance for a car for the 20 weeks. We have insurance for the whole year but we have no use for the car for the rest of the year, and we get no refund from the insurance companies. That is for third party insurance with liability for the first £50 of the cost of every accident. Put that against the North where the people have full comprehensive insurance for £200. How could we compare? The Minister is quite right. Prices are too high and people will not hire the cars here. We were running a fleet of 50 cars up to about two years ago. Then prices started to escalate and now we are down to ten cars. For July and August we do a little extra business. Now we are leasing cars to other car hire people.
I was very glad Senator Lanigan raised the matter of the price of petrol here. He pointed out that the price of petrol was not the responsibility of the garages. By ordinary standards the garages' margin would be a reasonable one, but petrol companies have promotions which are costing the dealers 3¼ per gallon. Then we have credit cards which can cost 6p per gallon for Visa and 7p for Access. I will not try to cod the Minister by saying all our petrol sales are through credit cards; they are not. Credit card sales in our business, which runs around 7,000 gallons a week, are 1 per cent of the turnover which takes 2½ per gallon from us. Therefore, add the cost of the promotion, the cost of credit cards and evaporation — which accounts for 1 per cent and for which the company gives no refund — another 2½p, and that brings us to 10p on a gallon of petrol. It has been stated that in the North and in the UK it varies between 9p and 12p per gallon, but the throughput in this country per petrol station is less than half of what it is in the UK and the North and we would have to sell twice as much petrol to reach their profit. Therefore, there is a big difficulty and I would like the Minister to examine it. The Minister for Industry and Commerce is dealing with the price of petrol at the moment. Perhaps if the price of petrol was reduced that would be of some help to car hire people.
I put a question to the Minister for Finance in the debate on the Finance Bill in regard to the business expansion scheme and perhaps the Minister here will use his good offices with the Minister for Finance to achieve what I could not. For some unknown reason car hire is exempted from the business expansion scheme. That scheme would have been helpful to the car hire business and would have helped to reduce costs, as the Minister mentioned.
The Minister said traffic into Dublin Airport in June was up by 30,000 in Shannon by 5,000 and in Cork by 4,000. This was music in my ears because I fought for a number of years at every level the high cost of air travel into this country. Air fares are down this year compared with last year, and this is a good thing. However, I have received a number of reports that the hotel industry are under-booked this year and that the figures are down compared with last year. I am merely putting this to the Minister. I have no facts to go on other than what I have heard. If I am wrong in what I say I hope the Minister will correct me and if I am right that he will give some explanation for it. If that is the position what is wrong?
Other people are waiting to talk and the day is proceeding so I will delay no further. I have put those points to the Minister and I would like his comments at the appropriate time.
My contribution will be brief and I will confine myself to a few remarks which I hope the Minister will find helpful and positive. Like other Members, I welcome the Minister to this debate. He is well known in my part of the country. He has a reputation for being as good a friend of Meath as of Cavan except in the days of his football career when he was a formidable opponent. I offer him my best wishes.
I realise that the Minister has a great difficulty because, as Senator Daly said, many areas impinge on and influence tourism and the Minister has no control over them. Nevertheless he has made great strides in the short time he has been in office. The crash programme which he introduced on 3 May has been very successful and, even though sceptics may question the result, I think it stands up to examination. The Minister has given us the statistics. There is a very simple yardstick by which I judge the tourist industry in my part of the country. On summer mornings when I go out on to the street I see cars travelling towards Cavan, to the lakes principally, with fishing gear on the racks. Some years ago we had a very heavy flow of traffic, which I am glad to say is coming back. Of course, nobody is satisfied but we hope to regain the stage which we reached some years ago. Cavan has grant fishing potential. Senator Daly spoke about Killarney and the beauties of Kerry, and Kerry being the Mecca, as indeed it is. One thing that was brought home to me in the recent Seanad campaign when I travelled from Cavan to Donegal was the sheer beauty of the area north west of Cavan and I am sure the Minister will agree with me that it is second to none. I think it would be in the area described by the planners as "sublime".
Senator Lanigan referred to the situation with regard to national monuments compared it to that which obtains in Egypt. We have a very long way to go in this regard. The National Monuments (Amendment) Bill which we passed last year will be a great help in a negative sort of way. There is a big area to be made up on the positive side. I am a member of the Meath County Council National Monuments Advisory Committee and last Monday week we met on the Hill of Tara, a very historic place. Unfortunately, Tara is very badly catered for. There is a very small car park there. There is a very small refuse bin which is apparently seldom emptied. There are no signs there for visitors. It must be a total anti-climax to people who come from different parts of this country to visit Tara. They see there a hill with a statue of St. Patrick that is in a rather poor state and should be replaced. I am sure nothing could follow but complete disappointment. That situation obtains all over and that is unfortunate. In this area we are losing out as regards tourists.
There was a meeting of the General Council of County Councils in Ballybunion on 19 June and I am sure the Minister is well aware of what was discussed at that meeting. Very many people there felt that private concerns and private business could contribute far more to tourism. Concern was expressed that they should be allowed and encouraged to make a contribution and I agree with this. I read in today's The Irish Press under the heading, “Tidy Towns to go Private” that Bord Fáilte are seeking private sponsorship from the business world for the national tidy towns competition and other tourist promotion schemes and I welcome this. A US-based multinational company have been asked to sponsor this year's tourism on wheels awards. Sponsorship is also being sought for hotels and restaurants awards, national roadside gardens awards and the award of excellence for local authorities. I welcome this as it is a step in the right direction.
The local authorities and the regional tourism boards have been very active. There are 56 of them in all and they have provided significant funds in the tourist area. Lough Sheelin was mentioned at the conference in Ballybunion as an example of what we should not be doing. I am sure the Minister is very concerned about that and I am also. Lough Sheelin is not very far from where I live. At the same time the members did not advocate that Ireland should be an environmental museum. In many areas we have gone too far and we are now redressing this imbalance.
Some things are done by local authorities which hinder tourism. The town dump in an open location at the edge of a town, for example, is no help in attracting tourists. Ribbon development was referred to by Senator Ryan and by Senator O'Connor. Ribbon development is a very big question and I referred to it in my contribution on the Urban Renewal (Amendment) Bill. I do not think this is an appropriate place to develop it any further. There are more things to be considered than Senator Ryan alluded to. This is not the first instance of ribbon development. If we look at the ordnance survey sheets for the pre-Famine period we see there was ribbon development of a worse kind with hovels and shebeens along the roadside and they did not have a half acre site, septic tanks or many other amenities. I am not condoning what was done but the public representatives who resorted to section 4 did so in many instances to overcome bureaucracy. Ribbon development is a big question. I do not think it would be appropriate to develop it at this stage but there are many aspects to be considered. We have certainly made mistakes and these are being taken care of now. It is only right that we should learn from our mistakes.
Local authorities tend to provide picnic areas and carparks but they do not maintain them. This was very obvious on the Hill of Tara, as I mentioned. A full refuse bin had been turned over. It is important to maintain those areas properly. Public toilets are not always maintained and there is poor sign posting. That is one of the biggest complaints. It was felt by those who contributed to that meeting in Kerry that we should be promoting our flora and fauna. We have a cultural gold mine. Hill climbing is one possibility, as has been mentioned already. Others are painting, angling, surfing and the local friendly pub, although Senator Fennell was not very enthusiastic about that aspect. Perhaps I misunderstood her but the local friendly pub has a fairly important part to play. Something should be done about litter and dumping. The poor quality of some restaurants was referred to as was access to archaeological sites and monuments, county museums and display centres. We could have more of these such as the one in Kilfenora which is highly successful and very helpful for those who wish to visit the Burren.
We should promote the use of public libraries as local history repositories, keep litter bins empty, remove graffiti, maintain street furniture and improve derelict sites. I referred to this before. The last Government promised to introduce a Bill to tax derelict sites but unfortunately this was not done. Perhaps the present Government would take this in hand and see what can be done. Special weekends could be arranged for cultural or other ends outside the tourism season. The emphasis at the meeting was that local authority members, rather than criticising Bord Fáilte, should be doing whatever possible with local authority funds. There are considerable funds. There is no budget specifically for tourism but much can be done by local authorities out of their own environmental funds. I am sure the Minister will promote that idea.
The weather has been referred to and perhaps we make too much of an issue of it. It is important that we have indoor facilities for tourists. The Minister does not have the control over that area but I am sure in the broad spectrum it is something that we should take into consideration.
Some of our roads are in a bad condition. I am glad to note the great improvement in county roads but I will raise one matter with regard to roads which I have raised on other occasions. I am sure the Minister will agree that, by and large, the road from the northern part of Donegal through Cavan town, Kells, Navan, Dunshaughlin, to Clonee is a perfect road. Then we suddenly come to a three mile bottleneck. I cannot understand the planners who allowed this to happen. I understood that this road was to be improved last year and I hope it will be done before too long. It is very difficult to understand why the part of the road that should be the best, the part within the Dublin County Council area, is a narrow, bending road without a grass margin on one side. It inconveniences everybody who uses this road, particularly in the mornings. I ask the Minister to do whatever he can to see that this area of the road is improved.
Display centres are very important for tourism. We should be able to get school children, or those who have left school, to act as summer guides, giving them reasonable pay. Apparently this is not possible under the existing schemes and something should be done about it because guides are very important. It is extraordinary when you go to the Hill of Tara and see so many visitors looking for help or guidance which is not available. In a situation like that there should be a display centre, not alone for that area but for the surrounding areas as well.
Hotels, motels, guesthouses and bed and breakfast accommodation have been referred to, and I have nothing but the highest praise for them. In my Seanad campaign, no matter where I visited, I found prices were reasonable and the service excellent. It is felt in certain quarters that we do not have enough guesthouses and perhaps the Minister would look at that. I regret what is happening in Dublin Bay. I referred to this before. The subject of a ship dumping raw sewage in Dublin Bay twice weekly was discussed at some length and while there may not be any direct danger to health, that is totally unacceptable. This is outside the Minister's remit but it has been referred to and I just mentioned it in passing.
Finally, I want to pay tribute to Bord Fáilte. They do a marvellous job although on occasion there are justifiable complaints. I spent my holidays in the Burren three years ago and one day I arrived in Galway to cross to Inis Mór on the ferry. I was an hour late because the brochure I got applied to the previous year. I suppose this is one of the things that happen, and it was no great inconvenience to me, but it should never have happened.
This year Bord Fáilte have prepared more than 140 separate brochures ranging from the full colour promotional brochures in 11 languages for use abroad to county guides and information on individual products. For example, accommodation, angling, golf, etc. for use by both visitors and Irish people while on holiday here. All these booklets are printed in Ireland. Bord Fáilte do a very good job and I compliment them. Once again, I wish the Minister well and I welcome the Bill.
Like other speakers I would like to welcome the Minister to the House to wish him well in his office as Minister for Tourism and Transport and to pay tribute to some of the things he has introduced in the Tourist Traffic Bill, 1987. Lest the record should not show it, he is not the first Minister to take tourism seriously. Deputy Bruton was the first Minister and the Coalition Government were the first Government to publish a White Paper on tourism to open a wideranging debate on tourism in these Houses. I wish the Minister well in continuing Deputy Bruton's work.
Unfortunately I did not hear all of Senator McGowan's contribution because I had to leave the House temporarily to seek a report on the environment produced by the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation. It was not in our Library, and I cannot understand why. Its Chairman was David Kennedy, chief executive of Aer Lingus. It states:
The Irish Tourist Industry Confederation therefore commissioned a study by environmental experts to identify the problems and needs of the environment today. That study, "Tourism and the Physical Environment", was carried out by Reid McHugh and Partners, Planning and Development Consultants, and this report is based on the findings of that study.
There is absolutely no doubt that our environment needs protecting, and there is absolutley no doubt that we, as a people, need awakening to the value of our environment, maintaining it and keeping it. I will quote further from the report "Chapter 2, Issues in the Rural Environment":
In scenic counties such as Kerry, Galway and Donegal, the spread of bungalow blight ——
I presume this is a play on the term bungalow bliss and some Senators may recall that this got some publicity over two, three or four days in the press, on radio and on television,
—— has been facilitated by councillors through widespread abuse of "section IV" procedure. Last November, for example, there were over 70 such motions on the agenda of Donegal County Council — the vast bulk of them seeking planning permission for bungalows in the countryside.
I do not want anybody to write this into the record before I correct the statistics, because I took the trouble of going to Donegal County Council, of which I am a member, getting out their agenda of the 2 November meeting, and looking at the section 4 motions. There were over 70 such motions but not one had anything to do with giving planning permission for bungalows anywhere in Donegal. The only section 4 application that had anything to do with planning on the day was in the name of my colleague, councillor McGowan and it dealt with a customs and excise depot. I am sure he will recall that. Not one other section 4 application was to do with bungalows or planning permission. I did not mention this specifically today just because of the reference by Senator Ryan. The Irish Tourist Confederation produced this document. They circulated it to people all over the country, they employed a team of accountants called Reid McHugh and Partners to do a study and bring in this report, and yet they could err so much in that one statistic alone — of which there is documentary proof which can be got simply by looking at the agenda of that meeting. Therefore, I must ask if this is a load of codswallop they produced. Is there any factual base for their report? Who paid for the report? What were David Kennedy of Aer Lingus and many others whose names I cannot recall, doing sitting on a board producing a document based on non-fact? If that is the type of document the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation are producing, what of these documents — the 1985, 1984 and 1983 reports on Irish tourism?
I do not have the 1986 report. I do not know if it is published yet. If it is, I would like to have a chance to study it. The chairman's statement for 1983 said that Irish tourism earned a total of £802 million in 1983, an increase of 10 per cent. In 1984, the chairman's statement said that the target for 1984 had been achieved and that the total revenue to the State amounted to £591 million, an increase of 14 per cent in real terms. In 1985, revenue to the State amounted to £960 million, an increase of 14 per cent.
It does not take very long to realise, if you are involved in interest rates, that if you add 14 per cent to 10 per cent to 15 per cent it does not take long to double the number you started with. If you are paying high interest rates — as anybody knows who may not be able to meet the targets — it does not take long before you owe twice as much. In other words, the numbers are doubled in roughly four and a half to five years. According to that, we should be swamped with tourists. We should not be able to walk the streets of Donegal, Sligo or Dublin without bumping into them right, left and centre. Where are they? The tourists are just not there.
I wonder when I read reports like this what Bord Fáilte are doing about tourism. One does not like to be parochial but one can only judge by the area that one sees often and to judge from my area in Donegal, from north of Letterkenny, tourism has collapsed. Did Bord Fáilte do anything about it? Port Salon Hotel is closed, derelict and falling apart. Did anybody from the Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim tourist offices — I doubt very much the need for these regional tourism bodies — go to the owners or management of the Port Salon Hotel and tell them they were going about their business in the wrong way? Did anybody say they should not close down their hotel or that they were sorry to see it close? Did anybody go along to discuss it with the management? Did anybody in 1969 go to the owners when speculative interests moved in to buy it simply to try to sell it a few years later? They or none of the rest of us could have anticipated the Northern Ireland problem. The same speculative interests bought 15 Irish guest hotels. How many of them are closed today? What have Bord Fáilte done to justify their existence apart from perpetuating their own existence? I do not know where tourism is going and I am certainly not an expert on it, but I see my own village and towns and surrounding areas.
If my memory serves me right, the Cathaoirleach took exception to some of the remarks I made last week and I do not intend to repeat them for the sake of hurting her or anybody else because that is not my intention. I was about to say last week in another debate that some people involved in providing services are not doing so in a nice way. One will not find the expected warmth in public houses, restaurants, bars, newsagents and grocers. Deputy Joe Walsh, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, referred to this and he was slated. He did not mean that everybody in Ireland is unmannerly, but the basic training is not given. Indeed, to judge from reaction to my remarks last week the warmth certainly was not here, whatever about the manners.
We like to think that we are Ireland of the friendship. We would like to sell this and yet we sometimes look at tourists as if they had horns on them. When they pull up at various establishemnts we are reluctant to serve them. I have often opened the door of a public house and walked in but the barman did not even address me to say good day, to comment on the weather or to ask if I was on holidays. I was born and reared in a public house with a grocery shop——
Not a bad little one either.
That is right. Thank you, Minister. We did the best and were known for that, which is part of the warmth I am talking about. I was born in a small pub to which was attached a grocery, newsagency and filling station and I did not have to be taught how to treat people. If I knew them, I named them and if I did not know them, I was not long getting to know their name. I did not do it in a unmannerly way. I bade them welcome, I inquired what they wanted to drink and, if I was serving somebody else, I asked if they would mind waiting until I finished serving. These things were not taught. I do not want to sound smug but it seemed to come naturally at the time. I have often walked into various places where they were chewing gum and did not speak. They opened their eyes a little wider, which means they were asking what I wanted. When they served me, they took the money and gave back change without thanking me. Manners are disappearing from many establishments of all kinds.
I did not have time to fully read or absorb the Minister's speech but I noticed the emphasis on capital grant-aid and I wonder if the Minister is heading in the right direction. As my colleague from County Donegal, Senator McGowan, said earlier — I only heard bits of what he said — all the capital grant-aid in the world will not improve tourism in Donegal. It may improve it in Dublin or Killarney but not in Donegal unless money is spent on Killybegs training centre where they are taught the things to which I referred as well as cooking, management, etc. We have to examine, as Senator Brendan Ryan said what we are selling and how we sell it.
Over the past ten to 15 years we have been trying to compete directly with places like the Canaries which is daft because we do not have the one ingredient they have, the sun. We will not have it in any great degree although we may get odd bursts of it. We cannot sell that and we should not attempt to put up high rise buildings all over the country. We should identify what we have to sell and then sell it nicely. Perhaps it was inappropriate on Committee Stage of the Finance Bill to talk about tourism but I will talk about it now. We identified our small, neat golf courses not the great ones like Rosses Point, Ballybunion or Waterville and the ordinary decent golf courses. If they can be in groups of eight or nine or, if one could get bed and breakfast for £10 and a round of golf for £3 or £4, we could sell seven nights bed and breakfast and seven rounds of golf in seven different locations for under £100 which is value for money.
To revert somewhat to Bord Fáilte, I am not sure what my colleague put on the record but I intend to put something on the record. We in Donegal County Council have either been reluctant or have refused to pay Bord Fáilte because of the way we were treated by their Director General who refused to come to meet us. I do not know if my colleague referred to steps we are taking to set up a unit of our own that we feel could cater properly for the interests of County Donegal. I have watched tourism die. The Minister referred to the fact that in 1986, approximately 950 job were created in the construction industry alone by way of tourism. I am not too sure that is a figure I would brag about other than to remark that it would be nice to see tourism developing. The only bit of building I saw in Donegal over the past year I could relate to tourism was the reconstruction of the tourist office in Letterkenny. Where does one find it? About a mile outside Letterkenny. If one travels by public transport — and we do not have much of that in Donegal — or by private transport——
Which road is it on?
It is on the Derry road, a mile out that road. If one travels in by public transport, an express bus from Dublin or, more probably nowadays by private transport from Dublin which is about one-third of the cost, one arrives in the heart of Letterkenny town. Then one has to travel a mile back out again to inquire where travellers or visitors may go or what they might want to do. The tourist office should be located closer to the town. I do not know what they were doing spending a large sum of money last year: I do not have a figure for it but I presume there was a large sum of money spent on the type of building — on the type of mini-cathedral — they built there.
I was invited to the opening of that building. I had to decline because of another engagement, presumably in this House. I rang the Sligo office of Bord Fáilte to advise them that I would not be able to attend. I spent two days ringing the Sligo regional office of Bord Fáilte, without getting a reply. I do not recall precisely when that took place — I suspect it was over Easter—I may be totally wrong in that. But, if it was not over Easter, then I have another experience to relate to that of trying to contact the Bord Fáilte office in Donegal during Easter.
The real selling week of the year for tourism in areas along the Border is Easter. If the weather is good at Easter people make day trips to Sligo, Donegal, Leitrim or Cavan and, if they are pleased they return. Imagine somebody coming to Donegal that week, day-tripping, saying they will book a holiday in Carrigart, Milford, Kerrykeel or wherever when the Bord Fáilte office was not manned and that in the middle of Easter week. I have not done any in depth study of these statistics, but I wonder when I see figures produced by Bord Fáilte of a 14 per cent increase and so on when everybody knows there has been a decrease in tourism for quite some time. I do not blame Bord Fáilte absolutely for the decrease, but the pretence that there has been an increase annoys me. There has been no reduction in the amount of money spent while there has been that decrease.
People have made reference to the troubles in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt in my mind, no more than in anybody else's, that the northern troubles have contributed in a negative fashion to a decrease in tourism, certainly in my region and probably all of the country. We have ony to think of the type of graffiti we have seen —"Brits Out" and so on — written all over the place, and indeed not condemned by some of the areas prominent politicians. It would be too much to expect that people from Britain would come here in large numbers.
I wonder has anybody given thought to another statistic or lack of it. First of all, how many people from our capital city ever come to Donegal?
Good, because I suspect there are very few and that is because of the Northern troubles. I know people, I am related to people, who would not come. Bord Fáilte will have to try to break down this imaginary trouble filled spot of Northern Ireland because it is not trouble all the way. Mind you, it is bad enough. If we cannot get people from anywhere south of, say, Cavan or Monaghan to come north to Donegal, how can we expect people from England, Wales and Scotland to come here? How many of us ever consider going in to Northern Ireland for a nice holiday?
Again, I am glad to hear it. Easter two years ago I walked into the Bord Fáilte office in Letterkenny. I had decided to spend a couple of days in Northern Ireland. They could not give me information on Northern Ireland tourism. We sometimes get the whole game mixed up. Some of us feel that we are more "Republican"— in inverted commas — than others. We feel it is a Thirty-two County Ireland, not a Twenty-six County Ireland. Yet some of the same people would say: "But until we have it you do not dare go in there; you do not contribute to their economy; you do not buy anything in there and you certainly do not holiday there." We get a little mixed up. We cannot really expect tourists from Northern Ireland to come drifting towards the south while, at the same time, refuse point blank ourselves to go north.
If my contribution has been a little mangled, I suppose it is because I have not prepared it so well but I have tried to give some thoughts on tourism. The most basic one being that we should try to sell what we have, the nice things we have — our beaches, hills, mountains, lakes, fishing, mountain-climbing and golfing activities and facilities. We should try to sell those things and not pretend we are competing directly with sunny resorts because we cannot. We should identify our attractions and try to sell them to ourselves for a start. Remember, while tourism in some ways is an export industry, once we bring people here from abroad that has the same net effect as selling goods abroad. If we can keep some of our people from emigrating and dissuade them from spending their holidays abroad, then that means stopping that outflow. We should first try to encourage our people to spend their holidays at home.
This is the first time I have suggested this publicly. I ask the Minister perhaps to put to Government the possibility of having an annual monthly holiday in this country when virtually everything would close down. I do not see much merit in Departments of State operating with a skeleton staff for the month of August, likewise local authorities. In my local authority in Donegal, one can make representations about this, that or the other thing during the month of August, but try to contact the person in charge and you will find they are on holiday, and rightly so. Is there merit in the idea of simply closing down most of those establishments for the month? Imagine the savings effected on lighting, heating, stationery and telephone bills and so on.
Perhaps the Government should seriously consider that policy because there is much merit in it and then encourage our people — knowing that they will have a month off — to take a few days here or there. For instance, one can get a bus from Parnell Square right into the heart of Donegal for £9 return. As I said earlier, one can get seven nights bed and breakfast and seven rounds of golf for £100. The House might think on that, that one can be taken from a point in Dublin to Donegal for seven nights. All one has to do is arrange the transport in between. For £120 a Dubliner could have that type of package.
I hope some of my remarks — none was intended to be hurtful — will be taken on board and considered.
Like many of my colleagues, I welcome the Minister to the House, particularly in the light of the imaginative package of tourist measures which the Government have put before the people. I have been listening throughout the afternoon and, as someone relatively new to debate, I have been a little surprised and at times disappointed, but perhaps it is the nature of debate that one should criticise and oppose, particularly if one is on the other side of the House. However, part of the problem facing this country over a long period of time is that we are a nation of begrudgers and knockers and that we spend far too much of our time opposing, criticising and knocking. That is not to suggest that glaring inadequacies in Irish life should not be highlighted and brought before the relevant authorities.
When we are talking about tourism, as Senator Loughrey said earlier, we are talking about an export. There are countries which would welcome the type of income into their economy tourism is bringing into this country. Any attempt to co-ordinate what is in a sense a disparate industry — it is a very difficult industry to pin down and to quantify — and to bring a degree of sophistication to it and to increase revenue is initially to be welcomed. If one is to tease it out and criticise it afterwards, that is fine. As somebody coming new to the House I was a little disappointed at the tenor of the debate on what has proved to be a very bold and imaginative piece of legislation.
However, moving on from that sort of naive attitude, as some people might assume it to be, I might very briefly mention one or two aspects of the tourist package in the context of what the Minister and the Government may be able to do in order to attract more people into this country, which is basically what the package is all about. As someone who travels regularly to England — and England being our nearest neighbour has traditionally been also our largest tourist revenue earner — I have found that certainly the Northern Ireland problems over the past 15 to 18 years have had a dampening effect on the traditional British market. I do not mean the ethnic market, but the traditional British market, the family type holiday, the people who came to this country because it was the nearest country to them and for a long time was a competitive country. Also it was much more expensive in the sixties and early seventies to travel abroad, much more so than it is today. Obviously, the Northern Ireland problems have had an effect on that market.
At the risk of dividing my colleagues from the north west region — and Leitrim is one of the three counties in the tourism region in the north west — listening to the tears being shed by Senator Loughrey — I am not too sure about my colleague Senator McGowan — I wonder how people outside this House would react. If Donegal is complaining about a problem in tourism, where does that leave Sligo and Leitrim? We have always thought that we are, in a sense, on the hind tit of the north west tourism organisation. The criticisms that have been levelled at Bord Fáilte within the north west have been at what has been seen as the dominance of the Donegal tourism industry within the region and the manner in which they are successfully able to gain whatever kudos or whatever money is coming their way. I make the point that, while I have every sympathy with what is obviously a problem in Donegal tourism according to what we have been listening to, Sligo and Leitrim must be having a much more difficult problem.
This year, particularly since May, the indications are that the traditional tourist from England, particularly to Leitrim, the tourists who are coarse fishermen — when I was growing up there were as many of them around the town of Drumshanbo as there were in the population — are coming back and they are coming back in greater numbers. The main reason is the cheaper cost of access into this country. Therefore the competitive nature of the carriers coming in must be welcomed.
I could never understand why Aer Lingus and the other carrier on the Dublin-London route, British Airways whenever criticism was levelled at the high cost of the travel from Dublin to London and vice versa, were always able to come up with some justification for it. Suddenly, Ryanair came along and they exploded that myth because really that is all it was. Now Aer Lingus are in a sense out-competing Ryanair. I hope there will be more independent carriers on routes into this country because the tourism package as outlined by the Government will not work unless there is cheaper access, people are able to get in here cheaply and when they get here they are able to live and to spend the limited budgets that most people now have.
The day of the flashy American with the hip full of dollars is long, long gone. They even tell me in Killarney, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, that they are not as thick on the ground as they used to be. Therefore, the approaches which the Minister is making and the approaches that are being made to him by the various independent carriers are to be encouraged. I know the whole thrust of Government policy is towards a more open market economy and in that respect it is working. Indeed, like other speakers, I am disappointed that, despite the Minister's best efforts at the recent EC summit, we were unable to gain fifth right landing rights for Aer Lingus and Ryanair which would have been a tremendous boost for us. I only hope that that is a short step back for the Minister. According to the suggestions in the media he will be involving countries other than Spain in bilateral agreements on the package and I hope that he will be successful. Obviously it will generate an enormous amount of income for Irish air carriers.
Senator Manning earlier on touched on something I had intended to bring up and it is important to reiterate it. What are we selling when we sell Ireland? If Bord Fáilte are to be criticised about anything, it is perhaps that over the past number of years they have not identified the image of Ireland. Every company selling products identify what is known as a corporate image of that company. Taking one of the most obvious examples, whenever a housewife, or indeed a husband, goes into a store to buy a vacuum cleaner, nine times out of ten he or she will ask for a Hoover, whereas Hoover are but one of many manufacturers of vacuum cleaners in the world. So successful have Hoover been in establishing a corporate image of themselves that everybody assumes that a vacuum cleaner is a Hoover.
What I am trying to suggest is that Ireland should try to establish an image of itself. When people, as Senator Manning said earlier, talk about Spain they think of sand and the sun. When you think about Ireland it is sometimes difficult to figure out exactly what it is that attracts people here. Perhaps because we are in a very competitive area, the tourism area, Bord Fáilte should adopt what might be referred to as local stratagems.
For example, I have family relations in France and they tell me that the main reason French people come to Ireland is the wide open spaces. They tend, in the main, to go to places such as Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry and the Burren in Clare is a very popular location for French visitors. This is mainly because they come to Ireland knowing they are going to have that type of pioneering, wild environment which is totally at variance with what they have been used to in France. Germans, increasingly, are coming here because of pike fishing which I am not too sure is a great development because, unlike our traditional British fisherman who always threw back what he or she caught, continental fishermen are destocking our lakes at an enormous rate. I am wondering if perhaps the Minister, through Bord Fáilte, might take cognisance of the fact that it is causing a very serious problem in coarse fishing areas that pike, in particular, and other forms of sporting fish are being taken our of our lakes at an alarming rate. Consequently, our remaining fish stocks are not appealing to the traditional English visitor.
In the the same context I am wondering — it might not come within the Minister's brief but perhaps under trade and marketing — about the marketing of things Irish. Senator Manning touched on how successful the British have been, or more accurately the English, in identifying what is attractive about an English holiday — the nostalgia, the history of the monarchy, its traditions. Anybody who has ever visited London, being the largest British city and also attracting the largest number of tourists, has been inundated with souvenir shops. One could say that their wares are very tacky and are of little relevance but has anybody ever quantified the amount of money generated by shopping bags with the British flag on them and British slogans, by the various traditional souvenirs such as T-shirts and sweat shirts? One does not see them here in Ireland to the same extent.
If the British can say "Britain is great" why cannot we have slogans such as "Proud to be Irish" or "I visited Ireland this year"? I do not see any Irish company manufacturing a souvenir or logo which is unique to Ireland and which, if taken abroad, would have some long term benefits for tourism. I am not sure it is something the Government can do but perhaps Bord Fáilte could encourage some Irish manufacturer to market and merchandise more Irish goods that would proclaim the message that Ireland is the place to visit.
For many years it seemed that Bord Fáilte — and from listening to the debates in the House this afternoon this is an opinion shared by many Senators — in not being able to identify what it was that attracted people to Ireland, tended to try to compete, unsuccessfully as it happened, with the traditional holidaymaker who went abroad for the sun. Ireland is not a sun resort: it never was and never will be. Therefore, to use a rag trade reference, we should cut our cloth to our measure. In fairness to Bord Fáilte they are beginning to do that by opening up more conference facilities and attracting more conference delegations here. These are an enormous source of revenue to any city. They have started to encourage entrepreneurs to develop inside leisure facilities. There are a number in the south and I have heard rumours, which I hope are true, that a number of major entrepreneurs are going to get involved in a major tourist development in the midlands around the Mullingar area which will incorporate golf courses, indoor leisure facilities and various other tourist leisure facilities of that nature. This will be a marvellous benefit to the midlands if it comes to fruitiion.
In that context in recent years the upper Shannon has proved to be a gold mine in tourist terms. Senator Fallon spoke earlier about the area around Athlone. I want to extend this further and say that because of the reopening of one portion of the Lough Allen canal from Battlebridge just outside the town of Leitrim into Acres Lake outside Drumshanbo, the economy of the Drumshanbo area in the summer has benefited greatly by the access which has been provided as a result of this imaginative move which was taken some years ago. I want to prevail upon the Minister to help to push along the very seriously held aspirations of the people of Drumshanbo and the mid-Leitrim district to reopen the other area of the canal which leads from Acres Lake into Lough Allen. This would recreate the full navigational access which was available up to 1926 from Ardnachusha in Limerick up to Lough Allen and towards the Shannon pot touching on the Minister's county, Cavan. This would be a tremendous boost for the mid-Leitrim and upper Shannon area in general.
While boats are coming up in increasing numbers to Acres Lake — and obviously there is a need for the development of more marine facilities there — there will be a growing clamour from boating enthusiasts for access into Lough Allen. I know that costs are a big problem for any Government Department in this day and age but in the long term interests of tourism and because the amounts of money which are being talked about are small in comparison to the long term benefits to the area and to the economy generally I hope that the canal will be reopened. The reopening of the Lough Allen canal would be a major financial and economic boost to the area and to the country generally.
In relation to boating and lake pursuits in general the Minister will be aware that for many years there has been a great deal of agitation about the reopening of the Ballyconnell canal. While this could be operated with cross-Border co-operation I get the impression from people who have more technical expertise than I have that, in the long term, the aspiration for the reopening of the Ballyconnell canal might not be the best in terms of spending scarce money. The objection is that there are far too many locks on that canal and that, as a boating access, boating enthusiasts would not find it such an enjoyable experience and it might not be used to the extent people suggest. I do not want to be criticised by tourism interests in the Cavan-Fermanagh area for suggesting that their long held hopes and aspirations should be shoved down a chute. I am simply saying that, in the context of scarce resources, the Minister might look at the other side of the suggestion that has been put to me that it is not as rosy as it may seem.
Perhaps he might consider, as a long term proposition, the provision of a slipway at some out access of Lough Allen as close as possible to the Shannon pot and that a further slipway would be provided on the northern side around Ballyconnell or Belturbet. Therefore, instead of looking for this hoped-for development which might not come to fruition Lough Erne could utilise the slipway to take their boats by road from the Ballyconnell or Belturbet areas and bring them down to Lough Allen and put them on the slipway there. Obviously, this would require a service be provided on a summer basis if not on a half year basis and that would require more money. It has been suggested to me by boating enthusiasts that that suggestion might be a more practical one in the medium term rather than spending a great deal of time, effort and money on trying to reopen the Ballyconnell canal. I mention it because boating and the Shannon generally are germane to the ongoing development of the economy of the areas in which I live.
The future of a county like Leitrim, and to a lesser extent Counties Sligo and Donegal lies in the development of their tourist facilities. At the end of the day we are all concerned about the areas where we live and hope they will be improved and made better. I welcome wholeheartedly the imaginative moves that have been taken by the Government in the tourism area generally and I hope the ideas which are already beginning to bear fruit will result in long term benefits to the Irish economy.
Ar dtús, fáiltím roimh an Aire. It is nice to be renewing a debate with the Minister after a long number of years. I recall that it was ten years ago this month that he first called me a Blueshirt when we were discussing the Wilson grants or some such issue.
I was referring to what the Senator was wearing.
However, I intend to take a very positive approach to the Minister's present Bill and to wish him well in his office. The challenge of going out to sell Ireland is one which most people would welcome.
Today's debate has been very interesting. I suspect it covered much more ground than was covered in the Dáil debate on the same issue and it reflects the contribution the Seanad can make to such a debate. We should identify our product and if there is to be a negative aspect in what I have to say it is that we have failed to identify properly the product we are selling to our tourists. We have the natural resources to make Ireland a most attractive package from many different perspectives. We should look at our national natural resources and maximise them. We need to have a very pragmatic approach to marketing Ireland and it needs to be a positive one. We have what it takes and we have what tourists want. I have been on holiday in most European countries and further afield in every part of Ireland. Ireland can match any place for a holiday provided people know what they are looking for when they head for an Irish holiday.
There are a number of areas which could be developed. One area which saddens me more than any other is the food industry. Countries in Europe have got the reputation of being very professional in their approach to food. If I could take an example without in any sense having a go at the whole French nation, the French have got a reputation of being great at food presentation, of being great at vegetable production. It is like when somebody gets the name of getting up early they can stay in bed until mid-day. The fact is that the Irish vegetable is a far superior product to the French vegetable. I live in an area where I am surrounded by vegetable farmers and what is thrown to the animals in Ireland as being unfit to be graded for the Dublin markets would appear in the best supermarkets and vegetable shops in France as grade one vegetables. That is a factor which we have not considered and I use that as a sort of an entrée to discussing the whole area of the restaurant, food and hotel business because we have the opportunity of presenting and selling good clean food. There is a tiny market for natural foods but I do not know of any major restaurant or hotel in this country which can advertise additive-free, antibiotic-free, hormone-free meat. I know very few butcher shops where the same is on offer. We are falling behind Europe in this area. The average European is more health conscious than the average Irish person and there is a whole area there ready to be developed. We could be the food centre of Europe.
The introduction of the tourist menu has been a major step forward in attracting tourists to Ireland because eating out is part of the style of living of continentals. We have priced ourselves out of that market. Prices are dropping somewhat in restaurants and people can now look forward to eating out on a regular basis but it is still very expensive and eating out for the whole family is still not achieveable. That is an area where the internal market is not responding to a need. I urge the Minister to look at investments which will increase production of natural foods and to apply the most rigorous standards to additives, antibiotics and hormone treatment of Irish food because that is certainly a factor which tourists will take into consideration.
One matter which I am concerned about in discussing tourism is the area of job creation. We have discussed this many times. In a previous debate Senator Farrell talked about the three industries in Grange which were employing 100 people. We have to be clear about this. People set up industries to make a profit; they do not set up industries to create jobs, the jobs are a spin-off. Similarly, in relation to the tourist industry, people do not get involved in that industry to create jobs. Our interest in it is that it does create jobs but the people who operate in it are in it for a profit. I know my colleague Senator Ross will have something to say about the privatisation of this area and I want to make it clear that I would not agree with him in that respect. We need State investment in this area but we must have a pragmatic approach to a viable industry.
A large amount of the money which we are voting here today will be used as grants for housing purposes. Every grant should have the most stringent set of conditions, not in terms of what is about to be built but in terms of the type of building and where it is going to be built. I wish to refer here to earlier debates on section 4. I thoroughly support the idea of section 4; there should be checks and balances in every system. The idea behind section 4 is very good but the abuse of section 4 is something which I cannot tolerate any more than anybody else. It is somewhat arrogant to say that people who apply section 4 are always acting out of order. There are good and right reasons for applying it. Senator O'Connor quite rightly said that there are planners who would put the people of Ireland in the most obscure mountain areas when they have an entitlement to good natural surroundings as well and I certainly support that general viewpoint. Section 4 is important if it is used responsibly and I would certainly leave it there.
What do tourists coming to Ireland exepect? What are they looking for and do we meet those needs? Do we measure up to their expectations? We have not developed the areas of art, culture or craft. There are very few tourist towns in Ireland that have a theatre. There is room for investment in an infrastructure that could double up for various things. There is no reason why a building in a small town could not be used partly as a leisure centre, cinema, theatre, an exhibition area and a concert hall. There is need for imaginative planning. I disagree-with Senator Mooney when he says this is a bold, imaginative Bill being introduced by the Minister. It certainly is not and I do not think that the Minister would make that claim for it. It is simply a repeat of what was there before and the imaginative aspect relates to the investments for which this money will be used.
We have failed to develop the personality of the different places in Ireland. We must look at the different areas and ask ourselves what each area stands for, give it a personality of its own, develop that personality and then sell it. From Kerry to Donegal each area has a different personality; the Gaeltacht areas, the Burren area and others. I want to make a special appeal for an area which has been left out of this debate and that is the North. We talk about hands across the Border, we talk about making positive attempts. I certainly welcome the idea of opening navigation across the Border. This is a very positive and progressive development. It saddens me that people do not know the beauty of County Down or of County Antrim. I know this is against the thrust of this Bill but it would be a positive gesture towards peace, reconciliation and understanding of different cultures if we were to include Ireland as a totality in selling it. There would certainly be no weak response to it. I urge the Minister to ensure that closer links are developed between the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Fáilte——
I mentioned that in my speech.
Yes, I am sorry. I missed some of the Minister's speech this afternoon but I am glad to hear that. I think it is absolutely vital. In attracting people to Rathlin Island, Slieve Donard or wherever, it proves to people, as Senator Loughrey said, that the North is an ordinary place in many respects. One of the great difficulties we will have in developing the sense of place is understanding what people want and what they do not want, what is useful, what is difficult and what is dangerous. The family holiday is a very important part of the tourist business. People have mentioned why families will not go to some parts of Ireland but, without singling out any county, I say I will not take my family on holiday to a place where they cannot walk into a shop without passing by a gaming machine. It is an absolute threat at present. Many small towns on the west coast particularly have the problem of one-armed bandits. I urge the Minister to clean up the act in those areas. The legislation is there, it is just a matter of enforcing it. It certainly takes from the character of an area.
The roads infrastructure which is critically important has been neglected. I know the cost of maintaining roads, but it saddens me that the more scenic the area, the worse the roads seem to be. The further west you go, the worse the roads seem to become.
Chualamar ón Seanadóir O'Connor mar gheall ar staid na mbóithre i gConamara, and we have heard plenty about them before but I would have to say gur scriosadh an carr seo agamsa ar na bóithre céanna.
The bad state of the roads deters the caravan user. I have taken a caravan and camped in various European countries, including Ireland. There has been a major improvement in the quality of camp sites and caravan sites in Ireland. It has been a worth-while investment because a self-catering holiday is definitely the type of holiday which is striding ahead and becoming more and more popular. I certainly urge that that investment be continued, and be continued in the way that is being done at present because most of the camp sites that I have looked at that have been renovated or improved, extended, or have added new facilities in the past couple of years, have done so in a most tasteful manner. I know that people can stand up and give me an example which would prove otherwise but I have certainly seen lovely places.
I hear people commend the camp sites in France and Germany — I have been to the camp sites in France, Germany and Italy and they are beautiful but you pay through the nose for them as well. A good camp site in Europe will cost about £12 a night. So, let us not sell ourselves short. In terms of the facilities, let me say the good camp sites here are comparable to the best camp sites in France — and I know because I have been to them. Perhaps we need a stricter grading system in Ireland so that people know what they are going into. There should be a common European standardisation of camp sites and caravan sites so that the tourist walking into a two star site in Ireland can compare it with the two star site in France, Germany or elsewhere. This is important and it is something the Community could take on board. The different countries have different standards. It is a matter really of applying a convention and I certainly ask that that be done.
The other great lack in this general area that I find when driving through Ireland is the rarity of the decently laid out picnic or lay-by area. We just do not have them. In other countries at every ten or 20 miles of a main road there will be a very nice secluded, sheltered picnic or lay-by area with services. We have not developed that facility and, even worse than that, in some counties where they made a serious effort ten of 12 years ago perhaps because of cutbacks or whatever they have not been able to maintain some of these areas. If an area which has been set up as a picnic or lay-by site is let go to rack and ruin, or becomes overgrown, it is worse than having nothing because it becomes an eyesore. I certainly urge that the Minister would look at this matter. Everyone loves a picnic. Let us give people the opportunity of travelling through the country and stopping safely and enjoying the countryside as well. The planners forgot that it is dangerous for families to stop on the side of the road. It is necessary to provide safe, clean, hygienic conditions where people can stop and enjoy themselves.
The other thing that Ireland has and can be very proud of is a great sense of history. I know that every country has a history but we have a great sense of our own history and traditions. We talk about them but we do not ever sell them. I would like to see some of this money diverted to the Office of Public Works, who have done massive work over the past ten to 20 years on some of our historic sites in renovating them, in presenting them to the public, in making them more accessible and in describing them.
Could I just make a small observation on what I find an annoying lack in many of these places? For instance, you can walk into Notre Dame Cathedral, put five francs into a machine and the machine will give you a running commentary in English on what you are looking at. It is a very small investment which pays for itself. I believe there is a little bit of this in Ireland, but it should be done, all the time. We fail in this. You can walk on to the Fram in Oslo, press a button and you will hear all of Nansen's adventures, background, and travels explained in detail and highlighted. It is a small investment and it does make the tourist more appreciative of the facilities. It also sells our sense of place and sense of history. I think that places like the Skelly and others need to be made more accessible and that means an investment in the infrastructure.
We must stop selling Ireland as the sunshine island, as has been said today. We can sell this country without sunshine and I believe if we take the sunshine out of the equation and then try to start selling the place we will be far more successful. I think the chief planner — if there is such a person — should be asked to visualise himself or herself on a wet July day in Dingle wondering where they were going. It is that basic level of response we are lacking really. We must say, "Well, where can you go". There are many facilities there. I was delighted to hear the Minister this morning talk about his plan for the walk d'Irlande, or whatever phrase he used. It certainly seems imaginative and that is the kind of return on small investment which repays one hundred fold and I ask that that would be done.
To get back to Dingle on the wet July day, I think we need cycle ways, which are a small investment. I also believe we need cycle lanes which are a major investment but these are things which are available in other countries. Cycling is a healthy outdoor activity that many people like to do on their holidays. We should facilitate people in that there should be cycle ways as well as walkways. I believe that there must be an investment in leisure centres, in all areas. With imaginative planning leisure centres are not something that are used for two months or six weeks of the year, if they are planned properly can fulfil many different needs of the local community.
During the election campaign the Fianna Fáil party talked a lot about investment in building. Building of leisure centres obviously creates employment and it is not wasted investment. The building of a leisure centre not only creates employment but also improves in a permanent way the infrastructure and the facilities, in addition to creating a community resource which can be self-financing for the rest of the year. It is an investment in the nation's health. I do not like comparing Ireland with other countries all the time but one of the things one notices in other countries is that even in the smallest towns they have the stade municipal or whatever it happens to be called, and the local swimming pool or leisure centre, and they are very proud of those facilities. I ask that we would go in the same particular direction.
We need to work on the impressions created by our towns. The first impression one gets of a town is whether it is clean and neat. Is there a nice floral arrangement on the way into the town? Are there signs? Could I make the point here that the first time I drove down the Champs Elysées, I was astounded and astonished to find the golden arches of a well-known hamburger company shining out at me through what I considered the beautiful environment of the area. I was shocked to see it. I did not think the French could show such lack of taste. I am pleased to know now that they have been booted out of the Champs Elysées and have handed over to another hamburger company because they were not allowed to have their flashing arches on it. That is the kind of decision we need to make and take. I believe we need taste and balance in our planning and in the facilities that are available. We could develop the whole fishing area. It has been touched on by a number of people. Before we can develop fishing we must sell the clean lakes, the clean seas and the clean rivers. We should adopt the Greenpeace slogan of clean air, clean seas and pure water.
The Irish Sea is a disgrace. I did a certain amount of scuba diving before my body lost its shape, and I can say that to go underwater in the Irish sea is far more of a lesson than being on the beaches. We have a responsibility to other generations for our seas. The Irish Sea at present is just a mix of raw sewage and radiation. The jokes are flying around the place about knowing the fish from the Irish Sea because it glows in the dark. It is all right as a joke but the thing sticks. Last night in a restaurant I was sitting beside somebody who was not very health conscious and who asked where the fish was from. Once people become so conscious we have a real responsibility——
Senator O'Toole, before we find out where the fish came from would you move the adjournment?
The fish came from Dingle and it was very nice.